The Dawn of India

In March of 2019, our Winterline squads spent a month traveling through Western India. During this time, each of us had the chance to choose our own adventure by embarking on an Independent Student Project. Destinations included an Ashram, an Ayurvedic healing center, a farm, and a dance studio.

Be it thoughts, mental images, or sensations, each of us has unique memories of our time living in India. In my case, the sound of the ancient Sanskrit chants played during meditation still ricochet in my head.

In order to showcase our varied perspectives and experiences, I asked my fellow squad members to engage in a bit of self-reflection.

What is your favorite memory from India?

“It was the last day of the Art of Living ISP, where we took a course on how to make your life happier and more fulfilling. We were in an Ashram which is a sort of remote sanctuary where people can go out to connect with nature and meditate. Great vibes had been flowing the whole week and it all culminated after the last meditation session. We were instructed to close our eyes and “let the music flow through you.” Then this funky Indian music comes on. I felt self-conscious at first but we all got into a groove soon enough. It felt incredible to be in the moment and just dance my own dance.” – Sam

“My favorite memory from India was the wild banter that would occur during my time at the Art of Living ashram, particularly at lunch time. We had a cook named Ganesh that would feed us way too much and would continue to put food on our plate no matter how much we pleaded. He didn’t speak very much English but he somehow managed to tease and mess with us purely with gestures and his emotions.” – Caedon

“My favorite memory from India is Red Stone. Red Stone was the location for my self-care project. The food we ate was amazing and the owners of the farm and meditation center were so open and friendly. In the mornings, we practiced yoga and in the afternoons we would learn about sustainable living and meditation.” Tyler

“My favorite memory was the hilarious meals we had during my ISP week at an ashram with 5 other members of my squad. One of the kitchen staff called Ganesh loved to serve us food and would pile on a new portion every time we finished eating despite our protests, to the extent that some of us got 5 servings because he wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was the greatest show of hospitality and friendship that we could have received because it overcame the language barrier between us, and it gave us a sense of belonging within that community.” – Yeukai

The Ashram Crew | Photo by: Suryatej

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

“We spent five days learning about a very specific type of meditation, called pranayama. We would spend multiple portions of the day practicing breathing exercises, as well as beginning to train our mind and enter a calm state of relaxation. I was able to get into this so called meditative state, and it was quite incredible. With time I hope to be in full control of my focus and state of mind.” – Caedon

“I am most proud of my dedication to yoga and meditation during my stay at Red Stone.” – Tyler

“I’m proud of how my group and I woke up early every morning and continued to practice the breathing techniques and meditation skills we learned at the Ashram for over a week after leaving the ashram. It was hard to keep up with it afterwards because of the busy Winterline schedule, but we all want to take what we’ve learned back with us when we go home.” – Yeukai

“I’m proud of myself for experimenting with new cuisines. I tried a different Indian dish almost every day I was there and I don’t think I ever had an absolutely terrible meal.” – Sam

Moo! | Photo by: Suryatej

What was most challenging for you?

“We had to wake up at the crack of dawn every morning and practice the breathing exercises. There was a particular way you had to kneel (vajrasana) that made the three stages of pranayama extremely painful. Luckily I found that putting a pillow underneath my shins quickly resolved my dilemma.” – Caedon

“The biggest challenge for me was not speaking the language. Though many people do speak English in the cities, when we got to more rural destinations few people could communicate in English.” – Tyler

“Having to travel in small groups constantly because of the safety risk to females in India was challenging, because it took away from my independence and ability to be spontaneous.” – Yeukai

“Adjusting to and accepting a totally different way of life in the ashram was more challenging than I expected. Especially when we met an ayurvedic doctor. I remember walking into his hut and seeing this stout man sitting there. He read our pulses and told me that my air and fire elements were agitated, and that because of this I would soon lose all of my hair. It was so strange to experience coming from a western culture where medicine is based more on science.” – Sam

Boat trip with our Art of Living course instructor | Photo by: Suryatej

If you were to sum up your experiences in India with a single word or phrase, what would it be?

“Enriching” – Caedon

“Peace” – Tyler

“Inspiring and introspective”Yeukai

“Exotic” – Sam

New Student Spotlight: Casey Goldstein

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.


Thinking about taking a gap year too?

LEARN MORE


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?

My parents approached me with the idea of taking a gap year about a half a year ago. They had been researching more and more, and were set on the goal of having at least one of their children take on.Casey Goldstein, winterline, gap year

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I mainly chose to take a gap year knowing that no one ever regrets taking one. Every single person I’ve talked to that’s taken a year off comes back with such a radically new sense of the world, and has stories that leave me in awe. I am in no rush to go to college, and figured that this is the perfect time to travel.

WHAT SKILL ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO LEARN?

Scuba Diving. I’ve been terrified of the deep ocean for some time now, and plan on changing that.

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE?

I plan on majoring in computer science in college, and working at some tech start up.Casey Goldstein, winterline, gap year

HAVE YOU TRAVELED BEFORE? IF SO, WHICH TRIP HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE AND WHY?

I traveled with my family to Croatia three years ago. It remains the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to. The food was delicious, and the weather was perfect. The water was so unforgettably clear.Casey Goldstein, winterline, gap year

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO GAIN FROM YOUR GAP YEAR PROGRAM AND WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD?

I hope to meet some incredible people, explore foreign cultures, expand my social and entrepreneurial skills, and come back with an overall heightened sense of the world.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WANT YOUR FUTURE WINTERLINE PEERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I am so ridiculously excited for our gap year. It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I know I will never forget these experiences, and I can’t wait to share them with you.

WHY WINTERLINE?

I chose Winterline because it had everything I was interested in: travel, cultural immersion, service, and entrepreneurship.

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

Over the past year I’ve been getting super into music production, specifically hip hop and trap. I have no idea why I’m so passionate… it’s just crazy fun.Casey Goldstein, winterline, gap year

 

Finding a Home on the Road

For the first time in twelve years, I am not in typical schooling. Despite the lack of a desk, learning has not stopped. On a program where my life consists of new experiences and new people constantly, my brain feels more stretched now than it did in Calculus III. As I’ve been trying to process the newness and the lessons I learn every day, I’ve realized that not only am I gaining new perspectives, but I’m changing old ones. As complex ideas like permaculture and design thinking become more clear, simple ones, like “home”, are becoming much more muddy.

When I moved out at sixteen to attend boarding school, I don’t think I understood then how much that word would become something I circled back to. “Home” was no longer a GPS destination, it existed somewhere between my house and dorm room, a place I couldn’t pinpoint. I listened to my friends assign it all sorts of different meanings, the backseats of their cars, their pets, their beds at home, and it became more and more difficult to make home a concrete structure. We talked about home, but we knew every time we went back that it wasn’t the same anymore.

This year, I have a less permanent home than I ever have. Almost every week is a new location, sometimes hostels, sometimes a hammock, sometimes even tents. During our NOLS course, a week long backpacking trek in the Gila, the homes we referred to started as the houses we left behind. Once we arrived in Panama, I started to see a shift. We were starting to become comfortable with the constant discomfort that comes with travel. My backpack wasn’t a piece of foreign equipment, it was everything I owned. All the things I forgot about or left in my drawers at home almost didn’t exist. And if I did need something, I could count on almost anyone else in my group to share or let me borrow it.

In our rural homestays in Piedras Gordas, my “home” was with a host family. Although it was clear that I didn’t know the customs, and I couldn’t speak the language, I fell into patterns of comfortability with them. Through sharing food, stumbling over Spanish, and even acting things out, we fell into understanding.

At present, I don’t live in a house. Yet home is not a word that I have banned from my vocabulary. In fact, I find myself saying it more and more as I am away. I’ve found that home is not a place, a person, or even a group of people, but places we build within ourselves. The home I used to talk about referred to places where I felt comfortable. Creating a home while you’re away from one is all about finding the peace within your own mind to create spaces where you’re comfortable, and you feel loved.

What this also means is developing the ability to be open to every new environment and every new person you meet. That is not an easy skill at all. Travel comes with exhaustion, fear of change, discomfort, and isolation from being in different places. It can take a lot of bravery to open yourself up even once, let alone having the courage and effort to try on a daily basis. Starting a conversation at a restaurant or with your host family can be daunting. Finding running routes or spots to exercise in a new city is scary. Asking for help in a language that is not your own, or from people you don’t know, can be difficult.

Being an open person is not easy for me. Every day I have to try to open doors, start conversations, and push down my fear of embarrassment. Yet almost every day, I am rewarded. With each new exchange, I’m building a foundation. I think of all of the times I try something I’m afraid of, be it a new hike, new food, new group of people, as putting down a brick for my house. Some bricks are harder to lay than others, and sometimes I can build a wall in a day. The way to truly test the strength of your home is to see if, by the time you leave, you’ve filled it with family.

I’ve bounced around pretty frequently for the last two years, and I felt that the places I left behind were barren and empty. I think of my room at my house in Raleigh sitting empty, my dorm room which is now occupied by someone else, and my cabin in Durango. When I decided to leave, looking back was never an option. I thought that in order to keep moving, you couldn’t put down roots. I see now that in every place you can build a home, and in every place you should try. Over the course of the next year, I will not count the memories I have by the pictures I’ve taken or plane tickets I’ve collected, but by the homes I built and the people I housed.

New Student Spotlight: Sherly Budiman

The Winterline Global Skills Gap Year Program travels to 10 different countries over the span of 9 months, where students learn 100 new life skills while traveling the world with their best friends.


Thinking about taking a gap year too?

LEARN MORE


WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

I am from Indonesia, racially Chinese but don’t speak good Mandarin, and currently studying at United World College in Armenia.

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View in Sevan Lake, Armenia

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?

Back in Indonesia, the idea of a gap year is not very popular among students because most of us continued directly to university after high school. I was introduced to the idea of a gap year when I came to United World College in Armenia. At first, this idea is quite strange for me but now that I think of it, it is actually very useful for me personally to take time to think what do I really want to do in life and it seems very interesting.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I think going directly to university without knowing what I wanted to do will end up wasting my time and energy. So, I believe gap year is a perfect time to learn and experience thousands of different stuff and decide for the future.

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From Sherly’s hometown in Indonesia

WHAT SKILL ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO LEARN?

To be honest, I’m not a very sporty person. That’s why I think doing outdoor activities such as hiking or camping would be the most exciting skills for me yet might also be the most challenging one.

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE?

Yes… and no…. I have too much idea of what I want to do. Sometimes I want to be a diplomat, a writer, a film-maker, a graphic designer, a pastry chef, a calligraphy artist, or a YouTuber. These uncertainties are the main reason why I chose Winterline as my gap year program.

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Always holding the camera for vlogging!

HAVE YOU TRAVELED BEFORE? IF SO, WHICH TRIP HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE AND WHY?

Yes! My travelling trip has always been either a family vacation or an educational trip. I love Chinese food in Beijing. The beautiful lakes in Croatia were amazing. Armenian hospitality is something that I would never forget. I would say each of the places that I went to have a special room in my heart that I will remember for the rest of my life.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO GAIN FROM YOUR GAP YEAR PROGRAM AND WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD?

Best friends for life, a deeper understanding of what makes us human, and on top of it, GOOD FOOD!

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Food is life!

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WANT YOUR FUTURE WINTERLINE PEERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I will do a weekly vlog once Winterline starts! My passion is food and sleep. I love K-Pop! And, let’s have a conversation about life and philosophy under the starry night while holding a cup of tea in front of the bonfire.

WHY WINTERLINE?

Why not Winterline? It’s a 9-months experience of self-discovery, international networking, gaining skills, and endless travelling. It’s an experience that you would not get anywhere else.

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

Despite coming from Indonesia where it is summer all year long, winter is still my favorite season!

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Sherly in Armenia

Alumni Spotlight: Savannah Palazolla

What did you do when you returned from your Gap Year? Did you head straight to college? The workforce? Trade school? Something else?

After graduating from Winterline, I headed to Maine with two girls from my cohort. We hung out for a little over one week. It was like a mini extension to the program. It sure took the edge off having to say goodbye to the amazing people I just spent nine months with. After that, I experienced a brick wall where my life should start and I’m still kind of building the latter to climb over it.winterline, gap year, Savannah Palazolla

How has your Winterline experience affected your post-gap year plan? Is it different than what you had planned out before the program?

Before Winterline, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. Now, I still have absolutely no clue of what my life will look like, but I have a better relationship with uncertainty after my Winterline gap year. I have a better outlook on life in general, but I’m definitely going to need more experience, adventure, and challenges in order to grasp who I am and what to do about that. I’m experiencing that shift from teenage years to adulthood on my own terms by moving far, far away— something I wouldn’t have had the courage or self-understanding to do had I not gone on Winterline. With that uncertainty and wanderlust, I’m hoping to gravitate to what’s right for me.winterline, gap year, Savannah Palazolla

How have you changed since completing Winterline? Do you notice anything different about yourself since the program?

I certainly changed a lot during and after Winterline. Winterline showed me so many different versions of life and in turn, helped me discover all of the different versions of me. I feel like everyone has unlocked potential or desires to try more, to do more, and to say more— and WGSP certainly helped me find those parts of me. With that, I think Winterline gave me so much experience that confidence naturally grew within me. I’m not saying I’m 100% more confident now, but with the challenges faced and hard work put in, I’ve become much more aware of my capabilities and strengths. Self-awareness is where confidence grows. I can connect with people a lot better as well. I used to have a hard time getting to know people and conversing, but being around people all of the time conditioned me to hold my own socially. I’m more driven to be social now, too. It also showed me a lot of the things within myself that I need to work on, and why change is so important. It’s given me the tools I need for self growth.winterline, gap year, Savannah Palazolla

What was your favorite skill to learn and why?

My favorite skill to learn, out of the entire program, was scuba. I’ve taken into account the test taking portion, as well. Funny story: I failed the first time. I’m a good learner and very capable and smart, but I’m still terrible at taking tests. The next day, I passed at a 98% and went on to scuba for the next three days. It was incredibly challenging for me and also super scary; both part of why it was so special. I faced a fear and overcame difficulty, and during the dives, I discovered a whole new world. At first I felt extremely restricted, then completely free. I learned that I’m capable of a lot more than I thought just by being underwater, seeing sharks and barracuda and not having a panic attack, and working well with my dive buddy and communicating properly. I also navigated with a compass using only one arm to swim (which is more impressive when you have the prior knowledge that I don’t have legs).winterline, gap year, Savannah Palazolla

What was your favorite trimester and why? Is there a specific location that you catch yourself thinking about from your program more than others?

My favorite trimester was trimester 1. Meeting everyone for the first time, way back in the Denver airport, is such a good memory, especially seeing how different we were and how different reality was vs. our expectations of the way things were going to go. This trimester was physically challenging for me, on levels I didn’t even consider going into the program. There was a lot of slipping and sliding on farms in the rainforest, heavy lifting, and hikes. However, it’s still my favorite because I have great memories of living in houses with my cohort. My favorite by far is a house in Monteverde, Costa Rica, overlooking layers and layers of mountains, cloud forest, and trees (which makes for the best sunset you’ll ever see). It was a super nice time. Overall, this is in my memory as my favorite trimester. There are just so many moments of bonding, growing, and learning so much by doing. Plus, I got some piggybacks throughout the jungle, which is awesome. winterline, gap year, Savannah Palazolla

What did you do for your Independent Study Project? Have you continued using that skill/have you used that skill since the project occurred?

For my independent student project, I went to Seville, Spain to learn flamenco cantes— a style of singing that falls under the Flamenco umbrella. Flamenco is traditional, Spanish folk dance and music. It’s rich and bold and I don’t remember why I was so drawn to it, but after going there and experiencing it, I have absolutely no regrets. I stayed with a pair of sisters who run a group Spanish learning class. I connected with them a lot. They showed me around Sevilla, taking me to Real Alcázar, which is where the Water Gardens are filmed in Game of Thrones. During my actual singing lessons, my instructor didn’t speak English. This made it both interesting and challenging, and another great memory. I’ve been singing my whole life, knowingly untrained, but technically proficient enough to hold my own. This style of singing, however, takes way more guts than what I had or have to offer. I no longer sing flamenco, but I won’t write it off. It’s beautiful and challenging and I love it. winterline, gap year, Savannah Palazolla

What’s one piece of advice that you would give a future Winterliner?

One piece of advice I would give a future student of the gap year program is to embrace every situation, good or bad. Give as much energy to the things you don’t enjoy as you do to the activities you love— maybe even more. At the end of the day, you get from this program what you give. If you put forth your best effort, you’ll grow tenfold in return. You’ll be more confident and proud and energized. You’ll have more to say and more to learn from by graduation.winterline, gap year, Savannah Palazolla

Do you still keep in touch with your cohort?

I still keep in touch with the majority of my cohort. I talk to both of my FA’s quite often and I just visited with one more recently with another member of my cohort down in Rhode Island. I’ve visited Maine often to see that same friend. My best friend from the program visited me in my home on the North Shore back in November and plans to come again in June. On top of that, a group of us do a Skype chat once per month. Last time we accomplished a 6 person Skype call and it was amazing. It’s so cool to see how much people change and grow and where they can end up within the year— yet you can still talk like you were just traveling the world together. We plan on having a blue cohort reunion in the near future (probably in Oregon… we’ll call it Reunigon).winterline, gap year, Savannah Palazolla

What is one of your favorite memories from your program?

I think some of my favorite memories are not of places or activities, but of people. Another value I came to realize over the span of those nine months was how important human connection is. Whether it’s three of us laying on the floor in the dark sharing stories and laughing, or one on one venting over coffee, or a group of us out for dinner where there’s 10 conversations going at once— the memories that you can’t google or look up on Instagram or Facebook, and the moments that I somehow didn’t capture for yet another hilarious Snapchat story— those are the ones that matter most to me. winterline, gap year, Savannah Palazolla

Do you think the Winterline experience has benefited your life? If so, in what way?

The Winterline experience has benefited my life in so many ways. Going in, I assumed Winterline was going to solve all of my shortcomings and issues, but what I really got was a million little lessons that helped me in finding reasons for why I have certain issues or shortcomings and a little bit of how to combat those problems. Travel teaches you way more about yourself than it does about the world, mostly because the world is much bigger than you. You come out of it with both a better understanding of yourself AND the world— and in turn you’re way better than you were before. Travel helps you find your place in the world by showing you what you’re capable of, where you fall short, and what you can do about it. Winterline helped me put a lot of the pieces together.winterline, gap year, Savannah Palazolla

To learn more about what some of our awesome Winterline alum are doing, check out the rest of our blog posts. 

New Student Spotlight: Lauren Allen

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.


Thinking about taking a gap year too?

LEARN MORE


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?

After spending 21 days backpacking in Wyoming as a sophomore with a group of my peers, I started to explore the opportunities available during a Gap Year.  The idea of learning about myself and the world around me with my peers in an organized manner was compelling.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I am struggling to choose a career direction and feel that a year experiencing the world will help me make the decision.  I also feel that I will benefit from a break from school before going back to college and straight to a career.

winterline, gap year, lauren allen

WHAT SKILL ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO LEARN?

Adventure and eco-tourism in Costa Rica.

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE?

I am struggling between two careers that I am passionate about, Sustainable Architecture and Outdoor Education. I am hoping my Gap Year will help choose me a path, even if it is in an entirely different direction.

HAVE YOU TRAVELED BEFORE? IF SO, WHICH TRIP HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE AND WHY?

Yes, but it is difficult to pick a favorite.  Climbing Huayna Picchu and looking through the clouds at the Machu Picchu ruins is the most vivid memory.  It brought all of the stories to life and allowed me to see how the culture is reflected in the architecture.

winterline, gap year, lauren allen

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO GAIN FROM YOUR GAP YEAR PROGRAM AND WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD?

I want to have fun while exploring the world.  I hope to gain confidence and feel comfortable traveling.  I hope to make new friends and discover new cultures.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WANT YOUR FUTURE WINTERLINE PEERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I can be shy when I first meet new people, but my crazy and fun personality will come out as you get to know me.

winterline, gap year, lauren allen

WHY WINTERLINE?

I am very interested in the wide variety of skills I will learn in a structured environment.  The program will allow me to feed my sense of adventure and gain a better direction for my future studies.

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

I have completed 4 Ultra Marathons.

winterline, gap year, lauren allen

Photos of the Week: Winterline Graduation 2019

On Saturday, May 4th, Squads 1 and 2 each came together with family, friends, and staff to celebrate the conclusion of their 9 month journey. The ceremony was hosted at More Than Words, a non-profit bookstore in Boston with an online store that’s worth scrolling through and supporting!

We’re sad to say goodbye to our students, but it was a wonderful day hearing the student’s favorite stories, memories, and skills. Some made presentations or videos to share, others simply spoke from the heart. To honor Winterline’s roots in South Asia, our graduation ceremony includes a Tibetan scarfing ceremony, so each student receives a scarf and a yearbook full of memories from the trip. Of course, we took a lot of pictures to commemorate the event. Take a look at some of our favorites, and check out the rest on our Facebook page!

Squad 1

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Group photo!
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Looking over the yearbooks
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Cristina and Luc
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Selfie time!
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Katie, Alex, Cristina and Luc
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Tyler, Abby, and Emily with FA Patrick
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Alex, Cristina, and Luc with Cristina’s parents
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Brittany, Jason, Abby and Cristina with their diplomas

Squad 2

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Caedon with his diploma
Ivan and FA Hillevie
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Ivan, Ben and Sam
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Squad 2 group photo
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Micah and FAs Nicole and James
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Sam getting his scarf
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Maria getting her scarf
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The ladies of Squad 2
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Christian, Paris, Nora and Stella

Congratulations again to all of our new alumni, and thank you to the students, staff, and families who make this program possible. We couldn’t do it without you!

If you’re interested in living this journey for yourself, apply now for our 2019-2020 gap year. If you complete your application by May 22nd, you’ll automatically receive a $1,000 discount on your tuition!

A Tale of Two Farms: Volunteering in the Panamanian Jungle

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Exploring the farm | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

High in the mountains of Panama, shaded by dense tropical canopy, lies the sleepy town of Piedras Gordas. Most families of the town are subsistence farmers, patiently tending to the land that yields most of what they consume. Within this tranquil town – where time itself seems to slow to a shuffle – local farmer señor Onecimo is nurturing grander ambitions. He hopes that one day his secluded property will transform into an educational hub for tourists, volunteers, and students alike.

The Spark

Several years ago, señor Onecimo hosted a group of international volunteers from the American Peace Corps, a volunteer program dedicated to socio-economic development abroad. The thoughts and suggestions of these volunteers opened his eyes to opportunities for growth in his community, and their enthusiasm was infectious. For señor Onecimo, the experience marked the start of his vision: to offer educational tours that showcase the unique flora and fauna of his farm.

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The man, the myth, the visionary – señor Onecimo | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

Since hosting volunteers from the Peace Corps, he has invited many more individuals and groups from abroad. Just as the visitors learn about his way of life by living with his family, so does he gain an appreciation for new perspectives and other cultures. Often, these volunteers can provide the knowledge and manpower needed to implement important projects on señor Onecimo’s farm, and in the community at large.

In October 2018, our Winterline Squad 2 worked with local entrepreneurs in Piedras Gordas, Panama, under the guidance of ThinkImpact instructors. During our stay, I had the opportunity to work with señor Onecimo, who also happened to be a member of my host family.

While staying in his family home, I picked up on aspects of his vision. Despite my limited Spanish skills (see “When Language Fails: My Homestay in Panama” for details), I could understand certain chunks of conversation, and was able to grasp the gist of señor Onecimo’s ideas for the farm. The tough part was organizing these ideas, and developing a more concrete plan to turn his vision into reality.  

To start with, fellow Winterliners and I focused on expanding access to señor Onecimo’s farm for visitors by constructing handrails along the trails of his property. Our primary design used wooden stakes and recycled rubber wires – materials señor Onecimo already owned or could acquire easily. Afterwards, we set to work crafting signs that would label important plants, fruits and vegetables along the trail.

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Handrails for señor Onecimo’s patch of jungle | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

While my fellow Winterliners and I were not able to fully realize señor Onecimo’s dream of offering educational tours and attracting more visitors – a difficult feat given our less than 2-week time constraint – we were able to get him several steps closer to his vision.

The Blazing Startups of Piedras Gordas

I happened to work with señor Onecimo, but he wasn’t the only entrepreneur Winterline supported in Piedras Gordas. Another group working with Onecimo’s wife, señora Edithe, constructed and installed signs to direct people to señora Edithe’s artisanal weaving business. Using techniques handed down for generations, señora Edithe has been crafting traditional sombreros and intricate decorations by hand for decades. The skill of weaving a sombrero is recognized by UNESCO as part of Panamanian “Intangible Cultural Heritage.”

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A sample of señora Edithe’s exquisite craftsmanship | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

The Neighborhood Zipliner

Just a short hike down the road, señor Ernesto is busy establishing a center for eco-tourism and ecological education on his farm and around the wilderness reserve which he manages. Eventually he hopes to offer everything from guided tours of his jungle reserve to a zipline spanning part of his property. He has already begun construction on a climbable rockface for visitors to enjoy as well as jungle cabins for visitors to stay in. The winterline group that worked with señor Ernesto expanded and improved the network of trails running through his property, constructing signs and planted over 100 coffee shrubs.

Building Relationships

Beyond our construction projects, what I have found most valuable about volunteering are the conversations and human connections I made with the people of Piedras Gordas, and especially señor Onecimo. Something a ThinkImpact instructor said to me captures it quite well:

“…when you’re here for a short amount of time, it can be hard to realize the specific impact you’ve made. However, – even if you didn’t create something tangible – by interacting and communicating with your hosts, you have built trust and intercultural empathy. When you consider a longer timespan like I’ve been able to, you realize how valuable these interactions are for everyone involved. The skills of open-mindedness and empathy you learn here are things you can take with you wherever you go.” – Gabriela Valencia, ThinkImpact Country Director for Panama (check out the full interview here.)

Winterline, gap year
Engraving signs with hammer and chisel | Video By: Benjamin Kilimnik

The Virtues of Listening

Perhaps the most important thing I learned during our community work was to avoid what I call “Helicoptering”, which involves assessing a community’s needs and how to address them based on your own worldview. It can be all too easy to make assumptions from an outsider’s perspective, but it is worth keeping an open mind and learning from the community. Before creating designs and prototypes I made sure to talk to señor Onecimo and others in Piedras Gordas to gather information about the situation. That’s how fellow Winterliners and I found out about locally available materials, and how we were able to design several prototypes of handrails and signs that met his specifications – designs that he can recreate fairly easily without us.

It is clear to me now that bringing about lasting change in a community through volunteering is no easy task. No project reliant on external help will last very long once that help evaporates. The projects that succeed have the interests of the community at heart, include participation from the community, and above all, provide locals with the means to continue long after you have left.winterline, gap year

New Student Spotlight: Lydia Miller

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.


Thinking about taking a gap year too?

LEARN MORE


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?

The idea of taking a gap year wasn’t super new to me because a lot of people take gap years where I’m from, but most of the time people just work.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I chose to take a gap year because the idea of college didn’t seem right to me because I have no clue what I want to do with my life. I chose Winterline because I loved the idea of learning a little bit of everything and traveling all over.winterline, gap year, Lydia Miller

WHAT SKILL ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO LEARN?

I am most excited to learn mixology and scuba diving.

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE?

I don’t know what I want to do in the future, but I know I want to help people and try and make the world a better place.

winterline, gap year, Lydia Miller

HAVE YOU TRAVELED BEFORE? IF SO, WHICH TRIP HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE AND WHY?

I have been to 15 different states and Jamaica. My favorite trip I have been on is every year a group of my friends and I drive up to Wisconsin for church camp.winterline, gap year, Lydia Miller

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO GAIN FROM YOUR GAP YEAR PROGRAM AND WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD?

I hope to get an idea of what I want to do with my life, and also not only get to learn new skills but to learn more about myself.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WANT YOUR FUTURE WINTERLINE PEERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I am really fun, outgoing and I love trying new things. I am super excited to meet everyone.

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

I have a twin sister.winterline, gap year, Lydia Miller

New Student Spotlight: Liam McIlwain

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.


Thinking about taking a gap year too?

LEARN MORE


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?

I was first introduced to the idea of a gap year a couple years ago while talking to my mom about colleges. She used to be an English professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA so she knew a lot about the alternative options to explore after high school.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I chose to take a gap year because I wasn’t 100% sure that I wanted to go to college right after high school. Also, since I’m interested in film and photography, I decided that a gap year would be a good way to build up a portfolio for my applications to college and/or jobs in the future.

winterline, gap year, liam mcilwain
Liam and his mom

WHAT SKILL ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO LEARN?

I love to travel so I’m most excited to learn all that I can about travelling independently and how travel works throughout the world.

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO IN THE FUTURE?

I plan to have a career in photography and would love to be able to travel as much as possible in the future!

HAVE YOU TRAVELED BEFORE? IF SO, WHICH TRIP HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE AND WHY?

Growing up, travel has always been important to me, so my family and I went on lots of day trips to local towns, historical sites, etc. My favorite trip would have to be to Montpelier, Vermont. I went hiking, downhill mountain biking, swimming in hidden swimming-holes and even got to tour the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream factory! (The ice cream was the highlight of the trip!) The landscape is beautiful and the state is filled with so many awesome things to do, so I’d definitely recommend a trip to Vermont!

winterline, gap year, liam mcilwain
At sea

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO GAIN FROM YOUR GAP YEAR PROGRAM AND WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD?

I hope to gain experience of new cultures and many new friends from my gap year program and travels!

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WANT YOUR FUTURE WINTERLINE PEERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I want my future Winterline peers to know that I’m extremely excited to meet them and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for all of us! This is going to be fun! 🙂

winterline, gap year, liam mcilwain
Liam and family

WHY WINTERLINE?

I chose Winterline because it is exactly the kind of experience I wanted to have in a gap year when I envisioned it.

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

The day of my 11th birthday party, I was bitten on the hand by a chipmunk and spent the first hour of my party in the emergency room to make sure I didn’t get rabies.

winterline, gap year, liam mcilwain
Thrill seeker!