Another week has come and gone and so have many adventures for our gap year students! Both cohorts have finished up their time in Thailand and Cambodia and they are now beginning to arrive in India. Blue arrived in India on the 21st and green cohort began their journey their last night. During their time in India they will get to tour and connect with students at the United World College there as well as learn many new skills. We are so excited for what the remainder of Trimester 2 is about to bring! Check out these photos from their last week of adventures across Southeast Asia.
I’m back, and I have a lot of feelings.
Previously on “Leela’s Winterline Adventure” you took a step inside an amazing in-home bakery. What happened next? We drove to San Jose, spent a few final days debriefing, and then dispersed back across the United States and Europe to our respective families and friends. For seven weeks. I was ready to go home. Though trimester one was amazing, it was also one of the hardest periods of time in my life.
The biggest oversight I had when preparing for Winterline was that living with eleven other people wouldn’t be difficult. I’d been a part of multiple different programs where I was living as part of a larger group, and the social aspect of things had never been an issue. I feel like it should’ve been obvious, but it didn’t occur to me that when you take a dozen people from different states, ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles and ship them over two thousand miles away from everything they know, there’s going to be some issues.
Reality set in, and suddenly I was hyper aware that everything I thought I knew about myself was a reflection of everyone else around me. In simpler terms? I discovered that 90% of my values and ideologies were just echoes of the people in my life.
Flash forward two months and I finally had a grasp on what I meant to myself. Two months of almost giving up. Two months of sitting by myself wondering if anyone would ever want to sit next to me. Two months of the most profound self-growth I have ever experienced. I became someone whom I didn’t recognise, and it was awesome. The woman looking back at me in the mirror stands taller, speaks clearer, and creates the world around her, rather than the world projecting onto her.
Yet, right when I felt like a new person, I was stuck with the reality of returning to a home where not much had changed. Before we left, we all got together to acknowledge how far we’d come, and we were forewarned of the dreaded “sameness” we would encounter upon our homecoming. Equipped with this knowledge, I braced myself, but the mental preparation was to no avail.
My parents asked me maybe four questions about my adventure, and my friends, save for those few special beings, asked me zero. It was like I had never left, and it was infuriating. As much as I love my friends, they were living the same days they always had. Granted, for some of them that meant fruitful productive lives, but I’m talking about the ones who spent more time envying my life (and then proceeding to either make resentful comments or completely avoid asking me about my travels at all) than focusing on what they could do to make theirs better. In fact, there’s a part of me that wishes I hadn’t told certain people when I’d be home, because ultimately, they wanted to hang out with me, but never found anything to do when we did. When I finally conceded to being in the company of these particular individuals they wouldn’t tell me about their lives, most likely because they were comparing our experiences, but wouldn’t ask me about my adventures either, probably for the exact same reason.
So yeah, that sucked, there’s no amount of eloquent wording I can use to disguise that, but it wasn’t all in vain. There wasn’t immediate acknowledgement of my growth, nor was I celebrated with fanfare and confetti. My recognition came in the form of a holiday party I wasn’t even planning to go to, full of food I couldn’t eat and drunk adults gambling with alcohol minis. It was my first appearance at any event since returning home, and I was immediately roped into conversation with a family friend. It was in this conversation that I received the most validating compliment I’ve ever gotten.
“You stand different,” she said, and I inflated like a balloon. Someone was finally noticing the person who now looks back at me in the mirror, I was elated. My struggles weren’t all for naught, because though she couldn’t pinpoint it, she saw me as I wanted to be seen. My outsides reflected my insides, and it wasn’t all in my head.
That excitement lasted all of five minutes, because pleasure is a temporary high, and I went home that night noticing I didn’t feel any different than from before I was given that compliment. Then I realized that it wasn’t a bad thing, because I felt good. I had always felt good, regardless of what was said. I knew intrinsically that I was different, and it was enough. I was chasing after something that ultimately just enabled me to see how much happier I was after my two months with Winterline.
Moral of the story (because you know there always is one): if you feel different, like really truly different, after having a life experience, chances are you are. The experience doesn’t have to be taking everything you know, throwing it out the window, and living out of a backpack for three months (although I won’t lie to you, it is a pretty good launch point). It can be as simple as starting a daily practice of something beneficial to your health and overall well-being. It doesn’t have to be a lot; making a mental note of people’s passions and mannerisms or making an effort to be extra intentional with your words is enough. In fact, these are the changes I made, travelling the world just gave me the right platform for commitment.
I’ll leave you with a quote from my high-school math teacher, who said the following: “Say you draw an infinite line from a vertex, and then draw a second infinite line just one degree off from the first. Although initially there is an almost undetectable distance between the two lines, ultimately you would find, if you were to follow them, that two points equidistant from the vertex would be miles from each other down the road.” In non-mathematical terms: it’s the littlest change that can make the biggest difference in the long run. So even if you’re not on a course like Winterline, try making a commitment to changing something small in your life, you never know where it will take you.
Our students have had many adventures over the last week. Our blue and green cohorts were together in Cambodia earlier this week where our green cohort used their new cooking skills to cook a meal for our blue cohort. Much fun was had during their time spent together. Now our green cohort is off to Thailand where they will learn skills like urban navigation, customer service, and restaurant operation. Their time in Bangkok has been kicked off with Chinese New Year activities and city exploration. We can’t wait to hear more about their adventures as they unfold! Blue cohort is staying in Cambodia where they will explore temples at Angkor Wat and visit the countryside before heading to India on Tuesday. Check out the photos below for a first hand look at their skills and adventures.
During our time in Phnom Penh, we had the privilege of meeting and learning from Matthew Fairfax, an inspiring entrepreneur and wonderful human being. We were first introduced to him in our mixology class and then took part in his 3-day course, “Living on Purpose.” We learned about a myriad of ideas that all built upon each other, leading us to consider how we can live our own lives with more purpose. During this interview, Matthew imparted wisdom and great insight with me… Thank you, Matthew!
How would you describe your job title/what you do for a living?
Matthew: “This is a tough one. I am a salon owner, Founder/Country Director of the Justice and Soul Foundation, and educator/trainer. I also am a coach. So, on any given day I may be wearing several hats.”
Why do you do this for a living? What drives and motivates you?
Matthew: “To get my intrinsic driving needs met! I love the variety I have, the feeling of giving back and helping people, the constant changing, and watching individuals discover new things about themselves.”
When was the first time you were introduced to the idea of “Living with Purpose?”
Matthew: “I think I’ve always operated on intuition, but when I took courses provided by Context International (now BeMoreU) my whole thought process shifted. At that point, I started to redefine my life based on my driving needs. I created strategies that got these needs met constructively and started feeling very fulfilled. I moved from resent/revenge to creating a purpose-filled life.”
Since starting your own personal journey of learning to live on purpose, what are some of the most important lessons that you’d like to share with our audience?
- Don’t run from the lesson or it will keep presenting itself to you – harder each time.
- Relationships are important and it is most important to embrace the reality of who that person is. Change your mind about them and watch great things happen.
- How I feel about me, determines how I feel about you. When I start to feel negative feelings about others, I stop and look at what might be lacking in me.
- Don’t let others make you wrong for how you create and find fulfillment. Not everyone needs “alone time” and not everyone wants to be around people and on the go all the time. Find what works for you. I no longer listen when someone tells me to slow down. I am living at the banquet table of life and there is no need to slow down for me.
- I determine what I am allowing to be most important to me based on my results. If I don’t have the results I want, I look at what I am giving my attention to.
- You can’t rush self-esteem.
- Listen twice as much as you speak. Ask good questions.
- Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.
- Listen to your intuition – it is usually right.
Can you briefly explain communication styles and why they are so important to understand and utilize in any context (work, social, relationships, etc.)?
Matthew: “Communication styles are at the core of all my training. It is learning the language by which we all communicate. Most conflict has its roots in communication styles. When we learn to recognize other styles, we can modify our style temporarily to create better results. At work, I get better team experiences and more productivity. In my relationships, I get deeper, more meaningful relationships. I tend to have way less conflict when I take the time to understand the needs of the styles I am communicating with. Of course, it all starts with my choice and I cannot rely on the other person to change to meet my needs. If I want the results, I must make the choice to meet their needs.”
What advice do you have for young adults, like students on Winterline, as they learn to navigate their lives independently?
Matthew: “Be willing to risk, always stay open and ask questions EVEN IF YOU BELIEVE YOU ALREADY KNOW. Remember, our filter is filled with input from others and we cling to those attitudes, opinions, and beliefs so we can be right. I have seen too many people be right all the way to the wrong results.”
Do you have any specific advice for our green cohort of Winterline?
Matthew: “I LOVE YOUR ENERGY. I love that you don’t always live in the boundaries. Continue to be loud, ask good questions, challenge the status quo, but be respectful and law abiding in the process. Learn to listen, drop your image, let people get to know the authentic you – that is where rich fulfilling life begins!”
—If you have any questions about this interview or Matthew’s philosophies, please contact us in the comments and we will be happy to provide resources and answers!—
Trimester 2 is all about people and culture, during this trimester our students have been mostly exploring urban landscapes and bigger cities in Asia (This week Cambodia). During the past week, our Blue cohort has been in Phnom Penh and they are now headed to Siem Reap where our Green cohort has been the past few days. Our students have been trying their hand at cooking, bike repair, new communication techniques and they have even been practicing with the circus! Check out the photos below to learn more about their skills and adventures.
As one of our final skills in Costa Rica, our group had the opportunity to do 5-day “Independent Study Projects” of our choice. I chose an intensive Spanish course and absolutely loved it. I have taken Spanish in school for a total of six years, so I wanted to take advantage of this week because I want to become more fluent in the language. For five days, I met with two different professors, Evelyn and Jessie. We conversed entirely in Spanish for hours on end, focused on the verb tenses I struggle with, and even did cooking and dancing classes. I enjoyed my time with both my professors immensely and cannot express my gratitude for the two of them enough. Jessie kindly answered some of my questions about her position as a Spanish teacher and shared her take on education and language immersion.
How long have you been a Spanish teacher?
Jessie: “I started teaching SSL (Spanish Second Language) in 2005 when I was a Spanish & Latin American Literature student in college, so I have 12 years of teaching now. Wow! I’m old, haha!”
Why are you a Spanish teacher? What inspired you to become a Spanish teacher?
Jessie: “[It’s] funny because I would not have thought about it, but one day, one of my professors at University of Costa Rica told me about a Spanish Academy that needed teachers during my college summer break, so I went there and got a job for that summer. I had a group of 4 students: Joe from the United States, Martina from Austria, and Damian and Anna from Germany. We were together for a month and it was awesome! We had so much fun and we learned so much [about] each other from cultures to languages, food, [and] personal space! At that moment, I learned that I love teaching. I love the chance of getting to know people from all over the world. So far, I have had students from the US, Canada, Brazil, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, India, Israel, Jordan, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, France, Italy, some African countries, Romania, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan…and so on. This is amazing because, through our conversations, I could learn a lot about their cultures…it’s like being in those countries somehow. These experiences made me a better person, more open and aware that differences are a good thing for humanity… So, I have been doing it since then! [I feel] so lucky!”
How long have you been working at the Monteverde Institute?
Jessie: “I first came in January 2015 for a 4-month college course (I did the same in San José), then back to San José, and returned to Monteverde in December 2015 for a permanent position in the Spanish Department as a teacher and coordinator. Although I never thought I wanted to live outside San José, I decided to leave my comfort zone and try a different place and job position. It was a wise decision because I have learned a lot about my job, nature and conservation, grassroots projects, sustainability, etc. It is a pleasure to live and work in such a special and beautiful community like Monteverde.”
What is your favorite part about working at the Monteverde Institute?
Jessie: “My favorite part is working with students in projects. I totally love the fact that MVI is a non-profit organization, so we do a lot for the community. Many courses have projects for building, interacting with elders or children, giving lectures on climate, conservation, etc., for the people here…It makes me feel proud to be part of an institution that cares so much and is involved with the people.”
What is something you find rewarding about your job?
Jessie: “I strongly believe in education. Education is the key for a better future. Not only for our country, but for our world. There are so much things we need to learn in this life, beginning with ourselves. So, being part of it somehow makes me feel happy and rewarded. If my work contributes to make someone connect with others through language or better culture understanding and respect, I’m more than happy. And since education is a two-way street, I also learn a lot from my students… this is where my satisfaction [in teaching] comes from.”
What advice do you have someone who is trying to learn a new language?
Jessie: “First, do not be afraid of an immersion program. This is the best way ever to learn anything…but also, it takes a lot of practice and studying. Like any other thing in life, if you want to learn a language, desire is a must. If you really want something, you must go for it. Be in a country that speaks the language, live with a family, and make friends. A language is [a part of] culture too. The most important thing is to enjoy [learning] while doing it!
What advice do you have for our Winterline cohort going into the next two trimesters of traveling?
Jessie: “Attitude is everything. No matter if something bad happens, what matters the most is what you do with it…cheesy, I know, but true. Your attitude could make people open their hearts, or close them forever. Take advantage of every single thing you will find in this journey, and as we talked in class, be a beautiful bridge between your country and culture and the rest of the world. Do not let language or any other cultural issue be an obstacle for your learning. Be open minded. Be grateful for what you receive from people everywhere, and for all the things you have back home. Give love. Smile. Offer your help. Communicate! Sometimes a smile says more and is better than words.”
Thank you so much for your time with my ISP and for teaching me so much. I had so much fun with you on the bridges and in the classroom. I hope we can stay in touch and I promise to practice my Spanish in the future!
Jessie: “Thanks to you too! I enjoy our time together a lot, and I really hope you learned many things for your life and future! You are good in Spanish, I hope you really continue with it! Have a wonderful trip around the world, chica. Learn as much as you can. You have a once in lifetime opportunity. Treasure it!”
Our blue and green cohorts are both in Cambodia now! After having a life changing time in Thailand blue headed to Phnom Penh to join green cohort in learning what it’s like to be in the circus. Time spent together doesn’t stop there, our groups had a laser tag battle (photos to come) where green came out on top in a friendly battle of the cohorts. Green also ventured to the National Museum of Cambodia, where they learned a lot about the country and it’s history, while also taking lots of photos basking in the country’s beauty. Check out these photos taken by our students during their most recent adventures. We will be back again with more of our favorite photos next Friday!