Jack Fenker: Musician & Filmmaker Taking A Gap Year

By: Winterline | April 18, 2017
Topics: Gap Year Planning, Student Voices
Meet Jack Fenker from Sarasota, Florida, about to graduate from high school and embark on the best gap year ever!

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?

It was actually my college counselor, two to three years ago. I had already been accepted to Hofstra. I felt out of place, thinking, “Wow I really don’t want to go through four years of high school and then go right back into it at a totally different place.” I’m not really keen on going to college with only two to three months break after graduating high school, and then going right back.

In Europe, the UK, England, it’s common. A couple kids in my school were considering doing gap years. I talked to one of them about it, started researching, and I found Winterline. It was like this holy grail of gap year programs — you travel and learn skills you actually need to learn for college and for independent living. I just fell in love with it. I was ecstatic, really.

I found Winterline after my mom and I were researching for a little while. It was on a couple lists of best gap year programs, or something like that. I went on Instagram and I was scrolling through, looking for a gap year program, and said, “Whoa that looked familiar.” I saw your page and thought, “This looks awesome.” I really got into it, talked to my mom about it, and the rest is history.

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

There are a couple of reasons actually. First, I wasn’t having the motivation to sit in a classroom for hours and hours a day. For me, senioritis kicked in the second or third week of this year, 2017. I’ve never been the kind of person that likes to listen to lectures for one and a half hours, or seventy minute periods, with five classes a day. Our school started a new schedule this year where if the teachers let you out five minutes early, they get scolded, and I just hate it. I really, really hate it.

Over the last summer, I’ve gotten really into reading certain genres of literature from the Beat Generation, like Jack Kerouac. He’s my new favorite author, I’ve read all of his books already. And it’s about wanderlust and travel. So Winterline was just meeting every aspect of my criteria.

My parents describe me to my friends as an old soul. My parents have influenced me a lot, because I don’t like a lot of the stuff my peers like. I’m a fan of really old movies, old books, and music. I’ve been playing the guitar since I was nine or ten, and I really only play Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, old bluesy stuff. Jack Kerouac is based around music and jazz. I love that style of jazz. I describe it to my friends who like EDM, and David Guetta, and I hate to ridicule, but they really don’t get it.

What I would give to be in a jazz lounge in the late 50s in New York. I would really love that — to see the passion of the musicians, the sweat on their faces. I just saw La La Land with my girlfriend, and the main character played by Ryan Gosling, he’s all about that too. And I was like “That’s totally me!” And she got that. I just love when musicians have passion like that, writers too. Jack Kerouac really had passion for stuff.

The whole aspect of getting new experiences and new perspective about places that you’re not familiar with — that’s a big part of it too. I’ve never actually been to the Western United States. My favorite book is actually On The Road. The movie was really bad. But anyway, he travels from NY to Chicago, Denver, LA, and across the West. I’ve never been to Arizona, Texas, and I’d really like to see some of that stuff. I know the orientation of the gap year program starts in the West, and I’m honestly really excited — I’ve never seen that.

I don’t usually like to admit where I go to school, because a lot of the kids I go to school with can be really preppy. On Spring Break they go skiing in The Alps with Prime Minister of Sweden. I’ve never been to Paris, I don’t have a private jet to go wherever I want. I’m actually on spring break right now, and all the kids in my school are all in Paris or LA or something.

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

Probably either Costa Rica or Belize. I’ve only been out of the country once, and my sophomore year for spring break, we went to Costa Rica for a science fair. I was only fifteen or sixteen so it was really structured. But I love to see the actual towns, and how people really live outside the tourist resorts and stuff. I’ve been taking Spanish since 8th grade, so I’m actually kind of proficient in Spanish. For all of the countries we’ll visit, I’ll probably be the most comfortable there. I’m most excited to see Cambodia and Thailand, but I have no idea how to speak Thai or Cambodian. So I’m the slightest bit more familiar with Latin America.

I’m overall really excited about the entire thing. I’ve been telling everyone about this gap year thing. They have no idea, they just say, “Why not just go to college, what’s the point?” Well, you get to learn skills. So you’re better adult, you know how to live on your own, how to listen and live with others better.

And they say, “Why don’t you just learn that in college?” They don’t get it.

My goal is, when I’m done with my gap year, to go to my college and be prepared for life. I’m actually going to Hofstra. They deferred my scholarship and my acceptance. So it’s really a win-win, I have nothing to lose by going on a gap year.

The whole point for me is, I’m going to be so much more prepared than all the other freshman going in. I’ll know how to cook my own food, live with others, and more. That’s one of my main goals, to know how to live on my own without parents and be a productive member of society.

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What was the process of getting the deferral like? What’d you have to do?

I just sent a letter over to my regional rep, saying “Hey I’m thinking about doing a gap year, what would the consequences be?” She said my position at the college wouldn’t be changed, I would still have a seat for next year, but that the scholarship might be lost.

But then my college counselor talked to her and said, in my entire career I’ve never seen more than $2-3k lost. My scholarship is half tuition the first two years, then full tuition for the next two. So by the last two years of my college education, I’ll be getting free tuition. I wouldn’t want to pass that up, but she was sure that I’m not going to lose it.

And I talked to my college counselors about it. My college counselor took a gap year, and he said it was so great. You get to be different than everybody else. As much as I love and am excited to go to college, I don’t hate learning, but I hate sitting in a classroom for an hour and a half, and then getting a paper to do.

So I’m really excited. For an entire year, are you kidding me, to learn different skills you’ll need throughout your life and go to ten different countries. It really is exciting, you know?

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

Some of the things that I really get excited about are the defensive driving with BMW — in Germany. That seems really cool. The culinary arts, because I have no idea how to cook, but I really want to learn and know I need to put the time in.

I think the biggest thing I’m excited for is to learn how to cope with others and be a team, because I’m not bad at working with others, but I really think it’s a skill that will put me ahead of everybody else in the labor force if I know how to work on a team and live with others and work with others without a conflict, you know what I mean?

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

Yeah, I was actually really excited to go to college and the program I’ve picked out. I’m going to go into mass-media studies and marketing & business. What I really want to do is be a movie producer or a TV show producer. I’ve always been in love with filmmaking and film critique.

If you look at my wall, I have movie posters everywhere. That’s one of my tropes at my school — I’m the movie guy, if anyone has a question about a movie I’ll know what it is.

I really want to get into the film industry. I appreciate people who go into the film industry and want to get a fine arts degree in film. But I feel like in the global economy that’s not that useful of a skill. So I’m thinking about doing a major in marketing or media studies, learning the business aspects of it, and then minoring in film production.

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

Almost every trip I’ve been on has been really structured. My family would drive down to Hilton Head. That was fun when I was a kid, but then I realized everyone there is like 55 years old. My aunt lives in San Francisco, and I’ve been there a couple times. I really like it there.

I’d definitely have to say Costa Rica is really up there. It was the first time I’ve been out of the country and I actually heard people speaking Spanish and I’d have no idea what I was talking about when we’d go into town. I guess I don’t really have a favorite one, just a couple.

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

In a general sense, skills that I can learn, practical skills that I can apply to myself when I live on my own, get my own job, and live by myself. And just perspective on the world around me, and to feel grateful for what I have. To learn about the rest of the world, not catching this bubble of living in Sarasota Florida, because there’s a lot more people living outside Sarasota, Florida than there are living inside of it.

I’m excited, I really am, to see the rest of the world, other than National Geographic documentaries and stuff. I watch a lot of nature documentaries. One thing my parents love to watch with me, that chef, Anthony Bourdain. He goes to different countries. That is like the coolest thing in the world to me. I don’t know how I can explain that, but I just love it. He goes to eat native foods in Vietnam.

I think a lot of Americans want to see the world. And they go to Egypt to these resorts, and its a bunch of Americans living together and a bunch of Egyptians serving them Mai-Tais and stuff, and that’s not what Egypt really looks like. You’re in a resort.

And I know that’s not what Winterline is about. You’re not living in Cancun, where it’s a bunch of people from the Midwest staying for a week while the rest of Mexico doesn’t look like that.

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

The one defining fact about me is that I love everything old. I love old music and old movies. I’m really an old fashioned type of guy.

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Tell us something fun about you!

I don’t know if this will change how you see me. But, my freshman year, I got bit by this mosquito that had a neurological virus in it, it was carrying it in its body, and I had a seizure on the floor of the gym on my third day of high school at a public high school in front of two thousand people.

And that was my first memory of high school ever. So, that’s not very fun! But, whenever someone asks me what’s an interesting fact about you, that’s usually what comes up.

And finally, Coke or Pepsi?

Pepsi. No questions asked. Pepsi. I hate Coke — I hate it. You know those freestyle machines they have at Wawa, or high tech fast food restaurants, why don’t they have one of those for Pepsi? Pepsi needs to get its stuff together. Nobody likes Pepsi. Whenever I say that I like Pepsi more, I am so ostracized — you have no idea, it is so bad. Yeah I’m definitely a Pepsi fan. And I don’t care where that puts me in the pecking order of Winterline. I’m with Pepsi.

Anything else you want to add?

I really want to express how excited I am for this thing, and grateful for my parents who have made it available to me. I really want to suck everything out of it that I can. I’m just really excited for it. I wish I could express how much joy I have for being able to do this.

I can’t stop thinking about it, and it’s been the last six to seven weeks of my life. I’m going to go to Belize. I’m going to go to Southeast Asia. It’s gonna be awesome.

Another thing I’m excited for — I have a cousin in Germany who just turned four. He came down with his parents, and I think where we’re going in Germany is really close to where they live, so I’m really excited to see them. I’m just really excited to see Germany in general! I mean, I’m smiling right now! Just thinking about it.

The one thing I want people to know is, I’m excited to get to know the other students in my group and make close bonds. Because I’ve never really had that close of friends, like the buddy-buddy friends. I’ve had friends that I hang out with on the weekends and stuff. And it might just be a hunch, but I feel like going through ten countries in nine months is really gonna bond twenty kids together and I’m just really excited for that.

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