Video: Getting to school in the morning on your gap year

And you do this for 9 months, learning crazy new skills at each place, meeting beautiful people.

Here’s a video of one of those mornings, someplace new.

Our students learn to travel using a wide variety of local media. By the end of their 9 months, they are skilled at riding trains, buses, cars, planes, horses, tuktuks, sometimes even water buffalo.

They learn how to bargain for the right rates, how to use the metro in a foreign city, and how to stay awake on an international flight from Phnom Penh to Bangkok to Mumbai India. They learn how to travel safely, know when to say ‘No’ to a seemingly attractive opportunity, and how to eat right.

Street food in particular is a major concern. The survival and wilderness skills they learn in their first trimester, backpacking and getting certified in Wilderness First Aid with NOLS becomes immediately relevant, despite the absence of a natural environment. Bangkok can be quite wild. As can Mumbai, Phnom Penh, Singapore, Venice, even Munich.

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Six Reasons to Take a NOLS Course on Your Gap Year

NOLS has long been a leader in the field of outdoor education. Netflix founder Marc Randolph famously did his first NOLS course at age 14.

But why do we value it so much for our gap year and semester programs? Why do we prioritize it so early on in our global skills programs?

1. Wilderness experiences push you beyond where you thought you could go.bamae_cold_nols_outdoors.jpg

Every time the wilderness beats you up, you have a chance to push through. We want our students to know from day one of their gap year experience that they are capable of far more than they previously imagined.  That insight serves them greatly when they get to even stranger places on the other side of world. Knowing that you have an ever greater capacity, as well as knowing your limits, are critical components of what you can learn on a NOLS course.

2. You will learn skills that save livesoliver_with_syringe_wfa.jpg

During your NOLS course, you’ll get a chance to learn how to cook in the wild, how to keep your body warm, how to treat water, how to deal with intense inclement weather, how to read a map, the essentials of packing everything on your back and carrying your home, the essentials of hiking. On our gap year programs, students enter the wilderness experience having completed a Wilderness First Aid Certification, and the NOLS course is a real-life opportunity to put that experience into further practice.

3. You need to get away from your daily routine comforts to grow.ominous_mountain_valley_nols_outdoors_hiking.jpg

For our students to have the best gap year ever, they need to understand the relationship between comfort and learning. If your plan is to spend your gap year in as cushy an environment as possible, don’t be surprised if you learn very little. To really get a sense of how the other half lives, you need to live with the other half. Whether that’s in the wilderness, in the bustling streets of Bangkok, or the trim avenues of Western Europe, you’ll find discomfort somewhere. The more you learn to seek out that discomfort, the more prepared you are for life.

4. Your decisions have consequences.

hiking_nols_colorado_reflection_consequences.jpgOn a NOLS course, especially on the custom programs we’ve built for our students, you’ll have the chance to make decisions with real consequences. How you inspire your fellow travelers, how you navigate the wilderness, how you respond to changes in the weather — these all matter. There is no ‘reset’ button when you’re in the wild, and your teachers will give you the chance to make real mistakes, within reason of course. But if you mismanage your group, it could mean having to walk through the dark after the sun has gone down, or waiting out in the cold. Real responsibility builds real character.

5. You will learn about your leadership style.nols_heating_food_cooking_campfire_warming_hands_sunglasses_gap_year_program.jpg

Everyone has their own way of doing things, especially when it comes to leading. One of the critical components of the NOLS course is how leadership training is codified and refined, so that you can learn about yourself, your strength areas as well as your weakness areas. What are the boundaries of your comfort zone, and what level of control do you insist on having over your teammates when given the leadership role? To know both ends of the spectrum is a distinct life advantage. You can imagine why the founder of Netflix sees NOLS as one of the most valuable experiences of his life.

6. Wilderness experiences create shared identity and powerful memorieshiking_together_in_colorado_mountain_view_vista_boys_lake_gap_year_programs.jpg

When we design our gap year programs, we don’t just send students out to travel to different places around the world. We have very clear learning objectives in mind regarding skills, self-discovery, and team learning. No one should go it alone. When you begin your gap year, you’ll want to know that your friends and fellow travelers will have your back when the going gets tough. It’s not enough to know that they’ll stick with you in the good times. You never know what kinds of situations you’ll find yourself in. Having beared the wild together, you’ll know that you have others you can rely on, and can travel the world safely and confidently, knowing that each of you has earned their trust and their place in the circle.

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Student Video: My Gap Year With Winterline

Nothing warms our hearts more than knowing that our students have made lifelong friendships, grown in their personal lives, and learned skills to prepare them for the real world.

One of our alumna, Sydney, put this video together, demonstrating proficiency in all of these critical life areas.

The opening shots are an actual “Winterline” in the Himalayas. The phenomenon where the sun’s light is dispersed horizontally by a massive compression of warm, sub-continental air by the cold mountain air. The Winterline represents a false horizon, whereby, when you are able to ascend above it, you can see a new truth, a new vision of beauty and reality.

They travel to Bangkok, where they learn to meditate and participate in the annual water festival.

In Phnom Penh, the great buddhist architectural heritage site, they visit the many spaces by bicycle, learning of the rich history of intellectualism and religion there.

They ride tuktuks in India, learn etiquette and wine tasting in Europe. They visit castles, eat plenty, play in the snow in Vermont, fly around the world, learn Thai massage, ride trains in Spain and the Netherlands. Learn business in Boston. Ride in boats in Panama and Costa Rica, Venice, and even get a time to play in the pool and run a few charity races.

At the end is the Winterline ceremony of completion, where we bring the families together for a big party and graduation.

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