Walking Tree Travel History

Walking Tree was founded in 2005 by three childhood friends from Denver, Colorado who all came to share the belief in the transformative power of travel after years of working and volunteering abroad. Since our first program in 2006 traveling with 12 students to Costa Rica, we have run programs in over 18 countries worldwide with thousands of students from over 500 high schools in 46 states and nine countries. Despite this growth, our mission of creating authentic programs that inspire our travelers to become global leaders remains at the heart of all of our programming.

Our Team Today

Our team is made up of truly exceptional individuals who are committed to guiding the next generation of global leaders. Our international staff has an intimate understanding of the local environment, language and culture of our host destinations, helping to ensure that our adventures are as smooth, safe, and authentic as possible. Our Program Leaders have traveled extensively and hail from the world’s top colleges and universities. They are extraordinary guides, teachers, mentors and friends. Read more about who we are below!

By the Numbers…

100%

First Aid and CPR certified

50%

Have worked for non-profits

40%

Have worked in higher education

90%

Have worked in K-12 education

2.8

Languages Spoken

19

Countries Visited

14

Age Started Traveling

Who We Are

Becca Sheffield

Marketing and Program Management - Denver, CO

Colorado State University - B.A. Communication Studies and Spanish
Middlebury Institute of International Studies - M.A. International Education Management

After her first study abroad experience in Lima, Peru in college, Becca knew she had found her passion for helping others have meaningful experiences across cultures. After teaching Spanish to learners of all ages and working in the non-profit sector, Becca decided to pursue her Master’s degree in International Education Management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Now she is pursuing her dream of helping students have incredible experiences abroad, when she isn’t hiking, salsa dancing, or quoting movie lines.

Gabriel Duncan

Co-Founder of Walking Tree Travel and Business Lead - Denver, CO

Colby College - B.A. International Relations and Government

While at Colby, Gabriel spent a semester in Spain at the University of Salamanca studying contemporary Spanish politics and Spanish language. He also lettered for four-years on Colby’s lacrosse team and earned All-American honors. After graduating, Gabriel hit the road. He fished commercially in Alaska, taught in Chile and China, led programs for students in Spain and Costa Rica, and traveled to over 50 countries and all 50 states in the USA. Regardless of where Gabriel is located, he is constantly haunted by his naive faith in and unconditional love for Denver sports teams.

Jordan Sparrow

Country Operations Director - Denver, CO

University of Kansas - B.A. Latin American Studies; Global and International Studies, Minor in Brazilian Studies

Jordan is a Midwesterner at heart, born and raised in Kansas City.  He spent his first summer after high school in Guatemala where he began learning Spanish and cultivated a deep interest in everything Latin America.  In college, Jordan spent almost half of his university career studying abroad in both Costa Rica and Brazil.  During that time, he mastered language skills in both Spanish and Portuguese, spent a lot of time at the beach and met the love of his life in Costa Rica. After college, he moved to Costa Rica where he taught Portuguese to Costa Ricans and began his career in student travel.  After almost six years of living in Costa Rica, Jordan, his partner and their two dogs moved to Denver where they currently live.  As with the rest of the SSA team, Jordan has traveled extensively throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia.  Jordan is passionate about languages, history, social justice and eating great food.

JP Rabanales Lau

Program Leader

Born and raised with a big family in Guatemala, JP spent seven years living and studying in the US where he was exposed to highly diverse communities. JP worked as a Wilderness Leader guiding expeditions in the Southwest of the US. After spending two years in New Mexico studying the International Baccalaureate, he moved to Indiana where he spent the next four years at Earlham College. His passion for international affairs brought him to spend a semester in China, and several other Southeast Asian countries. During his time abroad, he spent his summers traveling and backpacking through 15+ different countries, and participating in several service projects. Today JP is based back in his home country where he teaches English to young adults. Juan Pablo also enjoys hosting friends and travelers coming to Guatemala. He's always down for an exciting road-trip around the country, or even better, around Latin America. A long time art and design enthusiast, and a photography aficionado.

Lacey Merkel

Admissions Director - Denver, CO

University of Arizona - B.S. in Spanish and Portuguese, Minor in Business

Lacey is originally from Flagstaff, Arizona but has been spending her summers in Denver since she was a kid. Originally a business major, she decided to spend her sophomore year studying in Viña Del Mar, Chile. This is where she truly found her passion for travel and learning about other cultures. When she returned to Arizona, she changed her focus to learning Spanish and Portuguese and decided to pursue her TEFL certificate. After graduation, Lacey moved to Fortaleza, Brazil and taught English to high school students, pilots and doctors. She then moved to Denver and continued teaching English. In her free time she enjoys live music, snowboarding, traveling and of course eating amazing “hole-in-the-wall” food.

Luke Mueller

Co-Founder of Walking Tree Travel and Business Lead - Denver, CO

Emory University - B.A. Sociology and minor in Latin American History

During college, Luke spent a semester living and traveling in rural Mexico. His experience sparked a fascination with Latin America and a commitment to community service that continues to this day. Upon graduating from college, he joined WorldTeach and lived with a local family in a small village in Costa Rica while teaching elementary English. After this experience, he moved to San José, the capital and largest city, and wrote for The Tico Times newspaper. Now settled in Denver, he continues to crave massive helpings of rice and beans. Luke has traveled to 60+ countries on five continents and is fluent in Spanish.

Paul Laurie

Co-Founder of Walking Tree Travel and Business Lead - Denver, CO

Santa Clara University - B.A. Marketing and International Business

Santa Clara University – B.A. Marketing and International Business

During college, Paul spent a semester abroad studying Spanish and European Commerce in Madrid, Spain. After graduation, he embarked on a three-year journey that took him all over the world. He traveled from Times Square to Tierra del Fuego and from Siberia to Singapore, enjoying distinct cultures, great food and meeting lifelong friends every step of the way. Among other positions, Paul worked as a fashion photographer and on Wall Street before returning to his real passion for student travel. Paul has traveled to 80+countries in pursuit of the best meal under $5 and making additions to his antique globe collection.

Tommy Tyson

Latin America Operations - Peru

University of Denver - B.A. Spanish, Minors in History and Hebrew

Tommy graduated from the University of Denver. His hobbies include camping, basketball, studying history, traveling, and learning languages. He is fluent in Spanish, and also speaks Hebrew as well. He first developed his love of languages and Latin American culture at the age of ten on a mission trip in Mexico. This experience and the subsequent trips to follow inspired him to study Spanish in school, and to pursue more development work in other areas of Latin America as well. During a semester abroad in college in Cusco, Peru, Tommy had the pleasure of working alongside ProWorld Peru in rural communities like Ocurruro, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. Tommy also has spent time building houses in El Salvador with Habitat for Humanity. He now lives in Cusco, Peru full time!

Yusra Alsaleh

Operations - Costa Rica

Earlham College - B.A. Peace & Global Studies 
Indiana University - M.P.A. International Development and Nonprofit Management

Born and raised in Kuwait, Yusra traveled to the United States to pursue a B.A. in Peace and Global Studies at Earlham College with a focus on Conflict Transformation. Since then, she has been involved in several leadership positions (including working for a start- up peace museum) and actively seeks to help individuals challenge and learn from the world around them. Growing up in a household with a Father who was a Pilot and a Mother who was a Flight Attendant, Yusra began traveling as soon as she could walk and enjoys engaging the world through travel and interaction. She is passionate about social justice issues, grassroots movements and individual empowerment. In her free time, Yusra enjoys exploring new cities by bike, drawing and getting lost in libraries and bookstores.

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