Alumni Spotlight: Leela Barlow

By: Leela Barlow | July 5, 2019
Topics: Interviews, Alum Spotlight
Words of advice from 2017-2018 Winterliner Leela? "This is your chance to learn and grow without sacrificing your GPA — so take it! You will learn so much about the world on Winterline." Read on to hear about what Leela learned for herself while traveling.

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

I spent the summer as a job site manager for a painting company. Glamorous I know, but I created a great relationship with my co-workers and my boss because of the communication and interview skills I learned from Living on Purpose and Startup Institute. In the Fall I started my first year at University of California – Santa Barbara to study Global Studies and Political Science. My time spent travelling piqued my interest in international politics and global processes of culture, and now I get to pursue that from an academic perspective at one of the top public schools in the nation. winterline, gap year, leela barlow

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

My post gap-year plans didn’t change as much as they became more specific. I applied to university in the middle of Winterline, knowing I wanted to pursue tertiary education, but it wasn’t until after Winterline that I knew what I actually wanted to study and how I wanted to make my impact on the world.

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

Yes. A million times yes. Winterline stripped away everything that my environment had layered upon me, and left just the core of my personality, my most genuine self. It wasn’t just by chance, I spent all year consciously self-reflecting, but I don’t think I would’ve considered it at all without the experience of changing my environment every week to see what remained. Winterline showed me how to accept and present my most genuine self, and it’s changed the way I interact with people of all different backgrounds for the better. Now when I walk in a room I stand tall, knowing who I am and how to interact with others. winterline, gap year, leela barlow

What was your favorite skill to learn and why?

Maybe it’s a typical answer, but I really enjoyed our mixology class in Cambodia. It was really fun to learn how to make a good drink, and if I’m being honest, I think it’s made me less prone to irresponsible drinking habits now that I’m at college. I’d argue that being peer pressured into drinking poor quality liquor is a little less appealing when you’ve had the chance to sit at a bar and drink something that doesn’t burn all the way down and leave you broken the next morning. winterline, gap year, leela barlow

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 truly enjoyed Trimester 2. Asia’s history never fails to surprise and humble me. My favourite place was probably Siem Reap because it was one of the first times we got to interact with the other cohort. Plus, we got to do circus school; as it turns out I’m not bad at aerial silks.

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 went to Budapest to refine my photography skills, and it was truly my favourite week out of the entire year. I had a chance to take this new version of myself that I had uncovered and bring her out into the real world. I use the photography skills I learned all the time because it’s a passion of mine, but more than that, I take the independent travel skills I acquired with me every time I set out on a new trip. To be able to arrive in a foreign place and not feel lost or vulnerable is something I truly think every person needs to have. I believe the attitude you arrive with plays a huge part in your safety and competence wherever you end up.

winterline, gap year, leela barlow
Photo by Leela

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

This is not a vacation! You are going to have to work hard to be present, or you’re wasting your time. Take feedback and try it on, give feedback unapologetically but also with empathy. This is your chance to learn and grow without sacrificing your GPA — so take it! You will learn so much about the world on Winterline, it’s hard not to, but if you make use of every opportunity or challenge you’re presented with, you’ll also learn a lot about yourself, and that’s what will get you through any future endeavour.

Do you still keep in touch with your cohort?

Absolutely. We keep each other updated on Snapchat all the time, some more than others, but in all honesty I feel we’ve gotten even closer since the program ended over a year ago. We still share our personal experiences and struggles with each other, and give each other support despite the miles between us. It’s like having a secret only twelve people know. No one else quite understands the experiences we had, and I think that keeps us in contact as what we learned evolves and translates into our daily lives.

What is one of your favorite memories from your program?

One of my favourite memories was in India during our small group project week. I stayed in Pune and learned about Art Therapy, Dance, and Hindustani music at Artsphere with Patrick Neafsey and Liam McLees. The whole week was memorable, but I think my favourite part was getting to celebrate Holi, the festival of colour. I’m half Indian, so I’ve gotten the chance to participate before, but never in India, and never like we did in Pune. We scoured the local mall looking for white clothes to destroy, and we went with a group of people that had taught us Capoeira earlier in the week. When we got there, we were welcomed by people we’d never met as if we were old friends. It was wonderful to celebrate and connect with people despite whatever language or cultural barriers existed; there was just an effervescent quality to the festival unlike any I’ve ever experienced before. winterline, gap year, leela barlow


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

I could write a thirty page paper to answer this question, but for the sake of time, I’ll just give you my most pressing reason why Winterline has benefited my life. I never realized that the people I knew back home were either exactly like me, or understanding enough to let me be the way I was, good, bad, or indifferent. I was an “acquired taste,” as an old friend put it, but I thought that I would be well off enough to stay that way. On Winterline, I was living with twelve other people who didn’t understand me in the slightest, and vice versa. It took nine months of stripping away all of the preconceived notions and prejudices left behind from bad first impressions and my terrible habit of keeping people at arms distance to see why Winterline was such a good decision for me. It’s kind of hard to learn how to get along with twelve very different people without learning how to get along with everyone else too. The most useful thing I learned on Winterline was how to speak to anyone without sacrificing my own personality in the process. In other words, I learned the basics of speaking someone else’s language in my own dialect, a skill I continue to practice and that benefits me every day. winterline, gap year, leela barlow

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

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