Alumni Spotlight: Kristen Watkins


Kristen is a high school junior from Minnesota. She has been on two Rustic Pathways trips in the past and hopes to go on another in the future.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because I grew up watching Steve Irwin and his family on TV. When I saw I could work at his zoo, I knew this was the program for me. I’ve always loved animals, and I knew that I would get to have a lot of interactions with animals on this program. Conservation is also a big part of this trip, and it is something I've been interested in studying later in life.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Rustic Pathways organized almost everything for us and made the things we had to arrange on our own easy. As soon as we signed up for the program, we were assigned a personal Travel Advisor who would answer our questions over phone or email. Rustic also planned group flights for all the students leaving from one gateway airport. They have flight leaders who make sure we get from the gateway airport to Australia. They gave us detailed packing lists and tips with photos and a FAQ page specific to the program.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I would advise someone who goes on this trip to not worry about getting messy. On this trip, much of the volunteer work you do involves cleaning and getting dirty. In your time at the zoo, you will prepare food, do yard work, clean enclosures, and yes, scoop poop. The important thing is to be open-minded because all of the dirty work gives you the opportunity to get close to the animals and help them also.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

On most days, we would wake up at around 7 or 7:30 AM to get in our zoo uniforms and get ready for the day. We would eat breakfast, pack our lunches, and then drive to the zoo. At the zoo, we played a couple of games and then met with Mitch, our Zoo Coordinator, who showed us to our zoo department for the morning.

We would spend our morning with the zookeepers from one of the five different departments. We spent our times with the zookeepers helping prepare food, cleaning enclosures, feeding animals, and assisting with the animal encounters. After our morning with one department, we would eat lunch and then go to a different department for the afternoon. We got to see the insides of the departments and how they are run.

After our work at the zoo for the day, we went back to the base house for the evening to play games, eat dinner, and shower before bed. We generally went to bed early after working hard all day.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was having trouble making friends. I am a shy person, so the idea of traveling abroad with people I don't know scared me. This fear went away as soon as I met the other people on my trip at the airport. I overcame this fear by pushing myself to go outside my comfort zone to make friends before we even arrived in Australia. I learned that my fear was irrational as it is harder not to make friends on a Rustic trip than it is to make friends.

What wasn't included on the packing list that you wished you would have brought?

I wish the packing list would have recommended bringing more sweatshirts. During the program, it is winter in Australia. I only brought one sweatshirt, and I wished I had brought at least one more. I also wish the packing list had said to bring one nicer outfit because we went out for a nicer dinner on our last night. I also would recommend bringing a couple outfits for wearing while in Byron Bay and Noussa.