Alumni Spotlight: Leela Barlow

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

Alumni Spotlight: Oliver Sandreuter

Where are you originally from, and where do you live now?

I’m from Roswell, Georgia a small suburb north of Atlanta. I currently spend a large chunk of my time living up in Nashville, Tennessee, where I attend Vanderbilt University.

Oliver (#7) playing Lacrosse for Vanderbilt, where he is currently a Junior.

Why did you choose to take a gap year, specifically with Winterline?

As I came to the end of my time in high school, I was spending a ton of time focusing on applying to colleges and worrying about whether I would be accepted to the schools I wanted to go to. I remember sitting in my driveway and opening an acceptance email to my dream school. I was happy, but didn’t feel all that fulfilled. I had spent so much time in high school doing things geared toward this one big moment and I realized it was just another step in my life.

I began thinking I wanted to do something different. Something I chose for my own reasons and not to meet any external expectations. The concept of a gap year wasn’t very popular in my hometown, but I began looking around online. I wanted a year that would push me and let me explore as much as possible in the world. When I stumbled across Winterline, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. The program was an opportunity that would give me space to develop in all the different ways I wanted, and facilitate my growth all across the world. It was the perfect option for me.

Oliver at a waterfall in California.

What was your favorite skill you learned?

Has to be mindfulness and meditation, which I learned in an ashram in India. I was always an extremely extroverted person and spent most of my time talking with other people and filling my schedule. Learning to dive inward, slow down,  spend time with my thoughts and understand them a bit more has been invaluable.

What was your favorite place you visited?

My homestay in Costa Rica. I was able to spend time living with a local family and working on a coffee plantation in Monteverde. The place was serene and the people were so warm and welcoming. Plus, I learned a ton about coffee!

From left to right: Alex Pliskin, Oliver Sandreuter, and Jamie Fortoul. The boys met up in Paris this past winter break!

Where have you traveled since Winterline?

Winterline has given me so much more confidence and know-how to travel more. I’ve been lucky enough to travel around in Spain, Italy, France and Switzerland. I also took a road trip across the U.S. to visit a ton of amazing spots right in my backyard!

Cinque Terre Italy, where Oliver visited and hiked this summer.

How has what you learned on your gap year helped you in college, and your life beyond that?

Perspective is the one word I feel like has been the biggest takeaway from my gap year. It may sound cliché, but I’ve learned how many different ways of life and different types of people there are, and how to apply that to the ways I engage with my own life.

In university, it’s helped give me the confidence to pursue passions that really speak to me. I know there are people out there who share those same passions and I know I can find them amidst the sea of possibilities in college.

Oliver skydiving in Boston!

Tell us a little more about what you do now.

I just got back from Spain where I spent my summer working with an ecotourism business outside of Valencia while continuing work on my book. It was an awesome experience and I look forward to heading back sometime soon.

Can you tell us about the book you’re writing?

Definitely! The book is titled Bridging the Gap: An Investigation into Global Experience. It looks at how travel- be it gap years, study abroad, or travel throughout professional life, is essential to finding meaning in education and work. The book essentially gets at how travel is a key component to driving a fulfilling life.

I started the project about a year ago and have had an incredible time researching and writing about global experience. Travel has had a huge impact on my life and through the book I hope to give others the confidence to go experience travel as well. I’m excited to finish my final manuscript here soon and am aiming to publish this coming Fall!

Oliver and fellow WL alum, Molly Shunney, in Joshua Tree.

What is something you’re curious about, and want to learn more about?

I’ve always wanted to become fluent in Spanish. Next year, I’ll be living and studying in Peru and Chile in hopes of learning more of the language and culture there!

What advice do you have for future Winterline students?

Just to head in to the year with an open-mind. It’s impossible to predict all the adventures and experiences you’ll have or what they’ll look like. Everyone will have their ups and downs, but the more you can keep yourself open to whatever comes your way, the more you’ll get out of the year. Don’t stress! You’ve already made the best choice possible if you’re planning on hitting the road for the year!

Oliver skiing in Utah.

 

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

Alum Q&A

Overall, what was your Winterline Global Gap year like?

The year was an adventure. In all senses of the word. In general, when I look back on Winterline, it was so much fun. But, it was also one of the most challenging years of my life, in a very positive way. I have never been so stimulated by so many things in my life (culture, food, activities/skills, people, etc.)! It was a year where I experienced some of the most personal growth of my life and it was also a much more introspective journey than I expected. I learned much more about myself than I had anticipated, and I made some lifelong relationships with amazing people. It was a total rollercoaster of a year. There were a lot of amazing moments, as well as a number of challenging moments. But I really wouldn’t change my experience on Winterline for anything.

What was the best thing about your experience?

The best thing about my experience was the people. Both the people I traveled with in my squad, and the people I met along the way. I was a media work-study student on the journalism scholarship, so I interviewed a lot of people from partner organizations in different countries for the Winterline blog. This was a great way for me to connect with people outside of my group and learn even more outside of the Winterline curriculum. The people I lived with became my family, and I miss them so much. I still stay in touch with all of them every day!

What was the hardest thing about your experience?

Also, the people! More specifically, it was difficult for me to learn how to live with a group of other teenagers and two field advisors. I had a difficult time adjusting to constantly being around other people, especially because I personally really need alone time. It was a challenge for me to always have a roommate, always share a bathroom, etc.  But, I found different ways to get alone time like journaling or watching Netflix, and sometimes even eating a meal by myself. That personal challenge really taught me the importance of self-care.

Winterline Alum
These (crazy) people!

What surprised you the most?

I honestly was surprised by how much fun I had! When I signed up for the program, I was really focused on the skills and learning. I didn’t really think about much else. I lived with some of the funniest and most unique people I’ve ever met, and I just had an absolute blast this year. Most of the skills were interesting, and a lot of the things that I did outside of program days were a lot of fun. I learned to take myself a little less seriously on the trip, which was an important lesson for me specifically.

What scared you the most?

I tend to be a pretty anxious person because I overthink things, but overall there wasn’t a lot about Winterline that “scared” me. I went into the year ready to be challenged. So, I guess what scared me the most is one very specific example. On a rest day in Monteverde, some of us chose to try repelling down waterfalls with our two Field Advisors. And it was a challenging experience for me. The water kept hitting my face and my contact lenses fell out multiple times, which I had to put back in. I took double the amount of time to repel down the waterfalls as my friends did. And there were many tears I shed to myself while repelling down these walls. But, I survived and even though I did not have a very enjoyable time, I showed myself that I can be tough and that it’s okay to not like everything I try.

I also think another thing that can be scary to some students (and parents) is how you have to be accountable for your own personal safety. There’s a lot in place to help students stay safe and manage risks on the trip, but at the end of the day it’s up to each individual to be accountable for their own personal safety. I never jeopardized my personal safety, and as a result I had a really positive experience with Winterline and the risk management aspect.

How much time do you spend alone versus with the group?

It honestly really depended on where we were in the world and how busy our program days were. I would usually start the day by having breakfast with only one or two other people, then I would get ready for the day with my one to three roommates. And then, we would spend the majority of days with the entire group for program/skill days. After those days, I would usually just hang out in my room listening to music, journaling, writing for the Winterline blog, or talking to my friends and family. On days that we didn’t have program days I would either just chill out by myself, or with a couple friends, and watch Netflix and hang out. But more often, I would go on mini-adventures by myself, in locations where we were allowed to explore alone, or with a couple friends. And I would usually have dinner with just one other person, unless we had a designated group dinner (which is a lot of fun). So overall, it really depends on how much youwant to be with the entire group, just a few of your close friends, or by yourself. It definitely took me a while to figure out the balance, but I got it down and found things to do to get alone time, which I learned is necessary for me.

Winterline Alum
Just one of our MANY adventures on a rest day!

What do you wish you had known before you started?

I wish I had more realistic expectations going into the program. When you sign up, you don’t have much context except for the fact that it’s “9 months, 10 countries, and 100 life skills.” One thing I want to note is that the program spans over 9 months (starting in September and ending in May, like a traditional school year) but it is not a full 9 months of traveling because of the Winter and Spring breaks. I learned more than 100 skills, but that’s not even what is most important to me. It’s the 5 or 6 really, really important skills that I’ve been able to use in my life that matter to me. I look back on my year and I think more about the quality of the skills I learned, as opposed to the quantity.

I think it’s important to remember that you will be living with other people and that you will have some disappointments in some aspects of the program. I went into the program somewhat naive and quickly realized that not everything is a perfect fantasy. I also wish I had known that I would have to get emotionally vulnerable with the group in order to get close and build trust with everyone, which is an important part of the program. For example, as a squad we did “circles,” usually about once a week. We would come together as a group and each go around in a circle and share how we felt emotionally and otherwise about the trip. It’s a place where you can really open up to your peers and feel like your voice is being heard, which is really necessary during such an intense and worldly experience. If students made poor decisions that affected the group, sometimes we would also have circles to address those problems. I just wish I was more prepared for that.

What does Trimester 1 feel like?

Trimester 1 is amazing. All of my memories from trimester 1 are in the outdoors, which I think it really cool. I really connected to nature on the NOLS trip, in Belize (this year’s group is traveling to Panama, but programming in Panama is very similar to what I did in Belize), and in Costa Rica. I loved how a lot of the skills in trimester 1 are physically demanding because it added an element to the program that made me feel so proud of myself, especially in an outdoor setting. A lot of my favorite memories from Winterline took place on NOLS and in Belize/Costa Rica.

Winterline Alum
Getting outside, and enjoying the beauty of nature, is such an essential part of tri 1!

What do Tri 2 & 3 feel like?

Trimester two and three are the opposite of each other. During trimester 2, I felt much more challenged, and to be honest I think it’s the most challenging portion of the trip. The cities we traveled to are very populated and can be stressful at times, so I had a hard time adjusting. The languages are very different from a lot of the languages that most Americans have studied, and overall there was more of a disconnect for me. I had a harder time transitioning to Southeast Asia than anywhere else. I do think it’s an important part of the trip and it is really rewarding to look back on. I felt like I tackled a challenge, and was thrown in a bunch of directions, but I survived, and even thrived, in some locations.

Winterline Alum
Anna and Andrew at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Trimester 3 felt like a breath of relief for me after Asia. Everything seemed to be easier once I was in Europe, and not in a bad way. I think it was well-deserved. I really enjoyed just exploring the streets of all sorts of European cities, and stumbling upon amazing buildings and churches. I felt like Europe was the “reward” after months of challenge and personal growth.

Winterline Alum BMW Driving Experience
The gang taking on BMW Driving Experience in Munich, Germany!

Tell us about your Independent Study Program (ISP) experiences.

I wrote a blog about ISPs, which you can find here! An ISP is an Independent Study Project. There’s three ISP weeks during Winterline: in Costa Rica, India, and Europe. These weeks encourage students to study/practice a skill of their choice and to live without the entire group, so students can be more independent. When I was in Costa Rica, I did a 5-day Spanish Immersion course and stayed with a homestay family. In India, I went to an Ayurvedic clinic and ashram to study and practice Ayurveda, yoga, and meditation. And those two ISPs prepared me for the final, and most independent, ISP in Europe. Students plan for their Europe ISP at the end of trimester 1, all the way through trimester 3. We were each given a budget, and a lot of flexibility about what we could do. I did cooking classes in Paris and I stayed in an Airbnb just outside the heart of the city. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life!

Who was your favorite partner? Least favorite?

My favorite partner was probably the cooking school in Paris, called La Cuisine, that I set up for my Independent Study Week. I learned about French cuisine, and I actually just made one of the traditional French sauces for my Dad’s 50th birthday party a few weeks ago! The chefs were amazing and the cooking classes were so hands on. My least favorite partner was the robotics school in Austria. I am not a fan of technology, robotics, and coding, so it wasn’t really against the partner, but more the skill.

What was your favorite location? Least favorite?

That is such a hard question! I constantly tell people that Costa Rica was one of my favorite countries, but I also just fell in love with Germany, Italy, and France. Such amazing places. But, my least favorite country was Thailand because that’s where I got sick!

Winterline Alum
One of my favorite views on the entire trip… Munich, Germany!

How much spending money did you need?

Again, it totally depended on where we were. In Central America, I spent $15 to $30 a week. In Asia, I spent about $20-30 a week. And in Europe, I splurged a bit and spent $40 to $50 a week. Throughout the entire year I used money I had saved up babysitting, tutoring, and working the previous summer and I kept myself pretty accountable. There was a pretty wide range in how much students spent throughout the year. If you are willing to budget and track your spending, and be frugal, you can get away with spending only $25/week. If you want to spend a lot and not track your money at all, you could potentially end up spending $100/week. I was somewhere in between this, and anywhere on the spectrum is fine. But I do think it’s an important conversation to have with your parents so you’re on the same page going into the program.

How much time do you spend on your own, with field staff, with partners – what is the independence level like?

Hmmm… It totally depended on the student. For me personally, I became really close with one of my field advisors and we hung out a few times a week outside of program days to get coffee, lunch, or just chat. Our group spent anywhere from 3 to 6 days a week with partners, and the field advisors were usually there, but not always. The independence level changes over the course of the trip. If you feel like you are being babied during first trimester, it’s kind of by design. The field advisors want to see what you can handle, and then will gradually give you more independence if your group earns it. By the time I was in Europe, I spent time with the entire group for program days and dinners, but I was much more independent and chose to do my own thing with just a few people more. I will say that your independence you’re given is a reflection of how responsible you’ve shown the FA’s you can be, especially with drinking, curfews, etc.

What are your top three pieces of advice for a new student starting this year?

  1. Keep a journal! I wrote in my journal almost every day, and now I have mini “books” of my adventures with Winterline. I also kept a personal blog, which my family was grateful for because they could stay updated on my trip. Writing also just helps you remember things that you would otherwise forget (and I have a bad memory, so it helped me).
  2. Go out of your way to become friends with people in your group who you wouldn’t be friends with at home. My group was a melting pot of people from all around the US, and from Europe. I definitely had a lot of preconceived notions about other students within the first week, but I made an effort to have conversations with everyone and I found some good friends in people I wouldn’t have expected on day one. You’d be surprised by how interesting everyone in your group will be!
  3. Don’t expect to be best friends with everyone. This is huge! I am very much a people-person, and love to connect with others. I went into the program assuming that everyone would like me and we would all get along, but as is normal in a group setting, I discovered that I didn’t want to be best friends with everyone. Make a conscious effort to remind yourself that there will be people who you may not want to be best friends with, or who don’t want to be best friends with you. That’s okay and it’s normal. The only thing to remember is to be respectful to everyone in the group, and to be kind!

Alumni Spotlight: Ana Paulina

WHERE ARE YOU ORIGINALLY FROM AND WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW?

I’m from San Juan, Puerto Rico and I now live in Denver, Colorado.

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 think my dad first told me about gap years when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school. I didn’t pay much attention to them until I started researching colleges and realized I wanted to take one.

Winterline Alumni Ana Paulina
Ana, and her friend Daniela, enjoying some hiking in Estes Park!

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I took a gap year because I felt like I needed to experience something different in my life before going to college. Where I live, I think people follow the status quo of going to college after high school and then leaving home and getting a job, but I didn’t feel like doing that. I had a very big urge to travel and since I had this opportunity, I knew I had to take it. I’ve been in school all my life, so diving into another four more years of school didn’t seem appealing. I wanted to experience what it was like to learn practical skills without being in a classroom. I knew there was so much more than going to college right away, so I decided to go on a gap year to learn about the world and to learn about myself. I had always lived in the same place with the same people, so I wanted to get out. I wanted to be in different places with different people. I think that is the best way to learn new things. I could’ve gone to college right away, but my experience at college would have been incredibly different if I hadn’t taken a gap year.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE SKILL YOU LEARNED?

My favorite skill to learn during Winterline was planning. I’ve traveled a lot throughout my life with my family, but my dad has been the one that has planned all those trips. During my ISP, I got the opportunity to plan and book everything that I was going to do in that week and it felt amazing. It was very rewarding to know that I planned and did that whole week by myself in a foreign country. I learned very practical skills like researching travel destinations, booking travel and accommodations, and budgeting my spendings.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE YOU VISITED?

Thailand, for sure. Even though we were there for just one week, I fell in love with the country. I loved walking through the city and the temples, eating the street food, and navigating the street market.

Winterline Alumni Ana Paulina
Ana enjoying her time in Thailand!

HAVE YOU TRAVELED SINCE WINTERLINE?

Yes! After the gap year I did a bike tour with my sister through the Northern Coast of Spain and I also went to the Greek Islands with my family.

HOW HAS WHAT YOU LEARNED ON YOUR GAP YEAR HELPED YOU IN REAL LIFE?

The experience in general helped me get out of my own comfort zone and be more independent. We were traveling for 9 months in different countries with people we had just met, so for me it felt very natural that I had to make myself comfortable with who I am and trust that I could do whatever I wanted.

The skills that I learned also helped me plan trips better, it helped me be more confident navigating airports and cities in foreign countries. It also helped me communicate better with different people. The skills also helped me figure out what I do want to study, and what I don’t want to study.

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO NOW.

Right now, I’m in college. I go to the University of Denver and I am planning on majoring in International Studies and French. I am also playing rugby and enjoying the mountains for skiing.

WHAT SKILLS HAVE PROVEN THE MOST HELPFUL IN YOUR LIFE?

I think budgeting and planning are the skills that have been more helpful in my life, and also being more independent. I am in college now so being able to manage my money well is a very important skill to have. Also, being more confident with myself in problem-solving has been useful because I am not afraid to ask for help or interact with people I don’t know.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE WINTERLINE MEMORY?

Halloween night in Bocas Del Toro, Panama was a great night for everyone in the group. We all dressed up as zombies and went on a zombie bar crawl that was happening in the town. We all made our costumes and went out to celebrate as a group. It was very fun because we were not worried about anything and we were just there to have fun!

Winterline Alumni Ana Paulina
Ana and Prathana laughing together in Bangkok.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR CURRENT OR FUTURE WINTERLINE STUDENTS?

Advice that I wish someone would’ve given me is to make sure what your goals are and work hard to accomplish them. I had some goals I wanted to achieve but then forgot about them and was really sad when at the end of the trip I remembered all the things that I wanted to do. Also try all the food, it’s amazing.

And for current students, you probably hear this a lot but cherish every moment and every place you’re at. The trip goes by extremely fast and the only things you have to remember them by are your memories, so if you don’t have a good memory, like me, make sure to write them down or take a bunch of pictures and videos. Trust me, you’re going to wish you had them when you’re done.

Alumni Spotlight: Daniela Mallarino

WHERE ARE YOU ORIGINALLY FROM AND WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW?

I’m originally from Bogota, Colombia, and right now I’m living in Toronto, Canada!

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?

Indeed, the idea of a gap year is still a new concept! I was mostly introduced to the idea of taking some time ‘off’ and doing something else before continuing institutionalized education. Two of my best friends and I were casually talking one day about what it meant to graduate and what we truly wanted to do with our lives and the idea of traveling together was something that really thrilled us. We all ended up taking some time before University! I chose Winterline, my other friend went to India for a year to teach English in an IB school and my other friend stayed in Bogota, Colombia. It was definitely the best idea we’ve ever had.

Daniela Winterline Alumni
Daniela exploring her photography with her Winterline friends.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE A GAP YEAR?

I’ve always been adventurous and have always loved to travel. I just really wanted to explore more and discover new things while also acquiring some perspective on the world and what my responsibility as a human is. I didn’t feel satisfied with my possible career choices and I knew I wanted to learn more about what it meant to pursue a degree. In the end, I did it for myself. People kept telling me that it might not be the right moment, that you’re too young, that university won’t be the same if you don’t go right away… All sorts of things, but I think there’s never a perfect moment to do things. You kind of just have to go for it, and make them perfect for the moment. That’s what I did with the idea of taking a gap year.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE SKILL YOU LEARNED?

I think the best skill is learning to learn! We did so many diverse activities and were exposed to so many experiences, in the end we realized we had done things we never thought we would. It was a process, but it was very rewarding after all. If I had to narrow it down to one specific skill/moment I would say NOLS really left a mark on me. Learning to take situations equally seriously but in a more open and challenging setting was amazing and it inspired a lot of love and passion for nature and the connection we have with our environments. Other than that, learning about permaculture, natural building, and sustainability practices was extremely insightful and I find myself relating those experiences to my University knowledge really often.

Daniela Winterline Alumni
Daniela and Gabbi working with crops!

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE YOU VISITED?

As cliche as it is, it’s not the places it’s the people. I think that quote truly applies to Winterline and what it means to travel for long periods of time and move constantly. We met amazing people that inspired us in several ways and made our experience a complete journey; full of love, enthusiasm, and identity. It also depends on when you ask me. During the gap year I think Thailand was definitely the highlight, but now that you catch me in University (and prolonged winter), those days when chilling in hammocks was my routine were my favorite!

HAVE YOU TRAVELED SINCE WINTERLINE?

Yes! Right after Winterline ended I did a roadtrip with two of my gap year buddies. We drove from Boston to Maine and stayed at an Alpaca Farm! It was very inspiring to see our friendship grow outside of Winterline. I also went to Guatemala, and went camping in Canada a couple of times. I just have a need to move around and keep exploring!

HOW HAS WHAT YOU LEARNED ON YOUR GAP YEAR HELPED YOU IN REAL LIFE?

So many ways I can’t even label it. We are made out of stories, experiences, and the people we meet. Part of who I am was built during Winterline. It has definitely helped me see the world from a more comprehensive and complete perspective and it has allowed me to push myself outside of my comfort zone and do things that challenge me but that allow me to grow and learn as a person.

Daniela Winterline Alumni
Daniela roller skating during Winterline’s orientation week in Estes Park, Colorado.

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO NOW. 

Right now I’m pursuing my undergraduate degree in International Development Studies at the University of Toronto! It’s a complex and difficult degree, but everything I learn correlates with what I’ve done so far and what I want to do. It fuels my critical thinking and really confronts the conceived ideas we have about the world and the people around us. My degree is complemented with a one year placement in a country of my choice where I will have the opportunity to work with local organizations and communities to share experiences and knowledge. I’m really looking forward to it and what it can bring into my life, as well as what I can give during my placement. It adds more adventure and traveling to my life as well.

WHAT SKILLS HAVE PROVEN THE MOST HELPFUL IN YOUR LIFE?

Soft skills! Adaptability and open-mindedness are always present. University can get crazy sometimes, especially if you say yes to every opportunity that enhances your learning. I found myself having a part time job, writing 5 essays without a computer, having weekly meetings, taking care of my friends, sleeping like 5-6 hours a night and other crazy things, and without patience and adaptability I wouldn’t have made it. Now it’s type 2 fun, I can laugh at it. The skills you develop during Winterline that allow you to find yourself are crucial.

I’d say the best thing about Winterline, and something that really makes it stand out, is that you develop your own way of living as you go. You don’t get attached to a place or a specific routine, you get attached to the energy you have all along the year. This energy can be easily found afterwards, and that’s what makes Winterline so unique! You don’t forget what you learn because you’re slowly implementing it into your life and your social circle.

 DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE WINTERLINE MEMORY?

One of the memories I have is probably biking in Bangkok at night. It was absolutely amazing to shift lenses and appreciate the crowded streets with a drastic change in energy. It’s amazing how different a city looks when you experience it at different times of the day, and if you’re biking it gets even better. That was really fun and connecting. Other than that, I would say that the simple things, like having dinner as a group, exploring around with some friends, or doing planks in the middle of Prague are the memories that stay with me!

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR CURRENT OR FUTURE WINTERLINE STUDENTS?

Take it as it comes! Be open minded and learn from every situation. Believe me, a couple of months after it’s over you’re gonna want to revive those memories. Live them as intensely as you can and reflect. It sounds like an easy thing to do, but when things are challenging we forget how important it is to reflect. I would say, JOURNAL! Writing was an extremely important part for me during Winterline. Once you write it you can’t rescind it, and this becomes crucial when you grow and find yourself indulging in memories. It’s fun to see how you shift as a person and who you were a month, or a year from now. Don’t forget your pen and paper!