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

By: Leela Barlow | May 19, 2017
Topics: Gap Year Planning, Student Voices
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.

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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