This is a guest post from Road Less Traveled alumnus Whitney Hall.
I first found the Road Less Traveled (RLT) just a few months after moving back to the U.S. from Tanzania, where I had volunteered for one year in 2009 as an art teacher and caregiver for children between 6 and 18 years old.
In Tanzania, there are little to no social services. Children live much more independently, and undeniably closer to the land. But along with this, there is little financial stability, and that often leads to many kids moving into cities to find income collecting scrap metal or selling plastic bags and ultimately struggling with the unknown that comes with life on the street. It was this experience working with youth transitioning from life on the street where I realized I wanted to do something bigger with my life to help youth and families with little means to support themselves.
My desire to go back to Tanzania motivated me to apply to work for RLT after my mom shared the RLT catalogue with me, and I can say that I am truly a better person after working for them.
I’ve seen students make bows and shoot arrows with one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribes in sub-saharan Africa, I’ve hiked an orange-red sand dune at sunrise in the Namibian desert, and I’ve trekked nine miles through Incan ruins to view Machu Picchu. What many people have on their life bucket lists, I’ve been able to do working for RLT.
For three summers during graduate school at Columbia University, where I studied international social welfare, I traveled with RLT to Tanzania, Namibia and Peru. During the school year in New York City, I worked at a teen center in the Bronx, provided crisis counseling and mediation to other graduate students at International House New York, and interned for the family social work department at African Services Committee in Harlem, which provides free services to immigrants living with HIV or AIDS.
Without a doubt, RLT is among one of the most meaningful work experiences of my life. I learned so much from the students and peers I worked with, along with the rural communities that welcomed us into their homes. Along with all the adventure, students have helped construct toilets, build schools, and carry bricks and water with no mechanized tools other than a wheelbarrow, which is an adventure in itself.
RLT taught me that there is always something I can learn or improve upon in myself, and that humility is a life skill we are seldom taught in a classroom. I remember someone saying my first year at training in Colorado that being a leader with RLT is one of the toughest, but most rewarding jobs there is, and that remains true today. After graduating in 2012, it took me a few months of soul searching in Berkeley to realize that my passion in life is providing alternative education programs to youth through travel and outdoor education, and in a broader sense, connecting people to communities. I’ve realized that it’s not always a straight path to find out where you belong, and that’s not a bad thing.
In 2013, I moved to the northern mountains of Nicaragua, where I worked as a program coordinator for Global Glimpse designing and leading summer programs for youth in the Bay Area, many of whom had never been on a plane and would have not had the opportunity to travel otherwise.
For better or for worse, the ultimate goal of work for me has never been about the money. Maybe it’s all these amazing experiences traveling and working with teens, but I just can’t imagine myself working in any other field and being happy. Looking back, it’s those little moments that stay with me: waking up before dawn to go on safari, teaching students how to bucket shower, making a birthday cake over an open fire. The list goes on and on. I’m thankful for every detail.
Whitney Hall spent 2013 as a Program Coordinator for Global Glimpse, where she designed and led student trips to Nicaragua that emphasized service education and global citizenship. She holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Columbia University, and previously worked as a counselor for HIV positive immigrants in Harlem from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, as well as at a teen center in the Bronx. Whitney has spent a significant amount of time volunteering for youth programs in East Africa and Latin America, and spent 3 summers with The Road Less Traveled in Tanzania, Namibia and Peru. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she spends much of her time hiking and photographing wild places. You can visit her travel photo blog here.