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!
Wondering what it takes to go on a gap year?
What was the best part of the program, in your opinion?
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: 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Think you have what it takes to go on a gap year?