On Teaching Failure: Words from a Winterline Field Advisor

This came up for me some time ago as I sat on the edge of a bed with a dear friend. Her baby and my niece, 7-month old Sylvie, lay several feet away snoring as though the world were her protector and that bed were a cocoon of safety and light. I told Jenny that I constantly found myself in situations that push me beyond what I am comfortable with. It is not a conscious decision, but one rooted in some deep part of my internal landscape where growth and the desire to become fully awake and fully open in heart and mind are a driving force beyond my navigation skills. I crave comfort and stability, yet I embark upon a life of instability and sped up change

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When I reflect on why I constantly find myself in front of young people in tough places, acting as a self-declared mentor of sorts, I can’t help but ruminate on why I choose to take on such a bold task given how my life has unfolded thus so far. I find thoughts running through my head that there has to be someone more adjusted and better suited to such a monumental task. What I’m learning is that there is a massive thread of intention that guides me forward and across the paths of these young people. And it is that intention that is needed, not the illusion or allure of precise measurement or perfection.

There’s something enthralling about offering up a lifetime of experiences to someone who is still on the threshold of figuring out who they are and how they fit into the world around them.

That gift does not mean I have to have expertly figured out how to live, it simply means I am present and aware. The word “guide” has always felt more appropriate than teacher – the intersection of the monastic life and that of a teacher within one degree of separation upon a large sundial of how I fit within society.

Why work so hard on self, on increasing the quality of life for myself and those around me? There is this funny little f-word (no, not that one!) that has taught me more about being human and doing right in this world than any textbook or piece of quixotic internet advice ever has – failure.

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I stand in front of young people in the hopes of modeling the sort of behaviors and actions it has taken years of hard work to get to. I stand in front of youth because I envision a world where the practices, programs, and relationships that have created the best of being human within all of us, are part of our upbringing and part of the rhythm of our communal growing-up.

But then I come back to the f-word and I hesitate to create a world where all the answers are perfect and all the people are pure and wise. Somewhere I know this to be true, but it is the path forward, often laced with f-word breathing dragons that makes us whole and full of grit.

Thank god for my failure I think now. Thank you, with all the gratitude we little humans can muster, for the hurt, the shame, the failures of those around me to protect me from life and for the runaway emotions that threatened to drown me as sure as I knew the day would end. It is in that place, where I can accept myself in shadow and light, that my heart opens further and the thing I perceive as having the power to destroy me actually becomes the wisest teacher of all.

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What is this quality, and how can I stand in front of young people and teach them that failure is OK, but self-doubt is not? The decisions you make, what happens to you, is not who you are. What matters is how you move forward and the determination with which you fight to be the best person and create the best world possible. That is worth walking through the self-determining gauntlet of failure.  Attitude, then, fundamentally shapes how we perceive what comes to us in life, both good and bad. Our downfalls and shortcomings quickly become our greatest asset for empowerment and inspiration.

Fundamentally we are all sitting in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to become our biggest and best selves.

The perception of inadequacy or misappropriation a terrifyingly delicate and appropriate place from which we can let go and enter the current of our own lives.

The external, that piece that we claim as our personality and deeply personal aspects of our lives, is driven by choice and intimately linked with our egos that are designed to protect and serve at all costs. When then, does our creation of safety and familiarity become the aversion to the exact thing that will allow us move into deeper connection with self and other?

Go out of your way to take a risk, to engage the notion of failure within your world view. I promise you will discover qualities of yourself that you didn’t know and you will find a greater place from which to decrease the isolation of being a modern human being. The only thing separating us from our biggest selves might be holding our potential for failure in one hand and our potential for greatness in the other.

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There’s a Jesuit idea that has at its core that the place you will encounter the most growth – spiritually, emotionally, and communally – is that place you resist the most. It’s confrontation on a personal level where our fears and self-doubt meet the external stimuli that gives those darker or harder places within us life.  Thomas Merton once confided in his mentor his fears of entering the priesthood and his strong aversion to death and dying. In response, his mentor decided the best place for him to grow was to be of service within a hospital in a hospice ward.

Alumni Spotlight: Cody Lyon

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

I went to work at home for the summer, then college at University of Arizona in Flagstaff, AZ.winterline, gap year, cody lyon

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

It has made me more mature, but also a little frustrated knowing I’ll still be in college while the rest of my friends will get out before me.

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

I have become more mature and confident.

What was your favorite skill to learn and why?

Scuba, because I got to see the ocean from a new perspective.winterline, gap year, cody lyon

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

I really liked Cambodia because the people are kind. I liked the food also.winterline, gap year, cody lyon

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

I did farming in Ireland. I am not doing that now, but learned to respect farmers even more.winterline, gap year, cody lyon

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

To open his or her mind. Don’t dwell on past mistakes.

Do you still keep in touch with your cohort?

I try my best to keep in touch.

What is one of your favorite memories from your program?

Sunsets in Monteverde where our cohort stayed in a house overlooking lush mountains.winterline, gap year, cody lyon

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

New Student Spotlight: Josh Herman

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 probably introduced to the idea early in high school, they have been becoming more and more popular over the past few years so I’ve heard about them quite a bit.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I really did not want to go to college right after finishing high school, I just knew I needed a break and originally I wanted to skip college altogether, but I think a year of travel is just the thing I need to refresh and reassess before getting back into it again.

Josh Herman, winterline, gap year
Josh and his older brother

WHAT SKILL ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO LEARN?

Any storytelling/creative writing skills I can learn, I’m excited to learn. Those, and the video production skills as well.

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

I either want to write a bestselling novel, or write and direct a major motion picture. The medium isn’t exactly important, I just really want to tell a story that inspires and elicits emotions in people.

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

I don’t have the most experience travelling, but when I was about 8 or 9 we went on a cruise in the Caribbean and to the Virgin Islands. I really enjoyed the ship itself, as well as all the beautiful and diverse locations we went to.

Josh Herman, winterline, gap year
Josh and his friends at the New England aquarium

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

I really hope to gain a new perspective on the world, and to broaden my horizons past the small, boring little corner of the world I’ve spent my whole life in.

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

I guess they should probably know I’m very sarcastic, so most of the stuff that comes out of my mouth is either a joke and shouldn’t be taken seriously. That, and also I’m a pretty stoic person, I don’t always show a lot of emotion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have fun or empathize with the group either.

Josh Herman, winterline, gap year
Josh and a friend at Target, where he works

WHY WINTERLINE?

My sister, Allison, works at Winterline and told me all about it. It sounded like a great experience, and I figured if I was going to take a travel gap year I best do it with a program my family is already familiar with.

Josh Herman, winterline, gap year
Josh and his older siblings

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

I can juggle? I really don’t know what to say here, I guess I had long hair for a few years, but that looked terrible so we don’t really talk about it.

 

Changing the World Through Education

Who else has had this idea of changing the world? Who else has had this dream about being the Nelson Mandela or the Mahatma Gandhi of their country? Whether or not you share these dreams, we can all agree that this is a huge cliche. Well…I have to say I’m part of this cliche.

I have had this dream since I was 8 years old. But it was only when I was 12 that I discovered how I could make change happen: through education. Do not ask me how a 12 year old could come to Nelson’s Mandela conclusion that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” but I did.winterline, gap year, education, cristina hoyos

When I was 15, I experienced something that allowed me to confirm that my 12 year old self was right. I attended a German school through an exchange program, and it was the first time I experienced a different style of education inside the traditional system. It had the same structure as my school in Colombia but it was more basic and straightforward. This allowed me to have a lot of free time for myself. My life was not about school, it was about developing my passions. So I started to ask myself why the education style was so different and if that impacts the development of the country. The answer was hard for me to find because there are so many things going on behind the scenes in education. When I came back home I realized I had to do something to improve the Colombian system in order to improve our country.

Many people would say that if you are against the system, you should get out. However, I knew I had to finish high school to have the tools required to make a change. I took advantage of the system and used the opportunities given to me, such as the Monographic Project and student government, to get involved with the field of education. However, my involvement burned me out. I put so much effort into being the best that I didn’t leave enough time for myself. I realized that if I really wanted to change the world, I would have to change myself.  The first thing I knew I had to do was put my beliefs into practice and, in order to do so, experience a different kind of education.

Originally, I didn’t even want to bring a book on my gap year trip. I wanted to be as far as possible from everything related to academia. But I realized that through travel, I could explore the world through education and give the word a new meaning.

winterline, gap year, education, cristina hoyos
Looks like Cristina did end up bringing a book or two!

In every country we visited, I dug into education in order to get closer to the world and create a connection with each place. I started in Panama, in a public school from a rural community that suffered from a low quality of education due to lack of space, teachers and personnel. I was familiar with that, as these issues are commonplace to public education systems in Latin America. It makes a lot of sense; developing countries struggle a lot in financing public education.

winterline, gap year, education, cristina hoyos
Cristina and a student in Panama | Photo By: Brittany Lane

In Costa Rica I visited a private school that taught with a Quaker Philosophy. It was a Utopian education, but it represented the minority. The general public school system was closed due to a strike and I was unable to visit a public school.

Asia is different in every way: religion, economics, politics, and history, all tie into the different education system. For example, I couldn’t even find information about Cambodian education because the country found peace only 30 years ago. They are still recovering and reconstructing from genocide, which makes education not as high of a priority as it is, for example, in India. In India I visited UWC Mahindra College (MUWCI), an IB college with an excellent education, an example of one of the highest levels in the world. But is that really representative of India? In some ways, MUWCI felt like a bubble, because you drive 15 minutes away and you understand what poverty is.

winterline, gap year, education, cristina hoyos
Cristina and Abby in Cambodia

In Europe, the Spanish education system looks a lot like the Latin American one. Then we get to Switzerland, Germany and Austria. All of them have this excellent system where students don’t need to finish high school to succeed. And finishing in the US, the greatest world power, education is the country’s Achilles heel.

I was able to observe how education can impact a country’s development and future and it allowed me to make important conclusions about the world. Asking myself the role of education in every place helped me to piece together the building blocks of countries and allowed me to understand the diversity of the world. I could connect better with every place we visited and see it from a different perspective. Education was a universal constant in every place, something I was always looking for. Through this experience I was able to collect ideas to implement in my own country and achieve my biggest life goal. I believe that my experience on Winterline allowed me to change and develop myself, my passions and my understanding of the world. I hope that one day the tools I gathered during this year help me to change the world.

Alumni Spotlight: Pablo Matthias Fonseca

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

I went right to college, but it was somewhat of a special one. In Germany we have some colleges in which you are in a sort of internship half of the year and you study the other half. In mine I went to college one week and the next I would be working.winterline, gap year, Pablo Matthias Fonseca

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

I didn’t have a plan at all.

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

Yes, of course. Interacting with people has become much easier and my English improved exponentially. I have a lot of stories to tell, which is always nice. I know a lot more about other cultures and I think it helped me realize that I wanted to study history.winterline, gap year, Pablo Matthias Fonseca

What was your favorite skill to learn and why?

Wandering! I have done it since finishing Winterline and I really have to say that it is an activity I love. I probably wouldn’t have tried it on my own.

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

I think the second trimester. I hadn’t been to Asia before and I really liked it there. Specific location: Probably Venice. It’s a city I really love.winterline, gap year, Pablo Matthias Fonseca

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

I attended cooking classes in Madrid and of course, I cook every day and have been using the recipes I learned.

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

To go to all of the activities. They are worth it!winterline, gap year, Pablo Matthias Fonseca

Do you still keep in touch with your cohort?

Of course. We keep in touch using the cohorts’ chat on snapchat and I phone some of them from time to time.

What is one of your favorite memories from your program?

The afternoon in Burano [Italy] during the photography skill and our days in Prague.winterline, gap year, Pablo Matthias Fonseca

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

New Student Spotlight: Jack Li

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 have known the concept of gap year exists but didn’t really look into it before my senior year. I was first formally introduced the idea of taking a gap year during a conversation with my high school counselor in the early fall of my senior year.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I love to challenge myself and taking on new adventures. I was inspired one of my favorite quotes from St. Augustine, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” I want to take a gap year because I believe that it will provide me with non-linear experience that complements my future career and post-secondary education.winterline, gap year, jack li

WHAT SKILL ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO LEARN?

I am looking for any skills that can contribute to my personal growth and my business skill to prepare me as an emerging adult and professional.

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

I will be studying material science and engineering at Cornell University and hopefully take the MBA at Harvard business school. I will continue to take on the responsibility for my presidency at a federal nonprofit organization and serve the communities. I am also excited to grow my new mobile app development company and expand my influence in the STEM field.

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

Yes, I do travel every year although less frequently for the past 2 years due to my schedule. My favorite trip was to Grand Canyon this past Christmas with my family. This trip was completely different than I expected since it was snowing during the winter season and the view is absolutely gorgeous.winterline, gap year, jack li

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

As an engineer, I want to see how other people in different parts of the world solve problems in a unique way. As a business leader, I want to understand the importance of localization to the globalization of business. As an emerging adult, I want to develop my personal growth and learn new perspectives from foreign environments.

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

I am passionate about my work and will hold a high standard to others in my team.winterline, gap year, jack li

WHY WINTERLINE?

I believe that Winterline will serve as an unparalleled platform for me to develop insights about this beautiful world and gain more personal growth. I was attracted to the flexibility and balance the program offers that will allow me to travel to different communities while working on my independent project.

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

My nickname is Mokin and you will see me using this name in some special cases.winterline, gap year, jack li

 

A Guide to Gaming by a NOLS Alumni

Before my wilderness trek with NOLS, my idea of gaming usually involved an evening spent on the couch with a PlayStation controller in one hand and potato chips in the other. In the backcountry though, gaming takes on a whole new meaning. While hiking through the Gila National Forest with fellow Winterliners in September 2018, the usual gaming options were out of the question; yet not having a computer or board game within a 50 mile radius gave us all the more motivation to be inventive. Deprived of computers, phones, and board games, the only gaming equipment we could find were our hands, words, and the occasional funky looking stick.

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Canyoneering in the Gila National Forest with NOLS | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

“Out there things can happen – and frequently do – to people as brainy and footsy as you” (Dr. Seuss)

At the start of every day-hike, I found myself paying particular attention to the landscape around me. I was awed by the stunning landscape that surrounded us, ranging from scorched hillsides to a raging river enclosed by canyon cliffs. After a while though, I found myself focusing on the ground before me. This was in part to keep my wobbly, heavy-laden self from stumbling, but also because I had become used to my surroundings. I began to notice how the backpack chafed my hips, how the dust of the trail stung my eyes, and how each step caused my feet to ache just a little bit more.

What kept me from focusing too much on my exhausted body were the intensely competitive and wacky games that we played. Some were closely related to nature, including things like identifying bird calls, plant types, and animals, while others were more abstract, involving words games and puzzles. Instead of being tired and grumpy, I found myself immersed in each game, eagerly clashing wits with my peers.

Many of the games we played were introduced to us by our NOLS instructors, who have amassed a collection of games over countless wilderness expeditions. Each of our instructors had their own favorites; some of which are simple and intuitive, while others are… well let’s just say: a little strange.

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What in the world has six letters and starts with ae??? | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

A voice crying out in the wild

One game called “Ichi-Mini-Hoy” – allegedly introduced by a Japanese NOLS instructor – was a particular highlight. Essentially, Ichi-Mini-Hoy consists of two teams walking around a self-designed baseball field. Each team sends out one player from their home base to circle the field from a direction opposite to the other team. Whenever two players meet, they face off in a fierce rock-paper-scissors duel, and whoever loses has to return to home base and start over. 1 point is scored whenever a team member makes it all the way around the field. Sounds pretty normal doesn’t it? Here’s the catch though: every player was required to keep their knees together and squawk like a wild bird.

Any onlooker would have doubtlessly questioned our sanity. Luckily for us, we were miles away from any sign of civilization, so the only confused onlookers may have been actual birds, squirrels, and the occasional deer.

Will you look at that… another tree

After spending days in the wild, I expected my standards for what qualifies as entertainment to change drastically. I thought that soon enough, I would be seeking out funny looking rocks or start poking cacti with sticks as a pastime.

Contrary to my gloomy expectations, the games I played with the Winterline crew only increased in complexity as the hike progressed. Within a few days we had mastered intricate word games and storytelling challenges – many of which could be played on the move.

How Spongebob died choking on a crouton in Hogwarts

The without a doubt favorite game of my hiking trek was a pantomiming challenge called “Murph”. The rules are deceptively simple: all you need is one volunteer to walk out of earshot until another group has decided on three things:

1)        a person

2)        a place, and

3)        a cause of death.

After this, a second volunteer who knows these three things must convey them to the first volunteer using only the word “Murph” and hand gestures. The wild pantomiming that follows produces some of the most hilarious misunderstandings I have ever seen.

In my very first game I had to try to understand the following from a person waving madly and hysterically crying “Murph!”.

1)        SpongeBob died in

2)        Hogwarts while

3)        choking on a crouton

Playing Murph around the flickering light of a campfire after a long day of hiking was a great way to ease tension and relax.

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Campfire shenanigans | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

The Murph Effect

The games we played had a more profound effect on group interactions during my hiking expedition than I initially realized. Not only did they lighten the mood, but they also helped us process the inconveniences and struggles of living in the wild. They offered us something to focus our attention on, keeping our minds off our unshowered selves and aching muscles. This, in turn, reduced group grumpiness and helped bring us closer to together. Instead of simply being a way to pass the time, the games and puzzles shaped my overall hiking experience and helped me bond with fellow hikers.

It is refreshing to realize that you really don’t need electronics, board games, or even cards to play a game. Even though we may not realize it today, the human mind is more than capable of finding entertainment without these things. In the backcountry, all you need is another person and a little bit of creativity – the rest creates itself. In the end, gaming is really about clashing wits with another person, and having fun along the way.

New Student Spotlight: Zarah Helms-Leslie

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


WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

Fairbanks, Alaska.

winterline, gap year, zarah helms-leslie

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 from my parents. I knew early on in high school that I probably would not want to attend college the year after I graduated.  Luckily my parents were supportive and helped me come up with ideas of what I could do instead.

winterline, gap year, zarah helms-leslie

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I know that I’m not ready to commit to going to college. I also want to travel and have new experiences.

WHAT SKILL ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO LEARN?

I am most excited to learn to scuba dive. I was on my school’s swim team for three years and I absolutely love being in and around water.

winterline, gap year, zarah helms-leslie

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

I have a very vague idea of what I want to do in the future, I know that I want to be able to travel, and that I definitely don’t want a desk job, I want to be physically active and work with my hands.

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

If so, what has been your favorite trip and why? I have traveled before, mostly in the U.S. My favorite trip has been attending the music festival Bonnaroo in Manchester, TN. I spend most of my spare time listening to music and I absolutely love seeing my favorite bands play live. I enjoy going to music festivals because I get to see so many different bands play live in a single weekend.

winterline, gap year, zarah helms-leslie

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

I expect to gain confidence in my ability to travel around the world and navigate challenges such as cultural differences and language barriers.

winterline, gap year, zarah helms-leslie

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

One thing I want my peers to know is that I love music, so they should talk to me about the music they like.

winterline, gap year, zarah helms-leslie

WHY WINTERLINE?

Winterline is unique in what it offers. I am excited to travel to many different countries and try so many new things.  I can’t wait to drive a BMW, learn to cook Asian food, go for hikes in Central America, and more. Also, I know someone who is currently on a gap year with Winterline and has given the program really great reviews.

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

One fun fact is that I have played ice hockey since I was four years old and I have a reputation for being small but scrappy.

winterline, gap year, zarah helms-leslie

Alumni Spotlight: Meagan Kindrat

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

After my gap year I chose to go to university. I am currently pursuing international relations and environmental studies at the University of Toronto. When I’m not at school I work for a local non-profit environmental organization called NEAT (Northern Environmental Action Team)

winterline, gap year, meagan kindrat

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

I had always planned on going straight to university after my gap year, so in that sense my plan was the same. My gap year, however, did change some of the details. Since high school I had planned to go to university near my hometown with my friends. My gap year taught me to push myself to my full potential. Now instead of attending my local university, I am at the number one university in Canada. I chose the University of Toronto as I knew no one and would be faced with the challenge of being completely on my own. Winterline also helped me isolate what I wanted to study. Winterline helped me find my passion for environmental sustainability.

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

If someone would have told me how much I would change during Winterline I wouldn’t have believed them. Not only did I learn a series of skills like confidence and independence but I went from being a city princess to a nature enthusiast. The person I was before Winterline is so vastly different from the person I am today. Although I still have a lot of self work to do, I at least feel less lost when tackling who I am.winterline, gap year, meagan kindrat

What was your favorite skill to learn and why?

Picking a favourite skill is really hard as there were so many that I loved. Rancho Mastatal was definitely a favourite as it opened my eyes to my passion for environmental sustainability and the community was so incredibly welcoming and sweet. BMW driving was also a favourite just because it was a blast getting to feel like a race car driver for a day. I also loved my trimester 1 ISP as I got to stay with the most amazing homestay family. I still message my family often and hope to return to visit them one day. The lady who I worked with to do my project was also incredible. I hold Monteverde very close to my heart because of the ISP.

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

Although I loved all the trimesters, Trimester 1 is my favourite. The locations in trimester 1 are amazing. I loved constantly being in nature and the partners for the programming were very knowledgeable and fun to work with. Trimester 1 is also such a fun time as you are just beginning to bond with your cohort. I loved getting to connect with my cohort and support one another through the constant adventures. The bond we made in trimester 1 was something that was unbreakable. Trimester 1 is also filled with excitement as you never know what to expect and you are always being pushed out of your comfort zone.

winterline, gap year, meagan kindrat

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 ISP I interned in the Austrian Parliament. I spent the week working alongside Parliament member Dr. Lopatka. I got to shadow his daily tasks as well as aid his assistant and network with other members working in the parliament. Although it wasn’t really a set skill that I pursued, I have kept in touch with my connections as I hope to pursue a career in politics. I learned a lot about differing situations in Europe as well as the decision making process in a perspective of policy making.

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

Winterline is what you make it. Winterline is a constant challenge and it can be incredibly difficult. That being said, it is also very rewarding if you accept the challenge and push yourself. My advice to future students is to stay positive and open-minded. If you can go into every challenge as a learning opportunity, then Winterline will be the greatest decision of your life. Also make connections with everyone. Every partner has a different story and the more you engage, the more you will get out of the program.winterline, gap year, meagan kindrat

Do you still keep in touch with your cohort?

I keep in touch with half of my cohort. There are about 5 of us and our two field advisors who do monthly Skype calls. I will also be going to visit my best friend from Winterline this summer for the second time since the program ended. We hope to also make a few trips during our time together to meet a couple other of our Winterline cohort members. I also regularly talk to my field advisors for a variety of things. They are truly the best mentors I could have asked for and I am so incredibly grateful to continually have their guidance in my life. Even from across countries my cohort has kept in touch and supported one another through whatever current challenges we face.

What is one of your favorite memories from your program?

Picking a favourite memory is impossible because there are so many! Anytime spent with my girl squad is a favourite. We were never not laughing when together, no matter how frustrated or uncomfortable we were. One moment that sticks out to me was when we went for a hike to a national park in Mastatal. To get to the park was this huge trek up a hill that took nearly an hour. When we finally reached the park we realized that it was not prosthetic friendly and therefore a group of us decided to turn around and head back to the house. After another hour of walking and laughing the entire time about our frustrations, we got back to the ranch and had the WORLD’S BEST banana and cacao nib smoothie. As sucky as the situation was, it’s still one of my favourite days because of all the fun we had together on the way back down the “hill”.winterline, gap year, meagan kindrat

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

Winterline is the best decision I have ever made. There is no way I could have gotten to where I am today without Winterline. The experiences I had, the connections I made, the person I am today is all thanks to Winterline. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t think about all the amazing things that Winterline has done for me.winterline, gap year, meagan kindrat

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

Not Your Ordinary Circus

Throughout my time as a Winterline Field Advisor and living in Cambodia for a couple years, taking students to the Phare Circus was one of my favorite parts of any program I’ve ever led. The shows are exciting, funny, insightful, artistic, interactive, even stress-inducing with some of their tricks! Even if you’ve seen the same show multiple times (I’ve been there too many times to count!), it doesn’t get old.

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But there’s a little more to these performances and this skill set than what meets the eye. First of all, I’m sure when many of us read the word ‘circus’, we think of animals dressed up doing tricks through flaming rings, sequins and feather headdresses worn by women riding elephants, acrobats being whipped through the air at the top of a huge circular tent. Maybe we think of movies we’ve seen, like Dumbo, or The Greatest Showman, or even remember the Ringling Brothers. The smell and taste of peanuts and popcorn. The unease of clowns riding unicycles. A lead showman dressed to the nines.

At Phare Circus, there are no animals, only humans using their bodies to create incredible performances. There are costumes and props, but nothing like what you might imagine for a circus or something like Cirque du Soleil (but there is a tent and popcorn!).

winterline, gap year, cambodia, erica schultz
Circus tricks | Photo By: Abby Dulin

This isn’t your typical circus, with an even less than typical start. What you don’t see is that The Phare Circus supports at-risk Cambodian populations by training them for a specific skill, thus creating an avenue for a more successful future. Once someone has made it to the circus as a performer, musician, light production member, or artist, that’s the outcome. The last step. They’ve truly made it out of poverty and into a comfortable livelihood.

In the province of Battambang, Cambodia, you’ll find Phare Ponleu Selpak, an NGO school for training in professional arts including illustration, painting, theater, music, animation, graphic design, dance, and circus. Founded in 1994, at risk youth are trained at this school entirely free of charge, as well as given free general education (K-12) and social support before moving on to the circus or creative studio. Currently, the school supports around 1,200 children, as well as their families.

winterline, gap year, cambodia, erica schultz
Winterline students at circus school | Photo By: Abby Dulin

Each performance at the circus is a story of Cambodian culture, having to do with myths, legends, actual historical events, or even modern-day society. You’ll see gripping nightmarish reenactments from a child’s mind during their traumatic experience living through the Khmer Rouge Era. You’ll see hilarious comparisons between Khmer culture and foreigners as tourism continues to grow and the cultural differences intermix.

And those are just the story lines.

Shows are filled with incredible stunts, tricks, art, dance, and interactive moments with the crowd. Before and after the show, the audience makes their way through a gift shop, filled with goods handcrafted by those that went the route of creative studio instead of circus performing. Each item sold in the gift shop or created during one of the performances raises profits to support the NGO school as well as the performers and artists.

winterline, gap year, cambodia, erica schultz
Circus tricks | Photo By: Will Vesey

The circus and skill training for our students is located in Siem Reap and is a favorite skill day. It’s a skill where students can let go and simply try everything that’s thrown at them. Learning to juggle, learning to flip properly, how to make standing human pyramids and balance other bodies with yours. It’s not so much a specific skill you learn so much as it is learning more about yourself; what you’re good at, what you’re willing to try, and how to trust your body to perform a certain way. It’s also a great opportunity for our students to get their bodies moving as our Asia trimester spends a considerable amount of time in big cities after an outdoors-filled first trimester!

To learn more about the Phare circus and their efforts, please visit https://pharecircus.org/ to check out their different shows and how to reserve your own tickets if you’re planning to visit Cambodia. For the Phare Ponleu Selpak school and social enterprise efforts, visit https://www.pharepse.org/ and consider supporting this fabulous NGO.

In Khmer language, the name Phare Ponleu Selpak means, “The Brightness of the Arts”.

New Student Spotlight: James Shervheim

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’ve thought about taking a gap year for a few years but I didn’t know about all of the different options and programs until I went to a gap year fair. That’s where I first learned about winterline and they were immediately my first choice.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I’ll love to learn through real world experiences and I felt like it was necessary for me personally to take a year off. Taking a year off to explore the world will open my eyes to new cultures, ideas, and maybe even show me a possible career path that I wouldn’t have considered before.

WHAT SKILL ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO LEARN?

I am most excited for the safe driving in Germany because I have a passion for cars. I’m also excited to learn anything business related.

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

I’m not sure exactly what I want to do in the future but I really enjoy investing and anything business related. At some point I would love to start my own company.

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

I’ve been to the Caribbean and Costa Rica but I think that my favorite trip so far has been to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I really enjoyed it because I was able to do a lot of adventure activities such as fly fishing, downhill mountain biking, white water rafting, riding ATVs and hiking.

winterline, gap year, james shervheim
Downhill mountain biking in Colorado

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

I expect to learn about different cultures and new skills. I expect to be out of my comfort zone a lot but I think that through my discomfort I will learn more about myself.

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

I’m pretty outgoing and laid back and I’m excited to meet everyone on the trip!

winterline, gap year, james shervheim
James and friends

WHY WINTERLINE?

I think that Winterline is pretty unique because of all the skills we will learn.

TELL US SOMETHING FUN ABOUT YOU!

I enjoy playing tennis and golf.  Another interesting fact about me is that I am adopted.

winterline, gap year, james shervheim
James and his dad at the Chicago Auto Show First Look for Charity

 

Virginia Tech is Giving Scholarship Money to Gap Year Students

Imagine this: you got admitted to your top choice school, eagerly accepted, and then been told that too many others have enrolled. However, you can defer your acceptance for a year in exchange for compensation. This is the case for many hopeful incoming freshman at Virginia Tech: so many students accepted an offer of admission that there are $1,000 more students than actual spots in the freshman class. In an attempt to solve this issue, Virginia Tech is offering three options for students to reduce the freshman class size: take free summer classes, take classes at community college for a year and receive a guaranteed transfer, or take a gap year with guaranteed admission upon return.

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If students choose to take advantage of Virginia Tech’s offer, there is no shortage of programs like our own. In exchange, students will receive an additional $1,000 scholarship and priority for housing on-campus. The school also noted that students will “now have the opportunity to travel, work, engage in a service project, or any other endeavor that is important to you.”

This news may certainly catch students and families off guard and change plans. However, it’s not the end of the world. After all, no students are having their acceptances revoked, but rather reorganized into different semesters. While it may not have been students’ first choice, this incident actually offers students the ability to expand their horizons and experiences before settling into college life.

Why should students consider this option?

A common worry is that students will take this gap year and consequently lose interest in, or focus on, schoolwork. However, research shows that the opposite is actually true, and students can be reinvigorated by taking time off from a traditional classroom learning environment. There are a variety of proven gap year benefits. If students are unsure about their major, a gap year is a great time to try new skills, learn what you’re good at, what you like, and what you dislike. If students know exactly what they want to study, a gap year offers the opportunity to learn outside of that major without taking up space in a busy schedule.

winterline, gap year, virginia tech
Learning robotics in Austria | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

For students realizing they want a longer a break, structured programs can range in length from weeks to months. For students who are itching to start their higher education, the Winterline program offers college credits, and other programs cater more directly toward educational experiences.

winterline, gap year, virginia tech
Traveling in Thailand | Photo By: Meagan Kindrat

Students accepted to Virginia Tech who are trying to figure out their next step and students who have begun to think more about the future following this news, let us remind you: there is no right or wrong next step. Any path you choose will lead you toward your future and teach you important lessons along the way. This incident teaches us how plans can change at any moment. So why not embrace the unexpected and consider exploring the world on a gap year?