What It’s Like to be a Work-Study Student

A Winterline work-study is a scholarship opportunity to publish your work (photos, videos, and/or writing) on various platforms, while reducing the overall cost of the Winterline Program, typically by $5,000. As a former student on the journalism scholarship with Winterline, I want to share my experience with work-study and offer advice if this is something you’re interested in adding to your gap year experience.

There are four different types of Winterline work-study scholarships: photography, videography, social media, and journalism. Each scholarship has different requirements, but the general idea is the same for each; Students send their work to Jess, our Marketing Manager, and she then posts it on the blog and Winterline’s various social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, etc.).

The ideal person for the work-study is someone who is driven, self-motivated, organized, and passionate about either writing, photography, videography or social media, to suit their respective scholarship work. I worked with some students who were great photographers, but couldn’t follow through on actually sending their photos to Winterline, which was frustrating. If you see yourself potentially doing the same thing, it may be a good idea to re-evaluate if you are able to make a commitment throughout the entirety of the Winterline program. But also remember that it’s not like a full-time job. I typically spent a few hours every week on my work-study, and never felt super overwhelmed. It’s just all about time management.

 

winterline work study student
Anna during the “photography day” in Burano, Italy. She created a photo essay on her blog from that day!

Another important thing to mention about the work-study is when you’re assigned to one type of media, that doesn’t mean you have to only do that! I was on the journalism scholarship, so I did quite a bit of writing for the blog as my main work. I am also passionate about photography and videography, so I posted my pictures on Winterline’s social media and even created video edits throughout the year. Jess was very encouraging of me to explore different types of media, which definitely created an environment where I learned even more on Winterline because of my work-study, which was such a plus!

 

winterline work study student
Anna writing in her journal, perhaps to give her some blog inspiration!

Overall, I am so glad that I decided to do the journalism scholarship with Winterline. Not only did I reduce the cost of the program, but I improved so many of my already-existing skills. My writing became much stronger and more fluid, simply as a result of the amount of blog posts I wrote throughout the year (more than 20). My people skills improved because I interviewed people for the blog, so I learned how to ask good questions and be an engaging interviewer. I also became better at managing and prioritizing my time, and became even more organized. And one of the coolest things for all of work-study students is that by the end of the year, we all had created “portfolios” of our work. I posted all my Winterline blog posts to my personal blog, which is a great way for me to access a lot of my work from my gap year. This is something I will be able to send to potential employers, which is really helpful (and makes you look even more impressive).

If you’re planning to take a Winterline gap year, and you’re interested in a work-study scholarship, I strongly encourage it! Feel free to read our FAQ page if you have any questions, or visit my personal blog to see some posts from my work-study.

Alumni Spotlight: Ana Paulina

WHERE ARE YOU ORIGINALLY FROM AND WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW?

I’m from San Juan, Puerto Rico and I now live in Denver, Colorado.

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 think my dad first told me about gap years when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school. I didn’t pay much attention to them until I started researching colleges and realized I wanted to take one.

Winterline Alumni Ana Paulina
Ana, and her friend Daniela, enjoying some hiking in Estes Park!

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I took a gap year because I felt like I needed to experience something different in my life before going to college. Where I live, I think people follow the status quo of going to college after high school and then leaving home and getting a job, but I didn’t feel like doing that. I had a very big urge to travel and since I had this opportunity, I knew I had to take it. I’ve been in school all my life, so diving into another four more years of school didn’t seem appealing. I wanted to experience what it was like to learn practical skills without being in a classroom. I knew there was so much more than going to college right away, so I decided to go on a gap year to learn about the world and to learn about myself. I had always lived in the same place with the same people, so I wanted to get out. I wanted to be in different places with different people. I think that is the best way to learn new things. I could’ve gone to college right away, but my experience at college would have been incredibly different if I hadn’t taken a gap year.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE SKILL YOU LEARNED?

My favorite skill to learn during Winterline was planning. I’ve traveled a lot throughout my life with my family, but my dad has been the one that has planned all those trips. During my ISP, I got the opportunity to plan and book everything that I was going to do in that week and it felt amazing. It was very rewarding to know that I planned and did that whole week by myself in a foreign country. I learned very practical skills like researching travel destinations, booking travel and accommodations, and budgeting my spendings.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE YOU VISITED?

Thailand, for sure. Even though we were there for just one week, I fell in love with the country. I loved walking through the city and the temples, eating the street food, and navigating the street market.

Winterline Alumni Ana Paulina
Ana enjoying her time in Thailand!

HAVE YOU TRAVELED SINCE WINTERLINE?

Yes! After the gap year I did a bike tour with my sister through the Northern Coast of Spain and I also went to the Greek Islands with my family.

HOW HAS WHAT YOU LEARNED ON YOUR GAP YEAR HELPED YOU IN REAL LIFE?

The experience in general helped me get out of my own comfort zone and be more independent. We were traveling for 9 months in different countries with people we had just met, so for me it felt very natural that I had to make myself comfortable with who I am and trust that I could do whatever I wanted.

The skills that I learned also helped me plan trips better, it helped me be more confident navigating airports and cities in foreign countries. It also helped me communicate better with different people. The skills also helped me figure out what I do want to study, and what I don’t want to study.

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO NOW.

Right now, I’m in college. I go to the University of Denver and I am planning on majoring in International Studies and French. I am also playing rugby and enjoying the mountains for skiing.

WHAT SKILLS HAVE PROVEN THE MOST HELPFUL IN YOUR LIFE?

I think budgeting and planning are the skills that have been more helpful in my life, and also being more independent. I am in college now so being able to manage my money well is a very important skill to have. Also, being more confident with myself in problem-solving has been useful because I am not afraid to ask for help or interact with people I don’t know.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE WINTERLINE MEMORY?

Halloween night in Bocas Del Toro, Panama was a great night for everyone in the group. We all dressed up as zombies and went on a zombie bar crawl that was happening in the town. We all made our costumes and went out to celebrate as a group. It was very fun because we were not worried about anything and we were just there to have fun!

Winterline Alumni Ana Paulina
Ana and Prathana laughing together in Bangkok.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR CURRENT OR FUTURE WINTERLINE STUDENTS?

Advice that I wish someone would’ve given me is to make sure what your goals are and work hard to accomplish them. I had some goals I wanted to achieve but then forgot about them and was really sad when at the end of the trip I remembered all the things that I wanted to do. Also try all the food, it’s amazing.

And for current students, you probably hear this a lot but cherish every moment and every place you’re at. The trip goes by extremely fast and the only things you have to remember them by are your memories, so if you don’t have a good memory, like me, make sure to write them down or take a bunch of pictures and videos. Trust me, you’re going to wish you had them when you’re done.

A Guide to Winterline’s “ISP”

Overall, the idea of an ISP is simple: to provide students an opportunity to have freedom in what, with whom, and where they study. This week encourages all students to take a bigger step towards more independence. ISP weeks occur once in every trimester of the Winterline program, so a total of three times. The first two ISPs lead up to one of the best aspects of everyone’s time during Winterline: the Europe ISP. It’s during that week where students get to finally do what they’ve been planning all year, with full independence. To give prospective students and parents a better idea of what an ISP week is like, I’ll jump into my experience with ISPs as a former Winterline student.

My first ISP was in Monteverde, Costa Rica during the first trimester. I chose the “Spanish Language Intensive” course for five days, but the other choices ranged drastically. Some of my friends worked in an in-home bakery for the week, learning how to bake all sorts of delicious treats. One friend learned about foot reflexology and practiced on real patients. Two students even spent their time tree climbing and building a “sloth bridge.” In total, there were about 14 different things to choose from. During the week, I continued to learn Spanish with two amazing professors and I made huge strides towards becoming fluent! We all stayed with different homestay families during this week, which contributed towards our independence. I was with a young couple, and I had a great time getting to know them and speaking Spanish with them. At the end of the week, we all presented to our friends and homestay families, which allowed us all to learn a bit about what our peers had been doing in their ISP week.

Winterline_ISP_Anna Nickerson
Anna with the “Tarzan rope” at the suspended bridges tour in Monteverde

My second ISP was in India, and the theme of all the Indian ISPs was “self-care.” Options ranged from practicing yoga in an ashram, learning about Ayurvedic principles, practicing art and dance therapy, and spending time doing a variety of these things on a remote farm. I chose to learn about Ayurvedic principles and I learned much more than just that. I spent my week at Atmasantulana Village, one of India’s first and largest Ayurveda centers. I practiced yoga and meditation, listened to lectures about Ayurveda, took cooking and nutrition lessons, and discovered my interest in health and holistic care. I spent my time there with four other students on the program, which was a great way for us all to get closer with one another and take a break from being with the whole group.

Winterline_ISP_Anna Nickerson Alice and Anna post Holi | Photo From: Anna Nickerson
Alice and Anna celebrating Holi during their ISP in India.

My third and final ISP was my favorite. We all began planning our ISPs in the first trimester of the program, and this week was a culmination of all our hard work. I went to Paris to take cooking classes with a company called La Cuisine. It was one of my favorite weeks out of all of my Winterline experience, and the independence had a lot to do with that. I planned my days around cooking classes and was able to do and see so much in the city, despite having a busy schedule. Because I was alone, I was able to do everything I wanted. My friends did some amazing things too, like fashion design and film/photography classes in London, learning at a spa in Italy, cooking classes in Spain, cultural tours in Scotland, and even working on a farm in Slovenia. The Europe ISP week is a highlight for every student, and it’s actually one of the reasons I was originally so excited about Winterline when I enrolled.

Winterline_ISP_Anna Nickerson
Anna holding up her eclairs that she made at La Cuisine.

ISPs are an experience that follow each student throughout their time on Winterline. I personally learned the value of independence and being invested in topics and skills that I had an interest in, which ignited my own interest in doing things outside of program or ISP days. When I look back on my time as a Winterline student, the ISP weeks helped me grow and come out of my comfort zone more than any other times. If anything, I hope that sharing my experience with ISPs will help you decide to take a gap year with Winterline, or maybe even just find something that you want to learn about independently.

Alumni Spotlight: Daniela Mallarino

WHERE ARE YOU ORIGINALLY FROM AND WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW?

I’m originally from Bogota, Colombia, and right now I’m living in Toronto, Canada!

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?

Indeed, the idea of a gap year is still a new concept! I was mostly introduced to the idea of taking some time ‘off’ and doing something else before continuing institutionalized education. Two of my best friends and I were casually talking one day about what it meant to graduate and what we truly wanted to do with our lives and the idea of traveling together was something that really thrilled us. We all ended up taking some time before University! I chose Winterline, my other friend went to India for a year to teach English in an IB school and my other friend stayed in Bogota, Colombia. It was definitely the best idea we’ve ever had.

Daniela Winterline Alumni
Daniela exploring her photography with her Winterline friends.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I’ve always been adventurous and have always loved to travel. I just really wanted to explore more and discover new things while also acquiring some perspective on the world and what my responsibility as a human is. I didn’t feel satisfied with my possible career choices and I knew I wanted to learn more about what it meant to pursue a degree. In the end, I did it for myself. People kept telling me that it might not be the right moment, that you’re too young, that university won’t be the same if you don’t go right away… All sorts of things, but I think there’s never a perfect moment to do things. You kind of just have to go for it, and make them perfect for the moment. That’s what I did with the idea of taking a gap year.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE SKILL YOU LEARNED?

I think the best skill is learning to learn! We did so many diverse activities and were exposed to so many experiences, in the end we realized we had done things we never thought we would. It was a process, but it was very rewarding after all. If I had to narrow it down to one specific skill/moment I would say NOLS really left a mark on me. Learning to take situations equally seriously but in a more open and challenging setting was amazing and it inspired a lot of love and passion for nature and the connection we have with our environments. Other than that, learning about permaculture, natural building, and sustainability practices was extremely insightful and I find myself relating those experiences to my University knowledge really often.

Daniela Winterline Alumni
Daniela and Gabbi working with crops!

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE YOU VISITED?

As cliche as it is, it’s not the places it’s the people. I think that quote truly applies to Winterline and what it means to travel for long periods of time and move constantly. We met amazing people that inspired us in several ways and made our experience a complete journey; full of love, enthusiasm, and identity. It also depends on when you ask me. During the gap year I think Thailand was definitely the highlight, but now that you catch me in University (and prolonged winter), those days when chilling in hammocks was my routine were my favorite!

HAVE YOU TRAVELED SINCE WINTERLINE?

Yes! Right after Winterline ended I did a roadtrip with two of my gap year buddies. We drove from Boston to Maine and stayed at an Alpaca Farm! It was very inspiring to see our friendship grow outside of Winterline. I also went to Guatemala, and went camping in Canada a couple of times. I just have a need to move around and keep exploring!

HOW HAS WHAT YOU LEARNED ON YOUR GAP YEAR HELPED YOU IN REAL LIFE?

So many ways I can’t even label it. We are made out of stories, experiences, and the people we meet. Part of who I am was built during Winterline. It has definitely helped me see the world from a more comprehensive and complete perspective and it has allowed me to push myself outside of my comfort zone and do things that challenge me but that allow me to grow and learn as a person.

Daniela Winterline Alumni
Daniela roller skating during Winterline’s orientation week in Estes Park, Colorado.

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO NOW. 

Right now I’m pursuing my undergraduate degree in International Development Studies at the University of Toronto! It’s a complex and difficult degree, but everything I learn correlates with what I’ve done so far and what I want to do. It fuels my critical thinking and really confronts the conceived ideas we have about the world and the people around us. My degree is complemented with a one year placement in a country of my choice where I will have the opportunity to work with local organizations and communities to share experiences and knowledge. I’m really looking forward to it and what it can bring into my life, as well as what I can give during my placement. It adds more adventure and traveling to my life as well.

WHAT SKILLS HAVE PROVEN THE MOST HELPFUL IN YOUR LIFE?

Soft skills! Adaptability and open-mindedness are always present. University can get crazy sometimes, especially if you say yes to every opportunity that enhances your learning. I found myself having a part time job, writing 5 essays without a computer, having weekly meetings, taking care of my friends, sleeping like 5-6 hours a night and other crazy things, and without patience and adaptability I wouldn’t have made it. Now it’s type 2 fun, I can laugh at it. The skills you develop during Winterline that allow you to find yourself are crucial.

I’d say the best thing about Winterline, and something that really makes it stand out, is that you develop your own way of living as you go. You don’t get attached to a place or a specific routine, you get attached to the energy you have all along the year. This energy can be easily found afterwards, and that’s what makes Winterline so unique! You don’t forget what you learn because you’re slowly implementing it into your life and your social circle.

 DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE WINTERLINE MEMORY?

One of the memories I have is probably biking in Bangkok at night. It was absolutely amazing to shift lenses and appreciate the crowded streets with a drastic change in energy. It’s amazing how different a city looks when you experience it at different times of the day, and if you’re biking it gets even better. That was really fun and connecting. Other than that, I would say that the simple things, like having dinner as a group, exploring around with some friends, or doing planks in the middle of Prague are the memories that stay with me!

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR CURRENT OR FUTURE WINTERLINE STUDENTS?

Take it as it comes! Be open minded and learn from every situation. Believe me, a couple of months after it’s over you’re gonna want to revive those memories. Live them as intensely as you can and reflect. It sounds like an easy thing to do, but when things are challenging we forget how important it is to reflect. I would say, JOURNAL! Writing was an extremely important part for me during Winterline. Once you write it you can’t rescind it, and this becomes crucial when you grow and find yourself indulging in memories. It’s fun to see how you shift as a person and who you were a month, or a year from now. Don’t forget your pen and paper!

Introspective Reflection in India

The Creator, The Sustainer, and The Transformer. These three deities make up “Trimurti,” the trinity of supreme divinity in the religion of Hinduism. When they come together like this, they form one singular being that Hindu followers, and followers of other Indian religions, worship and highly revere. Despite the fact that I am not a follower of Hinduism, I find personal value in each of these three deities. The ideas behind Trimurti continue to teach me about myself and the roles I play in others’ lives as well as my own.  

I learned about Trimurti when I stayed at Atmasantulana, an Ayruvedic health center and ashram, during my independent study project in Lonavala, India. Ayurveda is an ancient practice of medicine that began in India. One of its main principles is to treat and cure the body holistically, as opposed to simply treating symptoms and ignoring root causes. They attempt to do so through diet, meditation, yoga, exercise and various Ayurvedic treatments. Over my five-day stay, I learned more about myself than I have in any other singular week on Winterline, which is saying a lot. I didn’t expect to have such an intense week of introspective reflection, especially given that the environment was so unorthodox by my standards.

Anna expressing herself with color in India | Photo By: Anna Nickerson
Anna expressing herself with color in India | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

Sunil, one of our clinic program directors, told us about Ayurveda on our first day. He taught us about the elements of the body, which are Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space. He explained that when all of our elements are in perfect symbiosis and alignment, the body will have no problems, but when one or more of the elements is misaligned, ailments and symptoms of the body will occur. The goal of Ayurveda, he explained, is to use natural methods to bring these elements back into alignment, therefore healing the body directly. As I went on the next few days, I kept what Sunil said in mind and stayed open to the idea that yoga, meditation, and following basic Ayurvedic principles could heal some of my body’s ailments. I quickly realized that my mindset was preventing me from healing, and I needed to change that.  

I had an appointment with an Ayurvedic physician during the middle of the week to discuss my chronic joint pain, digestive issues, and recurring acne, which have all plagued me for years. She went through my medical history with me, asked me questions about my lifestyle, and then “felt my pulses.” As silly as it may sound, she was feeling the pulse in my wrist for my “energy.” Within 30 seconds of this, she looked at me and said, “You get angry soon.” She meant that I have a quick temperament, and get upset with very little reaction time, which is true to an extent. I asked her to tell me more about this and how she felt it in my energy. She told me that I have too much “Vata,” which is responsible for the elements of air and space, and determine overall movement in the body. She prescribed me all-natural ayruvedic medicine and told me to meditate and practice yoga every day. I proceeded to go to the yoga sessions each morning and meditation each evening. After each session, I felt lighter and more comfortable within my own body. I didn’t feel any desire to worry or to stress, and I just felt good. When I thought about the stuff that had bothered me the previous week, it all seemed more trivial to me. And I seriously wondered if my temperament was really preventing me from healing and being a more productive person. I wanted to keep this feeling of calmness and stability, which was so new to me. 

anna kayaking
Anna kaying in India. | Photo From: Anna Nickerson

I have attained, and am still attaining, more calmness and less temperament in my daily life. I have a deeper understanding of what I need to keep myself grounded, and I am more comfortable being “selfish” when it is necessary for me to take care of myself, especially while living with a large group of people. Meditation is now a part of my routine, and yoga is something I sometimes incorporate when I have enough floor space in my hostel room.

The thing I often come back to is the idea behind Trimurti, which has deeply resonated with me since I first learned about it. We all have aspects of the creator, the sustainer, and the transformer within us. I’ve found that it’s by looking at those aspects of ourselves that we are able to identify what we do well, and what could be improved. I am a great creator and sustainer within most realms of my life, but when it comes to “transforming,” I have a difficult time. By actively recognizing that, and framing it in an intuitive way that works for me, I am able to work on myself and let go of so much.

India | Photo By: Anna Nickerson
India | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

I am my own creator and my own sustainer and my own transformer. The biggest lesson for me in the last few weeks has been this idea, but applied to my mindset and attitude about my life. I create my mindset. I am the creator of my own environment and my own reactions to what happens in my life. I sustain my mindset. I am able to look at the grand scheme of things, believe that what I am doing in this moment is helping me now and in the future, and actively sustain my progress. And I can transform my mindset.  I hold the power to transform my own life. And it’s liberating.

 

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: Emma Mays

Gap Year Students on the Winterline Global Skills Gap Year Program travel to 10 different countries over 9 months, where they 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 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-gap year student
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-gap year student
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 student
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 student
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.

Social Entrepreneurship: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

The term, “social entrepreneurship” comes up almost every day as I travel through Southeast Asia. People interpret this term differently, which makes sense given that the buzzword combines two complex ideas; society/social causes and entrepreneurship. As someone who wants to become a social entrepreneur, I want to break down the meaning of this term and what I have gained by looking at it through a cross-cultural lense.

I personally define social entrepreneurship as a mindset, rather than a component of a business entity. I believe that all social enterprises must start as social enterprises. This mindset cannot be an afterthought, rather the foundational aspect of any successful social enterprise.

Anna cutting the ribbon at Clarity’s launch event last year!
Anna cutting the ribbon at Clarity’s launch event last year!

During my senior year of high school, I was the CEO of a social enterprise, called “Clarity.” My peers and I started the business to bring awareness to teenage suicide within our school district. Our mission was to decrease factors in our school and district that played a role in teen suicide by promoting positive future-seeking visions in every student. We achieved this by selling unique water bottles and stickers that acted as conversations starters within our school. From my own personal experience of having friends and family members suffer from suicidal thoughts, I feel strongly about the issue and I wanted to make a change, even if it was on a small scale within in my high school. The name “Clarity” was inspired by the lack of clarity that many teenagers face in their lives, and that they struggle to find. Our slogan “See Your Future” encouraged students to look past these clouding visions and see their own unique futures.

Our enterprise was successful, both socially and fiscally. We nearly quadrupled our initial investment, which we then donated to a local mental health center and our high school’s business department. We also had better results from students, regarding mental health and conversations about suicide, in our post-business survey. We only attained success because we were passionate about our mission, and we were involved primarily for the social outcome. We succeeded because of our entrepreneurial spirit and passion for achieving our mission.

Clarity goes international
Clarity goes international

I recently interviewed Max Simpson, a social entrepreneur and SEN (special educational needs) teacher who co-founded “Steps with Theera.” This restaurant/café is located in Bangkok, Thailand and is on a mission to create a place where everyone is accepted for who they are, which they attain by supporting special-needs people through sustainable employment and other measures. Max didn’t move to Bangkok in search of business opportunities nor did she have any idea that she’d ever become an entrepreneur. She was an SEN teacher in Bangkok for 4 years until she discovered the lack of social and educational support for adults with SEN. She then decided to leave her job as a teacher and collaborated with her co-founder, Theera, to build the social enterprise they have today.

Theera and Max
Theera and Max

Max defines the term “social enterprise” as, “Helping a social cause whilst developing sustainable business opportunities – which in turn creates wider awareness and acceptance.” Max’s answer varies from my own personal definition of social entrepreneurship, and probably varies from your very own definition. But that’s okay. What I’ve learned while traveling in Southeast Asia, and working with many social enterprises, is that we all define this term differently.

Steps with Theera
Steps with Theera

Despite the disparity amongst definitions, there is a common theme amongst the international definitions of social entrepreneurship. And I believe that it is finding the symbiotic relationship between one’s chosen social cause and their means of entrepreneurship. It’s all in the balance between the two, which can vary from business to business. Social enterprises that you’ve most likely heard of such as Seventh Generation, Newman’s Own, and even Teach for America, all have different missions and their own unique ways of defining “social entrepreneurship” for themselves, but they all have mastered the balance between their social and fiscal goals.

All successful social enterprises, corporate or small-scale, have an unbreakable passion for their chosen social cause and a foundational mindset of what social entrepreneurship means to them. Throughout this trimester I have learned more about what social entrepreneurship means to me personally and to others that I’ve met in different countries. And after what I’ve seen in, I know that the entrepreneurial spirit is something that no one can take away from me, or anyone else who has it.

To learn more about Winterline’s relationship with social enterprises, please contact us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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 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.

 

Healthy Travel Tips

I have an impressively weak immune system and a knack for getting bizarre diseases and sicknesses. I have gotten a number of eye and ear infections while in Hawaii and California, stomach bugs in the Dominican Republic and Canada, and I even discovered I had a MRSA staph infection on my leg two days before leaving for Tanzania. I take my own health precautions more seriously when I travel to foreign countries to avoid malaria, the dreaded “Montezuma’s revenge,” and other travel-provoking illnesses. But unfortunately, within the last two months of trimester 2, I have gotten sick in every city that we’ve been to. Along the way, I’ve learned some things about my own health habits that I’d love to share.

Whether you decide to take a gap year with Winterline, or a family vacation, these tips will help you stay healthier and happier abroad…

#1) Take Daily Probiotics

I always take daily probiotics, whether I am traveling or at home, but it can get easy to slack off on remembering to take these pills every morning. Set a reminder on your phone for the same time every day (and adjust it when you change time zones) so that you remember to take that probiotic every day. Your gut will thank you.

#2) Exercise Regularly

I find it extremely difficult to fit in time (or space) for exercise while traveling. Spending only 20 minutes a day to go on a long walk, roll out the yoga mat, or go for a swim will keep your body so much stronger and up for the toll that travel has on the body. I have found many simple exercises that you can do without any equipment online and recommend coming up with a plan that will keep yourself accountable to your physical wellbeing while traveling.

Anna biking in Cambodia with Winterline student, Alex. | Photo from: Anna Nickerson
Anna biking in Cambodia with Winterline student, Alex. | Photo from: Anna Nickerson

#3) Everything in Moderation (even moderation, sometimes)

One of the biggest challenges for a lot of people this trimester has been eating healthy. With all the amazing new food in different countries, there are plenty of healthy options to explore. But there are also Burger Kings on every corner of Phnom Penh and 7-11’s in Bangkok, which can be tempting, especially when you’re homesick. The way I have been able to avoid this issue is to allow myself “treats” such as an ice cream bar on a particularly hot day or a soda with dinner. It has helped me immensely to not be strict with my diet, but to keep in mind that almost everything I eat should be in moderation. Encourage yourself and your travel buddies to try the local street food and skip the McDonalds.

Anna enjoying a local cafe with fellow Winterline Gapper, Alice. | Photo by: Anna Nickerson
Anna enjoying a local cafe with fellow Winterline Gapper, Alice. | Photo by: Anna Nickerson

#4) Get Good Sleep!  

This is a huge one that I am convinced has caused a lot of my sicknesses this trimester. I have gotten into the pattern of staying up late to watch Netflix, talk to friends, or work on my writing, and then needing to get up early for program days. I try to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night, program day or not, and reserve my late nights for the weekends. It’s easier said than done, but once you get into this habit, which can be aided by incorporating melatonin or meditation into your nightly routine, you will avoid getting sick.

#5) Drink CLEAN Water

I may or may not have gotten sick in Phnom Penh because I wasn’t careful about where my drinking water/ice was coming from in restaurants. It’s obviously important to drink water, whether you’re traveling or not. For me, this looks like carrying around a Nalgene and filling it up with bottled or filtered water in the hotels and hostels. Don’t be afraid to ask your waiter if their water is filtered or bottled, and even ask them to see their water filter. It’s your health, and it’s your responsibility to make sure that you are consuming clean water and ice. I learned that the hard way, so don’t make that mistake!

Anna exploring with water in tow. | Photo From: Anna Nickerson
Anna exploring with water in tow. | Photo From: Anna Nickerson

#6) Go to the Hospital (if necessary)

My automatic assumption was that healthcare in Southeast Asia was bad. I had to put this stereotype to the test when I went to an international hospital in Bangkok due to my incessant cough attacks and fatigue. It was the most beautiful hospital I had ever been to and the staff was amazing. I was diagnosed with acute bronchitis, got my medication, and was on my way. Obviously not all hospital experiences around the world will be like this, but don’t push the idea of going to a hospital aside, especially when you really need it. Do your research before going to the hospital, and have a friend evaluate you to see if you really even need to go.

This brings me right to my most important tip…

#7) DO YOUR RESEARCH

Before I left for Southeast Asia, I had a check-up with my physician. I showed her the list of the countries and cities I’d be visiting and she showed me how to look up medical facts about each place that are vital to know if you want to be an informed traveler. All of this information is available through the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov). If you want to stay healthy, you absolutely have to do your research well before traveling to a new country.

Anna researching the next steps of her adventure while abroad.

I will be the first person to say that being sick while traveling is not fun. The physical toll it has taken on my body also infringes on my ability to be present on Winterline somedays, and I wish I had taken even more precautions before entering Southeast Asia. Make your health a priority, and I promise your experience anywhere in the world will be so much more worthwhile!

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!

The Highs and Lows of Time Traveling

The following blog contains graphic descriptions of the Cambodian Killing Fields and strife Cambodian people experienced. Though I highly encourage you to read on, their stories can be extremely intense and might not be suited for all readers.

One month ago, our little Green Gang reunited in the Los Angeles airport to embark on the larger portion of our nine-month travel program. Next stop: Cambodia. 3 plane rides, 30 hours of travel, and the loss of January 21st (rest in peace). It was a draining day, but most of us were just happy to see each other again. There were so many questions to ask about our time spent apart; the air was buzzing with intrigue and excitement. For a lot of us it was our first time in Cambodia, or Southeast Asia itself, and no knew quite what to expect.

The first thing that hit me when we got off the plane was the familiar smell that is unique to the environment of Southeast Asia. I relaxed immediately as a combination of dust, fried foods, tropical plants, warmth, and faint hints of the sheer cloth of pollution that envelops the region filled my lungs. Contrary to what you might think, it’s inviting, and as someone who’s grown up travelling back and forth from India, it felt like home.

Photo By: Leela Ray
Photo By: Leela Ray

The air was thick with humidity and heat; sweat beaded on everyone’s temples as we clamoured to get on the large (air conditioned) charter bus sent to take us to our hostel. Finally, in a sleep-deprived stupor, we lugged our backpacks, duffle bags, daypacks, and spare miscellaneous objects into our respective rooms and, save for some 3am wake-up calls courtesy of jet-lag, we slept for the next twelve hours before diving into our second trimester.

To say I’m unaffected by most things would be an overstatement, however I can say that travelling for four months and constantly experiencing new things has created a me that is far less anxious or attached to trivial matters. I’m by no means enlightened, but I am far better at seeing the big picture, and I breathe easier knowing that this too, whatever it is, shall pass. All that being said, I was struck by the intensity and grief that presented itself to me at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre in Phnom Penh. We’d been in Cambodia all of three days and I already was seeing things I never expected, let alone was aware of.

I’m not necessarily well versed in world history, it’s a small stain on my otherwise acceptable school record, but it was astonishing to find that only a small handful of us knew about the Cambodian genocide that occurred from 1975-1978. Communism was on the rise, and with some of the US bombings of Vietnam spilling into Cambodia, there was a perfect opportunity for one Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge to quickly rise to power. With the intent of returning Cambodia to an agrarian society, Pol Pot persecuted the educated intellectuals and those who rejected his ideals, along with the sick, old, young, and weak. Those persecuted were sent first to prisons, and then to killing fields, where a third of the Cambodian population perished.

Photo By: Leela Ray
Photo By: Leela Ray
Photo By: Leela Ray
Photo By: Leela Ray

We witnessed one of these mass graves. I still don’t have all the words to describe it. I will forever struggle to fathom the scale on which so many people were not just murdered, but tortured and maimed. Though I’ve seen memorials like this, in Israel and India, they never fail to stop me in my tracks. The tyranny and sadistic acts of Pol Pot the Khmer Rouge rivaled those of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime, and yet rarely anyone in westernized nations knows what happened.

Victims of Choeung Ek were men, women, children, and infants; they were mostly from Sector 21, a Khmer Rouge operated prison. Kept in the dark, both literally and figuratively, these tortured and starved individuals were shuttled to the repurposed orchard in the middle of the night under the guise of being brought to another prison. Upon arrival, they were immediately sent to a violent death. Because bullets and gunpowder were deemed too expensive, officers of the Khmer Rouge made use of the farming tools that previous inhabitants had left behind. Everyday items such as backhoes and shovels became weapons of mass murder, and chemicals were sprayed upon the dying to seal their fate. Pop music blared on loudspeakers that hung from a large tree in the centre of the camp to drown out the screaming. It was this and the ominous hum of a large diesel generator that serenaded these souls to their death. Corpses were packed tightly into pits not much larger than king sized beds, with bones upon bones upon bones, their graves just as ghastly as their living conditions. Despite being excavated a few decades ago, heavy rains still drag bones up through the soil, and scrapes of clothing protrude from the dusty earth.

It was difficult to start out our trip with such a harrowing experience, but ultimately it made me look at each Cambodian person with an elevated sense of respect. After all, you could look around and it was apparent that an entire generation was missing from the streets. Every face you saw knew someone who either perished or was still lost to them, yet somehow the Cambodian people still found a way to smile and live life to its fullest.

Leela's mixology instructor in Cambodia | Photo By: Leela Ray
Leela’s mixology instructor in Cambodia | Photo By: Leela Ray
Alice in Cambodia | Photo By: Leela Ray
Alice in Cambodia | Photo By: Leela Ray

Following our history lesson, we spent the next two weeks learning how to draw, use animation software, sharpen our bargaining skills, mix the perfect drink, explore and navigate different communication styles, and live purposefully. Though I wish I could write a little about everything, that many words would keep even me struggling to stay attentive. So here is where I leave you, at the end of Phnom Penh and the beginning a five hour bus ride to the Siem Reap. I’ve made new friends, strengthened relationships with old ones, gained more insight and respect for different cultures, and finally begun to settle into the routine of once again living my life from seventy litres of canvas. At the end of it all this much is certain: even being 8000 miles away from everything I know, I feel more at home than I ever have, and I can’t wait to see what antics we get up to next.

T0 hear more from our Leela and our other students check out our student voices page.

Thank you, Cambodia.

I had just finished my delicious seafood fried rice and dragon fruit smoothie at a local Khmer restaurant down the street from my hostel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I started heading back to the hostel to fill up my water before going back to the yoga studio where programming was that day. As I made it into my room, I quickly realized that I had misplaced my sunglasses (an absolute necessity under the scorching southeast Asian sun). I tore my room apart trying to find them, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I half-heartedly accepted the loss, but as I walked back I stopped at the restaurant anyways. I asked the hostess if I had left my sunglasses at my lunch table, but she told me the staff hadn’t seen any. I thanked her and walked away from the restaurant. I crossed a couple busy streets with tuk-tuks, motorcycles, taxis, and people on bicycles weaving in and out of the traffic, and I eventually made it to a sidewalk when I heard someone behind me yelling. Assuming it was a street vendor or tuk-tuk driver trying to get my attention, I ignored it. But after a few seconds, I turned around curiously. A man on a motorcycle stopped next to me and waved. I recognized him from the restaurant as he handed me my sunglasses. He smiled as I thanked him repeatedly, and then we both carried on in our opposite directions.

This all took place on my first full day in Cambodia, and I feel that this little anecdote fully encapsulates my 3-week experience in Cambodia. Earlier that same morning, we had been with our regional director who was giving us an orientation of the country. He told us the precautions we needed to take in order to prevent theft and assault, and how to maximize our personal safety. Given that it was my first day in a new city, country, and continent, I had my guard up, especially with my newfound knowledge of Phnom Penh’s dangers. My experience with the man and my sunglasses completely altered my view of the Cambodian people, and shifted my perception of where I was.

Phnom Penh | Photo By: Anna Nickerson
Phnom Penh | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

As most of my friends and family know, I hate big cities. They tend to be overcrowded, loud, dirty, and congested, all of which are things that stress me out. I hardly find myself going out of my way to get into a city; typically, I do just the opposite. Being from both Washington State and Colorado, I have become accustomed to living in more rural and natural environments with easy access to the ocean and rivers and forests and mountains. First trimester’s somewhat rural settings of Wyoming, Belize, and Costa Rica were right up my alley. But upon arriving to Phnom Penh, I knew it would be a challenge for me to assimilate to “big city living.” After my encounter with the man from the restaurant, I found myself looking for more positive aspects of being in a big city rather than dwelling on the things I hated about it. No longer afraid or extremely weary of my environment, I naturally became more accustomed to Phnom Penh, and genuinely appreciated what it had to offer, even though it wasn’t where I was actively choosing to live.

Tuk Tuk | Photo By: Anna Nickerson
Tuk Tuk | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

I went out of my way to break through my own discomforts about being in the city, which didn’t come as naturally to me as it did to most people in my group. I forced myself to cross the street without hesitation, holding my ground with the motorcycles and tuk-tuks zooming in and out around me (and not letting myself freak out). I stayed open-minded about eating the local cuisine by eating at different restaurants and cafes, night markets, and street vendors. I even made an effort to take Natanielle’s advice of “speaking smile” by smiling at the locals, even if I couldn’t speak with them in their native language.

The overarching lesson I learned from that occurrence on my first day in Phnom Penh is that both receiving and giving little acts of kindnesses, especially while traveling abroad, can become pivotal moments that alter your view of where you are, how you act, and the culture around you. I want to thank that man from the restaurant, wherever he is and whatever he is doing. His act of hospitality and kindness allowed me to see Cambodia for what it is: an amazing country that has gone through immense loss, yet is filled with some of the kindest and genuine people I’ve encountered.

Thank you to that man, and thank you to Cambodia.

To hear more from our Anna check out our student voices page, as well as her personal blog.

 

 

 

 

Home, Sweet Home? A Teenager’s Guide To Reverse Culture Shock

I’m back, and I have a lot of feelings.

Previously on “Leela’s Winterline Adventure” you took a step inside an amazing in-home bakery. What happened next? We drove to San Jose, spent a few final days debriefing, and then dispersed back across the United States and Europe to our respective families and friends. For seven weeks. I was ready to go home. Though trimester one was amazing, it was also one of the hardest periods of time in my life.

The biggest oversight I had when preparing for Winterline was that living with eleven other people wouldn’t be difficult. I’d been a part of multiple different programs where I was living as part of a larger group, and the social aspect of things had never been an issue. I feel like it should’ve been obvious, but it didn’t occur to me that when you take a dozen people from different states, ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles and ship them over two thousand miles away from everything they know, there’s going to be some issues.

Reality set in, and suddenly I was hyper aware that everything I thought I knew about myself was a reflection of everyone else around me. In simpler terms? I discovered that 90% of my values and ideologies were just echoes of the people in my life.

Photo from Leela’s Holiday

Flash forward two months and I finally had a grasp on what I meant to myself. Two months of almost giving up. Two months of sitting by myself wondering if anyone would ever want to sit next to me. Two months of the most profound self-growth I have ever experienced. I became someone whom I didn’t recognise, and it was awesome. The woman looking back at me in the mirror stands taller, speaks clearer, and creates the world around her, rather than the world projecting onto her.

Yet, right when I felt like a new person, I was stuck with the reality of returning to a home where not much had changed. Before we left, we all got together to acknowledge how far we’d come, and we were forewarned of the dreaded “sameness” we would encounter upon our homecoming. Equipped with this knowledge, I braced myself, but the mental preparation was to no avail.

My parents asked me maybe four questions about my adventure, and my friends, save for those few special beings, asked me zero. It was like I had never left, and it was infuriating. As much as I love my friends, they were living the same days they always had. Granted, for some of them that meant fruitful productive lives, but I’m talking about the ones who spent more time envying my life (and then proceeding to either make resentful comments or completely avoid asking me about my travels at all) than focusing on what they could do to make theirs better. In fact, there’s a part of me that wishes I hadn’t told certain people when I’d be home, because ultimately, they wanted to hang out with me, but never found anything to do when we did. When I finally conceded to being in the company of these particular individuals they wouldn’t tell me about their lives, most likely because they were comparing our experiences, but wouldn’t ask me about my adventures either, probably for the exact same reason.

Photo from Leela’s Holiday

So yeah, that sucked, there’s no amount of eloquent wording I can use to disguise that, but it wasn’t all in vain. There wasn’t immediate acknowledgement of my growth, nor was I celebrated with fanfare and confetti. My recognition came in the form of a holiday party I wasn’t even planning to go to, full of food I couldn’t eat and drunk adults gambling with alcohol minis. It was my first appearance at any event since returning home, and I was immediately roped into conversation with a family friend. It was in this conversation that I received the most validating compliment I’ve ever gotten.

“You stand different,” she said, and I inflated like a balloon. Someone was finally noticing the person who now looks back at me in the mirror, I was elated. My struggles weren’t all for naught, because though she couldn’t pinpoint it, she saw me as I wanted to be seen. My outsides reflected my insides, and it wasn’t all in my head.

That excitement lasted all of five minutes, because pleasure is a temporary high, and I went home that night noticing I didn’t feel any different than from before I was given that compliment. Then I realized that it wasn’t a bad thing, because I felt good. I had always felt good, regardless of what was said. I knew intrinsically that I was different, and it was enough. I was chasing after something that ultimately just enabled me to see how much happier I was after my two months with Winterline.

Photo from Leela’s Holiday

Moral of the story (because you know there always is one): if you feel different, like really truly different, after having a life experience, chances are you are. The experience doesn’t have to be taking everything you know, throwing it out the window, and living out of a backpack for three months (although I won’t lie to you, it is a pretty good launch point). It can be as simple as starting a daily practice of something beneficial to your health and overall well-being. It doesn’t have to be a lot; making a mental note of people’s passions and mannerisms or making an effort to be extra intentional with your words is enough. In fact, these are the changes I made, travelling the world just gave me the right platform for commitment.

I’ll leave you with a quote from my high-school math teacher, who said the following: “Say you draw an infinite line from a vertex, and then draw a second infinite line just one degree off from the first. Although initially there is an almost undetectable distance between the two lines, ultimately you would find, if you were to follow them, that two points equidistant from the vertex would be miles from each other down the road.” In non-mathematical terms: it’s the littlest change that can make the biggest difference in the long run. So even if you’re not on a course like Winterline, try making a commitment to changing something small in your life, you never know where it will take you.

 

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

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*

 

 

 

Connecting, Not Just Communicating: The Beauty of Learning a Foreign Language

During my final week in Costa Rica, I did something that I had not anticipated doing before starting Winterline. I presented my photo essay about the suspended bridges of Monteverde to a room full of local Costa Ricans and my Winterline peers. I presented my photos, some brief research I had conducted about the bridges, and my opinion on how the bridges contribute holistically to the town; they individually affect the economy, the natural beauty, and tourism of Monteverde in a positive manner.

I presented entirely in Spanish.

Now, let me go back a little bit… I have been taking Spanish in a classroom for the last six years and I am in love with the language. I find myself listening to “Latin Pop” more often than any other playlist, and I religiously translate words from English to Spanish in my head. There have been a few cases in which I have been able to actually apply my Spanish skills, like when I went to the Dominican Republic for a service project, or when my family and I occasionally go to Mexico on vacation. But it wasn’t until my Independent Study Week (ISP) in Monteverde where I actually realized that my Spanish-speaking capabilities can take me further than greeting someone or asking where the bathroom is.

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

We each got the opportunity to choose our own ISPs before heading to Central America. Given my interest in improving my Spanish, I signed up for the “Intensive and Immersive Spanish Course,” which may have been one of my best decisions on Winterline thus far. Over the 5-day course, I learned so much about the language, and more importantly Hispanic culture, by simply speaking in nothing other than Spanish. Evelyn, one of my professors, and I spoke entirely in Spanish for four hours straight on my first day of class. I told her about my family and my health and my best friends at home and my reason for doing Winterline, the list goes on. I told her about so many things that I didn’t previously think I was capable of talking about in Spanish. We had genuine conversation in another language and it was beautiful.

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

Unfortunately, many people approach learning a language too concretely and without a “big-picture” mindset. They only see it as another way to communicate, and nothing more. And people who can speak multiple languages are seen as a novelty rather than an opportunity to learn about connecting (“Breaking The Language Barrier”) with other people and cultures. I initially approached learning Spanish in a very definitive and concrete way by thinking that it was only taught in a classroom. I’ve realized after my ISP that learning a language isn’t just about the language- it is also about the culture. During my week, I took a cooking class, a dance class, and even went on a tour of the suspended bridges- all things that make up the town of Monteverde and more broadly, Costa Rican and Hispanic culture. I’ve also come to realize after speaking a significant amount of Spanish, that learning a new language opens doors to connection. I made real relationships with my two professors, Evelyn and Jessie, and connected with each of them on different levels. I learned about their lives and why they’re teachers. They even gave me personal advice for my travels to come on Winterline. If we all look at learning new languages as ways to simply communicate, we are looking at language-learning incorrectly. Sure, communication comes as a result of learning a new language, but the ability to connect is one that only some people will find as they speak in foreign languages and actually engage and put effort into conversations. This is where language-learning becomes important, and very fun.

Winterline-Monteverde
One of the bridges on the tour. | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

But, I digress. Back to my presentation. We were all required to present individually about our ISP weeks; what we did, who we did it with, what we learned, etc. I had been preparing a photo essay for my presentation and knew throughout the whole week that I would be speaking in Spanish, by choice, to a room full of native speakers. Honestly, I was terrified. I prepared my photos and my PowerPoint presentation and even went to the Monteverde Institute early on the morning of presentations just to practice with Jessie, my other professor. She assured me that my speaking was perfect, yet I stayed anxious throughout the day.

Winterline_Monteverde
One of the bridges on the tour. | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

Sure enough, it came time to present and I put my whole heart into it. But, my hands were shaky as I pulled up my presentation onto the screen and I could hear my soft voice quiver as I introduced myself and my photo essay. As I moved on throughout the presentation, I stood up taller and spoke louder with more confidence. The words flew out of my mouth without even thinking. “Is this how becoming fluent in Spanish feels like?” I asked myself silently. I completed my presentation and absolutely beamed as my audience members gave me a round of applause and complimented me.

Winterline_Anna Nickerson
Learning to make home-made/hand-made corn tortillas in cooking class! (It’s much harder than it looks) | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

I felt connected with the entire room and proud of myself for making an effort to connect. I didn’t have to speak in Spanish, and initially I did not want to, but I stepped out of my comfort zone and began to finally see language for what it is: an opportunity to connect, not just to communicate.

 

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

Sugar, Butter, Flour: What’s Inside My Final Week Of Trimester One.

It’s raining again, not unlike the rain I see in Seattle. Less of a real rain, and more of a drizzle. It’s a subtle reminder that my final days here are drawing to a close, and soon I will return to the bustling streets of the Emerald City. I will return to my own bed, in my own house. I will be able to wear something other than the same five outfits I’ve been recycling for the past two months. I will fall back into the routine of both loving and hating my sister, and be reunited with the taste of homemade Indian food from my mother. I’ll get to go home.

All of these thoughts race through my head as I make my way down the cracked narrow sidewalk, one of few existing in the small mountain town of Monteverde, Costa Rica, but I can’t indulge them yet. Something in me knows that I cannot spend my last moments here with one foot in a different world, especially not on Thanksgiving.

I look back over my shoulder to find Alex beaming back at me, her black rain jacket is half-way zipped, and her long dark hair whips around playfully in the breeze. A local greets us as we pass him. “Pura vida,” he says. It’s a customary phrase here that means pure life, among other things, and we echo him in response. We’re on our way to see the rest of our cohort for the first time in four days. It doesn’t sound like long, but when you’ve lived, worked, and played beside the same people for two months, you can’t help but notice their absence.

Ingrid's Bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray
Ingrid’s Bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray

Part of Winterline’s programming in Costa Rica involves partnering with Monteverde Institute to spend five days living with a family and being independent from the group. In addition to living with these homestay families, we were also assigned to a collection of businesses, artists, and teachers to study a specific skill during the week. I had the privilege of studying with Ingrid Martinez at her in home bakery for five days and it was, without a doubt, my favorite week of our first trimester.

Baking has always been a passion of mine. Whenever a birthday comes around my friends call on me for sweet treats, and I’m happy to oblige. It’s a stress reliever for me, and it was the perfect way to finish up my first few months with Winterline. This past week I’ve lived and breathed sugar, butter, and flour, and I couldn’t be happier about the outcome. I not only learned how to bake traditional Costa Rican pastries and breads, but I also got to practice my Spanish and gain a better understanding of one of my passions. I’ve learned how to make everything, from cinnamon rolls to rosemary bread, lemon bars to bagels. Name it and I probably made it.

Bakery Perfection | Photo From: Leela Ray
Bakery Perfection | Photo From: Leela Ray
Baking at Ingrid's | Photo From: Leela Ray
Baking at Ingrid’s | Photo From: Leela Ray

Most of my cohort member’s did their study independently, but I was one of four people who had a partner. Enter, Alex Messitidis. At first I was a little disgruntled by the idea of not being truly independent while learning, but by the end of the week, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience or a better person to be working with. My mum is East Indian, and Alex comes from a Greek family; cooking and baking runs in both our bloods. We’ve grown up around the belief that good food can bring people together, and bring us together it did. Though I’d always considered Alex a friend, I’d never had the chance to truly get to know her, and contrary to what we both initially thought, we have a lot in common. We spent most of our days elbows deep in flour or struggling over the art of rolling dough (it’s harder than it sounds), but when things were in the oven, we passed the time by telling each other stories about our lives.

Alex at Ingrid's Bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray
Alex at Ingrid’s Bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray
Leela and Alex together at Ingrid's Bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray
Leela and Alex together at Ingrid’s Bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray

Mitzy, Ingrid’s daughter, taught us alongside her mother. She was only a couple years older than us, but her knowledge and maturity was that of someone much older than her. She worked with us, laughed with us (and at us), and even joined us in dancing in the kitchen when all there was to do was wait for whatever was in the oven. Even though we only spent five days with them, Ingrid and Mitzy treated us like family. They were encouraging, kind, and infinitely patient. I would do anything to spend just one more day with them.

Working at the bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray
Working at the bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray

The week flew by, and I’m sad to see the end of it. Through all the chaos our little green gang has seen, it’s been nice to fall into the routine of Monteverde: get up, have breakfast, catch the bus to work, spend the day in the bakery, grab a coffee at the local espresso shop, and return home to spend the evening with my homestay family. This little makeshift Thanksgiving of ours is a subtle reminder that home is where the heart is, and my heart is here. The simplicity of life here is enviable, and it’s made me appreciate the little things. Things like sunsets, salt that hasn’t yet portrayed its hydrophilic qualities, and having people to come home to at the end of the day. As I sit down at this table, watching my newfound family file in, I can’t help but smile. Good food, good friends, and something new to learn every single day. It really is pure life.

 

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

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).

Thrown Off the Deep End: My Experience Diving in Belize

Change. Audible groans normally ensue after hearing this word. The idea of “change” is difficult for many people to wrap their heads around. It’s in our nature to want stability and to find comfort in the consistency of our day-to-day routines. The negative connotation that comes with the word “change” often comes as a result of people not wanting to stray outside of their comfort zones. There’s such a stigma around this word, which I sometimes don’t understand. I am unique in the fact that I actually like change- or rather, I am used to it. In the past eight years, I have learned how to live in two separate homes. I move back and forth between my mom and dad’s house every two weeks, needing to re-adjust for different expectations at each house. It hasn’t been easy and I have gotten sick of moving back and forth between their houses, but a lot of good has come of it. Because of my unique upbringing, I do not struggle adapting to change as much as others, especially while traveling. Throughout my three weeks in Belize, I did not have a difficult time adjusting to the language barrier or the culture or the food. The challenge of being in a foreign country was more fun for me than anything. However, learning to scuba dive literally threw me off the deep end. Diving put me into an extended period of discomfort and forced me to experience a lot of change, both physically and emotionally.

After spending 2 weeks in Big Falls and Punta Gorda, our final destination in Belize was Placencia. Our sole purpose was to get our scuba certification over a 3-day course with our partner, Splash Dive Center. We spent our first day in a classroom, so I felt very comfortable learning in that type of environment. After spending hours and hours watching videos about safety, hand signals, equipment and everything in between, we took a variety of quizzes and then went onto our final exam. After getting a 91% on the test and 100% on my RDP dive table test, I was more than confident going into the next two days of actually diving. It was a slight mistake to be that confident.

Anna Nickerson
Photo By: Anna Nickerson

As we got onto the dive boat the next day, I knew I was in for a challenging two days. The dive instructors were barking orders at each other while simultaneously going through equipment with their students while also directing people on the boat, all while rain poured down to the point that it was painful on my skin. After spending an hour on the boat, we made it to our island and were instructed to get all of our gear on and enter the water with the “Giant Stride” technique. I got into the water and felt both anxious and excited as I swam towards my instructor and two dive buddies. We went through four confined water dives, which are mini skill-building courses underwater. We went through the motions of clearing our masks, taking our masks off, swimming without a mask and even briefly swimming without our air source, among a variety of other skills. I did not like these skills. When I first cleared my mask, I panicked and rushed to the surface (important thing NOT to do while diving) and got charley horse cramps every time I panicked, which did not help with my level of anxiety at all. I “mastered” the required skills by the time we finished our confined water dives, but I was not confident about going into the open water dive next.

After resting and eating lunch on the boat, it was right back to the water for our first open water dive. I used the Giant Stride technique and followed my instructor to forty feet below the surface. As we descended, a wave of excitement and optimism came over me. I could breathe easily and when we reached the bottom, I realized that enduring the miserable skill building was worth it. I was at the bottom of the ocean! I was in absolute awe of where I was and what I was doing. I was at peace for the first time since starting the day and it gave me even more respect for my mom, who is a passionate scuba diver. I felt like I could finally get a glimpse of something that has always made her so happy and it felt very special. After swimming around for a bit and exploring the diverse marine life, we had to perform our skills. The skills went surprisingly well and I felt prepared to take on our next dive.

Scuba Anna Nickerson
Photo By: Anna Nickerson

On the next dive, I almost died. Okay, not actually, but that’s what I’ve been telling people. It may be a slight exaggeration, but what happened was one of the scariest experiences I’ve had. We had just finished swimming around on our second open water dive and it was time to perform our skills at a greater depth. My instructor motioned to me that I needed to get air from my buddy’s second air source. I signaled “out of air” to Alice and she grabbed onto my arm as I reached for her back-up regulator. Her regulator wouldn’t come loose of her BCD so I had to swim closer to her torso and force the regulator in my mouth. I breathed in and no air entered my mouth, only a few big gulps of sea water. I tried again only to experience the same awful result. I noticed we were floating up to the surface and at this point I was in a complete frenzy. I was out of air and didn’t know what to do. My mind went completely blank. I lost my ability to think. My instructor finally put my own first stage regulator into my mouth and as I got air, I shrieked into my regulator out of a combination of fear and relief. I regained control of myself and we all continued with the dive. I was very cautious for the rest of the dive and made sure to remember to keep breathing. When we surfaced, my instructor explained that I had been trying to use Alice’s regulator upside down. I made a mental note not to do that again. We headed back to the dive center, cleaned and put our equipment away, and we were done with the day. I felt so relived to be on land and didn’t want the next day to come because I knew that meant more scuba and therefore even more discomfort.

Despite my wishes, that next morning did come. I promised to myself that I would stay calm no matter what happened during the day. But… I broke that promise upon surfacing from my first open water dive of the day. Our instructor told us to take off our BCD’s, inflate them, and then use them as flotation devices to relax in the water. I took my BCD off while struggling against the big waves and then had difficulty inflating it, so I was just swimming against the current while holding my heavy BCD and cylinder without any means to help me float, aside from my own body. Needless to say, my anxiety level was high and I was not calm. After about ten minutes of struggling, my instructor came over and helped me. He repeatedly told me, “stay calm,” which everyone knows does not help in stressful situations. My whole body was so exhausted from fighting the waves and the weight of my equipment. I just wanted to be on the boat. He spent about twenty minutes with me in the water, helping me perform this skill with my BCD. I finally got it on my own and the boat came to pick us up. We all had lunch on the boat and for lack of a better phrase, I was not having it. I had so much salt water in my sinuses, felt fatigued and sore, and the last thing I wanted to do was go back in the water. I said, “I don’t want to go back in” multiple times, but after eating something and laughing with friends I found the strength to force myself back in the ocean. I wanted to get certified and I just needed to push through.

Anna Diving
Anna Diving | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

I am so proud of myself for having the grit to continue because my last open water dive was incredible. We descended to sixty feet and didn’t have to perform any more skills, so we were able to explore and swim around. Alice and I made little dance routines underwater, which was hilarious and quite a thing to be able to do underwater. At one point, our instructor blew his whistle and signaled that there was a sound up above. We stayed neutrally buoyant and just looked above to the surface. I saw a shadow a couple times, but thought it was a boat. Alice did the “shark” hand motion to me, but because we had been dancing earlier I thought she was joking. When we surfaced, our instructor told us that it was a Blacktip reef shark, which are known to attack people. I had no idea that there was actually a shark in the water with us, so I was relieved that I didn’t know that while being underwater. In hindsight, it’s pretty cool. I swam under a shark that is known to attack humans. Badass.

I am proud of myself for the way in which I went about learning to scuba dive. Well, I am not particularly proud of how panicked I got at times, but when I look at the big picture, I did something that made me very uncomfortable and I really grinded it out. For the first time in a long time I experienced change that I did not take positively. And I could have let that ruin the entire experience for me. But I didn’t. I embraced the change and I was the change for myself. Change can be good and change is good, especially when you force yourself to dive off the deep end, whether it’s literally or figuratively. -AN.

Check out this video Anna put together about her time in Belize. 

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.”

 

What I Learned from NOLS

Finally, I could breathe a sigh of relief. Drop my pack knowing it was the last time I’d have to heave it around for more than a quick second. And look back – the trail we’d just traversed faintly visible in the distance. The sun completely risen now, I slumped into a seat of a recommissioned school bus exchanging tired but triumphant smiles with the rest of the group. What would I take away from these 9 days? That was the question that continually ran through my mind as we prepared our return to the frontcountry.

Winterline_Samir Kumar

Long after my NOLS expedition through the Wind River Range concluded, I’m still processing what it’s imparted on me. There was no doubt that this was the most physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding experience of my life. But having given it time to digest, I’ve realized that much of what I’d expected to learn differed from the lessons I actually internalized. These were some of my takeaways:

1) Make it about the work.

The first day of the course, our instructors led us on a six-mile hike to our campsite. A heavy backpack coupled with the fact that it was mostly uphill left me completely drained. That night, I wondered how I would get through another week of this. It was the first leg of Winterline and I already felt stuck.

But the next day, these thoughts were swept aside by tasks in need of completion then and there – cooking breakfast, packing the tent, boiling water. The immediacy of the situation left me with little time to be frustrated or concerned for the future. The end of the day came and went and I felt accomplished. Everything I did – whether it be drinking water or scouting for an area to set up camp – became another step in the right direction. I felt like I was getting somewhere.

The day after, I adopted a similar mindset, reminding myself to focus on what needed to be done just as I began feeling demoralized. This repeated the next day and the day after that until finally the week had come and gone. I realized that thinking about the future can be a useful tool but it can also be incredibly daunting. It’s necessary to allow yourself to lose sight of it and remain present from time to time. If you can keep it about the work, you’ll find that there is always something to be done and a path forward.

Winterline_Samir Kumar

2) Type II fun

Type II fun is an apt description of the moments that are uncomfortable at the given time but are appreciated in retrospect. This was an idea introduced to me by Jerrick, one of our instructors. Throughout the hike, we had plenty of these – twelve-hour trekking days, long stretches spent bushwhacking through the forest, and crossing frigid rivers all come to mind. Just as it can be beneficial to stay in the present when you feel anxious, imagining your future self having moved past your current situation can also be crucial. This was a great coping mechanism when I ran out of dry socks late at night – imagining my future self reflecting fondly on the memory. And sure enough, that’s how I look back on it today.

Winterline_Samir Kumar

3) Trusting yourself and failing publicly

I’ve never been an outdoorsy person. I wasn’t great at any of the skills that the course seemed to require to be successful (navigation, cooking, heavy-lifting, etc.) and I didn’t trust myself to try them. I was afraid of holding my peers back. Inevitably, I had to put myself out there to do quite the opposite and propel my group forward. I realized that much of what I had been scared to foray into was easier than I had imagined. Nothing was perfect or ever handed to me – setting up our tent was regularly a process of trial and error and the meals I cooked were often crude at best, but it was refreshing to be reminded that if I took a risk, more often than not I could exceed my own expectations.

Winterline_Samir Kumar

 4) Recognize, plan, and act

In the wilderness, you run into problems – the kind you can’t ignore. For example, we once failed to anticipate running into another hiking group camping in our planned resting point. There wasn’t time to worry about deviating from our initial plan or where we’d be spending the night. We simply picked up a map, plotted a new route, and were off within minutes.

Before NOLS, I often accepted the discomfort of having problems or fretted about how they had arisen. Now I’m trying to be more solution-oriented and adaptable – devising an alternative and wholeheartedly committing to the decisions I make in the face of an obstacle.

You can’t bring the mountains with you when you leave the wilderness. The snow covered trees. The wildlife. But if you play your cards right, you just might return with a little more perspective and a bit more self-assured. -SK

Winterline_Samir Kumar
All Photos Courtesy of Samir Kumar

To hear from more students in the field,  be sure to check out other posts on our Blog, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, we are on Snapchat (@winterliner) and we upload new photos to our Tumblr everyday.

Meet Cody: Lifelong Skier and Aspiring Pilot Taking a Gap Year

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 before college?

I was first introduced to the idea of taking a gap year a few years ago while I was in high school and I would over hear the seniors talking about them. After a while I understood what it all meant but never really thought that I would take one. at the time I was so focused on wanting to go straight to college that I did not want to stop and take an extra year. This was the case all the way through high school until I saw what Winterline was.

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

Like I mentioned in the previous question, I never really wanted to go on a gap year until I saw what Winterline was. I was just searching for something to pass the time while I waited for college and I came across Winterline. Winterline completely changed my entire view of what a gap year is and what it can do. It made me realize all the potential I have and the extreme benefits of traveling and learning new skills. This is why I chose to take a gap year.

What activity or learning experience captivates you most about Winterline?

I am super excited about the travel and the overall amount of skills that I will learn. I searched over a hundred other trips and programs and none of them even began to compare with winterline and what they have to offer. The skills that I will learn excite me beyond expression because I know that although they may be hard or difficult, it is an opportunity to grow and be a new person by the end of the trip.

Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?

While attending college I want to join AFROTC and train to become an officer in the Air Force. I am not exactly sure on how long I will stay in the military, but my goal is to one day be a civilian pilot. Whether it be commercial or private, I am not sure, either.

Have you traveled before? If so, which trip has been your favorite, and why?

Yes, I have done a lot of traveling! I have been to 22 of the States, and I have been to Europe on 6 different occasions visiting the countries of Iceland, Germany, Luxembourg, France and Austria. I have also visited Canada on a few occasions. My favorite trip overall has been my last time going to Europe, when I visited Iceland and went to Normandy, France for the first time. This is my favorite trip because it was one of the first times I recognized the actual beauty and excitement in traveling and seeing new places. I also enjoyed this the most because the places we visited were overwhelmingly unique.

What do you expect to gain from your gap year program and while traveling abroad?

I expect that while on this gap year trip I will face challenges and obstacles that I have never faced before. Because of these challenges over the course of the nine-month trip I know that I will be a new person with a lifetime full of experience in over 100 new skills that I would not have without the overcoming of those hard tasks and challenges. While traveling I expect to meet tons of new people that come from all walks of life and learn how to perceive the world differently. The saying “it’s a small world” will have an entirely different meaning by the end of this trip.

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

I am a very persistent and strong-willed person. I make goals and strive with everything I have to meet or exceed those goals.

Why Winterline?

I saw hundreds of opportunities in front of me, but when I saw Winterline I saw not just an opportunity, but a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will change everything I once understood about my life and the world I live in. I did not have a decision to make when I saw Winterline, I already knew that this was what I needed to do.

Tell us something fun about you!

Skiing is my favorite sport. I have done every version of it that I can come up with, and I started skiing when I was only three years old!

This Too Shall Pass

NOLS Wind River Range Expedition: “This Too Shall Pass”

I once saw a woman with the words, “This Too Shall Pass” tattooed in huge cursive letters across her chest and collarbone. At the time, I was struck with utter disbelief that someone would mark their body with this quote.  It was ironic to me that she had permanently marked her body with a statement claiming that all things are temporary. I hadn’t thought of this phrase until my experience last week in the Wind River Range of Wyoming in which I was forced to remind myself constantly that “this too shall pass” more so than I hoped. Looking back on my time in the mountains, there is one day in particular that stands out to me as most significant with this quote in mind.

Photo By: Anna Nickerson
Photo By: Anna Nickerson

The infamous “Monday” of my NOLS trip has been quite the conversation piece in my Winterline cohort. Whenever someone mentions this day, there is an audible groan followed by sighs of relief that we are forever done with the misery and pain that ensued that day.  For me, the morning and the afternoon of that day completely juxtapose each other. In hindsight, the stark contrast between various events that day is beautiful, but at the time I failed to appreciate the value of this experience.  

We woke up that Monday morning to copious amounts of snow dumping from the sky in addition to below-freezing conditions. Despite the extreme discomfort that came with dragging my body out of my warm sleeping bag, layering up with every article of clothing I packed, and forcing myself to brush my teeth with snowballs outside, I managed to make it to the “kitchen.” Patrick, Leela, and I huddled underneath our kitchen fly, which was caving from the snow. We boiled some water in hopes of warming ourselves up with “cowboy coffee” and hot cocoa. I decided that to raise the morale of my cooking group, I would make Mickey Mouse pancakes with cranberries and chocolate chips, which were a big success and had us all feeling optimistic about the day to come.

Anna and Alice
Anna and Alice

By the time we were packed up and ready to go, thick snowflakes covered our bags and paved the trail for our hike. We divided ourselves up into small hiking groups and set out through the freshly made winter wonderland, making the hike markedly more tedious than it had been in prior days. While many people have told me since NOLS that this was their least favorite hiking day, I had the complete opposite reaction. Walking alongside the thick trees and frozen rivers that were each buried in light, sparkling snow was a euphoric experience. My hiking group was completely silent during the majority of our walking, which gave me an opportunity to just focus on myself and my thoughts. I found myself being completely present in the moment, something I often struggle to emulate in my day-to-day life. I felt at peace. We all continued to trek through the dense powder until we reached the apex of the hike: the river.

Photo By: Anna Nickerson
Photo By: Anna Nickerson

The river. The merciless river. The monster of a river that we reached when we were almost completely finished with our four-mile hike. As opposed to previous water hazards we had encountered in prior days, this river did not have an obvious trail of rocks to use as a bridge. We spent about twenty minutes scouting up and down the riverbank, trying to find the path of least resistance, but we were unable to do so. We hesitantly accepted our fate, but trusted that our NOLS instructors knew what they were doing. While everyone decided to roll up their pants, I decided that my high-quality boots and gaiters were adequate to protect me from the frigid water. Not a good idea. As I waded through the river, the water reached to just above my knees and I was drenched and felt slightly hypothermic upon reaching the other side. By this point, group morale was at an all-time low. As I heard people complaining and groaning and even crying, I stripped off my soaking wet boots, socks, and one of my layers of pants.  I changed into my “camp shoes,” which were running shoes that did not provide any protection from the frigid cold. I decided to break a rule of fashion in order to warm up and, as much as I hate to admit this, I put plastic bags on my feet as a layer between my socks and my camp shoes. Yes, plastic bags. It was quite the look. After getting somewhat more comfortable, my cooking group and I set up our kitchen flies and hunkered down to drink tea and soup.

Photo By: Anna Nickerson

Although the rest of the evening was freezing cold, ridiculously uncomfortable, and provided us with frozen boots and socks for the next morning, I somewhat tentatively will admit that this day was my favorite day- only in hindsight. When I look back on the morning hike I can only be content with the way in which I lived so effortlessly in the moment. When I look back on the river and the events that followed, I am proud of myself for how I tolerated the adversity. I think that because those two drastically different experiences ensued in the same day, let alone just a few hours, I can appreciate the day for what it is: a day of personal growth. And when I look back on the entire day as a whole I find myself going back to the phrase, “this too shall pass.” Everything is temporary, but what we take from each experience is permanent. I went through various trials and tribulations throughout my 8-day NOLS course, but I will forever have the appreciation and gratitude for that cold Monday ingrained in my mind, whether I like it or not. -AN

Photo By: Anna Nickerson
Photo By: Anna Nickerson

To hear from more students in the field, like Anna, be sure to check out other posts on our Blog, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, we are on Snapchat (@winterliner) and we upload new photos to our Tumblr everyday.

 

Stories from the Field: Leela Ray & NOLS

“My bruises have bruises,” Alice says, but it’s with a smile, because it’s Thursday morning and we’ve just plodded onto the recommissioned school bus that is set to return us to the real world. Where were we? The Wind River range in Wyoming, United States.

Alice, Patrick, Anna, Sophia, Susie, Andrew, Pablo, Liam, Alex, Jack, Natanielle, Hayden and I make up Winterline’s Green Cohort, or as we’ve fondly coined it: The Green Gang. We’ve been together for a little over two weeks, and after a lovely five days of orientation in Estes Park, Colorado, Winterline threw us right into the fire. Eight days, twenty miles, and our entire lives wrapped in eighty liters of water repellent canvas. In partnership with The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) we ventured out into the woods, and I think we all came back with a little more than we expected to find.

What was supposed to be a week of mid forties and minimal precipitation, as per usual late September in Lander, Wyoming, ended up being an average of thirty degrees and about two feet of snowfall throughout the week. In other words, it was cold. Snow and below freezing temperatures made even the most mundane tasks seem exasperating. I struggled to find the energy to brush my teeth in the morning, a task I’m usually hard pressed to accomplish regardless of circumstances. All of our energy was spent keeping warm, for every minute of the day, and doing so meant we ate a lot of food. Namely, cheese.

winterline nols Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow
Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow

I’m someone whose primary sources of food are plant-based and non-processed, but wow did those rules go out the window. When its below freezing the only thing you’re thinking about when looking at food is “how much fat will this have?” Not to avoid it, but to covet it, to shove it in your face. And in case you missed it, cheese is full of fat. So in addition to straight up spoonfuls of peanut butter (of which I had so very many of), we would eat copious amounts of the cultured dairy product just to stay warm at night.

Naturally, we carried every bite of food with us over the week, all dried or processed goods. Every morning and every evening we would get together with our cook groups, crowd around a faltering Whisperlight Stove, and do our very best to chef up something both edible and calorie dense enough to sustain us until our next meal. Every night after our evening meeting we’d sit for up to an hour waiting for the tiny fuel run burner to bring otherwise undrinkable water to a boil. Water that would then be bottled and put in our sleeping bag for temporary warmth. We rationed to ensure that we’d have food for every meal. We had to be creative, but also conservative. The good news? I was lucky to have some pretty proficient people cooking with me. I’d might even be inclined to say we were the best, but that’s besides the point.

Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow
Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow

During the day we’d hike. Though NOLS stands for the National Outdoor Leadership School, it might be more appropriate to call it by its name known by those who partake in the adventures: The No Official Lunch School. Nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and (if you’re were lucky enough to have extra from breakfast) leftovers acted as our lunch as we hiked anywhere between two and five miles each day. Now I’m aware that not everything I’ve said thus far sounds less than appetising, and maybe this won’t change your mind, but the most amazing part of our trip were the hikes themselves. The lengths we traveled and the views we saw were like nothing I’d ever encountered. We made it above the tree line on our fourth day, our highest point being 10,600 feet about sea level. If the altitude didn’t make you swoon, the sight of the snow dusted Wind River Range would.

Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow
Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow

I’m not going to lie, it was excruciatingly difficult at times. We waded through frozen rivers, and pitched tents in the snow; honestly if I see another freeze dried carrot I might cry. But to leave behind the world you know for what some call the bare minimum? It’s an experience like no other.  There is something extremely empowering about knowing you are responsible for not just your survival, but for your ability to thrive out there.

Winterline NOLS Photo by Leela Ray Barlow
Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow

So here we are, the thirteen of us: a handful of musicians, a few sports fanatics, a Spaniard, and a couple of zealots. A motley crew of many beliefs, ideals, and cultures who, if anything else, can agree on the following:

  1. You are capable of far more than you know.
  2. “Ride That Pony” is the single most effective way to raise spirits, with the exception of a good hype circle.
  3. Tummy time (the act of warming your feet of someone’s bare stomach) creates a sacred bond that can never be broken.
  4. And finally, years from now, when this program has long been finished, we will all find solace in the little things: fresh fruits and vegetables, dinosaur oatmeal, and the promise of a warm shower.

 

To hear from more students in the field, like Leela, be sure to check out other posts on our Blog, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, we are on Snapchat (@winterliner) and we upload new photos to our Tumblr everyday.

Keep Up with the Cohort | Meagan Kindrat

Want an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the daily happenings on Winterlife’s gap year program? Lucky for you, one of our own students is keeping a blog as she travels.

Meagan Kindrat
Meagan hiking in NOLS | Photo by: Dini Vermaat

We gave you a spotlight on Meagan already, but now we want to direct you to her blog! In her last post, Meagan gave us some words of wisdom and told us what she learned on their wilderness expedition in Wyoming. Here’s what she said:

  • Sacred socks are socks that never leave your sleeping bag and are possibly the best creation ever
  • Appreciate the little things like running water and having feeling in your toes
  • You don’t realize how strong you are until you get put somewhere completely out of your comfort zone

Meagan Kindrat

One of Meagan’s photos from NOLSThat last point is especially important. We think that the whole point of a gap year is to push yourself out of your comfort zone and experience new things. That way, you know what you like and what you’re good at when it comes time to move forward.

Meagan has other great words and photos to share with you, so head on over to her blog to read what else she has to say!

My Dream Gap Year

Dartmouth, Yale, Harvard. Decision Day had arrived and while all my friends were announcing their acceptances into elite colleges, I was buying what my sister calls “grandma sandals” and a 70-litre backpack for what was, and is, supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime. I sat there, observing the stream of committed students and proud mothers, attempting to quell my frustrations. Their senior years had been a breeze as soon as winter holidays hit. Applications were done, and their fun could finally begin, but I was in a different boat.

With the decision of taking a gap year comes a few complications, the first being that most all of the colleges I want to apply to don’t accept deferments. Unlike everyone else, whose grades past their application date are to some extent irrelevant, all my grades are taken into account. However, I didn’t have grades until I started taking classes at my local community college. “Why Leela,” you might ask, “What do you mean you didn’t have grades until community college?” Well, my high school is what I lovingly refer to as a “crunchy granola private school,” and I was legally registered as a homeschooler because my three day a week “learning community” didn’t meet the hour requirements for a legitimate school. For someone who wants to go to Stanford, waiting a year has its pros and cons. On one hand I get more of a chance to prove my worth. The extra time means they have more grades to look at when I apply. On the other hand, I have to take summer classes while everyone else is on vacation because I want the best chance of acceptance possible. Admittedly I’m not looking forward to it, but my saving grace is my gap year. Although, it wasn’t always so easy to say that.

It was the end of junior year, and my school had it’s annual college prep class: five days of exploring secondary education and—more pertinently, alternative options to attending university. My dream gap year was exactly that: a dream. Murky and unknown, with only a few concrete details. I wanted to travel, I wanted to learn about the world beyond my front door, and I wanted to come back with a better idea of what I wanted to do with my life so I wasn’t attending college just to say I was. I had minimal resources and poor planning skills. In addition, traversing the globe alone sounded mildly terrifying for the moment, and I wasn’t sure how much I’d learn if I just did the whole “I’m going to Europe!” thing, so I used that five-day course to explore my options. There was a semester at sea, a year in Ireland, and a handful of other eye-catching options, but none of them quite struck me as fulfilling. In fact, by the time that course was done, I wasn’t quite sure I even wanted to take a gap year anymore. I have a habit of giving up when the going gets hard, and boy was it getting hard. But I kept searching, and one day there it was, a small advertisement sitting in the middle of my facebook feed at two o’clock in the morning: Winterline (cue the commercial music).

My parents were more than skeptical when I told them the next morning. They didn’t really believe that I’d go back to school if I stopped, and to be honest, I felt it too. But I stood there in my fleecy plaid pajamas and I told them my truth: I felt silly applying for esteemed colleges that cost immense sums of money without a plan in mind. Yes, straying from the path is scary, but where I was, and where I am currently, with no clue what I’d even want to study, is scarier. I mean, most everyone has at least an idea of what they wanted from life, and me? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. As I am now, I know who I am, I know my flaws and my strengths, and I’ve finally become very confident in myself and my personality. But ask me what I want to do in college or what I like to do in general, and I’ll probably change the subject.

So yes, this gap year idea is strange, and mildly terrifying. In fact, it was so scary I didn’t even send out grad announcements. I didn’t want to give anyone an excuse to ask me what I’m doing this year, because as excited as I am, there’s still so many questions that I have. And of course there’s the ever looming thought of not getting into my dream school afterwards, that all this work will be for naught. Even since beginning to write this, I’ve had a few panic attacks.

Yet, for all the hard work I’ve been sloughing through; for every party I missed because I had an 8AM class in the middle of July the next morning, for every invite to the lake I declined to work on my SAT studies, and for every late night where I was lost in the plethora of existential crises that plagues my brain; for every one of those moments, there is a moment where I picture myself. Past this summer, past the gap year even, right after the most wonderful adventure in the world. When I think about the end of this, I hold one very specific image in my head: I am settled down one evening, a September sunset streaming through my dorm room window, thinking about my road so far; remembering every obstacle I encountered, and how euphoric it felt to overcome each one. And then future me looks up and smiles, she looks me straight in the eyes and says, “It was all worth it, and Paolo Alto is beautiful.”

Meet Meagan Kindrat who’ll be dancing her way around the world!

 


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Meagan--dancer
Megan Kindrat, dancer and gap year student

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

I always knew I wanted to go to university, but I don’t know what I want to do. I decided to wait to go to school when I have a clear final goal in mind. So, I’m taking a gap year to help me figure out what I really enjoy and what I don’t enjoy doing! Then I’ll be ready to go to university.

How did you learn about the Winterline Global Skills Gap Year Program?

Well, my original plan was to live in Austria with a host family that I know. I have a good friend from kindergarten who lives there now. We’ve stayed in close touch! Every year I visit her or she comes to visit me. I spent a month there last summer and was planning to go back next year. One day I was Googling group travel ideas for when I was there and I came across the Winterline program. It sounded great!

Why did you choose Winterline? What about the program appeals to you the most?

What I like best about Winterline is that I’ll get to travel to so many different places. What my dad likes best is that I’ll still be learning throughout the year so it is not just a long “vacation” trip.  As for the skills, I am interested in the coding and robotics part of the trip. My dad says that it’s the way the world is going, so I’d really like to see what it’s all about. What I’m most excited about is probably the scuba diving. I’ve never done it before and want to learn!

What country on the itinerary are you most excited to visit?

I think India will be really cool. It is somewhere I’ve never been and had never planned to go. I’ve traveled to tropical places and to Europe with my family but never to anywhere like India. It is so different culturally. I can’t wait.

Meagan taking gap year

What do you expect to gain from taking a gap year and while traveling abroad?

I hope to find out more about myself. All I’ve done my entire life is go to school and dance. I want to try new things find out what else is out there!

I’ve been a competitive dancer for 6 years and taught dance for 4 years. I train 7 days a week! I’ve entered dances in every genre from tap, to ballet and hip hop, both solo and in a group.

I thought about pursuing it professionally but it’s pretty strict and very competitive. Even if I don’t pursue it professionally, I know I’ll never stop dancing… Even when I’m at the supermarket when a great song comes on I start dancing!  Dance will stick with me for sure.

What are your plans for after your gap year?

I want to go to university for sure. I haven’t applied yet. I have good grades and have done a lot of volunteer work so I’ll be ready when the time comes to apply.

Gap year student
Meagan Kindrat, Winterline student

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

I want to them to know that I believe that a sense of humor is important to bring with me everywhere. I think I’m really funny and my family thinks I am too. I hope my Winterline peers will as well!

Tell us something fun about you! What is your favorite TV show?

Well, my favorite TV show is Dancing with the Stars because I love dance and Witney Carson is my primary role model.

Lastly, Coke or Pepsi?

Neither. I’d have to say water!

What It Feels Like to Get Ready for a Gap Year: Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable


9 months. 10 countries. 100 skills. The best gap year ever.

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The phrase, “get comfortable being uncomfortable,” has shaped my actions since I was a little girl. My father has constantly instilled this idea and way of life into me through both repeating the phrase and implementing it through his active parenting style.

I’ll never forget that for three consecutive summers in a row, he told me, “This is the summer you get tough.” Looking back on it, we laugh at his endless hope that I would “get tough” each summer. But, in hindsight I think his advice has encouraged me to become the adventurous person I am today: getting ready to take a gap year with Winterline. I challenge myself each year more so than the last to take a step even further beyond my comfort zone. My gap year is naturally that next step.

So, why am I even taking a gap year?

To take a step away from school

I have been on such an academically-motivated path for most of my life that I feel as if I’m going to burn out if I don’t take a break. I think I will be more confident going into college with the experience that Winterline will provide me during my gap year.

To learn more about myself and discover who I am

Although many people tell me that I have a clear vision of my identity, I tend to constantly ask myself, “Who am I?” as I’m sure most 17-year-olds do. I want to be able to learn more about my passions, what makes me tick, what I love to do, and who I truly am at my core.

To learn skills

The main reason I chose Winterline is because of the amount of countries we will visit and the amount of skills I’ll learn. I’m hoping to not only learn skills, but to become a more marketable and independent person as a result. I don’t want these skills to just last for the trip, but for my lifetime.

To have fun

This slightly goes back to my first reason, but I need to have some fun. I have stressed myself out way too much with school, golf, work, etc. due to my self-imposed “perfectionism.” I need to take a break from those day-to-day stressors and allow myself to let loose and have more fun in new and exciting environments.

To challenge myself to become comfortable being uncomfortable

This is the year I am going to “toughen up” and challenge myself in more exhilarating ways. Each year I make progress on learning to love being out of my comfort zone, so naturally I think Winterline is my perfect next step.

anna get ready for gap year

Compared to my friends who will all be attending college in the fall, I am definitely in the minority of what I am doing to prepare for my upcoming year. There are so many differences in how we are all getting ready for our years away from home:

Dorm shopping versus gap-year shopping

While all my friends are already Snapchatting pictures of red Target carts full of bedding, appliances and new clothes, I have just received my Winterline packing list and am currently deciding which travel backpack I should purchase for all my belongings. I am definitely already a bit envious that my friends don’t have to endure the anxiety and stress that comes with bringing less than 50 lbs of stuff for an entire trimester abroad.

Searching for a roommate versus preparing to be nomadic

Aside from a few friends who have decided to go “random” with their roommate, most rising freshmen have already found their perfect match and know what to expect with the person they’ll be living with. I, on the other hand, don’t even know how to start mentally preparing to have no stable roommate. Instead, I will be living nomadically with a large group of people for one year.

Picking out college courses versus having a trip itinerary

While my friends are trying to avoid taking Microeconomics at 8 AM, I have a specific trip itinerary that will not be changing based on whether or not I want to get up early. But I definitely can say I have a better pick of classes than most of my friends, like “SCUBA 101” and “Principles of BMW Driving.”

Keeping in touch with family and friends versus trying really hard to keep in touch

Although my friends and I will both be away from home, I think we will face some different obstacles in terms of trying to stay in touch with family. While the Wi-Fi on campus may be acting up and not letting students FaceTime their parents, I’m afraid that being completely off the grid at any given time may challenge me to think of new ways to keep in touch with my family… Pigeon messengers may be making a comeback for me. 🕊

Snapchats about school versus Instagram-filled travel posts

My Instagram will be filled with exotic pictures around the world while my friends’ feeds will be pictures at parties and football games. I will be trying to live vicariously through them in some ways (except when I see them post about midterms on Snapchat), but I know they will also be jealously drooling over my feed.

In spite of some of the amusing aspects that make up the differences between my preparations for a gap year and those of my friends getting ready for college, we are all feeling pretty nervous. We all will need to “get comfortable being uncomfortable” regardless of whether we are taking a gap year or going to college in the upcoming fall.

I am confident that I will be able to not only achieve what I have set out to do with this year, but that I will also be able to make new goals for myself that will encourage me to continue to step beyond my comfort zone in the future. Life is about getting comfortable being uncomfortable and I am ecstatic to start this journey in September.

 

 

Should international students take a gap year?

Maria, an alum from the 2015-2016 cohort, is now at university in the Netherlands. Originally from Colombia, Maria submitted this interview for US News & World Report on the growing trend of international students taking gap years.


9 months. 10 countries. 100 skills. The best gap year ever.

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Why did you decide to do a gap year before attending university?

I was lucky enough to attend an international school in the middle of rural India from 2013 to 2015 when I graduated. My classmates came from more than sixty different countries and all of them had a repertoire of diverse adventures and stories to tell.

Sometimes we would all sit down sipping some chai, telling anecdotes of our motherlands with pride in our hearts and tears in our faces. These evenings could go on until two or three in the morning but they taught me the lessons of a lifetime.

It was like this that I discovered that sometimes I would learn more about the world and life in those sessions than what I had learned in school for a whole semester. This is when I realized that there were other ways of learning, there were stories to discover and people to meet.

University sounded like an amazing opportunity to expand my knowledge on something that I am going to spend my whole life doing, but there was something else calling me. There was a desire of seeing those places that my peers were talking about, of experiencing those landscapes and feeling the people.

I was tired of sitting in a classroom while the world had so much more to offer. I wanted to learn, but I didn’t want to do it on their terms.

group photo gap year cohort alpha smile angkor wat cambodia-4062

Where did you go and what did you do for your gap year?

In September 2015, I found myself traveling to ten different countries, with seventeen strangers, learning 100 different skills.

I started in Central America and moved to South East Asia and lastly, Europe. I am now a certified SCUBA diver, a certified Thai Masseuse, semi fluent in French and fluent in permaculture; passionate about Ballet, Bollywood, Flamenco, and my list could go on and on.

In each country, we learned a skill that was relevant to the location that we were at. In this way, we were not only tourists but we were travelers, tasting each country as we flew in and out.

How did it help you prepare for university?

My gap year taught me how to be comfortable while feeling extremely uncomfortable.

Changing not only countries but cultures from one day to the next can be extremely exhausting for the mind. Being away from home means that the comforts that you once experienced are no longer there and not having a permanent home teaches you how to make of yourself the home you deserve.

And to be honest, isn’t that exactly what we need for university? Don’t we need to feel comfortable in a foreign place surrounded by strangers that will soon become your friends?

If you ask me, after traveling the world for nine months, university sounded like a piece of cake… and it kind of was.

Meet Alice: Hamilton Fan and Dog Lover Taking A Gap Year

Alice will be traveling to 10 different countries and learning 100 new skills as part of the Winterline Global Skills Gap Year program. Read on to learn why she considered taking a gap year, and the things that excite her the most about traveling the world.


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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 BEFORE COLLEGE?

I remember sophomore year, hearing of a student at my high school doing a gap year and it piqued my interest. For a long time I was set on being in the graduating class of ’21 and in a weird way I felt like this college graduation year defined me. Then, I realized it was more important to actually accomplish something and experience the world than it was to graduate college the same year as my high school peers.

AT WHAT POINT DID YOUR PARENTS GET ON BOARD?

My mom was in the foreign service as a diplomat, and has been really supportive and encouraged me.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I think one of the first questions a child is asked from an early age is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and I’ve always had a vague answer or said something I was somewhat confident I could be decent at. But I’ve never had an answer to that question that I felt any confidence about. Winterline provides an opportunity for me to try so many different skills and provide me insight on my strengths.

WHAT COUNTRY ON OUR ITINERARY ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO VISIT?

It’s pretty hard to choose, each country sounds amazing. I’m pretty excited about Thailand, I really love food and it’s pretty different from the Asian countries I’ve been too.

WHAT ACTIVITY OR LEARNING EXPERIENCE CAPTIVATES YOU THE MOST ABOUT WINTERLINE?

I’m pretty excited to scuba dive, I’ve always been interested in the underwater ecosystem. I always am interested in the problem solving and negotiation learning experience. I think I’m pretty good at that and I’m a quick thinker.

Alice taking a gap year

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

Unrealistically, I’d live in California in a mansion with 100 dogs. But realistically maybe something in psychology or publishing. I’m not really sure though.

YOU’VE TRAVELED BEFORE. WHICH TRIP WAS YOUR FAVORITE AND WHY?

I’ve traveled to Beijing and Hong Kong. I was adopted from Beijing when I was four months old, and I went back when I was five when we adopted my sister. Two years ago I traveled to Hong Kong with a friend because my dad was the consul general and the government paid for my flight which was a perk. I then flew to Beijing to visit a friend who had moved there and I climbed the Great Wall of China in Birkenstocks.

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

I think there’s going to be a lot of self-growth and I’m interested in comparing myself from the beginning to the end of the trip.

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

I am extremely extroverted, but when I first meet people I’m kinda quiet. Not to toot my own horn but I think I’m pretty funny, and go with the flow. I don’t really get mad for longer than an hour and then I move on. I also managed to forget how to ride a bike.

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

I really like musicals, I can’t sing but I can appreciate and envy those who can. Since New York is four hours away by bus I’ve been able to go to a couple broadway shows, Ameliè and Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. I also know Hamilton by heart.

AND FINALLY, COKE OR PEPSI?

Coke.


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Meet Leela: Shaolin Practitioner and Eyeliner Wizard Taking A Gap Year

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.


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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 before college?

I was first introduced to the idea of taking a gap year by an elder student who attended my school. He took a gap year and when he returned there was a panel to discuss his adventures and how they helped him decide what he truly wanted to do. I was in middle school when all this happened, but it sounded like fun so I kept it in mind.

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

I knew I had a plethora of activities that I participated in, and I had no idea how to decipher what was a passion, what was a hobby, and what was still out there. As I moved up into high school, I continued to love learning for the sake of learning. I wanted to be good at everything. When the time came to start attending college fairs and figuring out my plan, I was petrified.

What if I picked the wrong path as my “favorite one”? What if I hadn’t actually discovered what I liked to do yet? I live in the middle of the forest, and the nearest grocery store is 11 miles from my house. I’ve been trapped in this bubble for far too long. All I could do was hope that getting out of this small town might expose me to things I truly loved to do, and teach me new things along the way.

Leela - gap year program

What country on our itinerary are you most excited to visit?

Okay, so, I’ve got this crazy story (it’s not that crazy I’m just good at exaggerating), are you ready? I’m Indian. If you ask me “dot or feather?” I’ll cry.

I’m from India. The country. The subcontinent of Asia. Look at my skin. You never would’ve guessed right? One person in all my eighteen years has actually figured it out without me telling them. Something about my cheekbones being “too high for a white girl,” whatever that means.

Anyways, that’s beside the point, because I’m actually most excited for India. I’ve had the privilege to go there before to visit my (very) extensive family, but I was in Kolkata. If you want to know where not to go to see the sights, it’s Kolkata. I want to see the rest of my country, or at least more of it.

And please, please, don’t get me wrong. I love Kolkata, it’s my home. But I want to know more than just the place the was once the British’s home base in India, and if I can pick up new skills on the way, why wouldn’t I?

What activity or learning experience captivates you the most about Winterline?

Responsible Alcohol Management. I’m kidding (although I think that’s actually extremely important). Just from reading the skills list self-defense sounds super interesting.

I did Northern Style Shaolin Kung Fu for about eight years, but because of injury and school I had to quit. I think it’d be fun to brush up or learn entirely new skills.

Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?

I’m going on this gap year because I have no idea what I want to do in the future. Help people? Work in international relations? Study the arts? Be on broadway? Become a polyglot and teach in schools in the Himalayas? I have no clue.

leela gap year program

Have you traveled before? If so, which trip has been your favorite and why?

Oh wow. Yes. I’ve traveled. But because my parents are such gems (they really are). They decided to do a solid 85% of our traveling before I could remember anything. So! My favorite trip I remember was actually taken last December for Christmas. We decided to fly half way across the world and found ourselves in a place we’d never been before. The Middle East. To be specific: Israel.

When my mum first suggested the place, I wasn’t so sure. As an avid Model UN kid, I was all too aware of Israel’s neighboring countries and their current states, but I was so curious to explore somewhere beyond Western culture, so I gritted my teeth, packed my most modest clothing, and said yes.

Boy was it worth it. The history, the culture, the chocolate. Every memorial was a work of art, every museum far more interesting than anything you’ll find in Seattle, but what I loved most was the melting pot of religions. I’m not religious, mostly because I get kind of freaked out trying to figure out how we got here, but wow is religion fascinating. I got to walk the Via Dolorosa, pray at the Weeping Wall, and visit the Dome of the Rock, all in the same city. It was truly beautiful to see such harmony between people, even if it is a rocky harmony at times.

What do you expect to gain from your gap year program and while traveling abroad?

I suppose I expect to gain a better understanding of what I like to do, I want to explore my passions. Like I said before: small town equals not a lot of opportunity for growth.

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

Remind me to shut up every once in a while and I SWEAR I’m a good listener. Also, I’m super pumped to meet people that actually like adventures and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

Tell us something fun about you!

I lived in London for 3 1/2 years, so I say and spell words funny. Also my friend says I’m a wizard because I switch hands when I switch eyes while doing eyeliner. I think girls who torque their arm all funny to get their opposite eye and succeed are the real magic ones.

And finally, Coke or Pepsi?

Pepsi? Pepsi products? I like Dr. Pepper.


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Meet Anna: Young Entrepreneur and Avid Punster Taking A Gap Year

As she gears up for her 9-month gap year with Winterline, traveling to 10 different countries and learning 100 new skills, Anna shares her thoughts on why she decided to take a gap year in the first place, and why traveling is so important to her.


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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 before college?

So, I have always been a year young for my grade. Ever since Freshman year I’ve aspired to do a gap year. But never really knew exactly what I wanted to do. This year when I was applying to all my colleges, I started thinking about it more seriously. And that’s when I started seeing online advertisements from Winterline and other gap year programs, getting serious about the idea, and talking to my parents about it.

But it’s kind of been something I’ve wanted to do all throughout high school.

At what point did your parents get on board?

Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot of convincing I had to do. Both my parents are avid travelers, especially my dad. So they both understood the concept of it and were encouraging about it. Any time I told an adult that I’m taking a gap year or considering it, they’d say, “I wish I had done that when I was a kid.”

So, most of the time my parents were very encouraging about it. The main thing was figuring out how to pay for it. But other than that, they were very encouraging. There wasn’t much convincing to do, which was nice.

anna with family taking a gap year

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

I’ve always been the youngest kid in my class, which has never really been an issue, but something that I wanted to take advantage of it, having that extra year and not being put behind. And I just really love traveling.

I went on a service trip to the Dominican Republic for just 10 days. That was when I was applying to colleges, and when I started considering a gap year more seriously. It really solidified the reasons why I wanted to do it: you know, meet some amazing people, make great connection, travel to parts of the world independently, beyond just being on vacation with my parents.

What really attracted me about Winterline is the skills-based program.

Whenever I mention that I’m going on a gap year, people sometimes automatically assume it’s either a service trip or a vacation. And obviously I am taking a year off, that can be perceived as a vacation. But the way Winterline does it by teaching real life skills, that’s something important to me that I’m really interested in doing before going off to school next year.

anna taking a gap year winterline

What country on our itinerary are you most excited to visit?

Honestly, I’m excited for all of them! I think I’m most excited for Costa Rica. I’ve been speaking Spanish since 7th grade and it’s been one of my favorite classes every year. Going to the Dominican Republic, I got to practice my Spanish and see a different Latin culture. That’s probably what I’m most excited for.

What activity or learning experience captivates you the most about Winterline?

Just looking at the list of all the skills, and everything really, there hasn’t been just one thing that I’m super excited for.

One thing I’m excited for is all the people I’m going to be meeting. In the Dominican Republic, that was the main thing. It really didn’t matter what we were doing, but having those connections — these are friends that I still talk to. That’s one of the things I’m most excited for.

Another thing I’m looking forward to is the independent study week in Europe. I watched some Youtube videos of people that went on the Winterline gap year last year, like Jonathon’s and Molly’s videos. I really liked watching those.

It was cool to see how they viewed their time and what they did. There’s so much I could do, and especially independently. That would be such a great way to end the trip. So I’m definitely excited for that.

Anna taking a gap year winterline

Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?

Yeah! I’ve actually deferred my admission to Babson College. I’m definitely on more on a business track. In my high school, we had this program called High School of Business. Since then I’ve been taking 1-3 business classes each year, and I’ve been involved in business clubs, and both my parents are in business.

I was the CEO of a social enterprise this year for our school. It was a really great experience to see how I could apply all my business knowledge the past four years to an applicable, real-life business. I’m definitely more on the entrepreneurship track. But I don’t know what I’d do with it. I am really interested in social enterprise and marketing, not so much finance.

But I do really like combining my passion for business with a social cause. I think that’s really cool.

You’ve traveled before. Which trip was your favorite and why?

The Dominican Republic was the first trip where I was out of the country by myself — definitely one of my favorite trips. I went with one of my best friends. I’d even say that was my favorite trip ever. I’ve been with family to England and Wales, six years ago, with my dad and brother. We have family there. It was really beautiful.

We also went to Costa Rica a few years ago. One of my favorite parts was seeing Mt Arenal and going to the hotsprings there.

What do you expect to gain from your gap year program and while traveling abroad?

One of the things I hope to gain with my gap year — I’ve been on such an academically focused track. I’m top of my class. And focusing entirely on school is one of the main things that causes stress in my life. That’s been very difficult to balance. And I’m definitely not burned out. But I think taking this gap year will be a great refresher for me, to realize some of the things I’m passionate about that I’ve almost forgotten about.

I think it would be really awesome to step away from school for a bit. Obviously I’m going to go back to school and be career-oriented. I’m not trying to just take a gap year and have no idea what I’m doing with my life. But it will provide me with clarity on things that I’m interested in, and help me step away from being so academically focused for a bit. That’s one of the main things I’m looking forward to.

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

I’d say, in terms of my personality, at first I come across as very introverted — just because I’m going to be put into new and uncomfortable situations and I’m going to be shy at first. But with my friends and when I open up to people, I’m a genuinely outgoing and extroverted person. A lot of people think I’m really shy at first, but I’m just trying to get to know you and be observational.

I want to make lifelong connections on this trip. I’m definitely open to hearing from other people, hearing their stories. And I’d encourage my Winterline peers to be very open with telling me about themselves. I’m a trustworthy person.

Tell us something fun about you!

I am surprisingly quite a jokester. I don’t think a lot of people know that. But I have a weird obsession with puns, and I’m constantly making up my own jokes and puns. That’s something my friends give me a lot of crap for, but I know that they actually like it.

So that’s something interesting with my personality, I guess.

And finally, Coke or Pepsi?

Coke. But I’m actually not a big soda person. So, I’d honestly say neither.


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Savannah Pallazola: Swimmer And Rock Climber Taking A Gap Year


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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 before college?

I was introduced to it when I was younger, because my sister didn’t go straight to college after high school, so I thought that was cool. It’s sort of unconventional for our family, but my mother’s spawns are a little unconventional. Tiff took a gap year to work and she’s been continuing to do that for a while now. My plan is to attend college, I just need to find myself a little first. To take a gap year would be really helpful for me, so it’s been interesting to learn more about it.

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

I just really don’t know what I want to do in college, and then I found out about Winterline, and I’ve always wanted to travel so it was kind of perfect. It just clicked for me and I realized that it’s something more beneficial than anything else I could be doing. I really liked the concept of doing all these things I’ve never done before with people I’ve just met, and figuring out what I like. Also, I live in a small town in Massachusetts, so I have got to get out there.

savannah p taking a gap year abroad

What country on our itinerary are you most excited to visit?

I think I’m most excited about Thailand, to be honest. Though I’ve always wanted to visit places in Europe, and that’s wicked exciting, Thailand is an awesome destination that I’ve heard so many great things about. There’s a lot of tourism there, a lot of people — and the food!

What activity or learning experience captivates you the most about Winterline?

I think the hiking is going to be a wicked cool challenge for me, though I don’t have pervious hiking experience. I really like being outdoors, but I’ve never truly immersed myself in nature, and the challenges it can bring to someone like me. I do a lot of indoor sports, like swimming and rock climbing. I feel like sport is a lot more exhilarating when you’re outside.

My number one concern about the hiking is the fact that we’ll be without power, and my knees are computerized. I charge them every night and the charge will last about a day and a half. It’s a little concerning, but I know people. We’re discussing solar-powered options, or even new attachments specifically for the hiking aspect of the trip.

Overall, the hiking trip is the most captivating to me because it’s in the beginning of it all. It’ll be the first time I get to meet all of these new people, and I just think it’s going to really kick off this journey right.

savannah gloucester taking a gap year

Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?

I really like the Spanish language. I’ve been taking it for 2 years now, but I’m not fluent. I would like study more Spanish in college; that’s a big interest of mine. Maybe one day I can teach English in Spain, like my current Spanish teacher did for eleven years.

I’d also love to study music. I sing, and I also bought a ukulele that I haven’t learned how to play yet. I really like singing songs from musicals, like Rent. I’m a fan of R&B, older music, and some alternative stuff from today. I love to sing in Spanish, as well. Learning songs from Spanish-speaking artists has been beneficial to my pronunciation and coherence.

Have you traveled before? If so, which trip has been your favorite and why?

I’ve traveled inside the country, a bit. When I was nine years old, I went to Disneyworld in Florida with my family. That was awesome, but I didn’t go on any rides. I was too dramatically scared to back then. Though, my favourite park was Jurassic Park.

I’m from Massachusetts, so driving to Maine and New Hampshire is a breeze. With my school, I’ve visited Culinary Institutes in both Vermont and New York.

I did, also, learn to ski in Colorado, which was probably my favorite trip. I mountain skied for two years in a row. I haven’t been in a while, but it’s something I’m sure to pick up again when I come back.

What do you expect to gain from taking a gap year and while traveling abroad?

I expect to be scared, seeing as I don’t have much travel experience. But I also expect to be grateful for the chances I’ll get to be a better version of myself. I guess I just want to gain more worldly knowledge, and to also to be enlightened as to what I’m capable of. I generally like to seek new challenges and be self aware, but I need some more experience.

savannah taking a gap year abroad

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

I want them to know that I’m an open book.

Tell us something fun about you!

I can beatbox a little! Just little things, not too complex. I beatbox with my brother. We have a very compatible sense of humor and we do a lot of riffing off of whatever song is in our heads.

I am looking for that compatible sense of humor in a Winterline friend! I’m excited about making new friends, and singing and beatboxing with them, if they so wish to as well.

And finally, Coke or Pepsi?

Neither! I don’t really like Coke or Pepsi! I’m a Ginger Ale type of person. Schweppes Ginger Ale. It’s gotta be Schweppes.


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Winterline Gap Year Program: Photo Contest II

In this most recent gap year program photo contest, students competed for prizes in five different categories.

A number of the students are photographers on our Media Team, a group of students composed of recipients of our work-study gap year scholarships. To account for any bias, all photographs were stripped of their photographers’ names.

The five categories were People, Places, Culture, Skills, and of course, Winterline. Here are the winners!


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People: Runner Up

  1. Captures kinetic energy, frozen in time
  2. Honesty of emotion
  3. Close up
  4. Shallow depth of field, bokeh, brings intimacy with subject

gap year photo contest runner up

People: Winner

  1. Powerful symmetry broken by the human form
  2. Formal narrative is asymmetric with half-nudity
  3. The expression captures curiosity, joy, even mischief

gap year photo contest winner people

Places: Runner Up

  1. Quality use of depth of field
  2. Subjects are perfectly crisp at the edge of an unknown height
  3. Captures a candid repose into human history, mixed with the challenge toward digital modernity

Places runner up gap year scholarships

Places: Winner

  1. Powerful sense of place
  2. Intimacy with an unknown owner, their belongings and their colorful attention to detail
  3. Architecture merges the old with the new, disarray with uniformity, roughness and tenderness


Culture: Runner Up

  1. Unique, close crop framing
  2. Colors of subject and sky contrast to reveal relationship between subject and others
  3. Decorations brought out in bite size via proximity to subject

photo contest gap year scholarship

Culture: Winner

  1. Abundant detail and humanity shines through in this image
  2. Universality and homogeny meet in the faces of the subjects
  3. Use of bokeh and focus pulls back the curtain between observer and observed
  4. Striking minimalism in the framing of the subjects

gap year photo contest scholarship

Skills: Runner Up

  1. Care and attention to detail from the subject brings out tenderness in this moment captured
  2. Eye-level humility meets the narrative of the subject’s focus
  3. Soft lighting from natural source adds to the emotional experience

gap year scholarship photo contest
Skills: Winner

  1. Close crop creates tension between subjects and what lies outside the frame
  2. Emotional tension & curiosity captured perfectly in the seen subjects’ eyes and the presence of an unseen subject.
  3. Lettering on main subject’s T-Shirt brings out further, unscripted meaning

gap year study abroad scholarship

Winterline: Runner Up

  1. The unknown background contrasts with the familiarity of the foreground, creating tension between the direction of the subject and the weighted centrality of the written logo
  2. Adventure and exploration captured perfectly with matched anonymity

gap year photo contest scholarship runner up

Winterline: Winner

  1. Dominant narrative of friendship and togetherness
  2. Adventure and respite brought to mind by the outfits and heavy lean of the subjects
  3. Symmetric framing and individuality despite matching outfits

gap year scholarship photo contest 2


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How to Travel Alone On A Gap Year

You start finding opportunities everywhere and in everything. You open up to things. You program yourself to find awesome experiences. You seek for more. You need more in order to feel fulfilled.

Throughout this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe that’s one of the reasons why we love to travel so much. Because you push yourself, you surpass your limits and you don’t judge yourself. Instead, you just laugh and move on. You live everyday to the fullest waiting for something crazy to happen, it’s almost as if you went for it.


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I could relate that to how you should change the way you live day-to-day and make life an experience that you want to share and remember. But, that’s extremely cheesy, so instead I’m just gonna write about my process of deciding what I wanted to do for my Winterline Independent Study Project (ISP).

The way Winterline does it, they give you the budget and you can do whatever you want.

Whatever.

Go learn Flamenco in Sevilla, work at a cockroach farm in Greece, hike El Camino de Santiago, or go to Switzerland and learn the art of chocolate-making. There are almost no limits. You just have to go get the experience, because in the end, that’s what it is. It’s the perfect opportunity to do something completely new, that you might end up loving, or practice something you already love.

Daniela Gap Year Programs

So, when I was thinking about what I wanted to do during this week, many ideas came to my mind. (Learning Flamenco was actually one of them, believe it or not). I could go work with refugees in Hamburg, do an internship in an environmental organization (maybe?), start learning a new language or practice German while doing engaging and fun activities. All of them seemed nice and enjoyable, but none of them really, truly, excited me. I wasn’t thrilled by any of them.

I started making up “excuses.” (I can work with people in my country. I already dance a lot and no one would dance Flamenco with me anyways. I want to be outdoors not at an office!).

And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I had an idea. Biking. In high school, a friend and I tried to promote their use, we created a logo and did research on it, and I love bikes — yes!

They’re a beautiful human-propelled machine. But, I’d never done a biking trip before. The closest experience to a “bike trip” I’ve had was this one time when I was in France with my homestay mom.

It was Sunday. Sunday morning. I was having breakfast at around eight, still trying to wake up, my eyes half open, my brain trying to understand why I was awake.

She invited me biking and I said yes. I almost died. She was going so fast, her legs were so strong and she still managed to have this BIG smile on her face. I was in the back, far away, almost crying and cursing, thinking that I could be in my bed reading and drinking tea or sleeping. She kept on motivating me and pushing me to finish and make it to the house. We finally arrived. I was sweating, my legs were hurting and my butt… I couldn’t feel it.

And yet, somehow, I felt good. I felt accomplished and happy. I even said I was glad I went instead of being in my bed “doing nothing”. We did twenty kilometers and I had survived. This was four years ago, and I can still remember that one time I went biking in France.

So, somehow, this idea of biking for my ISP made me feel happy and motivated. There were endless possibilities! I could go to a big city and study urban biking and how it looks to have biking as one of the main ways of transportation. I could compare a bike friendly city to Bogotá. Or even better — I could go from one place to another on a bike.

That last idea got stuck in my head. I wanted to bike. I wanted to travel even more. And, I wanted to do something crazy and difficult. I had made my decision.

Now of course, I had to choose a location. I had all of Europe to choose from. Copenhagen? Amsterdam? Spain? Portugal? France?

Winterline Gap Year Programs

I finally decided to go to Italy. I was really open to any location, but one thing I was sure of. I didn’t want to go on a tour. Tours are boring, and I’d have to follow people and maybe even a guide that will talk and talk… Maybe even keep on talking…

I wanted to be by myself, alone. I wanted Freedom.

I did extensive and exquisite research until I found this thing called “a self-guided tour”. The bike company stated: “we will provide you with accommodations, breakfast included and a perfectly detailed route, many maps, a bike AND luggage transfer” (What type of magical sorcery is this? Could it get any better?).

It sounded perfect, except that I have to confess I’m terrible when it comes to reading maps. Pieces of paper full of lines and names and sometimes even numbers. I’ve been lucky to have always been surrounded by friends that know exactly where they are by literally looking at the sun and the tree next to them.

But, as long as I could be alone on my tour I didn’t really care. I was willing to pay the price of getting lost once in awhile, asking for directions with my poorly poor Italian and even probably riding the bike with the Google maps lady loudly embarrassing me by saying: “Wrong way. Turn left and go the complete opposite direction you useless human being”.

Bike companies offered many tour options, so I ranked them and analyzed the situation for a couple of months, until I decided to go with the one that offered a “free pistachio gelato” (that was the main reason why I chose it, of course).

I emailed them and told them what I wanted — my budget, my dates, and they made it happen. We did the business and I was ready for my ISP. They gave me my hotel list (I thought I was going to sleep at hostels or a “biker’s bed and breakfast” full of smelly shoes in the entrance and a bathroom or two for everyone; instead, I was offered four star hotels everywhere I went. Single room, king size bed).

Now we’re in Frankfurt and I leave to Italy tonight, at midnight. I have a six-hour train to München and then another five-hour train to Bolzano. This is where my tour starts.

I’m clearly nervous. But the idea of traveling alone and being by myself makes me extremely happy. I feel confident transporting myself from one place to another and blending in multitudes (unless I was in India, that’s another story), but biking with paper maps and no one around me? That’s new.

I kept doubting and asking myself questions like, “Daniela, will this be too hard for you? Maybe you should’ve chosen something less complicated. Are you really prepared?”

But then I got tired and realized it was too late to ask myself those types of questions. I was wasting my time. There was nothing I could do at this point. I decided to change the questions for statements instead and make myself believe that I was ready for it. (I had to be ready).


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Help us Win the GoAbroad Innovation Awards!

The GoAbroad Innovation Awards are the premier source of recognition for innovation in the study abroad and gap year space. Molly’s video series culminated this month in two hyper-condensed visual narratives on the lasting value of a gap year, and more precisely, the value of the relationships acquired while taking a gap year.

UPVOTE HERE

Her 9-months in five minutes video, “Around the World,” was selected as an Innovation Awards Video Finalist for illuminating the courageous fine line between learning and fear, comfort and growth. Molly’s entire video series on her time spent in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Europe, as well as her 5-part vlog series on independent travel in Croatia, highlights the powerful dynamism of a gap year abroad, as well as the nuance of personal growth in this unique moment in life.

According to the GoAbroad contest moderators, the winner of the award will be determined by popular vote, so please share widely! It is a one person one vote system, so remember to fill out the form. The winners will be announced at the GoAbroad Reception during the NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo in Los Angeles, on Thursday, June 1, at 5:30PM.

Please take a second to upvote Molly’s video series by visiting the voting page here and filling out the form!


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Mom & Daughter: What was the best part of your gap year program?

In gearing up for graduation for the Winterline Global Skills Gap Year Program, I wanted to hear how our alumna, Sydney, was doing in college. I wanted to know if she and her mom, Mindy, had any news, regrets, recent accomplishments, or reservations about having taken a gap year, and if they still felt it was the best idea to go on a gap year program.

In the end, they both strongly agreed that the variety and breadth of global exposure provided by the Winterline gap year program was very valuable. Coming to college, it was easy for Sydney to get along with any type of roommate, and her experiences abroad have been extremely relevant to her life at college. Both Mindy and Sydney would recommend others to seriously consider taking a gap year.

Read on to see what they have to say to students and parents thinking about a gap year before college!


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What was the best part of the program, in your opinion?

Sydney Gap Year Student

Sydney: I think the first thing that stood out about Winterline was the wide variety of opportunities. I was able to travel, meet new people, be immersed in different cultures, and discover different interests.

When I was looking for a gap year, most programs only offered semester programs, or only offered travel to one or two countries. When my mom discovered Winterline, one of the first things I remember doing was looking on a map with my dad, counting all the places I could travel to if doing Winterline. Because it was a full school year, I’d get to travel to ten countries and learn a variety of skills while being away at the same time as my friends. The experience definitely tested limits and expanded my perspectives and views on numerous topics.

One of my favorite things offered was the Independent Study Project. I was able to travel to London on my own. I definitely experienced complete independence, grew confidence, and learned how to trust myself.

That particular week gave me a chance to explore a skill which I believed would serve me long term. It showed me what life would be like if I were to pursue being a CEO. I was able to peek into the business life, giving me new perspective on what it takes to build a business from the ground up. After this experience I realized that going after what you want can be a lot of hard work! As young people we hear, “Oh, you can do this job or that job,” but we don’t really understand what goes into it. It definitely opened my eyes and gave me great insight into reality.

Mindy Pultman Gap year programsMindy: All of this is in my opinion, only because I obviously was not on the gap year; Darn! First of all, having the gap year organized around the same calendar dates as college was a big attraction for us. For students who felt awkward about not going to college immediately after high school (like their friends), keeping a similar calendar as colleges takes one hurdle off the list.

Brian, Sydney and I appreciated Winterline’s focus on life skills over additional academics. It gave Sydney a break from more of the same. Getting away from what they’ve been doing basically all their life, and instead learning more about life and people and themselves made this program attractive.

The experiences Winterline provided invited students to explore their fears, as well as recognize their talents. The 9 months of travel, all the challenging environments, the different cultures, jobs and responsibilities was a great learning platform for increased growth and self confidence. In addition, living with others taught them priceless skills about conflict resolution, how to be vulnerable and trust others, while also providing the opportunity to learn about yourself.

We are grateful Sydney was exposed to a global world, as opposed to just the United States. She then could create her own opinions. We see things on TV, and they’re often presented one way so often we believe what we hear is true. Alternatively, when you travel somewhere, meet the people, you can have your own unique experiences and are better equipped to form your own objective views. I feel Sydney sees all people very similarly at the heart because she sees the world more globally.

I don’t know if you know this about me yet, but I am the poster adult for gap years! Philosophically, I believe in Gap years for many students. Sydney proved my theory correct. The pause or the dash or in this case the Gap year is merely an opportunity to provide students a better lens into their future and themselves. Not to mention, entering college a little older gives them greater maturity.

What most changed about you, what was the most noticeable outcome?

Sydney: What Winterline helped me do is help me find my voice. Definitely, growing up I was a people pleaser. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I would just go with the flow. I think when you’re living with sixteen other people, sometimes you fall into a leadership role, sometimes into a follower role — everyone has their strengths, weaknesses and adopt certain roles. I was fortunately able to come out of my shell and the group always encouraged and supported me.

Coming into college, I’m definitely more confident, I definitely speak up, and I know what I want. Things are much more clear. Through Winterline I grew up and found myself. I’m not afraid to ask any question and I easily advocate for myself. Because I’ve traveled around the world and closely with other people, I knew I could live with any type of roommate. I do not sweat the small stuff.

I definitely feel like I’ve changed as a person and I’ve realized what skills I need. I know more about what I am capable of tackling and what I am not. I know my strengths and see my weaknesses as challenges I can choose to overcome.

For example, I thought I wanted to be a business major and eventually start my own business. Unfortunately, pursuing a business degree would swallow me up and stress me out with all the math required. Yet, I was convinced I needed a business major to start a business. I now know deep down that is not true. I recently decided to pursue something in education knowing that I can still create a business but in the meantime I will have a career I can count on and enjoy.

I just went through sorority recruitment, and I know this can be very challenging, emotional and often filled with drama. I think Winterline helped prepare me to talk to all kinds of people. People do not intimidate me and I realize I make people feel comfortable in just the ease of having a genuine conversation with them. I felt very confident going into recruitment, because conversation is fairly easy for me and I certainly had my share of gap year stories in case the conversation fell flat! At each sorority I could connect on a personal level with so many types of people regardless of social status, age, looks, culture. I attribute this heavily to my gap year experience.

At Winterline, I was with Paso, who was from Nepal, and Bamae, from India. Our time together along with the world travel gave me insight into how people think different culturally. Without that experience I may not know or understand different points of views. Also, now I might meet someone from Costa Rica and be able to say “I’ve been to Costa Rica,” and they say, “Oh I’m from Monteverde,” “Oh wow! I’ve been there!” I met one girl from Germany, and I was able to tell her about my BMW experience and she said she’s actually been there before. It’s a very small world. It is almost like we have an immediate connection because we have something familiar between us.

Going through recruitment, obviously the gap year came up a few times. I think I met at least two other girls who did one! We clicked immediately and we had so much to talk about. We all agreed that more people should take gap years!

Sydney gap year program scuba diving

Mindy: First of all, change is a pretty strong word — I don’t think Sydney’s soul changed. I think she just matured. I think she blossomed more than we really ever imagined. Her perspective was broadened. She was definitely more confident and she was much more worldly, self-sufficient, and independent. She grew a stronger voice, and is even more at ease with herself and others than she was before.

I used to tell her that the gap year was going to give her a lifelong toolkit in her pocket, and she would know it was there when she needed it. I think this has already proven itself over and over again in college. She is quite the “handy woman”!

For example, when we saw how easy her college transition was it was staggering. She wasn’t worried about her roommate because after living with eighteen people, she could live with almost anyone. Walking in the dorm for the first time not knowing a soul, Sydney was meeting people easily. There were no tearful goodbyes from her. I was another story! She has already attracted a wonderful, solid group of friends.

In addition she’s managing a heavy course-load with a fair amount of outside involvement. She’s handling stress pretty well! I think she no longer sees challenges as weaknesses and more as opportunities, she has faith that things are going to work out.

I know that her sense of self is noticeably stronger. She doesn’t ask me for my opinion as often. She just does not need much reassurance. She just handles making decisions without checking in. Sydney probably learned what she was made of in the hardest places on the trip. Being out in the wilderness in the freezing cold for a week during NOLS tested her resilience. I think she’d say she learned the most there and got closer with people because of the extreme elements. Sydney got sick in Panama and had sand-fly bites all over her, and getting through all of that by herself, and not easily being able to call us was life-changing. Getting through each hurdle grew her survival muscles.

robotics_competition_group_photo copy

Would you recommend it to a friend? And if so what would you say to them?

Sydney: Without a doubt, I’d recommend Winterline to a friend. I think every person transitioning into college, or out of college and into adulthood should learn about themselves and what they’re interested in before embarking into the future.

Winterline is a group of people who become your family. If you’re a person who wants to challenge themselves by traveling and discovering new things about themselves and the world in which we live in, then don’t miss out. DO IT!

I think the desire to learn has to be part of the person. A person who’s willing to look for new opportunities, want to learn more about themselves, be innovative, and be a risk-taker is ideal for Winterline. A person that wants to question why we do certain things, and has the interest in making change and wants to know how to adapt is ideal for Winterline. I think like anything the program is also what you make of the experience.

I had a fabulous group which helped significantly. I believe if I wasn’t surrounded by such a great group who I knew loved me and I loved them, I wouldn’t have had the same experience. Each individual brought something valuable to the group. They were my rock, and now part of my soul. I could tell them anything. I was so fortunate to be able to travel the world and grow with such dynamic individuals. I couldn’t ask for anything else. It was an amazing experience.

I also think the team of Winterline was very on top of things. I am not just saying that. Whenever we would need something, or even asked for something or had a particular challenge, I felt we were heard and solutions were always found. I really appreciated all the things you did to make it a life changing, life-long unforgettable experience.

sydney and friends painting house on gap year

Mindy: As I said before, I’m the poster mom of gap years. Personally, I wish gap years were mandatory before college and the government subsidized some of it. Many parents may worry their kids will not go to college if they take a gap year.

Obviously, I would recommend it, and if I were to say something to someone, I’d say, “If money was no object, and you could give your kid one year to grow and mature, and the potential to be more confident and prepared to make life choices, why would you think twice? It could be your best investment.

sydney gap year sugar cane

Which skills are you using the most?

Sydney: Definitely the skills I learned at the Boston business bootcamp. I was able to actually make my own business in my business class because of it. I kept the Powerpoints that Winterline gave us, and I was able to look back and show my group what I’ve already done. I was able to help the group in that way. Those skills helped me understand the system and what goes into starting my own business.

Another thing was learning about the different leadership styles, the communication styles. You definitely see that when you go into college. It helped me make connections with people. I now understand why some people may not be as talkative, or why I get along with one person over another. In Spanish class, I actually just read about Earth University! I said to my teacher, “Guess what, I went here!” Then she did a lesson on it, and it was surreal that I’ve actually been to this place she’s teaching the class about.

In a lot of our classes we talk about poverty, and what’s happening around the world. Having been in India, I had a lot to contribute to group conversations and class discussions solely because of where I’ve been and what I’ve seen through Winterline.

For example, in my sociology class, we were talking about women’s rights and female status in different countries like China and India. I brought up how I’ve been to India, how women in rural India don’t have as many rights as men. In Jamkhed, where we visited, women were trying to take on more leadership roles and have a voice in local decisions. I explained about the pre-school teacher who I made a documentary on, and how she teaches kids in the slums, making a difference and being a role model to these kids. I was able to use a real life example to support the class topics.

I also think the blogging, making videos with the GoPro, and keeping a journal definitely helped me with my writing and storytelling. I really enjoyed that because I feel like I have more experience and examples to use in my work, which my teachers love reading. It’s been really useful in my writing class, and my class, “Media & Violence.” We talked about how other cultures are portrayed as being very violent and harmful, and how Americans are led not to think of them as actual people, and treat them differently.

To actually be able to go to countries in SE Asia and Central America where there is some conflict, it’s cool to be able to speak up as a voice of those people — “Well, these people are actually just like us.” Everybody just wants someone to listen to them, someone to talk to. We all have the same goal, to be accepted, and be appreciated and heard. Those in poverty just want to live their life and have equal opportunity. I don’t think other countries are perceived as having equal opportunity, and they lack technology and good education.

Winterline made me realize how lucky and privileged I am. We have to do something about it because it’s not fair. Everybody should have the same opportunity to start their life how they desire. Winterline helped give me a broad perspective. I am less judgmental and pretty accepting of most. I am very grateful for my experience.


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Alex Messitidis: Traveler, Athlete, Gap Year Student

Get to know a our newest member of the Winterline family, Alex Messitidis!

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 first introduced to the idea of taking a gap year from my friend Madison, who is currently on the 9-month program with Winterline. Last year she had talked to me about how excited she was about this experience and the exposure she was going to get, and I knew it was the path I wanted to be on as well.

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

I chose to take a gap year because I wanted a new opportunity, a different opportunity. Though the traditional four years of college sounded great, thinking about how I could be traveling and learning (my two favorite things) with other kids who share the same interests as I do, there was no better fit than this.

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Alex - gap year winterline

What country on our itinerary are you most excited to visit?

I believe I am most excited to visit Thailand. This is a place I have wanted to visit my whole life, and never thought I’d actually make it out there till now! Between the culture, food, environment, and history, it has always had my heart.

What activity or learning experience captivates you the most about Winterline?

To choose just one would be impossible, the whole program amazes me. The amount of self-determination and soul-searching we do, I have no doubt in my mind that every experience will mold and shape us into better, more well-rounded human beings. The culture and diversity we are going to be immersed in is going to truly help us in our growth process.

gap year winterline

Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?

In the future, I hope to become an environmental lawyer. My family has always been very environmentally-focused, and from a young age I was taught about all the things going wrong in our world. Our earth is so under-appreciated and poorly taken care of, I’d like to be able to dedicate my life to bettering this place we call home.

Have you traveled before? If so, which trip has been your favorite and why?

My family has the travel-bug FEVER! We’ve been all around the USA, Europe, islands in between. We try our best to get as exposed as possible. My parents always told me that the more knowledge I had, the more power I held. So they always tried to bring my sister and I anywhere they could so we could expand our minds a bit. If I had to choose a favorite trip, it would have to be either Hawaii or Greece. The weather was gorgeous and people were unbelievably kind and welcoming, I couldn’t have asked for much more!

Alex - gap year programs winterline

What do you expect to gain from your gap year program and while traveling abroad?

During this gap year program, I hope to become more aware, more open-minded, and all-around a better human being. I think traveling to other countries is going to give us such different perspectives on living, culture, people, and it really is going to help us have a better understanding of what goes on all around us. Most people tend to only focus on themselves and their lives, but to understand people as a whole, and how different things could be halfway across the world — that is a beautiful thing. It will teach us appreciation for what we have, and the lives we live, and compassion for those who are not as fortunate.

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

One thing I want my future Winterline peers to know about me is that I will always look at the positive in every situation we are put in. The experiences we share are only as amazing as the attitude we have going into them, and I am a firm believer that positivity is always key.

alex - gap year abroad

Tell us something fun about you!

My parents migrated from Greece to Montreal when they were young, and then had me and my sister Kate. We came to the U.S when I was about four, and started our life in Chester, New Hampshire! My family is sprouted throughout Greece and a bit in Montreal, so I’m lucky enough to be able to travel a good amount and learn so many new things about my culture and family.

And finally, Coke or Pepsi?

Neither, I’m a water type of girl 🙂

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Winterline Gap Year Photo Contest

At the end of each trimester, we like to host a photo contest among our students. It’s a fun way for friends and family back home to see how far we’ve come and what we’ve been up to.

This fall, we had five prize-winners for our photo contest:

  1. Landscape
  2. Skills
  3. Wildlife
  4. People
  5. Winterline

The last one is meant to be defined in the eyes of the photographer-students themselves, and a few of them got pretty creative! The photos were judged anonymously by a Winterline staff committee. Submissions were cleared of original titles and sources. Merits were determined by image alone. Runner ups received prizes of local Costa Rican coffee mugs, winners received a range of prizes from Winterline Nalgenes up to an REI day pack.

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All in all, it was an incredibly difficult selection process, with many quality submissions across the board. Above all else, we at Winterline want to give our congratulations to all the winners and wish them the best in the rest of their gap years.

The first runner up for “Landscape” was considered on these points:

  1. Strong narrative.
  2. Playful light and dark shadows with silhouette foreground
  3. Landscape includes a sense of the immediate experience
  4. Strong colors despite bleak expanse

landscape-runner-up-gapyearphotocontest

The winner for “Landscape” was considered on these points:

  1. Strong use of shadows and multiple landscape dimensions (water, rock, mountain)
  2. Self-portrait-esque
  3. The Golden Hour

gapyear-photo-contest-landscape-winner

The runner up for “Skills” was considered on these points:

  1. Strong tension between strength of the measurement tool and the fragility of the living organism
  2. Vivid use of macro detail
  3. Cute
  4. Immediately understandable narrative

gap year photo contest wildlife photography

The winner for “Skills” was considered on these points:

  1. Clearly a new skill
  2. Strong use of eye-level perspective, brings audience down the level of the activity
  3. Strong use of depth of field & wide aperture: face is perfectly crisp, drawing attention to the subject immediately
  4. Emotional

gapyear program photo contest goat milking costa rica

The runner up for “Wildlife” was considered on these points:

  1. Beautifully photographed wildlife subject
  2. Colorful, in focus, context provided for size
  3. Intimate & casual

hummingbird-costa-rica-gap-year-photo-contest

The winner for “Wildlife” was considered on these points:

  1. Perhaps not technically wildlife, subject is dramatically framed by its context, in situ
  2. Lighting well chosen
  3. Perspective — nearly eye-level

gapyearcostarica-photography-contest

The runner up for “People” was considered on these points:

  1. Strong narrative of ease and rest.
  2. Human and approachable.
  3. Composition is beautifully imbalanced.
  4. Strong perspective, captures the sense of ground & earth which draws out the emotion

gap-year-photo-contest-people

The winner for “People” was considered on these points:

  1. Strong narratives, easily understandable
  2. Eye-level perspective adds to the sense of dignity of the subject
  3. Framing with wall brings out the sense of intimacy with the subject
  4. Subject and objects hold each other in contrast with the uniformity of the background

people-gap-year-photo-contest

The runner up for “Winterline” was considered on these points:

  1. Strong narrative, well-aligned with Winterline brand of skills, friendship, and exposure to new experiences
  2. Use of Winterline logo
  3. Clear emotions of joy & spontaneity with new experience
  4. Strong use of non-candid subjects

gap-year-photo-contest-winterline

The winner for “Winterline” was considered on these points:

  1. Visually impressive colors and use of light
  2. Strong 1st person perspective
  3. Strong narrative of personal reflection mixed with the reflection on the water
  4. Answers the questions: why a gap year and why winterline while also capturing the feeling of adventure and delight at the end of an eventful day.

gap year photo contest winner winterline

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Meet Dylan Gosdin — Drone pilot preparing for a gap year

Dylan Gosdin is one of our first members of the 2017 cohort. He has a love for photography, and is excited to discover more about his career and life goals during his Winterline gap year experience.

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 before college?

My Dad first introduced me to the idea of taking a gap year. He believes that this program will be beneficial for a lot of my friends if they choose to take one as well. I think it’s a great idea. If I had just decided to go to college, I believe that my chances of making it to sophomore year would be 50/50. This program will show me how to take care of myself and live on my own as well as experience things most people only dreamed about.

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

I chose to take a gap year because I don’t know what I want to do with my life.  I think the opportunity to travel the world and learn without sitting in a classroom is great.

What country on our itinerary are you most excited to visit? What activity or learning experience captivates you the most about Winterline? 

The country I am most excited about is either Germany or India. I think India will be an incredible place to go visit. I really want to visit Germany because I have a big interest in cars and going to the BMW Driving School is going to be very cool.

Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?

That’s another reason why I’m taking a gap year. I have no idea what I want to do in the future so while I’m on this trip I’m going to try and find something that I have a passion about that I could pursue and make a career out of.

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Have you traveled before? If so, which trip has been your favorite and why?

Yes, I have. Growing up, we traveled a lot as a family. This past summer, however, I went to the British Virgin Islands to live on a boat and scuba dive for 40 days. I met a lot of awesome people from all around the world. Some I still keep in touch with regularly. That trip was very important to me because it showed me how much I enjoy traveling on my own and how much I can learn about myself in this type of environment.

What do you expect to gain from your gap year program and while traveling abroad? 

Independence, maturity, and passion for a path in life. I think those are 3 things that are most important to me.

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

I’m quiet when I first meet people but once I get to know you that changes very quickly.

Tell us something fun about you!

Yeah, I suck at these kinds of questions.What is one unique object you plan on bringing with you to Winterline and why? I love video and photography so I will be bringing a DJI Mavic Pro Drone and DJI Osmo Camera, both of which I plan on using as a video and photo journal for this trip.  I am not great with words but hope that photos and videos will help me explain what I’ve experienced.

And finally, Coke or Pepsi?

Coke, no doubt.

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My Gap Year Hasn’t Opened My Eyes to the World

I’ve always been out of place, a stray puzzle piece that doesn’t really fit in anywhere. Back in Nepal, boarding school in India – it didn’t matter where I went, there was always someone who didn’t like what I wore or what I represented. Winterline has been different – it has been a wonderful group that not only accepts, but respects me. I’ve experienced something I feel like I’ve rarely experienced before: a sense of adequacy. Everything so far has felt comfortable, even if I’d never done it before. Everyone else has been pushed outside of their comfort zone. I’ve been pushed into a comfort zone.

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I’ve learned a lot of valuable life lessons there – inside of the comfort zone, where I can really stand still for a second and evaluate, something I’ve almost never done. I’ve learned that there’s so much growing to be done every day! I’ve learned to throw myself out there. Sure, I could just sit back and do what is expected of me and be enough. But that’s not where I want to be. I don’t want to be just good enough. There are days where even doing just that is difficult but when I’m barely making an effort is when I need to be working the hardest. I’ve met many people on this journey, driven by goals and ideas who have more knowledge on one single skill or idea than you would think there is to know! All because they’ve dedicated themselves to never being just good enough and pushing themselves constantly.

I found that growth is an incredibly slow-moving, constant, lifetime process. And most of that is the daily grind of effort and willingness to grow and understand that it’s never easy and it’s not supposed to be. It’s kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs when I think I can’t do it anymore and I keep doing it anyways. I’ve learned growth is intentional; it doesn’t happen by accident. I saw on my gap year that growth hurts. It hurts the same way everything hurts when I’m on the last stretch of ascending a hill on a long trek and my muscles are screaming in pain but I keep going because I’ve made it so far and I know that it’s going to be worth it. And I know that it’s going to hurt more the next day, but I do it anyways, because what I will remember is the reward and not the pain. I imagine a lifetime of growth, never any less painful but always stronger for it. I ask myself these questions: “Would I rather not have seen or felt struggle? Do I doubt myself for saying maybe? Am I stronger or weaker for this realization? Do the experiences I’ve had make me indestructible or vulnerable?”

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I am who I am. Nothing will change that. I can’t change who I am, and I can be bitter about it or I can maybe try and love myself and maybe do some good in the process.

I guess the answer is choice: what I do with what I have. Do I let the struggles I’ve seen make me more hateful towards those who choose to ignore them? Or do I help them see what can change? It’s something I struggle with every day. I would have never imagined myself where am today. Never. I could have easily been the next kid, fighting for an education, married off at age nine. Instead, I try to have gratitude for what I have. I have choice. And on Winterline, I have had and will have all the resources I need to make my own choices, good ones that I will be proud of and bad ones that I will be thankful to have known and learnt from.

At the beginning of Winterline, they told us it will be as difficult as we make it. We can shuffle around people and cultures like the next tourist or we can simply be present in the crazy whirlpool of opportunities that are already there for us. I’m trying to chose to make an effort every day of my life, whatever it’s going to throw at me. My gap year didn’t change my life, I did.

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Students speak about why they took a gap year

Below are the written quotes and testimonials by students from our gap year program, just before they returned back home, safe and sound.

I always thought like there’s really no room to do things differently.

I wasn’t set on my goals or aspirations, things like that, I was seeking adventure.

So I thought, take a year, slow down and just understand the things I want to do and the person I want to be, and Winterline just seemed to fit that very well.

Going into it, I knew it was a bit of a different program.

It’s a gap year program, but what it really is is an opportunity to step out of that zone of being a tourist and fully immerse yourself in a culture.

Just completely shifts your perspective of what this world has to offer.

Just had like those moments of, “Wow. The world is connected.”

You’re rarely in a classroom setting, you’re always moving.

No matter what your interests are, you’re going to find something you really love on this trip.

It’s kind of given us a chance to test the waters.

Scuba

It teaches you how to travel, how to function when you’re so tired that you can barely function.

You’re in a different place every week and you’re with sixteen drastically different people.

Kids from all over the world.

Our lives were different, our cultures were different, and yet, I can still find a connection with them.

We wanted to explore what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives, and none of us were sure. And I think that really brought us all together and formed this kind of tight-knit family.

9-months later I know so much about these people that I couldn’t even say about my closest friends from home. These are life-long friends for sure.

Documentary Filmmaking India

You see in the brochure that you’re going to learn 100 skills, but I never expected to learn things about myself.

I have a much better understanding of who I am, and that that person is ever-changing, and that that’s ok.

I really have no idea what I want to do, but I’m ok with that, and I’m confident in that.

I did find a purpose for myself, which I really didn’t expect to.

The trip changes you a bit, and I think for the better.

Take the risk.

Come here so you can step out of your comfort zone. Come here so you can make that first step over that line.

It’s 9 months of traveling the world doing anything and everything. It’s your best experiences, it’s your worst experiences, it’s your favorite moments, it’s your mental breakdowns, all come together to change your perspective on the world.

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Student Video: Gap year Week 1 Orientation

Students travel together for 9 months across 10 countries learning 100 different skills, and that means building up the knowledge at the beginning around healthy communication, leaning out of the comfort zone, dealing with conflict, personal care, and getting smart about packing light.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t time to get out and explore. Our student, Sam, made this video to capture the beautiful moments during and in between our intense orientation schedule.

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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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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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Callie’s BMW Driving School Experience

This is what it’s like to do the Winterline program.

In the third trimester of our gap year program, our students travel to Europe and the United States, where they learn about systems theory and societies from a wider perspective. But they also get a chance to learn how to race BMWs on a closed track.

Defensive driving is as much about anticipating occurrences in your environment as it is about being able to out-maneuver your obstacles.

Many people learn defensive driving at some point in there lives. But Callie learned this skill from a German driving coach at the BMW Driving School outside Frankfurt.

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Why Winterline is Awesome: Skills-Based Gap Year Programs

In this info-video, Susie and Ben from HQ go in-depth into how our programs work, where our students travel, and answer questions about preparation, applications, and scholarships.

The Winterline gap year is about giving students ownership over their education, giving them control of what they’re learning, enabling them to be excited about what they’re learning for the rest of their lives.

“Every day is extraordinary. Every day I’m doing something I’ve never done before. And that’s how I hope to live the rest of my life.” – Student, Molly, Boston, MA.

We’ve created a skills-based gap year program, giving students a chance to sample of a lot of different areas, figure out what their interests are, and become confident and competent in what they’re learning. You travel to 10 different countries over 9 months. The gap year program is a great chance to try a lot of different things. You can check things off and say, ‘Ok I tried that,’ and know whether something is what you want to pursue in college or in a career.

“I am blown away again and again by the Winterline program. Seeing the photos and reading the blogs makes me feel joy.” – Parent, Kate, Cambridge, MA.

We are looking for students who are eager and willing to try new things. Our gap year program is not in a classroom. After 13 years in a classroom, you won’t be at a desk. You’ll be learning in the field, getting certifications that may be applicable for jobs and school, as well as meditation, scuba diving, building a house. You’ll be traveling the world on your gap year. You’ll learn everything from personal finance to how to look a person in the eye when you’re talking to them. You’re going to come away with a lot of different skills that you might not even realize until after the fact.

We deliver our skills by partnering with top-notch organizations around the world, cherry-picked for quality and delivering the kind of experiential education we value. You’re not sitting in a classroom with someone telling you what to do. You’re out there, learning and trying different things, sweating, laughing, backpacking.

The skills we teach are practical, real-world skills. They are the focus of all Winterline programs. We want students to come out of the program with deliverable skills and be able to contribute to the world. Our focus is to make students both confident and competent, and those are two very different things. We want our students to be competent in a number of different areas. If you’re just coming out of high school, by the time you finish the program you’ll be entering college at a completely different level than your peers. You’ll have a better sense of what you want to study, as well as be on your way toward doing and being able to do those things.

Not all the skills are equally loved by every student. Sometimes a student will say, “Oh I tried that and I didn’t like it at all. And that’s just as valuable.” You might learn early on that perhaps you don’t like engineering, and that can save you years on the other end.

“I am going to be the best husband possible. I can do Thai massage, make beds, know how to be a butler, sew a button on an ironed shirt.” Student, Cole, Millwood, NY

In the end, you may even find that these competencies make you well-loved by many different people because of your new skills.

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