Tips for choosing a multi-destination gap year program

By: Olga Khaminwa-Joseph | February 10, 2017
Topics: Gap Year Planning
It’s easy to make the wrong choice. Winterline Global Education and Semester at Sea are both top notch abroad programs.

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Winterline vs. Semester at Sea

They are of the few programs that allow students to visit a large number of countries over the course of their gap years. But which one’s right for you?

As a current intern at Winterline Global Education and a former gap year student on the study abroad program, Semester at Sea, I often find myself comparing the two programs and the ways which they approach alternative education. Although both programs similarly offer an amazing opportunity to visit several countries, their differences are what make each program a unique option for participants.

For those of you deciding between these programs, here are the three major differences prospective students should consider before deciding which will best fit their gap year experience.

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1. Styles of Learning: Academic vs. Skills-Based

When choosing what you hope to do during your gap year, it is important to consider what kind of environment you want to learn in. While Semester at Sea’s unique twist may be better for those looking for an enriching classroom experience, some of you may be itching to get out of your seats with the more physically active experience that Winterline can offer.

Semester at Sea (SAS) was initially structured to be a college program. Although some students do join the program as part of their gap years, many of them choose to take a semester of their sophomore and junior year to explore this study abroad option. The expectation is that a full semester of college level courses be taken while on the voyage. Class is held each day on the boat (that’s right, no weekends) and off days are limited to time spent in port and special events such as the SAS Sea Olympics and the end of term Annual Ball.

The thing that differentiates the onboard experience from one spent on a college campus, is the dedication to learning about the voyages’ multiple destinations. Each class finds a way to incorporate a dense history and discussion around the voyage. Lecture events are held before each port in which we learn about the country’s history and current landscape. All the classes tend to revolve around the countries which makes for riveting and relevant discussion and an enriching academic experience. For those wanting to explore a more rewarding classroom experience, this may be the option for you. But, if you find yourself wanting to escape school entirely, it may not be the best fit.

Winterline takes a different approach to learning. Winterline students participate in hands-on activities such as glass blowing, scuba diving and cooking to attain skills-based knowledge that will be valuable for a lifetime. Rather than picking from a catalog of classes, all students are expected to participate in every event and each student can dip their toes in several different ponds. What this means is that students are able to try a lot of different skills but may not delve as deep into a certain topic as a college-level class on Semester at Sea would.

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2. Travel: Visitation vs. Immersion

Winterline and Semester at Sea also approach the act of travel in very different ways. While Winterline’s intent is to immerse their students in each new destination, Semester at Sea’s immersion exists primarily in ship life, and due to limited time spent in port, the in-country travel ends up being more of a visitation experience.

On Semester at Sea, time spent in port is divided into week long stints. Semester at Sea offers pre-planned in-port adventures such as snorkeling, sailing, hiking trips, volunteer projects and so much more. Students are not bound to these programs, however, and are free to travel as they please in port.

This is a great exercise in independence travel because it means planning housing and food arrangements as well as an itinerary of events to fill your time. Students who choose to spend their time independently, travel in smaller groups and are free to go anywhere within the country that the ship ports in. In my experience, it is best to choose some ports to travel independently and other ports to travel with Semester at Sea programs.

Winterline programs tend to spend more time overall in each country. All housing, travel and food is organized by Winterline as a part of the all-inclusive packaging, and this immersive style of living encourages students to delve deep into each city’s local culture. The cohort travels to all countries together and all program events are planned by Winterline.

That being said, students are encouraged to spend their rest days traveling independently, and in Europe each student embarks on a week-long Independent Student Project within the Schengen Area that they are expected to plan extensively prior to departure.

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3. Community: College vs Cohort

The last major different that is worth noting between programs like Semester at Sea and programs like Winterline are the community aspects.

The MV World Odyssey, Semester at Sea’s vessel, is not a small ship. It hosts around 600 students in addition to the program’s teachers, their families, lifelong learners and the ship’s crew. What’s great about this is that there is a niche for everyone. People are friendly and happy to strike up conversation throughout the voyage and it becomes very easy to find close friends right off the bat. Unfortunately, you can’t get to know everyone well. In this way, it ends up being much more like a college campus in which you find a smaller world within it that feels right and venture out of it occasionally to get to know new people and engage in riveting conversation.

Winterline’s cohorts travel in a much smaller group. The gap year program has a maximum of 16 students. These 16 students become your family for the year and the teamwork within the group becomes one of the most important aspects of the trip. If the group gets along, it makes for an amazing year. If there are conflicts, it can change the experience for everyone. Because of this, Winterline works very hard to develop this sense of community early in the program, and teaching students not to run away from conflict or differences, but to meet them head on, with curiosity and trust.

By beginning the gap year with partners like NOLS and Outward Bound, Winterline immediately introduces the cohort to physically and mentally strenuous situations so that the group can get used to working together and supporting each other.

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Is it more important for you to travel to more countries or spend more time in each country?

So, ask yourself: where do you fit? Do you want to see the world come alive in the classroom or are you more interested in getting your hands a little dirty? Is it more important for you to travel to more countries or spend more time in each country? Are you hoping to bond with everyone you travel with or hoping for a bigger community?

Neither of these options are right or wrong and your success on each of these programs really comes down to what you personally are hoping to get out of them.

There are many things these programs do have in common. They both introduce students to the global world in a way that is both humbling and awe-inspiring. Both Semester at Sea and Winterline equip their students with knowledge that serves them for many years after.

Finally, and most importantly, both programs produce students that insist their lives were forever changed, from the moment their journeys began. So, you’re bound to make a good choice whichever direction you choose. But make sure it’s the one that’s best for you!

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