During a recent backpacking trip with second-year wilderness leaders, Annika Ruben was quickly reminded how the outdoors brings people together.
“When you’re making dinner or around a fire, that’s what you’re focused on,” said Annika, the UWC-USA wilderness fellow for the fall semester. “I think it’s an amazing opportunity for them.”
Rachel Fristedt, who co-directs of the wilderness program with her husband, Anders, said Annika is a wonderful addition.
“She has jumped right into the program seamlessly,” Rachel said. “She’s been working in the gear room and she really pays a great attention to detail. Overall, she just brings a lot of energy to the students and working with Anders and me.”
Annika grew up hiking with her family in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. At age 17, she took her first backpacking trip — a 30-day expedition in Wyoming through the National Outdoor Leadership School, also known as NOLS.
“That was a pretty intense introduction,” Annika said.
Nonetheless, she was hooked and took a gap year after high school to backpack in Bolivia, Peru, and Mexico. She participated in a Spanish emersion program for the Bolivia and Peru portion of the trip, hiking in the Andes Mountains — the longest continental mountain range in the world.
“It was very interesting traveling with local people who knew the area, and who could speak about the outdoors and culture,” Annika said. “And, it was so breathtaking in the Andes.”
The 23-year-old Newton, Mass., native graduated in May 2021 with a bachelor’s in environmental studies from the University of Vermont in Burlington. During her junior year, she participated in a study abroad program in Nepal.
“The Himalayas are amazing,” Annika said.
She had learned about UWC-USA when her family hosted 2001 UWC-USA graduate Olatokunbo “Tixo” Augustus when Tixo was studying in the Boston area.
“I was really interested in international education, love to travel, and was kind of hoping to work for a boarding school,” Annika said.
She came across a two-year-old advertisement for a UWC-USA wilderness fellow and reached out to Rachel and Anders. Annika started working on the Montezuma campus on Aug. 11 and will remain through late November.
“It’s been great so far,” she said. “(The recent three-day backpacking trip) was a really awesome experience to know more about where the students come from and why those chose to come here. I loved hearing about their different backgrounds.”
In addition to assisting with pre-orientation wilderness trips, Annika will help with the October Grand Canyon trip for Southwest Studies and assists with trip logistics and gear repairs.
would like to continue working in outdoor education or go to graduate school to study international education.
As for family, Annika’s twin brother, Zach, does analytical work for a Denver real estate company, and her sister, Ilana, 26, works for an architecture firm in Brisbane, Australia. Annika’s father, Flip, is a financial planner, and her mother, Shara, does project management.