I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and almost 21 years later, here I am…still in Boston. I love this city and my school, so I have no regrets about choosing to stay local for college. My only trips have been fairly short, meaning I was unable to truly immerse myself in a new culture. I’ve always been fascinated by travel, and I always knew that I wanted to study abroad. However, once it hit me that I would be continuing my education so close to home, I knew that I had to take advantage of the opportunity to go somewhere completely foreign to me.
I did, in fact, base a lot of my college decision around schools that offered study abroad. My college has a fantastic study abroad program, offering the chance to study on all seven continents. That’s right, our students even go to Antarctica!
I decided to stick with one of the programs specifically for my major of Advertising, meaning I would either be going to London or Sydney. For me, this was actually a really easy choice. While London is a great city, I’ve had the chance to go to Europe before. Also, Europe is pretty accessible from the East Coast, and I’m confident that I’ll get to go back later in life. So choosing Australia was obvious.Sydney is literally the farthest I can get away from Boston, on the complete other side of the world. It’s a city that not a lot of people from my area get to go to, and logistically, I might not ever be able to go in my life without a program like this. I know how lucky I am to have the chance to go anywhere in the world to study, and I wanted to take advantage of that.
All of my friends who have studied abroad tell me that this experience is going to change me, that I’m going to learn so much about myself. I don’t doubt that for a minute. For the first time in my life, I’m going to be truly independent. Sure, I have friends going, and there’s program managers and professors. But for three months, I’ll be living much more than 45 minute drive away from my parents.
For a self-proclaimed child like myself, this is really scary. I’m admittedly not always the best at taking care of myself. There’s no meal plan in Sydney, and I don’t know how to cook. My mom still has to remind me to make doctor’s appointments. I don’t do laundry or wash my dishes enough, and now I actually have to listen to my dad when he explains finances and budgeting to me. I understand how privileged I am that, at almost 21, I haven’t had to completely take care of myself yet. But I’m ready to learn.
Study abroad will teach me these basics of how to be an adult. It will also teach me how to appreciate the world and people around me. It’s easy, especially as a student, to get caught up in the little things. I need to see the bigger picture. I need a reminder that living isn’t just about school or work. I’m going to get to explore the natural beauty of Australia and reflect on just how amazing this life is. I’ll meet new people and get new perspectives on everything I thought I knew. I’ll experience a whole new culture: food, art, politics, communication.
I leave in a little less than two months, and that’s simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. Part of me still wants to back out. I’ll miss my family, and my friends, and my dog. But the rest of me knows that this is the most important thing I can do for myself. Studying abroad is about allowing yourself to be scared, and pushing your limits. Finding out what you can and can’t do, what you like and hate, what the world looks like to you and what you look like to the world. So, Sydney, I’m coming for you, ready or not.
While taking a gap year has become an increasingly popular trend among high school seniors for various reasons, there are many benefits to doing so for those who are in the workforce, too. Whether you’re about to don your cap and gown — or already among the employed — taking a gap year offers specific advantages that can positively affect your career.
What a Gap Year Is All About
In a recent post by Counseling@NYU, which offers an online masters in school counseling from NYU Steinhardt, titled “Gap Year Basics: How Taking a Year Off Increases the Ceiling for Students,” looks at the dynamics of a gap year. Although some may view such a choice as a luxury, individuals take gap years for various reasons — such as saving for college, working, traveling or for religious purposes. In an interview for the article, Ethan Knight, executive director of the American Gap Association (AGA), noted that serious gappers dig deep to learn more about themselves. He says they: “… confront limits they didn’t know they had, succeed more frequently than they would have thought before, and are exposed to new and different ways to lead this thing called life.”
5 Ways a Gap Year Can Benefit Your Career
There are many advantages to taking a gap year. In addition to the positive results of its own 2015 National Alumni Survey, the AGA highlights data across a variety of studies that show what benefits can result from making this choice. This and other resources demonstrate the advantages that are possible, including the following five:
A better sense of self and deeper multicultural understanding — which helps individuals learn how to cope with new challenges in a creative manner.
The acquisition of new skills and knowledge for career enhancement — many of the attributes that employers look for can be gained during gap year activities. Many take a gapyear to learn a new trade, or do a short course that enhances their skills.
Increased job satisfaction and employability — studying abroad during a gap year has been shown to have a big impact on getting both jobs and promotions.
Expanded networking potential — made possible both by extensive travel and the ability to shed the pressures felt back home.
When Your Gap Year Is Over
Although it may seem daunting to re-enter the workforce or school after the gap year is through, there are specific things you can do to ease your transition. If you’re headed to school and your admission has been deferred, be sure to contact the institution involved and let them know you’re ready to hit the books. When it comes to getting back into the workforce, it’s important to let your current employer know you’re back — and to rework your resume if you’re looking for something knew. The AGA offers the following tips for doing so:
Communicate the value of your experience clearly.
Focus on the skills you acquired, rather than the experiences you enjoyed most.
Structure your resume correctly, with gap experience under the right section, like ‘Volunteer Experience’
Know your audience and what role you want, and align your resume accordingly.
Use specific metrics to be concise and communicate the value of your experiences.
Remember that a gap year is seen by many as a choice made by the privileged, which is not always the case. Clearly articulate why you took the gap year and emphasize the well-rounded experience.
Do you have a soon-to-be high school graduate who is researching colleges, visiting campuses and getting ready to complete the Common App? Then it is probably an exciting time, but possibly also a stressful one for your family due to the fact that there are so many important decisions to be made.
Perhaps your son or daughter is also starting to explore the idea of taking a gap year, defined by the American Gap Association as “an experiential semester or year “on,” typically taken between high school and college in order to deepen practical, professional, and personal awareness.”
Hmm. A gap year sounds interesting you say… tell me more.
You may have heard about a student from your son’s high school who traveled for six months after graduating last year. Or you remember that a few years ago your neighbor’s daughter interned for a year to explore career options before starting university. These are two common gap year experiences.
If you’d like to learn more, a reliable resource about gap years is the American Gap Association. They share the following history of gap years on their site:
“Gap Years originally started in the United Kingdom in the 1970’s as a way to fill the 7-or 8-month gap between final exams and the beginning of university. The intention in the UK for that time was to contribute to the development of the student usually through an extended international experience.
Gap Years came to the United States in the early 1980’s through the work of Cornelius H. Bull, founder of Center for Interim Programs. Since its transition to the United States, Gap Years have taken on a life of their own – now embodying every manner of program and opportunity imaginable, both domestically and internationally, all with the shared purpose of increasing self-awareness, learning about different cultural perspectives, and experimenting with future possible careers. Since their broader acceptance into the American system of education, they have served the added benefit of ameliorating a sense of academic burnout. In fact, in a recent study, one of the two biggest reasons Gap Year students chose to take a Gap Year was precisely to address academic burnout.”
This all sounds good you may say, but what do colleges think about gap years?
More and more, colleges and universities understand the value of a gap year. Many notable schools, including Harvard, Middlebury, and Princeton to name a few, allow (and may even encourage) students to defer for one year to spend time in a “meaningful” way. The year may be structured or unstructured, support a student’s academic or service goals, or be a time for personal reflection, travel or skill building. Often students choose to intern for the year to gain valuable career experience.
There’s a growing body of research indicating that taking a some time between high school and college is the right step for many students.
So if your son or daughter is thinking of a gap year, keep an open mind, do your research and be sure to sit down with your child and clear identify goals for the year.
Is your New Year’s resolution to learn a new language? If you checked out our recent blog by our Gap Year student Anna, then you know learning a language can help you truly connect with a country’s culture. You don’t need to be fluent in a country’s native language to visit, but it’s always cool to know another language. Whether you want to brush up on a language you’re no longer confident in, or learn a new one entirely, these 5 free resources will help you out.
This site and app work best for practicing as opposed to learning. DuoLingo familiarizes you with a language through reading, writing, listening, and speaking drills. The site gives daily reminders to study and allows you to track your progress. You can also share with friends, and even list your skills on LinkedIn! DuoLingo offers almost 30 languages, including High Valyrian – the language spoken in Game of Thrones.
This site allows you to learn vocabulary, practice writing in the language, and chat with native speakers to perfect your speaking and listening skills. In order to keep you motivated, Busuu offers badges and in-site awards when you reach your goals. Busuu also offer specialty courses for necessary travel phrases, which is great if you’re just trying to get a basic grasp on a country’s language before you visit.
The unique feature of Memrise is the ability to learn new words and phrases by seeing them in sentences with similar sounding words and phrases from your native language. This helps build the correlation in your mind between the languages. The site also uses pictures in tandem with words for added visual association. Finally, Memrise also re-words translations to ensure that you’re actually learning the meaning instead of just memorizing the translation.
This source has a different app for each language you want to learn. The setup and features are the same; the only difference is the language itself. AccellaStudy offers flashcards, quizzes, and even a hands-free option so that you can practice a language while driving or otherwise occupied without even looking at your phone! You can also customize your study set if you find yourself having trouble with a particular word.
Though Rosetta Stone is a professional source that requires payment, they offer a free app specifically for on-the-go translations. The app combines pictures with common phrases so that travelers can learn basic sayings in the language of their choice. A unique and helpful feature is that you have to repeat phrases into your phone’s microphone to practice your pronunciation.
Be sure to keep in mind that sometimes, sites translate word-by-word without taking into account differences in sentence structure or grammar. This may lead to some faulty translations, but learning is a process! For even more resources, check out the page “Fluent in 3 Months”. For more travel skills be sure to check out our recent posts on our blog.
After your gap year, hopefully you’ll have a better understanding of what you love and how you fit into the world. This knowledge will grow as you continue through college and into your post-graduate life. However, you may still need help finding the right job. That’s where Early Stage Careers comes into play.
Early Stage Careers does exactly what it sounds like: they work with college students and recent graduates to focus your interests, prepare you for a career, and empower you to take the necessary steps to launch forward. Your coaches will help you build skills that will propel you throughout the rest of your life. These tools, such as networking and personal branding, are integral in the job force!
You might be thinking, I can get a job on my own. And you certainly may be able to! But Early Stage Careers points out some relevant statistics that show how young graduates face a different entry field than older workers did. The following information is taken directly from their website:
Companies use technology to screen and eliminate up to 75% of resumes submitted
Number of career fields has increased nearly 300% in the past several decades
College graduates need technical skills and work experience to obtain an entry level job or internship. They no longer have the luxury of “learning on the job”.
Even for those with high GPAs at prestigious universities, a college degree is no guarantee of a good job. In fact, 44% are underemployed. On average, college graduates take 7.4 months of full-time job searching until they find a job. (Federal Reserve Bank, NACE)
Because ECS works exclusively with young individuals, they’re experts with the specific issues that you face. This makes them best suited to help you identify and achieve your career aspirations.
ECS helps you fix the most common mistakes college graduates make when applying to jobs. They help you apply early, remind you not to waste time on unrealistic positions, and prepare you for interviews and follow ups. Coaches aid you in honing your personal story, and teach you to maximize LinkedIn use and customize cover letters to the job. ECS covers every aspect of job application and preparation, meaning they can handle all of your questions and needs. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, and it can even benefit you more than you might guess. They are experts, after all!
Near the end of trimester one, our students spent an exciting two weeks in the beautiful town of Monteverde. To keep you engaged with our students’ journey, we’re giving you an in-depth look of the town.
Monteverde is known for its high altitude of 4,662 ft (1,440 m) above sea level, which places it directly in the clouds. Thanks to these clouds and the moisture they provide, the town has an incredible amount of biodiversity. This variety of species makes the town a big spot for ecotourism, and a great place to visit or study.
The community of Monteverde itself began when four pacifist Quakers from Alabama sought to find a place to embrace peace and cultivate their dairy farms. In 1950, some of the Quaker families moved to Costa Rica. Then, they began to establish Monteverde with some of the area natives. Today, Monteverde has about 7,000 permanent residents. The town is also home to environmental organizations, the Monteverde Conservation League and the Monteverde Institute, where our students are lucky enough to study.
The Monteverde Institute was founded with the vision to build “a sustainable community for a sustainable world”. The Institute brings attention to, and attempts to find solutions for, local issues affecting the community. All food comes from local sources, and the facilities are environmentally efficient. They achieve this status by collecting rainwater, using biodegradable cleaning supplies, recycling, and using passive solar energy and natural lighting.
In addition to giving back to the environment, the Institute gives back to the people of it’s community. Our students participate in homestays through the Monteverde Institute! Families who host don’t just receive compensation. They are also able to participate in programs and classes specifically geared toward them, such as a sustainability and energy audit.
During their homestays, our students complete an Independent Study Project (ISP). Each person gets to pick a study focus, and some of the options are truly unique. For example, some of our students get to process coffee, all the way from farming to brewing. Others paint their own batiks, creating a cloth that expresses their individuality. Others still participate in tree climbing, a home bakery business, or upcycle discarded materials like tires to create new products. Spanish conversation and foot reflexology are also two popular options.
The rest of the ISP programs include making handcrafted paper, woodworking, mapping, working in aqueducts, tropical farming, horsemanship, dairy farming, natural building, and bird tracking. With all these options, each student is sure to find something new that they love. In fact, it’s probab;y hard to pick just one!
Monteverde is full of incredible opportunities not just for our students, but for visitors of all kinds. Whether you’re after ecological learning or cultural immersion, this breathtaking town is sure to draw you in.
During my final week in Costa Rica, I did something that I had not anticipated doing before starting Winterline. I presented my photo essay about the suspended bridges of Monteverde to a room full of local Costa Ricans and my Winterline peers. I presented my photos, some brief research I had conducted about the bridges, and my opinion on how the bridges contribute holistically to the town; they individually affect the economy, the natural beauty, and tourism of Monteverde in a positive manner.
I presented entirely in Spanish.
Now, let me go back a little bit… I have been taking Spanish in a classroom for the last six years and I am in love with the language. I find myself listening to “Latin Pop” more often than any other playlist, and I religiously translate words from English to Spanish in my head. There have been a few cases in which I have been able to actually apply my Spanish skills, like when I went to the Dominican Republic for a service project, or when my family and I occasionally go to Mexico on vacation. But it wasn’t until my Independent Study Week (ISP) in Monteverde where I actually realized that my Spanish-speaking capabilities can take me further than greeting someone or asking where the bathroom is.
We each got the opportunity to choose our own ISPs before heading to Central America. Given my interest in improving my Spanish, I signed up for the “Intensive and Immersive Spanish Course,” which may have been one of my best decisions on Winterline thus far. Over the 5-day course, I learned so much about the language, and more importantly Hispanic culture, by simply speaking in nothing other than Spanish. Evelyn, one of my professors, and I spoke entirely in Spanish for four hours straight on my first day of class. I told her about my family and my health and my best friends at home and my reason for doing Winterline, the list goes on. I told her about so many things that I didn’t previously think I was capable of talking about in Spanish. We had genuine conversation in another language and it was beautiful.
Unfortunately, many people approach learning a language too concretely and without a “big-picture” mindset. They only see it as another way to communicate, and nothing more. And people who can speak multiple languages are seen as a novelty rather than an opportunity to learn about connecting (“Breaking The Language Barrier”) with other people and cultures. I initially approached learning Spanish in a very definitive and concrete way by thinking that it was only taught in a classroom. I’ve realized after my ISP that learning a language isn’t just about the language- it is also about the culture. During my week, I took a cooking class, a dance class, and even went on a tour of the suspended bridges- all things that make up the town of Monteverde and more broadly, Costa Rican and Hispanic culture. I’ve also come to realize after speaking a significant amount of Spanish, that learning a new language opens doors to connection. I made real relationships with my two professors, Evelyn and Jessie, and connected with each of them on different levels. I learned about their lives and why they’re teachers. They even gave me personal advice for my travels to come on Winterline. If we all look at learning new languages as ways to simply communicate, we are looking at language-learning incorrectly. Sure, communication comes as a result of learning a new language, but the ability to connect is one that only some people will find as they speak in foreign languages and actually engage and put effort into conversations. This is where language-learning becomes important, and very fun.
But, I digress. Back to my presentation. We were all required to present individually about our ISP weeks; what we did, who we did it with, what we learned, etc. I had been preparing a photo essay for my presentation and knew throughout the whole week that I would be speaking in Spanish, by choice, to a room full of native speakers. Honestly, I was terrified. I prepared my photos and my PowerPoint presentation and even went to the Monteverde Institute early on the morning of presentations just to practice with Jessie, my other professor. She assured me that my speaking was perfect, yet I stayed anxious throughout the day.
Sure enough, it came time to present and I put my whole heart into it. But, my hands were shaky as I pulled up my presentation onto the screen and I could hear my soft voice quiver as I introduced myself and my photo essay. As I moved on throughout the presentation, I stood up taller and spoke louder with more confidence. The words flew out of my mouth without even thinking. “Is this how becoming fluent in Spanish feels like?” I asked myself silently. I completed my presentation and absolutely beamed as my audience members gave me a round of applause and complimented me.
I felt connected with the entire room and proud of myself for making an effort to connect. I didn’t have to speak in Spanish, and initially I did not want to, but I stepped out of my comfort zone and began to finally see language for what it is: an opportunity to connect, not just to communicate.
To hear more from our Gap Year students be sure to check out our Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).
It’s raining again, not unlike the rain I see in Seattle. Less of a real rain, and more of a drizzle. It’s a subtle reminder that my final days here are drawing to a close, and soon I will return to the bustling streets of the Emerald City. I will return to my own bed, in my own house. I will be able to wear something other than the same five outfits I’ve been recycling for the past two months. I will fall back into the routine of both loving and hating my sister, and be reunited with the taste of homemade Indian food from my mother. I’ll get to go home.
All of these thoughts race through my head as I make my way down the cracked narrow sidewalk, one of few existing in the small mountain town of Monteverde, Costa Rica, but I can’t indulge them yet. Something in me knows that I cannot spend my last moments here with one foot in a different world, especially not on Thanksgiving.
I look back over my shoulder to find Alex beaming back at me, her black rain jacket is half-way zipped, and her long dark hair whips around playfully in the breeze. A local greets us as we pass him. “Pura vida,” he says. It’s a customary phrase here that means pure life, among other things, and we echo him in response. We’re on our way to see the rest of our cohort for the first time in four days. It doesn’t sound like long, but when you’ve lived, worked, and played beside the same people for two months, you can’t help but notice their absence.
Part of Winterline’s programming in Costa Rica involves partnering with Monteverde Institute to spend five days living with a family and being independent from the group. In addition to living with these homestay families, we were also assigned to a collection of businesses, artists, and teachers to study a specific skill during the week. I had the privilege of studying with Ingrid Martinez at her in home bakery for five days and it was, without a doubt, my favorite week of our first trimester.
Baking has always been a passion of mine. Whenever a birthday comes around my friends call on me for sweet treats, and I’m happy to oblige. It’s a stress reliever for me, and it was the perfect way to finish up my first few months with Winterline. This past week I’ve lived and breathed sugar, butter, and flour, and I couldn’t be happier about the outcome. I not only learned how to bake traditional Costa Rican pastries and breads, but I also got to practice my Spanish and gain a better understanding of one of my passions. I’ve learned how to make everything, from cinnamon rolls to rosemary bread, lemon bars to bagels. Name it and I probably made it.
Most of my cohort member’s did their study independently, but I was one of four people who had a partner. Enter, Alex Messitidis. At first I was a little disgruntled by the idea of not being truly independent while learning, but by the end of the week, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience or a better person to be working with. My mum is East Indian, and Alex comes from a Greek family; cooking and baking runs in both our bloods. We’ve grown up around the belief that good food can bring people together, and bring us together it did. Though I’d always considered Alex a friend, I’d never had the chance to truly get to know her, and contrary to what we both initially thought, we have a lot in common. We spent most of our days elbows deep in flour or struggling over the art of rolling dough (it’s harder than it sounds), but when things were in the oven, we passed the time by telling each other stories about our lives.
Mitzy, Ingrid’s daughter, taught us alongside her mother. She was only a couple years older than us, but her knowledge and maturity was that of someone much older than her. She worked with us, laughed with us (and at us), and even joined us in dancing in the kitchen when all there was to do was wait for whatever was in the oven. Even though we only spent five days with them, Ingrid and Mitzy treated us like family. They were encouraging, kind, and infinitely patient. I would do anything to spend just one more day with them.
The week flew by, and I’m sad to see the end of it. Through all the chaos our little green gang has seen, it’s been nice to fall into the routine of Monteverde: get up, have breakfast, catch the bus to work, spend the day in the bakery, grab a coffee at the local espresso shop, and return home to spend the evening with my homestay family. This little makeshift Thanksgiving of ours is a subtle reminder that home is where the heart is, and my heart is here. The simplicity of life here is enviable, and it’s made me appreciate the little things. Things like sunsets, salt that hasn’t yet portrayed its hydrophilic qualities, and having people to come home to at the end of the day. As I sit down at this table, watching my newfound family file in, I can’t help but smile. Good food, good friends, and something new to learn every single day. It really is pure life.
To hear more from our Gap Year students be sure to check out our Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).
As we finish up our first trimester in Central America, all of our students in green cohort are starting to reflect on our last two and a half months together. We have gone through a lot as a group. From huddling over a pot of boiling water to warm our freezing bodies in the Wind River Range to doing a scavenger hunt while kayaking in Belize to learning about permaculture in Rancho Mastatal, Costa Rica, we have learned a ton. As individuals, we have all grown and taken different things out of these experiences. As a group, we have all developed our skills and have grown very close. I decided to interview Patrick Neafsey about his first trimester and he had some interesting personal insights…
Why did you join Winterline this year?
Patrick: “I’ve been a part of the traditional education system for the last 16 years of my life, and after a year of college I decided that I wanted a break from the conventional classroom setting. I knew I wanted to travel, but I had no idea how I would be able to until I found Winterline. I knew it was the program I wanted to do as soon as I found their website.”
You’re unique in the fact that you have already been to a year of college and are now taking a year off before heading back. How does this trip compare to your freshman year of college in terms of your responsibilities and style of learning?
Patrick: “I think the most notable similarity between my college experience and Winterline so far has been the idea of freedom and personal responsibility. College kind of throws you into the fire in terms of making you do stuff on your own, which is a skill Winterline definitely tries to foster. I also value the experiential learning aspect of the program because I really wanted to get out of a classroom setting this year. I mean you can’t learn how to scuba dive in a classroom in Ithaca. It’s completely different in regard to responsibilities. In college, you have to make your own decisions and get all of your stuff done independently. Here, there’s different responsibilities like being able to interact in a small group and being responsible for your peers, which is present at college but not nearly as important on a campus of 14,000 people.”
What has been your favorite place we have traveled to and why?
Patrick: “I think my favorite spot was Mastatal in Costa Rica. That was definitely the biggest culture shock of the trip so far, especially in terms of traveling to different corners of the world that we never would have seen otherwise. I had the unique opportunity to play in a couple soccer games with the locals against nearby towns, which was an incredible experience to really immerse myself in the culture and daily ritual of these people’s lives. I am very grateful for the fact that they welcomed me to their team with open arms and treated me as one of their own on the field.”
What advice/words of wisdom would you give someone who is contemplating taking a gap year with Winterline?
Patrick: “This is an opportunity that you won’t ever have for the rest of your life. Despite what popular opinion is regarding going from high school to four years of college, there is really no downside to taking a year off and seeing the world. If you’re like me and interested in seeing the parts of the world that you’ve only read about, you’ll regret not taking advantage of an opportunity like this with Winterline.”
Last question… What experience or expedition has been the most fun for you?
Patrick: “I think the scuba certification was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in my life. I have always been very comfortable in the water and scuba is something that literally unlocks another section of the globe that was previously inaccessible to me, which I think is really cool. And even diving in the small area off the coast of Belize compared to the expansive and available places to dive, I saw so much and it’s crazy to think how much more I can see in other parts of the world while scuba diving. I am excited to take advantage of this certification in the future.”
To hear more from our students be sure to check out our Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).
Normally on Fridays we post our photos of the week, however both of our cohorts have finished Trimester 1 and have headed home. As our students went home for break, we asked them to submit photos for our Trimester 1 Photo Contest. The categories for submission were Friendship, Skills, and Winterline. These categories were left open to the interpretation of our students. Photos were judged anonymously by Winterline staff. This trimester all of our students’ photos were so amazing we chose three for each category. Check out our winners for each category below (photos are not in a specific order). Huge congrats to this trimester’s winners Meagan Kindrat, Alex Messitidis, Anna Nickerson, and Leela Ray!
Be sure to check out last week’s photos, if you missed them. We will be back again with more of our favorite photos next Friday!
Let us know your favorite photos in the comments below! To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook.
Change. Audible groans normally ensue after hearing this word. The idea of “change” is difficult for many people to wrap their heads around. It’s in our nature to want stability and to find comfort in the consistency of our day-to-day routines. The negative connotation that comes with the word “change” often comes as a result of people not wanting to stray outside of their comfort zones. There’s such a stigma around this word, which I sometimes don’t understand. I am unique in the fact that I actually like change- or rather, I am used to it. In the past eight years, I have learned how to live in two separate homes. I move back and forth between my mom and dad’s house every two weeks, needing to re-adjust for different expectations at each house. It hasn’t been easy and I have gotten sick of moving back and forth between their houses, but a lot of good has come of it. Because of my unique upbringing, I do not struggle adapting to change as much as others, especially while traveling. Throughout my three weeks in Belize, I did not have a difficult time adjusting to the language barrier or the culture or the food. The challenge of being in a foreign country was more fun for me than anything. However, learning to scuba dive literally threw me off the deep end. Diving put me into an extended period of discomfort and forced me to experience a lot of change, both physically and emotionally.
After spending 2 weeks in Big Falls and Punta Gorda, our final destination in Belize was Placencia. Our sole purpose was to get our scuba certification over a 3-day course with our partner, Splash Dive Center. We spent our first day in a classroom, so I felt very comfortable learning in that type of environment. After spending hours and hours watching videos about safety, hand signals, equipment and everything in between, we took a variety of quizzes and then went onto our final exam. After getting a 91% on the test and 100% on my RDP dive table test, I was more than confident going into the next two days of actually diving. It was a slight mistake to be that confident.
As we got onto the dive boat the next day, I knew I was in for a challenging two days. The dive instructors were barking orders at each other while simultaneously going through equipment with their students while also directing people on the boat, all while rain poured down to the point that it was painful on my skin. After spending an hour on the boat, we made it to our island and were instructed to get all of our gear on and enter the water with the “Giant Stride” technique. I got into the water and felt both anxious and excited as I swam towards my instructor and two dive buddies. We went through four confined water dives, which are mini skill-building courses underwater. We went through the motions of clearing our masks, taking our masks off, swimming without a mask and even briefly swimming without our air source, among a variety of other skills. I did not like these skills. When I first cleared my mask, I panicked and rushed to the surface (important thing NOT to do while diving) and got charley horse cramps every time I panicked, which did not help with my level of anxiety at all. I “mastered” the required skills by the time we finished our confined water dives, but I was not confident about going into the open water dive next.
After resting and eating lunch on the boat, it was right back to the water for our first open water dive. I used the Giant Stride technique and followed my instructor to forty feet below the surface. As we descended, a wave of excitement and optimism came over me. I could breathe easily and when we reached the bottom, I realized that enduring the miserable skill building was worth it. I was at the bottom of the ocean! I was in absolute awe of where I was and what I was doing. I was at peace for the first time since starting the day and it gave me even more respect for my mom, who is a passionate scuba diver. I felt like I could finally get a glimpse of something that has always made her so happy and it felt very special. After swimming around for a bit and exploring the diverse marine life, we had to perform our skills. The skills went surprisingly well and I felt prepared to take on our next dive.
On the next dive, I almost died. Okay, not actually, but that’s what I’ve been telling people. It may be a slight exaggeration, but what happened was one of the scariest experiences I’ve had. We had just finished swimming around on our second open water dive and it was time to perform our skills at a greater depth. My instructor motioned to me that I needed to get air from my buddy’s second air source. I signaled “out of air” to Alice and she grabbed onto my arm as I reached for her back-up regulator. Her regulator wouldn’t come loose of her BCD so I had to swim closer to her torso and force the regulator in my mouth. I breathed in and no air entered my mouth, only a few big gulps of sea water. I tried again only to experience the same awful result. I noticed we were floating up to the surface and at this point I was in a complete frenzy. I was out of air and didn’t know what to do. My mind went completely blank. I lost my ability to think. My instructor finally put my own first stage regulator into my mouth and as I got air, I shrieked into my regulator out of a combination of fear and relief. I regained control of myself and we all continued with the dive. I was very cautious for the rest of the dive and made sure to remember to keep breathing. When we surfaced, my instructor explained that I had been trying to use Alice’s regulator upside down. I made a mental note not to do that again. We headed back to the dive center, cleaned and put our equipment away, and we were done with the day. I felt so relived to be on land and didn’t want the next day to come because I knew that meant more scuba and therefore even more discomfort.
Despite my wishes, that next morning did come. I promised to myself that I would stay calm no matter what happened during the day. But… I broke that promise upon surfacing from my first open water dive of the day. Our instructor told us to take off our BCD’s, inflate them, and then use them as flotation devices to relax in the water. I took my BCD off while struggling against the big waves and then had difficulty inflating it, so I was just swimming against the current while holding my heavy BCD and cylinder without any means to help me float, aside from my own body. Needless to say, my anxiety level was high and I was not calm. After about ten minutes of struggling, my instructor came over and helped me. He repeatedly told me, “stay calm,” which everyone knows does not help in stressful situations. My whole body was so exhausted from fighting the waves and the weight of my equipment. I just wanted to be on the boat. He spent about twenty minutes with me in the water, helping me perform this skill with my BCD. I finally got it on my own and the boat came to pick us up. We all had lunch on the boat and for lack of a better phrase, I was not having it. I had so much salt water in my sinuses, felt fatigued and sore, and the last thing I wanted to do was go back in the water. I said, “I don’t want to go back in” multiple times, but after eating something and laughing with friends I found the strength to force myself back in the ocean. I wanted to get certified and I just needed to push through.
I am so proud of myself for having the grit to continue because my last open water dive was incredible. We descended to sixty feet and didn’t have to perform any more skills, so we were able to explore and swim around. Alice and I made little dance routines underwater, which was hilarious and quite a thing to be able to do underwater. At one point, our instructor blew his whistle and signaled that there was a sound up above. We stayed neutrally buoyant and just looked above to the surface. I saw a shadow a couple times, but thought it was a boat. Alice did the “shark” hand motion to me, but because we had been dancing earlier I thought she was joking. When we surfaced, our instructor told us that it was a Blacktip reef shark, which are known to attack people. I had no idea that there was actually a shark in the water with us, so I was relieved that I didn’t know that while being underwater. In hindsight, it’s pretty cool. I swam under a shark that is known to attack humans. Badass.
I am proud of myself for the way in which I went about learning to scuba dive. Well, I am not particularly proud of how panicked I got at times, but when I look at the big picture, I did something that made me very uncomfortable and I really grinded it out. For the first time in a long time I experienced change that I did not take positively. And I could have let that ruin the entire experience for me. But I didn’t. I embraced the change and I was the change for myself. Change can be good and change is good, especially when you force yourself to dive off the deep end, whether it’s literally or figuratively. -AN.
Check out this video Anna put together about her time in Belize.
The holiday season is coming up quickly, and it’s never too early to start thinking about gifts! Whether you’re treating yourself or honoring a relative or friend this winter, we’ve compiled some gift ideas for the traveler in your life. For more gift inspiration beyond this post, be sure to check out our Pinterest Board.
Add a little flair and personality to boring travel pieces with a cute passport cover and luggage tags. This way, no one will take your luggage, but maybe they’ll wish they could.
Everyone wants great pictures to remember their trips by, but having a professional camera may be too expensive to buy or impractical to carry. Luckily, anyone can make their iPhone camera high-quality with the olloclip core lens set. The set attaches over the phone’s front and rear cameras with either a fisheye, super-wide, or macro 15x lens for just $99.99 on Amazon.
The last thing you want to realize when going overseas is that you can’t charge your devices because you don’t have an adapter. You’ll never be in that situation again with this 5-in-1 adapter from Nordstrom. The plugs work for over 150 countries, and are even color-coded for simple use. The best part? It’s only $35.
Both chronic overpackers and forgetful travelers will appreciate this packing guide for any trip. Only $10 on Amazon, this book will ensure you bring exactly what you need – no more, no less – on any journey. You’ll never pay any overweight luggage fees or run to drugstores for left-behind items again.
Hydration is key to staying healthy, especially when you’re spending long days walking, hiking, or doing similar activities. The Klean Kanteen is regarded as the best water bottle for travel due to its durability, insulation, and leak-proof cap. The brand claims that a 20oz bottle will keep drinks hot for 20 hours and iced for 50 hours, priced at $30.95 and available in a variety of colors. Another option is the Grayl, a bottle which purifies the water for you, removing pathogens, particulates, and chemicals. For $59.50, the bottle purifies water in 15 seconds, making it ideal for camping trips or visits to any countries where there are recommendations against drinking the tap water.
Help your traveler stay organized and keep a record of their journey with a travel notebook. For the no-frills recipient, Moleskine makes a traveler’s notebook designed to store printed emails, itineraries and maps at $22.95. It is made to keep track of your observations and explorations on the road, featuring sections marked by colored tabs; paper that is ruled, dotted, and plain; suggestions about how to make it digital; and a sheet of stickers. If you’re looking for an artsier notebook, checkout I Was Here: A Travel Journal for the Curious Minded. Available on Amazon for around $15, this journal is filled with quirky doodles as well as space for “addresses, itineraries, reviews, and tips from locals; a reference section with time zones, measurements, and other relevant information; graphic pages for note taking; and a back pocket”.
There’s no greater feeling than that of achievement when crossing a destination off your bucket list. Take it one step further with a scratch-off map, letting you visually mark off the places you’ve been in the world, and the ones you have left to go, for under $30.
Sleeping in noisy situations can be hard. Whether on a plane or train, or in a hostel or camping, give the gift of rest with this two-in-one eye mask and ear plug duo. The mask blocks out all light and an estimated 40% of noise. The Hibermate typically retails for $99.95, but as of November 3rd, the 2018 Generation 6 mask is on sale for $49.95.
Buying for somebody else? You can’t go wrong with a gift card. Visa gift cards work anywhere credit cards are accepted, making them a great versatile option. AirBnB gift cards give travelers a homey place to stay. Many hotel and airline brands also offer gift cards, as do most outdoor apparel retailers!
This is only a sampling of all the incredible gifts a traveler could ask for, but they’re guaranteed to make any recipient grateful! Make sure to keep an eye out for those Holiday sales for an ever greater deal on some of these purchases. For more gift inspiration check out our Pinterest Board.
We cannot believe that it’s December and that the First Trimester is over for our gap year students. Our blue cohort headed home last week and our green cohort is preparing to head home as well. The past few months have definitely been an adventure for our students, check out the photos of our green cohort from their last week in Costa Rica below.
Don’t forget that every Friday we will be putting together our favorite photos and travel highlights from the past week. Be sure to check out last week’s photos, if you missed them. We will be back again with more of our favorite photos next Friday!
Let us know your favorite photos in the comments below! To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook.