New Student Spotlight: Emma Mays

The Winterline Global Skills Gap Year Program travels to 10 different countries over 9 months, where students learn 100 new life skills while traveling the world with their best friends.


Thinking about taking a gap year too?

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THE CONCEPT OF A GAP YEAR PROGRAM IS STILL NEW FOR MANY STUDENTS. WHEN WERE YOU FIRST INTRODUCED TO THE IDEA OF TAKING A GAP YEAR?

I was only really introduced to the idea of taking a gap year a few months ago. I’d heard of them in the past but they seemed to be a thing mostly in europe and I’d never personally known anyone who decided to take one. A few months back my Mom actually mentioned the idea to me and we just went from there.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I’ve been burnt out on the education system for a very long time now and I think my family and I realized that I just needed some time away from a traditional classroom setting to regain my passion for learning.

Emma-Mays-Winterline-Gap-Year
Emma

WHAT SKILL ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO LEARN?

I’m really excited about everything to be honest. That being said I’m weirdly excited about glass blowing, I’m not particularly sure why it just seems so interesting and something no one I’ve ever met has done.

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE?

I’m not sure what exactly I’d like to do in the future but I’d definitely love to work in a creative field. Right now I’m considering majoring in film production but I’m interested in seeing what direction the next year pushes me in.

Emma-Mays-Winterline
Legend Titan Front Ensemble at Grand Nationals 2017

HAVE YOU TRAVELED BEFORE? IF SO, WHICH TRIP HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE AND WHY?

I haven’t traveled extensively, mostly just to visit family, but when I was 15 my school’s marching band went to London. It was the first time I had traveled without my family and it was a really great experience. My friends and I got lost in the city and we had to find our way back. It was a really fun experience and it changed my perspective on a lot of stuff.

Emma-Mays-Winterline-Gap-Year
Emma (far right) with friends.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO GAIN FROM YOUR GAP YEAR AND WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD?

I think if I knew what exactly I expected to get out this experience it almost wouldn’t be worth going, but I do hope to get a bit more adaptability out of the adventure.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WANT YOUR FUTURE WINTERLINE PEERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I’m pretty quiet at first but as I get more comfortable I’ll start making a bunch of jokes and you’ll probably want to punch me in the face but that’s alright because I made a really good friend that way.

Emma-Mays-Winterline-Gap-Year
Emma (middle) with friends.

WHY WINTERLINE?

I don’t think I could articulate it if I tried, when I found Winterline’s site I just had a feeling in my gut that this is where I should be.

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

I’m a ridiculous person, I do goofy stuff all the time. For example last october I had a half day of school and I dressed up the plastic skeleton we had for halloween and put him in my passenger seat and drove around. His name is Franklin.

To learn more about our students be sure to check out other posts on our blog. We upload new posts three times a week! Also, be sure to catch up with us on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook.

What to Expect from Trimester 2: An Interview with Alice Hart & Sophia Mizrahi

From left to right: Sophia, Alice and Anna at the National Museum of Cambodia
From left to right: Sophia, Alice and Anna at the National Museum of Cambodia

As our group finishes our second trimester, we’ve been doing some reflection about the last few months in Southeast Asia. I interviewed two of my best friends on the trip, Alice and Sophia. They each reflected on their own experiences in Cambodia, Thailand, and India, which was a lot of fun to see…

Why did you join Winterline this year?

 Alice: “I had known I was going to take a gap year and once I saw Winterline’s skills and the variety that they offered, I decided that I wanted to use this year to figure out what I want to do in the future. I wanted to use the skills to put me on track for my future career.”

Sophia: “I wanted to go to college immediately, but my mom was very open to the idea of a gap year and encouraged me to look into it. I was looking at gap year options, and I knew that I didn’t want to stay at home and work before college. At first, I was scared of being away from home for 9 months, but once I looked into the program I knew that it would provide me time to mature before college and allow me to grow, which it’s done.”

Alice cooking at Paul De Brule
Alice cooking at Paul de Brule

What has been your favorite place we have traveled to in the second trimester and why?

Alice: “It’s definitely between Cambodia and India. I loved Siem Reap in Cambodia. It was quiet, but at the same time there was a lot of access to different activities. I loved the different cultures and it was a great place to people watch, especially on Pub Street. I also loved learning to make different Cambodian dishes at Paul de Brule Cooking School and learning about hospitality.”

Sophia: “I loved Bangkok, Thailand. I spent a couple winters there as a child, so it was great to be back. Even though I was sick there with a sinus infection, I loved it so much. I really enjoyed the hustle-and-bustle of a really big city. I also enjoyed doing cooking school in Bangkok!”

Alice and Anna celebrating Holi, the Festival of Colors, in India.
Alice and Anna celebrating Holi, the Festival of Colors, in India.

What has been the greatest challenge during second trimester for you personally?

Alice: “I think living with other people is a challenge I’m still dealing with. It never becomes magically easy to do. I am also still figuring out how I can speak my truth to the group, but I also am learning to accept that people won’t always listen to me.”

Sophia: “Honestly, it’s been challenging to be sick a lot of this trimester. I really wanted to take time to appreciate where we have been, but I had a hard time doing that when I was constantly so physically sick.”

What has been the greatest reward during this trimester for you?

Alice: “I think still being able to learn new things about my peers even though we have all been together for so long. It’s been interesting to see new sides to these people, who I’ve lived with for so long, and I always learn something new from everyone.”

Sophia: “Even though it was a nightmare, my reward was getting through most of the bike ride in Siem Reap. I never thought I would be able to get through it, but it was really satisfying and a personal accomplishment for me.”

Taking a bike ride and making new friends| Photo By: Alice Hart
Southeast Asia Bike Ride| Photo By: Alice Hart

What advice/words of wisdom would you give someone who is contemplating taking a gap year with Winterline?

 Alice: “To have realistic expectations. A lot of people think that this program is a way to escape their own lives. And the truth is that your personal problems will follow you and you’re going to have to learn how to navigate these problems, especially with people you can’t walk away from. Learn to have the sympathy and empathy to manage your relationships within the group.”

Sophia: “You may want to go home. The whole year won’t be unicorns and rainbows. Your group is going to go through so much together as a family, but also remember to rely on people in your group for support. Also, keep your socks dry on NOLS and don’t get trench foot like I did!” 

Anna, Alice, and Sophia having lunch together in Asia.
Anna, Alice, and Sophia having lunch together in Asia.

Is there anything you wish you had known before going into this trimester?

Alice: “People will surprise you.”

Sophia: “I wish that I had packed a real jacket because it’s going to be so cold in Europe. Also, I wish I had known I would get more bug bites on my body and face in Southeast Asia than in Belize and Costa Rica. I was the only one!”

Alice and Sophia at the National Museum of Cambodia | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

Last question… What experience or expedition has been the most fun for you, during second trimester?

 Alice: “Sophia, Anna, and I had a “tourist” day on one of our rest days in Phnom Penh. We went to the National Museum of Cambodia, got massages, had lunch at a local restaurant, and explored some of the temples. It’s one of those days that will always be one of my favorite memories and just picture-perfect. I love my two best friends.”

Sophia: “My favorite day was when we went to the Bai Pai Cooking School in Bangkok, and then explored the mall afterwards. I was very proud of my cooking capabilities and for also navigating the huge city using public transportation.”

 

To learn more about our students be sure to check out the rest of our blog. We upload new posts three times a week!

New Student Spotlight: Spencer Holtschult

The Winterline Global Skills Gap Year Program travels to 10 different countries over 9 months, where students learn 100 new life skills while traveling the world with their best friends.


Thinking about taking a gap year too?

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THE CONCEPT OF A GAP YEAR PROGRAM IS STILL NEW FOR MANY STUDENTS. WHEN WERE YOU FIRST INTRODUCED TO THE IDEA OF TAKING A GAP YEAR?

I never thought taking a gap year was something I was ever gonna do, but as the school year went by and college decisions started coming out I decided taking a year to explore and find out what I wanted to do in life would be my best option.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I chose to take a gap year because I wanted to avoid another year of generic education and expand my horizons by learning skills and experiencing all kinds of new cultures.

Spencer and his sisters on a family vacation in the snow
Spencer and his sisters on a family vacation in the snow

WHAT skill are you most excited to learn?

I can’t pin-point an exact skill I’m most excited to learn because all of them seem so fun and interesting to me.

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE?

As I’m closing in on the end of my senior year, I’ve realized more than ever that I really have no clue what I want to do in the future and I believe through this program I will gain knowledge that will better prepare me for my future.

HAVE YOU TRAVELED BEFORE? IF SO, WHICH TRIP HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE AND WHY?

Yes, but never outside the country. My favorite trip would have to be our family vacation to Hawaii. We did a lot of fun things including snorkeling, surfing, and swimming with manta rays.

Spencer Holtschult Winterline Gap Year
Spencer walking on the beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO GAIN FROM YOUR GAP YEAR PROGRAM AND WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD?

Something I expect to gain from my gap year is a new perspective on the world surrounding me. For my whole life I’ve grown up with the same friends, people, and always the same routine. I think finally breaking out of that bubble will give me a whole new perspective about the world and my place in it.

pencer with his twin sister and older sister
Spencer with his twin sister and older sister

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WANT YOUR FUTURE WINTERLINE PEERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I like to think I have a great sense of humor, I’m always down for an adventure and want have as much fun as possible even when in a bad situation!

Why WINTERLINE?

I felt that Winterline offered something that no other gap year program really offered…besides the amount of countries and skills you get to experience and learn, Winterline offers a sense of community and friendship within the group of kids that participate in this program and that was the one thing that really made this program stand out to me.

Spencer enjoying the sunset at a local beach
Spencer enjoying the sunset at a local beach

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

I love listening to music, and although my moves are pretty bad it doesn’t stop me from dancing and having a great time!

To learn more about our students be sure to check out other posts on our blog. We upload new posts three times a week! Also, be sure to catch up with us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

 

New Student Spotlight: Abby Dulin

The Winterline Global Skills Gap Year Program travels to 10 different countries over 9 months, where students learn 100 new life skills while traveling the world with their best friends.


Thinking about taking a gap year too?

LEARN MORE


THE CONCEPT OF A GAP YEAR PROGRAM IS STILL NEW FOR MANY STUDENTS. WHEN WERE YOU FIRST INTRODUCED TO THE IDEA OF TAKING A GAP YEAR?

I first learned about a gap year in high school and it struck my interest. I did further research on it and found out that a gap year is exactly what I wanted to do. I never thought I would take one because I didn’t know there were programs that gave you the opportunity to travel and learn new skills.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I chose to take a gap year because I really have no idea what I want to do with my life. I am almost finished with a year of community college. I got most of my gen ed classes out of the way, but I don’t know what to do next. With everything Winterline has to offer, I know I will come out confident in what I want to do.

Abby Dulin Winterline Gap Year 2018-2019
Abby with family. 

WHAT SKILL ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO LEARN?

Honestly, it’s hard to pick just one because so many of them excite me, but if I had to narrow it down I’d say photography, videography, or scuba diving.

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE?

I’m really not sure what I want to do in the future, which is why I am taking this gap year.

Abby adventuring.

HAVE YOU TRAVELED BEFORE? IF SO, WHICH TRIP HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE AND WHY?

Yes, I mainly travel around the states and I started traveling alone when I was 15. I have been out of the country once to Costa Rica and that was my favorite trip. From snorkling to body surfing, Costa Rica just gave off a really good vibe that made it a fun time.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO GAIN FROM YOUR GAP YEAR PROGRAM AND WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD?

I hope to become more independent and overall a more well-rounded person. I am excited to see all of the different cultures and environments and learn from every experience.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WANT YOUR FUTURE WINTERLINE PEERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I am a little shy when I first meet people, but I really open up once I get to know them. Don’t be surprised if you see me laughing at absolutely nothing because my mind runs wild, you’ll get used to it. Oh yeah and don’t take anything I say seriously because I am very sarcastic.

Abby (right) smiling with a friend.

WHY WINTERLINE?

Winterline offers everything that I’m looking for from the skills to the travel. I looked at other gap year programs, but nothing compared.

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

I’ve lived in 6 different states, which opened my eyes to traveling. I love photography and videography, so I will definitely be taking lots of photos and videos on this trip. One last thing, I can say the alphabet backwards and juggle, but not at the same time.

To learn more about our students be sure to check out our blog. We upload new posts three times a week!

 

Backcountry Medicine as a Life Skill: An Interview with Shantanu Pandit

Backcountry medicine is easily one of my favorite skills we’ve focused on during Winterline. One of our first skills during 1st trimester was with NOLS in Lander, Wyoming when we spent two days learning in our Wilderness First Aid course. And most recently, we completed a three-day Aerie course in the Mahindra United World College Institute, located in a rural part of Maharashtra, India. The course included both lecture-style and hands-on learning in the areas of disaster response and austere/backcountry medicine. I had the pleasure of interviewing one of our three instructors, Shantanu Pandit. He shared some of his personal experiences with backcountry medicine and his passion for working and living in the outdoors… Thank you, Shantanu!

Who are you? What motivates you?

Shantanu: “I [am] an outdoorsperson who is also interested in outdoor education. I have derived immense joy and happiness in the outdoors – hiking, climbing, a bit of rafting, ‘outdoor educating’ and …many a times just doing nothing! I know that each time I have been out I have benefited tremendously as a person. What motivates me today is to have people experience the outdoors in such a way that it is safe and enriching for not only us visitors but also our various environments (e.g., natural, socio-cultural, archaeological, etc.). I believe that it is essential for us to keep experiencing the natural environment and help sustain that environment.”

Winterline Back country medicine
Shantanu working on the Himalayan section of the Aerie WEMT semester, on search-and-rescue navigation exercises. | Photo by: Iris Saxer and Shantanu Pandit

What sparked your passion for being and working in the outdoors?

Shantanu: “I have always lived close to a mountainous area near Mumbai, India. This region is extremely rich in its cultural ethos. I started hiking when in school. Things that I had read in books started coming alive for me as I continued going outdoors… and this soon was a ‘more real’ reality for me than the urban setting that I was brought up in. Eventually, experiencing the Himalaya sealed it. If I have to name the most important aspect that provided the reason for working in the outdoors then it is the sheer sense of comfort that I felt being in the outdoors. This was home.”

 

What is the best outdoors trip you’ve ever done?

Shantanu: “How can one ever answer that question?! The most rewarding bird-watching trip I have had till now was in Sikkim… the most memorable rafting trip I had was not because of the rafting, but because of the riotous group that I was a part of… there have been several life-changing experiences (being a part of the team that attempted the third highest mountain in the world & the NOLS Instructor Course, to take but two examples)… I am afraid I cannot name one trip, sorry!”

 

Can you give the overview of Aerie Backcountry Medicine? What does it teach and what is its mission?

Shantanu: “Aerie Backcountry Medicine is a Montana based for-profit organization that teaches wilderness and rural first aid in the United States and other countries. I think Aerie is enriched because people from various walks of life work with its courses. I see Aerie as an agile organization that adapts to various geographies and cultures in order to effectively teach and spread safe practices. Despite its national and international presence, I have experienced Aerie as an organization that is kind of small enough to have an extremely warm and friendly organization culture… The stated mission of Aerie Backcountry Medicine is ‘Caring for injured or sick people is a privilege. Preparing people for this service is Aerie’s mission.’”

Winterline Back country medicine
Shantanu working on the Himalayan section of the Aerie WEMT semester, on search-and-rescue navigation exercises. | Photo by: Iris Saxer and Shantanu Pandit

 

When were you first introduced to backcountry medicine?

Shantanu: “I was introduced to backcountry medicine in 1987 when a friend who is a doctor-mountaineer started teaching us first aid in the context of outdoors. When I took my Wilderness First Responder course in 2000 (through WMI of NOLS), I got to know the richness of backcountry medicine in its formal and vibrant form. On a peak climbing expedition, while hiking up to the base camp, one of our porters got hit in the face by a falling rock that had bounced off the ground in front of him. This person was ‘responsive to verbal stimuli’ when I reached his camp in the night. After I gave first aid, I cautioned his brother to have the patient sleep in the ‘recovery position’ only and keep a tab on his breathing and explained the reasons behind this. I think that was a good call. The patient was successfully evacuated the next day (fortunately he was LOR x 4 by that time).”

 

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Shantanu: “Being a part of a community that teaches safe practices that influence safety of people in the outdoors and the environments that we derive so much pleasure and joy from. Teaching/instructing also keeps me on my toes in terms of updated knowledge and practices, skill-levels, etc.”

Winterline Back country medicine
Shantanu hiking on a NOLS course | Photo by: Iris Saxer and Shantanu Pandit

What advice do you have for people who haven’t taken any first-aid or medical training courses?

Shantanu: “Take any course that you can afford, ideally a ‘wilderness first aid course’ (‘wilderness’ is defined as being one hour away from definitive medical care – a definition that fits so many urban situations also). First aid skills are a ‘life skill’.”

 

What advice do you have for our own group of Green Cohort students moving into our last months of traveling together?

Shantanu: “Develop the skill and habit of ‘reflection’… make it a part of your daily life. Reflection on one’s experiences – be it a small incident, a day or a course/project – leads to tremendous learning and growth. Shared reflection and/or feedback from others is more powerful. All the Best!”

 

If you have any questions about taking a backcountry medicine course, please visit the NOLS and Aerie sites, or feel free to contact us!

Living on Purpose: Interview with Matthew Fairfax

During our time in Phnom Penh, we had the privilege of meeting and learning from Matthew Fairfax, an inspiring entrepreneur and wonderful human being. We were first introduced to him in our mixology class and then took part in his 3-day course, “Living on Purpose.” We learned about a myriad of ideas that all built upon each other, leading us to consider how we can live our own lives with more purpose. During this interview, Matthew imparted wisdom and great insight with me… Thank you, Matthew!

How would you describe your job title/what you do for a living?

 Matthew: “This is a tough one.  I am a salon owner, Founder/Country Director of the Justice and Soul Foundation, and educator/trainer.  I also am a coach.  So, on any given day I may be wearing several hats.”

Why do you do this for a living? What drives and motivates you?

Matthew: “To get my intrinsic driving needs met! I love the variety I have, the feeling of giving back and helping people, the constant changing, and watching individuals discover new things about themselves.”

Matthew at a salon opening
Matthew at a salon opening

 When was the first time you were introduced to the idea of “Living with Purpose?”

 Matthew: “I think I’ve always operated on intuition, but when I took courses provided by Context International (now BeMoreU) my whole thought process shifted.  At that point, I started to redefine my life based on my driving needs. I created strategies that got these needs met constructively and started feeling very fulfilled. I moved from resent/revenge to creating a purpose-filled life.”

Since starting your own personal journey of learning to live on purpose, what are some of the most important lessons that you’d like to share with our audience?

 Matthew:

  1. Don’t run from the lesson or it will keep presenting itself to you – harder each time.
  2. Relationships are important and it is most important to embrace the reality of who that person is. Change your mind about them and watch great things happen.
  3. How I feel about me, determines how I feel about you. When I start to feel negative feelings about others, I stop and look at what might be lacking in me.
  4. Don’t let others make you wrong for how you create and find fulfillment. Not everyone needs “alone time” and not everyone wants to be around people and on the go all the time.  Find what works for you. I no longer listen when someone tells me to slow down.  I am living at the banquet table of life and there is no need to slow down for me.
  5. I determine what I am allowing to be most important to me based on my results. If I don’t have the results I want, I look at what I am giving my attention to.
  6. You can’t rush self-esteem.
  7. Listen twice as much as you speak. Ask good questions.
  8. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.
  9. Listen to your intuition – it is usually right.

 Can you briefly explain communication styles and why they are so important to understand and utilize in any context (work, social, relationships, etc.)?

Matthew: “Communication styles are at the core of all my training.  It is learning the language by which we all communicate.  Most conflict has its roots in communication styles.  When we learn to recognize other styles, we can modify our style temporarily to create better results.  At work, I get better team experiences and more productivity.  In my relationships, I get deeper, more meaningful relationships.  I tend to have way less conflict when I take the time to understand the needs of the styles I am communicating with.  Of course, it all starts with my choice and I cannot rely on the other person to change to meet my needs.  If I want the results, I must make the choice to meet their needs.”

Matthew at his hair salon in Phnom Penh, Cambodia with staff members
Matthew at his hair salon in Phnom Penh, Cambodia with staff members

What advice do you have for young adults, like students on Winterline, as they learn to navigate their lives independently?

 Matthew: “Be willing to risk, always stay open and ask questions EVEN IF YOU BELIEVE YOU ALREADY KNOW.  Remember, our filter is filled with input from others and we cling to those attitudes, opinions, and beliefs so we can be right.  I have seen too many people be right all the way to the wrong results.”

Do you have any specific advice for our green cohort of Winterline?

Matthew: “I LOVE YOUR ENERGY.  I love that you don’t always live in the boundaries.  Continue to be loud, ask good questions, challenge the status quo, but be respectful and law abiding in the process.  Learn to listen, drop your image, let people get to know the authentic you – that is where rich fulfilling life begins!”

 

—If you have any questions about this interview or Matthew’s philosophies, please contact us in the comments and we will be happy to provide resources and answers!—

 

 

Language Immersion in a Foreign Country: An Interview with Jessie Zúñiga Bustamante from the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica

As one of our final skills in Costa Rica, our group had the opportunity to do 5-day “Independent Study Projects” of our choice. I chose an intensive Spanish course and absolutely loved it. I have taken Spanish in school for a total of six years, so I wanted to take advantage of this week because I want to become more fluent in the language. For five days, I met with two different professors, Evelyn and Jessie. We conversed entirely in Spanish for hours on end, focused on the verb tenses I struggle with, and even did cooking and dancing classes. I enjoyed my time with both my professors immensely and cannot express my gratitude for the two of them enough. Jessie kindly answered some of my questions about her position as a Spanish teacher and shared her take on education and language immersion.

How long have you been a Spanish teacher?

 Jessie: “I started teaching SSL (Spanish Second Language) in 2005 when I was a Spanish & Latin American Literature student in college, so I have 12 years of teaching now. Wow! I’m old, haha!”

Why are you a Spanish teacher? What inspired you to become a Spanish teacher?

Jessie: “[It’s] funny because I would not have thought about it, but one day, one of my professors at University of Costa Rica told me about a Spanish Academy that needed teachers during my college summer break, so I went there and got a job for that summer. I had a group of 4 students: Joe from the United States, Martina from Austria, and Damian and Anna from Germany. We were together for a month and it was awesome! We had so much fun and we learned so much [about] each other from cultures to languages, food, [and] personal space! At that moment, I learned that I love teaching. I love the chance of getting to know people from all over the world. So far, I have had students from the US, Canada, Brazil, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, India, Israel, Jordan, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, France, Italy, some African countries, Romania, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan…and so on. This is amazing because, through our conversations, I could learn a lot about their cultures…it’s like being in those countries somehow. These experiences made me a better person, more open and aware that differences are a good thing for humanity… So, I have been doing it since then! [I feel] so lucky!”

Winterline_Spanish_Immersion
Learning verb conjugations on day two! | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

How long have you been working at the Monteverde Institute?

Jessie: “I first came in January 2015 for a 4-month college course (I did the same in San José), then back to San José, and returned to Monteverde in December 2015 for a permanent position in the Spanish Department as a teacher and coordinator. Although I never thought I wanted to live outside San José, I decided to leave my comfort zone and try a different place and job position. It was a wise decision because I have learned a lot about my job, nature and conservation, grassroots projects, sustainability, etc. It is a pleasure to live and work in such a special and beautiful community like Monteverde.”

 What is your favorite part about working at the Monteverde Institute?

Jessie: “My favorite part is working with students in projects. I totally love the fact that MVI is a non-profit organization, so we do a lot for the community. Many courses have projects for building, interacting with elders or children, giving lectures on climate, conservation, etc., for the people here…It makes me feel proud to be part of an institution that cares so much and is involved with the people.”

What is something you find rewarding about your job?

Jessie: “I strongly believe in education. Education is the key for a better future. Not only for our country, but for our world. There are so much things we need to learn in this life, beginning with ourselves. So, being part of it somehow makes me feel happy and rewarded. If my work contributes to make someone connect with others through language or better culture understanding and respect, I’m more than happy. And since education is a two-way street, I also learn a lot from my students… this is where my satisfaction [in teaching] comes from.”

What advice do you have someone who is trying to learn a new language?

Jessie: “First, do not be afraid of an immersion program. This is the best way ever to learn anything…but also, it takes a lot of practice and studying. Like any other thing in life, if you want to learn a language, desire is a must. If you really want something, you must go for it. Be in a country that speaks the language, live with a family, and make friends. A language is [a part of] culture too.  The most important thing is to enjoy [learning] while doing it!

What advice do you have for our Winterline cohort going into the next two trimesters of traveling?

Jessie: “Attitude is everything. No matter if something bad happens, what matters the most is what you do with it…cheesy, I know, but true. Your attitude could make people open their hearts, or close them forever. Take advantage of every single thing you will find in this journey, and as we talked in class, be a beautiful bridge between your country and culture and the rest of the world. Do not let language or any other cultural issue be an obstacle for your learning. Be open minded. Be grateful for what you receive from people everywhere, and for    all the things you have back home. Give love. Smile. Offer your help. Communicate! Sometimes a smile says more and is better than words.”

Winterline_Anna Nickerson
Anna with the “Tarzan rope” at the suspended bridges tour. | Photo From: Anna Nickerson

Thank you so much for your time with my ISP and for teaching me so much. I had so much fun with you on the bridges and in the classroom. I hope we can stay in touch and I promise to practice my Spanish in the future!

Jessie: “Thanks to you too! I enjoy our time together a lot, and I really hope you learned many things for your life and future! You are good in Spanish, I hope you really continue with it! Have a wonderful trip around the world, chica. Learn as much as you can. You have a once in lifetime opportunity. Treasure it!”

 

To hear more from our Gap Year students be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).

Our Experience with TIDE in Belize: An Interview with Martin Ack

While we were in Belize, we had the opportunity to work with the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), an internationally recognized organization. During our time there, we learned how to plan a kayaking expedition, surveyed locals to conduct research regarding the invasive lionfish, and earned our open-water SCUBA certification. We had the pleasure of learning about Belize from our tour guide, Martin Ack. After spending three weeks with him, we sat down to talk about his experience working with TIDE. He shared interesting insights with us and gave us both a greater respect and understand for not only his job, but for the work TIDE does as a whole.

How long have you been working for TIDE and how did you come about working for TIDE?

Martin: “I have been working with TIDE for 4 years as a full-time tour guide, but I used to work as a part-time tour guide when I started in 1997. The founder of TIDE is a friend of mine so he comes to my village a lot. He reached out to my community in the same way that TIDE does now. I was working at the shrimp farm at that time until I got tired and bored of it, so I switched to part-time tour guiding. It’s something that I always wanted, but the tour guide course was never available when I was working at the shrimp farm. As soon as that TIDE course came to my community, I resigned from my job and took the course, got my license and submitted at a time when TIDE was hiring. Thankfully, I was the one who they picked and I’m now their main guide.”

Can you explain what TIDE does or what they aim to do as an organization?

Martin: “TIDE stands for Toledo Institute for Development and Environment, so it is aimed at conservation, developing local communities, and working with locals within the boundaries of the conservation and protected areas in Toledo. Initially when TIDE started, many of the locals were using resources such as the marine reserve for fishing. That used to be an area open for anyone to use. TIDE claimed that as a protected area, which ultimately had a positive effect on the livelihood of these fishermen. They didn’t really like the idea at first, but now they are really happy because they are catching fish about a mile away from town. Before, they had to go four miles away and would come back with very small fish. So, TIDE is here to help the locals.

Photo Contest, Skills, Anna Nickerson
Winterline Students with TIDE in Belize | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

In your opinion, what is the best thing that TIDE has done?

Martin: “I think TIDE has created a lot of opportunities for locals, and has also caused local businesses to experience an influx of commerce, especially in regards to tourism. TIDE is the mother organization of TIDE Tours. Though I am the main guide, we also contract other guides to help us out. So, TIDE provides jobs for many locals through creating alternative livelihoods, specifically for fishermen and fisherwomen so they can stop relying on fish and natural resources. Instead, they can rely on alternatives like food drying, craft making, bartending, tourism, hospitality, and landscaping. TIDE helps to provide all of these trade opportunities through funding from its subsidiary bodies.”

Personally, what is your favorite thing about working for TIDE?

Martin: “I love what I’m doing right now as a guide. I love green. I love the natural resources. And without these resources, I wouldn’t be able to talk about birds and animals. A lot of people come to Belize and TIDE is really helping to protect the natural resources, and when they do that it makes me very happy to work for them. They have what I can use to teach people. I love meeting people, great people like you all, so it has really been fun. I do student groups, private tours… all different ages. It’s not just being a tour guide. I do reception work, I run errands, I do diving, community research, and I also get the opportunity to develop myself with different trainings that TIDE offers. I am very happy that TIDE has been so good to me and given me so many opportunities. I have to make good use of them.

Anna Diving | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

Is there anything you would want to change about TIDE?

Martin: “I think TIDE has been really accomplishing their mission, but what I would like to change would be the amount of funding for the organization. I want it to be bigger so we can accomplish more. Activities, training, and all that. I want us to reach as many parts of Belize as possible. TIDE is one of the biggest organizations for it [conservation efforts] so far, it could be the biggest in the country.”

We all really enjoyed coming to your house to learn about the Mayan chocolate making. We’re wondering if they are any other traditions you take part in?

Martin: “My culture is not always appreciated by many. I see it because many young people want to blend into other cultures, which is okay, but they forget their roots. But the Maya is one of the great civilization that many have questions about who we are because a lot of our information is not written in books, only passed down from generation to generation. So with us, we go with it and then we practice. We have celebrations like planting. That’s our way of living. We use incense, which my grandfather still uses. And he taught me about it. Because I work with TIDE I don’t have time.

There is a lot more in terms of food and also music. A lot of it is still practiced, we only focused on chocolate when you visited. It’s been around for thousands of years. You know, cacao is supposed to be spelled kakawa, [it means] our God.  But because the Spanish could not spell it the way it is pronounced by us, they just wrote, “cacao.”

leela cacao
Leela making chocolate.

Do you have any advice for our Winterline cohort moving forward or words of wisdom?

 Martin: “Make use of your opportunity. You never know where you will end up next, so make every day count. I’m sure you all have been enjoying it and I see the potential in all of you. I am so glad you made it down here because a lot of people do not get this kind of opportunity to see places like this or meet our people. You all get an authentic experience in that sense so keep on. Like my mom used to tell me, “Reach for the stars. You may not get there, but aim for them.”

 

*This interview has been edited for clarity and length*

 

 

 

What to Expect from First Trimester: An Interview with Patrick Neafsey

As we finish up our first trimester in Central America, all of our students in green cohort are starting to reflect on our last two and a half months together. We have gone through a lot as a group. From huddling over a pot of boiling water to warm our freezing bodies in the Wind River Range to doing a scavenger hunt while kayaking in Belize to learning about permaculture in Rancho Mastatal, Costa Rica, we have learned a ton. As individuals, we have all grown and taken different things out of these experiences. As a group, we have all developed our skills and have grown very close. I decided to interview Patrick Neafsey about his first trimester and he had some interesting personal insights…

Patrick at NOLS
Patrick at NOLS | Photo By: Natanielle Huizenga

Why did you join Winterline this year?

Patrick: “I’ve been a part of the traditional education system for the last 16 years of my life, and after a year of college I decided that I wanted a break from the conventional classroom setting. I knew I wanted to travel, but I had no idea how I would be able to until I found Winterline. I knew it was the program I wanted to do as soon as I found their website.”

You’re unique in the fact that you have already been to a year of college and are now taking a year off before heading back. How does this trip compare to your freshman year of college in terms of your responsibilities and style of learning?

Patrick: “I think the most notable similarity between my college experience and Winterline so far has been the idea of freedom and personal responsibility. College kind of throws you into the fire in terms of making you do stuff on your own, which is a skill Winterline definitely tries to foster. I also value the experiential learning aspect of the program because I really wanted to get out of a classroom setting this year. I mean you can’t learn how to scuba dive in a classroom in Ithaca. It’s completely different in regard to responsibilities. In college, you have to make your own decisions and get all of your stuff done independently. Here, there’s different responsibilities like being able to interact in a small group and being responsible for your peers, which is present at college but not nearly as important on a campus of 14,000 people.”

What has been your favorite place we have traveled to and why? 

Patrick: “I think my favorite spot was Mastatal in Costa Rica. That was definitely the biggest culture shock of the trip so far, especially in terms of traveling to different corners of the world that we never would have seen otherwise. I had the unique opportunity to play in a couple soccer games with the locals against nearby towns, which was an incredible experience to really immerse myself in the culture and daily ritual of these people’s lives. I am very grateful for the fact that they welcomed me to their team with open arms and treated me as one of their own on the field.”

Patrick and Andrew playing soccer
Patrick and Andrew playing soccer | Photo From: Patrick Neafsey

What advice/words of wisdom would you give someone who is contemplating taking a gap year with Winterline?

 Patrick: “This is an opportunity that you won’t ever have for the rest of your life. Despite what popular opinion is regarding going from high school to four years of college, there is really no downside to taking a year off and seeing the world. If you’re like me and interested in seeing the parts of the world that you’ve only read about, you’ll regret not taking advantage of an opportunity like this with Winterline.”

Anna and Patrick Diving
Anna and Patrick diving | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

Last question… What experience or expedition has been the most fun for you?

Patrick: “I think the scuba certification was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in my life. I have always been very comfortable in the water and scuba is something that literally unlocks another section of the globe that was previously inaccessible to me, which I think is really cool. And even diving in the small area off the coast of Belize compared to the expansive and available places to dive, I saw so much and it’s crazy to think how much more I can see in other parts of the world while scuba diving. I am excited to take advantage of this certification in the future.”

 

To hear more from our students be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).

What to Expect from a Homestay: An Interview with Alex Messitidis

Pura Vida! Our green cohort just finished their first homestays, which took place in Mastatal, Costa Rica. Most of our cohort members had never experienced staying with host families before, so we were all anxious about the process beforehand. We spent 3 nights and 3 days with our families and had incredible experiences. I recently interviewed Alex Messitidis so that she could explain the concept of a homestay and how her experience went.

Some people are confused by the concept of a homestay. Could you explain what a homestay/host family is?

Alex: “This was my first homestay so I’ll explain to the best of my ability. A homestay is when you get put up with a family for however many days, for me it was three days, and you get the opportunity to get acclimated to their culture, their family, their ways, all that. You spend time with them all throughout the day. They cook for you, you go out with them, you learn about them, you get close with them. I think the whole point is to get you ‘culturally aware’ and to get you to understand the difference between living in a [city] versus living on a ranch in Costa Rica, like I did. So, for me, a homestay is living with a family in a foreign country and getting acclimated to their culture.”

What were some of your fears or anxieties going into your homestay? How did you get over those while with your host family?

Alex: “One of my biggest fears is change. I really don’t like moving around or getting close with new people. But, growing up my mom always told me that instead of fearing the change, I had to be the change. So, [going into my homestay], I just asked myself what my mom would do if she was there. She’d tell me to look down at my arm, look at my tattoo that says, “Be the Change” in big typewriter font and she would say, “Give it your best shot. Go headfirst and even if you fail, who cares?” So, I guess I just thought to myself that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I didn’t know when the next time I’d be able to do a homestay was. I challenged myself to make the most of it, practice my Spanish, get close with the kids, learn about their culture, eat their food even if I have no idea what’s in it. I think it’s about realizing and recognizing that this might be my only opportunity to get out of that comfort zone and if I don’t now, then I maybe never will. And I think this whole trip is based around getting out of your comfort zone, so why not go headfirst?”

Homestay Winterline
Alex’s host family’s cat that she met on her homestay. | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

 Can you tell me about your experience with your homestay? What were some personal challenges and what were some things that went well?

Alex: “My homestay was absolutely amazing. I already knew the dad, Junior, because I had played soccer with him a few days beforehand. He spoke fluent English, but I made him speak to me in Spanish because I wanted to practice. I was actually pretty surprised because my Spanish is not that bad. His wife was wonderful as well. I only saw her when she was doing laundry and cooking, which is the standard there. The wives do most of the work around the house and I give her a lot of credit for that because everything she did was amazing… They had 2 kids, [a 9-year old girl and a 3-year old boy]. There was a language barrier between me, the wife and the kids…, but it made me test my Spanish and I realized that I knew a lot more than I thought… Putting my Spanish to the test and being in the position where I didn’t have the option of speaking either language, I needed to figure it out and try or I would have starved for 3 days! The challenge was connecting with the family, especially with the language barrier, but it turns out that a smile goes a long way and even if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, smile it off!”

Winterline Homestay
Natanielle coloring with the kids at her homestay | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

What advice would you give someone who is nervous about staying with a host family in a foreign country?

Alex: “It’s completely normal to be nervous, especially when you’re being thrown into a situation that you’re not comfortable with. Most people aren’t comfortable with the thought of change, but I think that’s the whole point of this experience. To do something you never have and cross that cultural barrier- understand the diversity between countries and recognize that even though you may not have a lot in common with these people, like language or cultural barriers, doesn’t matter as long as you’re ready to try. If you’re trying to meet them halfway, and they’re doing the same, and you’re both being patient with each other… it’s going to be fine… Honestly, I’d be shocked if you weren’t nervous! But, everything is an experience, whether it’s good or bad, and I think that everyone should do a homestay in a foreign country because it shows you a different side to family, work, everyday life and a lot of people don’t recognize that… Have an open mind, have an open heart, and a smile goes a long way.”