I could sit someone down for, well nine months, and go through the nitty, gritty details of my gap year with Winterline. Instead, I would like to share why I decided to do Winterline and how that morphed into what I’ve gotten out of the program.
In my first journal entry that I completed in my first week of the program, I claimed that the reason I was on Winterline was to “learn more about myself, bond with my peers and form lifelong relationships, and learn in an alternative way.” Sitting here, looking back on the past nine months of my life, I accomplished all of those goals that I set for myself.
One of the biggest surprises for me in terms of “learning about myself” was how much I learned about myself. I always envisioned that “discovering who I am” would miraculously just happen at one point in my life, and I would suddenly have this answer. But, I discovered that my journey with Winterline was primarily an introspective journey, which ended up being one of the most important skills for me. And I learned a lot about myself.
I learned about my love and connectedness to the outdoors. I learned that I can’t “sit still” for long and need to stay active and explore, wherever I am. I learned how much I value, and need, alone time. I learned how much of a hard time I have receiving feedback, and I learned how to navigate that weakness. I learned that it’s okay to be an emotional person. I learned that I need to dedicate myself to self-care. I learned that I am a powerful leader, something I already knew, but that I further discovered in this group. And I learned that I still have a lot more to learn about myself, and it is an ever-evolving journey.
When I think about my desire to get close with my peers and “form lifelong relationships,” it’s funny to look back on how naïve I was. I had this plan to be best friends with everyone in my group and be a peace-maker. In reality, I formed three strong, unbreakable bonds with people in my group and I am confident that I will stay in touch with those three in the future. The biggest lesson I learned when navigating relationships in the group is that it is okay to not like some people, and it is a given in any big group. It’s not necessary to be best friends with everyone, and frankly that’s not realistic for anyone. I made incredible connections with my peers and field advisors, but I wasn’t everyone’s best friend. It was a difficult lesson for me to learn, especially because I am so people-oriented, but I am grateful for my group as a whole and for every individual in the group. Everyone taught me something different.
And lastly, I learned in many, many alternative ways. I am an academically-focused person, and it’s just a core part of who I am. I enjoy taking notes, asking questions, and completing projects. A big part of my reason to go on Winterline was to challenge this traditional way I learn, and to see how I respond to learning in an environment without grades. One of the biggest examples that stands out to me is when I did my independent study project in Costa Rica. I did a “Spanish Immersion” course for five days with two professors. Every day, I had conversations entirely in Spanish and learned through asking questions in Spanishand by being corrected by my professors. I also took a cooking class, dancing lesson, and tour of the suspended bridges in Monteverde, all in Spanish.I learned more Spanish in those 5 days that I did in probably a full semester in high school. That experience is a reflection of the countless other ways I learned skills, and I feel more confident to go into college with more learning strategies under my belt.
Winterline is special. I miss the program and the people dearly, but I look back on my year with no regrets, knowing that I got everything out of the program that I sought out to. I learned the life skills, but I learned much more beyond those- a lot of intangible lessons.
If you have the opportunity to do Winterline, you owe it to yourself to do it. Coming from an academically-focused person, doing Winterline was the best decision I have ever made. I encourage you to take the first step out of your comfort zone and apply.