What position do you hold at Rustic Pathways? What has been your career path so far?
I am our Burma Country Director. I also visit international schools across Asia to create custom, private programs and partnerships. Prior to joining Rustic Pathways, I worked as a camp counselor in Switzerland and as an English teacher at public schools in Thailand. Both of these roles provided excellent experience for working with Rustic Pathways.
I started with Rustic Pathways as a summer staff program leader in June 2013, leading community service and adventure programs in Thailand. I then earned a full-time position as the manager of our Ricefields Service Base while also starting my role visiting international schools across Asia. I was very well suited for this role since I grew up in Southeast Asia, attending International School Bangkok and Singapore American School. I finally took over our Burma operations in January 2015.
What does the future hold for Rustic Pathways - any exciting new programs to share?
I’m really excited about our ‘Critical Issues’ series of programs. We are currently building out and expanding certain programs that are curriculum-oriented and ask students to dig deeper into ‘critical issues’. One example is our Tribal Issues program that takes place in Thailand and Burma, learning about marginalized communities that live along the Thai-Burma border, many of which are affected by ethnic conflicts. These programs are better suited for more mature students who are hoping for more than just a vacation or teen tour.
What's your favorite ethnic dish?
Street food is a big part of my daily life and I’d be hard pressed to choose just one dish. My latest “food crush” is tamarind leaf salad in Burma. Burma is full of wonderful salads, tea-leaf and tomato salad being some of the most famous and available. However, tamarind leaf stuck out and immediately became a go-to dish whenever I return to Burma. Usually mixed with crushed peanuts, crispy onions, tomato, and mixed in oil, this dish has a light fresh feeling with a pleasant aftertaste.
Shan noodles (“Shan kauk swe”) are a close second-place and another must-try dish for anyone in the Shan state of northern Burma.
Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?
Learning a language has made a drastic impact on my experience living abroad. I moved back to Thailand four years ago, only remembering a few basic words (aka ‘Taxi Thai’). During my first year I put in a conscious effort to pick up as much as possible. Everyday I would ask people, ‘How do you say ____?’ and then write it down in iPhone notepad. Thai people are already known for the smiles and kindness, but open up even more when a foreigner makes an effort to speak their language. Within my first six months I was having basic conversations and thus I was able to learn about people’s lives, laugh and tell jokes and enjoy a full meal together without the awkward silences. Because of this, it is like night and day when I compare my experience with a typical short-term expat in Thailand.
If I could give study abroad students only one piece of advice, it would be to learn the language. At the very least, show that you are trying.