Bridging the Gap with Oliver


Give us a quick overview of what to expect from reading your book!


Bridging the Gap dives into the stories of people from all different walks of life who have found ways to incorporate travel into their lives and encountered incredible results. From stronger GPAs throughout school to higher job satisfaction across a career, travel proves itself a valuable asset in driving meaning and fulfillment during all stages of life.

The book offers strategies, stories, and suggestions for how travel can and should be included in every period of life for any lifestyle. Ultimately, my hope is that reading Bridging the Gap will encourage anyone to seek out travel and gap year experiences and point them in the right direction to make it happen. 

All proceeds are going to COVID relief so we can all get back to traveling soon! 


What was the hardest aspect of writing/publishing a book?


I think the hardest aspect was finding the confidence to move forward with the final steps of publishing. There are always new ideas popping up in my head for things I would want to add or change in the manuscript. Allowing myself to feel confident in where the book is as a representation of that time and place while I continue to grow forward was a valuable challenge to navigate. 

Did you learn/perfect a new skill from this process? If so, what?


Diligence and time management are skills I’ll always be working on but were definitely improved over the process of writing Bridging the Gap. Hopping back into the manuscript as frequently as possible and just moving along day by day helped me hone in on my focus and dedication toward the project. 


What inspired you to write and publish an entire book about your gap year?


The book is actually not about my own gap year. I wanted to write Bridging the Gap to serve as a useful tool of encouragement for people who want to travel more but aren’t sure how. When I set off on my first gap year with Winterline, there weren’t many resources to support my exploration into the idea and I hope Bridging the Gap can be that for other people. Since Winterline, I’ve been able to travel in a wide range of ways across different periods of time. People always ask me how they can do something similar, so I wanted to write a book that highlights a bunch of ways various people have made room for travel in their respective lifestyles. Bridging the Gap highlights students, young professionals, digital nomads, retirees, and more who have all successfully incorporated travel into their lives. 


What did you gain from your gap year? What do you think was the most beneficial aspect of taking a gap year?


My gap year experience with Winterline helped me realize that travel and exploration can be staples in my life. I was exposed to so many people who were doing exciting things all across the globe and I realized there was no one concrete path I needed to take moving forward. The degree of confidence and independence I felt leaving Winterline has been hugely beneficial in enabling me to take the reins on my education and career journey. bridging the gap, winterline, oliver


What did Winterline do specifically that benefitted you and/or your future? Did your plans for yourself change once completing your gap year?


Winterline supported an experience focused on exploration and breadth of perspective. Everyone involved really encouraged expanding your horizons to consider new vantage points toward life. Heading into my gap year, I had deferred admissions to Vanderbilt University in Nashville Tennessee where I later enrolled and have since graduated from. The lessons I learned from Winterline grew and were instrumental parts in supporting my pursuit of travel over the past 5 years. Without Winterline, I doubt I would have found myself doing nearly as much of what brings me meaning and joy now. 


What do you think students should consider this Fall if their college plans have changed?


I think now is the perfect time to consider a gap year. International travel may not be immediately available, but taking the time to craft a year of experience that brings you meaning outside of a school setting is invaluable. Developing independence and confidence while leaning into a curiosity for your different passions will not only make you a better student when it comes time to head to university, it will invigorate an excitement for learning. 


Any other advice for students in this current situation?


Start small. A gap year doesn’t need to be a massive leap into the unknown where you leave everything behind and start anew. It can be, but often, it starts with a simple commitment to yourself to try something different. Plan out a week-long trip where you separate yourself from whatever your day-to-day might be. It could be a week camping away from work, a handful of days road tripping to a new part of the country, or flying to a place you’ve always wanted to visit but never made the time. 

The week will give a taste of what it’s like to take adventure into your own hands. Use it as motivation to start planning out what a longer commitment could look like. Every gap year will be different but each should be fueled by curiosity and passion that typically hides dormant inside our busy routines. Brainstorm a list of five things and five places that have always interested you. The list doesn’t need to make sense or add up yet – just get the ideas flowing and on paper. 

Let a friend or family member know that you’re thinking about taking time to pursue something different and share your list with them. Bounce ideas around together and pretty soon your list will start narrowing itself down and you’ll have someone to keep you motivated as you plan things out and commit to your next adventure. bridging the gap, winterline, oliver

Can you give some background on your travel experience, what led you to do choosing a gap year, and ultimately what led you to get the idea to write this book?

Toward the end of high school, I was sitting in my driveway when I received an acceptance email from what I thought was my dream university. I had been constantly working over the years for this moment but I remember feeling somewhat indifferent about the email. I was excited, but I questioned if all the work was truly worth it and what my motivations had been along the way. 

At that moment, I decided I would do something different that no one had encouraged up to that point. That something became my first gap year traveling across ten countries over nine months. Since then, I’ve pursued multiple gap year experiences living and traveling in places around the world. I wrote Bridging the Gap to encourage people to seek out travel and show that you can incorporate travel into any lifestyle at any point in an education or career journey. 

Did you find any correlations between mental health and travelling/gap years?

Definitely. A large amount of research is out there demonstrating how taking time to travel and pursue gap year experiences has positive effects on mental health and well-being. These experiences rejuvenate inspiration and excitement for life which is often sorely needed in the grind of today’s world. 

What are some of the main skills you find you learn or develop during a Gap Year/Travel?

Resiliency, creativity, and empathy. 

Things often don’t go quite according to plan while traveling. You end up in situations without much of the typical comforts you’ve come to rely on be it routines, foods, directions, or cultural norms. 

Creativity comes when you find out different ways around these obstacles. You learn to plan and alter plans independently and are exposed to a variety of ways to go about doing that. Your mind has much more time to wander and explore ideas you otherwise would’ve been too busy to lean into.

After seeing different parts of the world and living in places other than whatever was previously called home, I believe you develop a stronger sense of empathy. It’s much easier to appreciate and value the perspective of others once you’ve walked a bit in their environment. Feeling lost at times makes you much more akin to lend a hand to others whenever they may similarly be in need of some help.bridging the gap, winterline, oliver

Any advice on alternatives for people to “scratch” their travel itch during COVID?

Great question and one I’m still working on myself. I’ve found that camping and spending time outdoors has been helpful. It reminds me how much the environment right around us has to offer and is a great way to explore a bit. 

Reading and watching different travel-based stories also transports my mind for a while. I finish with an even bigger itch than before but it’s nice to get lost in a travel story for a while. 

Last thing I would add is to do some memory logging. I’ve been going back through old travel photos/videos and it’s been awesome to slow down and appreciate all the memories. Right now I’m attempting to catalog them a bit in little picture books or movies and it’s been pretty fun. 

Does a gap year/travel make you more employable? How does one reconcile gaps on a resume where they have travelled? How do they make this travel experience work in their favour?

100 percent. A gap year and travel experience signals an individual’s ability to adapt and adjust to different environments. Soft skills like adaptability, resilience, and creativity are constantly cited as the most needed attributes in the workplace that are simultaneously the most difficult to teach. 

A gap year experience allows people to refresh and refocus their career priorities. It gives time to ensure that you’re setting off toward a path you find value and meaning in. Speaking to this confidence is essential to translating the value of travel into the value you bring to the workplace. 

Pairing a gap year experience with the pursuit of a passion or skill set on the side will deliver an even more marketable skill set. The bulk of my book was written while traveling and it now serves me well in any interview. Not to mention, any travel experience is probably the best icebreaker and conversation point for an interviewer who has seen the same resume 100 times that day. 

What’s next for you? Where to next?

All this time in quarantine has left me with a pretty extensive travel list by now. I’m thinking a trip across the Trans-Siberian Railroad could be a cool way to cover some ground once we’re allowed out of the house again. 

bridging the gap, winterline, oliver

You can buy Bridging the Gap on Amazon, with all proceeds going to COVID19 relief.

Monteverde Host Family Interview

The Monteverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica is home to the section of the gap year when students live in homestays. That is, independent living with a local family while exploring their culture and experiencing an apprenticeship in a particular skill during our trimester 1 ISPs. During my ten-day long homestay with a family of four, a happily married couple with both a son and a daughter, I decided to take the opportunity to interview them in order to better understand their role in our journey, as well as my own in theirs. The interview (originally in broken Spanish via Google Translate but translated and tweaked to better suit English) is as follows:winterline global gap year

Q: Why did you decide to start hosting travel abroad students?

A: Our family has actually been hosting students for almost 17 years. We have seen many types come and go, all participating in or working toward something new. It has always been a pleasure to meet people from new places as we don’t get to travel very much. It lets us learn more about the places they come from, and we enjoy teaching them about our home. We keep a photo album of all of the people we’ve hosted, and we enjoy adding to it.

At this point, we took a photo to add to the album and she showed me her past students.

Q: Have you ever had any problems with someone you’ve hosted?

A: Coming to a new place is a tough adjustment for many at first, especially when they don’t speak the language (this entire interview was conducted through Google Translate), so there are instances where we have had to ask our visitors to not to act a certain way so as to avoid trouble, however we are generally pretty open and accepting, and allow our visitors to be as independent as they please.

I can certainly vouch for this, staying with the family was a pleasure. They had very few rules and allowed me to do mostly anything I wanted. There was a lot of respect between us and it made for a very enjoyable stay.

winterline, gap year, monteverde, homestay
Homestay family

Q: How much do you know about Winterline and what we’re doing on our journey?

A: Very little, we were asked to provide a home for international students and that was about it. Of course, we said yes, but we would like to know more.

This made for good conversation; them not knowing too much allowed me to break the tension easily and tell them all about the amazing program Winterline has put together. They were very excited to learn more about a program they had never encountered.

Q: Would you ever hope for or allow your children to stay with a family abroad?

A: I think it would be a good opportunity, but I would never feel safe letting my children travel like that. I’m a mother first and foremost, always worrying. Maybe someday if the opportunity arises, we will talk about it.

My ISP during this time was learning to cook, so I asked this question on a whim:

Q: How would you like it if I cooked dinner one night?

A: Oh no, I don’t like anyone else to work in my kitchen. I appreciate the gesture, but let me take care of things like that.

She held true to this, always anticipating and accommodating every one of my needs without me even asking. A very lovely woman and mother to get to know, and I am grateful for everything she has done for me.

This interview was especially difficult to complete, as Google Translate is not a reliable means of communication in another language. It was enough to get the point across, but I feel as though myself and my host family missed the full scope of each other’s responses. The interview may have been more fleshed out had I spoken Spanish, or they English, but on the flipside I feel as though this was a very valuable outcome for myself as well as for future students who can now take these shortcomings into consideration. I’m glad it went the way it did, and learning about my host family brought us closer together and made my stay that much more enjoyable!

An Interview at Rancho Mastatal

While he and his squad were learning about sustainability at Rancho Mastatal, our student Liam took some time to interview staff member Ryan Roberts. Liam learned all about Ryan: what brought him to Rancho Mastatal, what it’s like to live on the ranch, and how he intends to use what he’s learned in the future when he eventually leaves the ranch.

Watch the interview to find out what life is like in rural Costa Rica, and if you’re interested in visiting for yourself, you’re in luck – in 2020, students on both of our gap year itineraries and our Latin America semester program will be spending time at Rancho Mastatal. Apply today to be one of these students!

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. 

The Dawn of India

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

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

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

What is your favorite memory from India?

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

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

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

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

The Ashram Crew | Photo by: Suryatej

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

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

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

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

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

Moo! | Photo by: Suryatej

What was most challenging for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Enriching” – Caedon

“Peace” – Tyler

“Inspiring and introspective”Yeukai

“Exotic” – Sam

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. 

Hear Me Roar: ThinkImpact Director Gabriela Valencia

In October 2018, fellow Winterliners and I volunteered in the small town of Piedras Gordas, nestled in the mountains of Panama. Under the guidance of ThinkImpact instructors, each of us chose to work with one local entrepreneur: Señor Onecimo, Señora Edithe, or Señor Ernesto. During our stay, we embarked on projects ranging from constructing trails through the jungle to planting one hundred coffee shrubs. To gain a better understanding of the goals of the ThinkImpact program, I spoke with Gabriela Valencia, ThinkImpact Country Director for Panama.

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Gabriela Valencia

Could you tell me about yourself? What motivates you?

Gabriela: I was born and raised in Panama, specifically in Panama City. Like many Panamanians I am the product of a mixture of cultures. My mom grew up in Argentina and my dad is Panamanian. But I was born here, so I’ve known Panama my whole life. At the same time, I grew up in a household where influences from Argentina played an important role in my life.

I studied in Panama and attended architecture school. When I finished studying, I started working for different architecture firms. In 2007, I received a Fulbright scholarship and got my masters degree in architecture from Ball State University, Indiana. My studies really emphasized human-centered-design and more of a social approach to architecture.

When I came back to Panama it was hard to find social development projects that were very connected to architecture. So I started looking for other opportunities and ended up working for an NGO called Global Brigades. It’s a large organization that uses a holistic development model to improve quality of life for people around the world. They start with public health and then they move into things like economic empowerment, human rights, and environmental conservation. Global Brigades supports and focuses on university students. The idea is that you meet the interests of students and connect them with communities that have certain needs, but that can also teach them things. It’s a really unique chance for both the students and the community to learn from each other.”

Could you give me an overview of ThinkImpact and its mission? How is it different from Global Brigades?

Gabriela: Sure. ThinkImpact is centered more around social innovation, while Global Brigades is development. ThinkImpact focuses on shorter skill-building projects while Global Brigades focuses on more long-term goals.

ThinkImpact connects students with communities to develop solutions to local issues and improve the quality of life within the community. At the same time, ThinkImpact teaches students how to work with local entrepreneurs and utilize their assets to create lasting change. ThinkImpact provides an environment for students to learn outside of the classroom and apply their knowledge through tangible social interactions and hands-on projects.”

ThinkImpact in Rwanda

What is your role in the organization?

Gabriela: My role is to identify potential entrepreneurs and partners that match the skills that the students can bring to make it a positive experience for everyone involved.

How do you choose a community to work with?

Gabriela: Sure. ThinkImpact is centered more around social innovation, while Global Brigades is development. ThinkImpact focuses on shorter skill-building projects while Global Brigades focuses on more long-term goals.

ThinkImpact connects students with communities to develop solutions to local issues and improve the quality of life within the community. At the same time, ThinkImpact teaches students how to work with local entrepreneurs and utilize their assets to create lasting change. ThinkImpact provides an environment for students to learn outside of the classroom and apply their knowledge through tangible social interactions and hands-on projects.”

How was Piedras Gordas chosen?

Gabriela: Piedras Gordas was a community that was recommended to us by organizations that had worked there previously. We chose it because it met all of our criteria regarding the needs of the community and learning opportunities for students. Personally, I have experience working in Piedras Gordas with Global Brigades, so I knew the community quite well. I knew a lot of the overall needs of the community and could match them to learning opportunities for students. Piedras Gordas has a lot of experience from various partnerships in the past years and that knowledge is one of their greatest assets.”

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What do you hope we take away from our homestay experience in Piedras Gordas, Panama?

Gabriela: To me, human interaction is the most important aspect of the program. By coming to a place like Piedras Gordas, students move out of their comfort zone in a lot of ways. Students leave home and come to a place where they don’t speak the language; where they have to get used to new environment and a different culture. One of the most valuable take-aways is to always maintain an open mind to human interactions. Approaching homestays knowing that you’re going to be uncomfortable, but that taking chances while trying to communicate with people is a valuable learning experience. This openness is an important skill and mindset not only for homestays, but for life in general.

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Renovation in Piedras Gordas | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

Something that I explain to students is that when you’re here for a short amount of time, it can be hard to realize the specific impact you’ve made. However, – even if you didn’t create something tangible – by interacting and communicating with your hosts, you have built trust and intercultural empathy. When you consider a longer timespan like I’ve been able to, you realize how valuable these interactions are for everyone involved. The skills of open-mindedness and empathy you learn here are things you can take with you wherever you go.

What do you find most rewarding about your job at ThinkImpact?

Gabriela: My role is all about connecting students with members of the community. I try to make sure that the community’s needs are met while providing opportunities for students to expand their worldview. For me there’s nothing more satisfying than when an experience is meaningful and enjoyable for both the student and a community member. Moments like that are by far the best thing about my job.

Halfway There: An Interview with Ivan Kuhn

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Wilderness rockstar Ivan hiking through the Gila National Forest, New Mexico | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

In a little under 2 months, we have trudged through the desert on a wilderness hiking expedition, lived with host families in the mountains of Panama, toured an MIT Fabrication Lab in Panama city, learned about permaculture in the jungles of Costa Rica, and became certified PADI divers off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica – just to name a few things. We have experienced so much in so little time, that it’s refreshing to take a step back and reflect on our experiences. As the first trimester drew to a close, I asked fellow squad member Ivan Kuhn to reflect on his experiences and to recall why he embarked on this journey in the first place.

Where are you from? Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Ivan: I’m from Petoskey, Michigan. It’s a small town in northern Michigan about an hour south of the Mackinac bridge. It’s very cold there – almost always. We have very mild summers; the high this year was eighty nine degrees. I like it there.

Why Winterline? Why get out of your cozy town?

Ivan: I am not what you would call ‘good at school’. I’m not stupid, I just don’t enjoy learning things that I don’t like. Math classes especially are really hard for me. I would just keep thinking: why am I doing this homework for 10 points when I really don’t see the point of what I’m learning. Soon enough I stopped acing tests and my grades started slipping… Eventually, my family got concerned about it and questioned whether I would do well in college.

My grandma was actually the one who suggested a gap year. In her own words: “yeah, you’re not going to do well in college next year with the grades you’re getting. You need to find something to do; maybe a gap year.” I do want to go to college eventually, but I figured taking time to explore and figure out what I want to do in life would be a better opportunity.

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Ivan diving off the coast of Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica | Photo By: Ivan Kuhn

I am a total nerd when it comes to media. I’ve watched Lord Of The Rings, I’ve read the books, I’ve played the games – you name it and I’ve probably seen, played or read it…. Basically, I’ve been watching movies and thinking, “Wow, I wish I could do that. I wish I could go out and have my own adventure and make my own story.” When I got accepted to Winterline, it seemed like something out of fantasy. Honestly, I was kind of terrified at first. I have been playing all these games and pretending to be this character that goes on crazy adventures and now I’m actually doing it. This is my adventure. This is my chance to get out there and destroy my one ring.

What is your favorite skill so far?

Ivan: I really liked working in the Fab Lab (MIT Fabrication Laboratory) in the City of Knowledge, Panama. Getting to take a tour of the place was super cool, but going back in my own time to build something useful with the equipment there was even better. Especially because that is the kind of stuff that I have enjoyed doing back home – I mean, building things using 3D printers and all that jazz. Having access to great equipment and the unaided creative freedom to make whatever I wanted was really fun.

What is your takeaway from the past 2 months of traveling? Has it changed your perspective of yourself and others?

Ivan: At lunch the other day, we were looking at pictures from day one and it was hilarious. We look so freakin’ young. We look like children. We’ve just grown so much since then. As far as differences go, I feel way more independent, and more grown-up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a kid on the inside; I’ll still fight you for a bag of Goldfish crackers, but I also feel like I’m out exploring the world and living my own life. It feels foreign and a little bit lonely, but mostly it’s awesome.

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Ivan contemplating the big blue pond (of life) | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

Panama Quotebook: Homestay Bonanza

In early October, our squad spent over a week living with local families in the small mountain community of Piedras Gordas, Panama. With the guidance of a ThinkImpact instructor, we immersed ourselves in the language and culture of our host families, examined the needs of the community and worked together to support local entrepreneurs. Since each of us stayed with a different family and was involved with different projects, our experiences varied considerably. To showcase our varied perspectives, I asked my fellow squad members to reflect on their time spent in Piedras Gordas. The following collection of responses grants a glimpse into the thoughts of Squad 2 throughout our rural homestay experience.

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What is your favorite memory from Piedras Gordas?

“Waking up every morning to a steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee and piping hot fried plantains was very surreal. As I sat in silence reading, the world around me was already getting on with their day: roosters shrieking, kids complain about going to school, and our host family reporting on the wellbeing of their crops.” Micah

“One time, I heard this crazy, almost demonic-sounding cackling from behind the house. Concerned, I asked my host mom what was going on, but she just started laughing… Eventually she took me around the house to show me what was going on and it turns out she kept a pair of very talkative parrots as pets. Once I realized they were just harmless birds, we both burst out laughing. It was a great time.” – Sam

“On the last night, we had this lovely dinner with our host family and played games afterwards. At some point, we started playing Bingo where you had to pay 5 cents a card and the winner got all the money. Pretty soon into the game, we started running out of nickels, so all of us just kept giving the money back for everyone to play another round. That was super fun.” – Ivan

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Micah Inspecting Freshly Harvested Coffee | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

“I went into Piedras Gordas with the goal of improving my Spanish skills. So, having a long conversation with my host family and actually understanding the majority of it was an awesome personal victory.” – Sam

“Working with local entrepreneur Señora Edith to expand her artisanal weaving business was really rewarding. One part of that project was constructing signs to direct people up to her house, so that she can sell more of her crafts there. Creating something physical and useful in just a few days was very satisfying.” – Ivan

“Before Ernesto’s farm I thought building stairs would require a degree in carpentry and a trip to Home Depot. Not anymore. Just on the short walk to the farm we found all of our supplies and materials lying on the side of the trail, and within a few hours we had transformed an uneven slope of mud into something that rivaled the marble stairways in ancient Roman temples. Take that Zeus.” – Micah

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Beware! Carpentry Lies Ahead. | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

What was most challenging for you?

“Not knowing Spanish was heartbreaking at times. Although it was very fun learning from my family and teaching them some English along the way, I wish I had been able to really connect with them. As much as cooking and eating together bonds people, such lingual barriers are nearly impossible to overcome.” Micah

“I was surprised with how much I could communicate using broken Spanish and plenty of hand gestures, but the language barrier was definitely still a challenge to overcome. There were a lot of times where I felt like I was missing out on what my host mom was saying, so I wasn’t learning everything I could from them. Google translate only goes so far…” – Sam

“Being in a place where being able to shower and keep my hands clean wasn’t as available as I would have liked made me – just in my own head – feel a little uncomfortable.” – Ivan

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

“Peaceful” Micah

“Excited for another homestay experience!” – Sam

“Simple and noble” – Ivan


Inspired by our students? We’d love to have you join us!


To learn more about our programs and hear from our students be sure to check out the rest of our blog. We upload new posts three times a week!

Meet the Staff: Erica Schultz

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Iowa, but I was raised for my entire life in Southern Oregon.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I grew up being outside, whether it be for sports, hiking, rafting, fishing, camping. Anything! I was infected by the travel bug late in high school when I went to Europe for the first time and never turned back. The last couple years before working for Winterline, I lived over in Southeast Asia running programs for another travel company and eating all of the food!

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Erica and her mom in Spain.

You were a field advisor with Winterline last year, what made you want to come back this year in a different job position?

I am very passionate about this line of work (being an FA), but within this past year I have become ready for something with a little more permanence where I could have a home base. Being the Director of Outreach and Recruitment still allows me to meet students, talk with them about a program that I am very passionate about, all while allowing me to have a balanced lifestyle.

Why do you love working for Winterline?

I LOVE travel. Winterline goes everywhere and does EVERYTHING. What else is there to say?! I was able to learn so much as a Field Advisor. Getting to spend time with students participating in the plethora of skills and activities offered was as much an experience of growth for me as it was for each student on the program. Winterline really allows students to learn exactly where they want to, what they want to, and to learn something new that they may never have the opportunity to try elsewhere.

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Erica after celebrating Holi Fest in India.

Can you explain what you do for Winterline? How do you work with/for students?

As mentioned earlier, I am the Director of Outreach and Recruitment. This means that I’ll be the girl at your school talking with your classmates, teachers, study abroad counselors, and other departments about how awesome Winterline is! I’ll be traveling around the US speaking the good word of travel to anyone and everyone that is remotely interested in the coolest alternative to college. It’s a pretty hard job, but somebody has to do it 😉

What is something you want students and parents to know about you?

I’m fresh off the program (May 2018!), so if parents or students have very specific questions about the program/just want to talk about the cool things students get to do, I have great insight on it all!

erica schultz winterline global education gap year

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

Since 2015, I’ve been outside of the country more than I’ve been home.

To find out more about all the rest of our amazing staff, be sure to check out our Winterline Team here.

Meet the Staff: Ashley Delehunt

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in a quiet community of Long Valley New Jersey, which is in the country side with rolling hills and beautiful lakes.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I was seeking more adventure in my young adult life. I had a strong desire to move out West in hopes of forming a community of adventure-spirited people.

I moved to Durango, Colorado to study Adventure Education at Fort Lewis College. I gained experience in outdoor leadership, group facilitation and in connecting outdoor pursuits to deeper personal growth. I worked in wilderness therapy for 7 years, guiding students in their path of personal growth through integrating with nature, backpacking, and mindfulness skills.

Ashley in the Grand Canyon.

Why do you love working for Winterline?

I love the community of Winterline. I love the being a part of the growth that our students experience throughout the year. I love working for a company that is always striving to improve and deliver the best experience to our students.

Can you explain your position in Winterline? How do you work with students?

As the Director of Student Services, I work closely with students and parents to support their experience throughout the program. I see myself as a mentor from afar, providing support and encouragement, and establishing boundaries for our students to explore and feel safe within.

What is something you want students and parents to know about you?

Durango Colorado is now my home, I’ve lived here since 2005. I’m recently married and am enjoying having a built in adventure partner as well as someone to share in life’s biggest moments with.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I live for adventure. This past Spring of 2018 I rafted the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon for 21 days. It was the adventure of a lifetime holding on with all my might going through the biggest rapids I’ve ever experienced.

I have explored a vast amount of the mountains and desert canyons of the Southwest hiking, biking, and rafting. In 2013 I traveled to Baja Mexico to study yoga and meditation.

Ashley posing in front of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

To find out more about Ashley and the rest of our amazing staff, be sure to check out our Winterline Team here.

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. 

Bon Appetite: An Interview with Cyril Denis

When I went to Paris for my ISP, I took cooking and baking classes at La Cuisine, a cooking school in the heart of Paris. I took a variety of classes and learned how to make classic French sauces, macarons, eclairs, and I even learned how to de-bone a chicken. Cooking is something I’ve only recently become interested in, and my independent week was the best way for me to dive into the topic and learn about French cuisine, which I absolutely love. I had a great time with my chef for the French sauces course, Cyril Denis. I had the opportunity to interview him, while enjoying wine and cheese of course, and I was so intrigued by his background and story. I appreciated his candidness and generosity in answering my questions so openly…

How would you describe your job title?

Cyril: “I have two jobs in my life. I am a journalist and a chef. When I was younger, I did 3 years of cooking school in Paris. I wanted to be a chef, but when I discovered their mentality, I said it’s not for me and I’m going to be unhappy in life. The mentality was that you got hit and punched in the kitchen… It’s an acting part of being a chef. And so, you had to hit. In life, some people are very into contact and conflict and I’ve never been like that. There’s also no respect for women. I just didn’t feel welcome in professional kitchens. So, I decided to do something else. After cooking school, I did 3 years of business school. After I discovered I didn’t want to be a chef, I needed to open my vision of life… And when I came out of school, my friend [gave me an opportunity] and I became a journalist! I worked 4 years for the best live show and I finished as a journalist in the news. I became what we call, “JRI” which means you’re a journalist and you know how to shoot images. 7 years later I left the show. Then I became a journalist for the only food channel we had in France, where I stayed almost 8 years. I was not on air, but I was behind the camera as the chief editor of two shows. Then I worked for some other channels, but 3 years ago fewer shows were interesting for me, so I had to ask myself what I wanted to do. I wanted more professional experience in cooking. I worked in a lab for 10 months to practice. The woman I worked for told me that she wanted her company to become bigger and asked me to become her chef. And I said no because it didn’t feel right for me. She said she needed to leave her work where she was a teacher. And that was La Cuisine. So, she introduced me to the two owners. I did a month of tests and I got the job! That was 2.5 years ago, and I’ve been teaching there ever since.”

Cyril demonstrating his piping skills in his “Elegant Entertaining / The Art of the Parisian Apéro class.”

What or who inspires you?

 Cyril: “People who have inspired me the most are women, not men. It’s funny because if we are talking about cooking in France, the people who have been important for the past century have been women. There’s a few men who were chefs for the kings, but in the everyday cooking, women were much more important than men.

So, who inspired me? My great grandmother who was Italian. She was a personal cook. She used to go to people’s homes and cook Italian. She moved from Italy to France when she was 12, in 1910, and at that time, she moved with her whole village. They moved all together, 2,000 of them, and it’s why she never spoke French in her life. She was an incredible woman. I loved her. She was a big inspiration for me. She had no money, but was happy every day. She was always happy with what she had, which is important in life. That’s my philosophy of life.

The second woman who inspired me a lot was my American teacher in New Jersey. I lived there when I was 6 until I was 10. When I arrived in New Jersey, my parents didn’t want me to go to a French School. They wanted me to go to an American school. So, I had 2 months to learn English. My school’s principal suggested that I meet with Margaret Lopez, one of the best teachers. So, for 2 months, I was with Margaret from Monday to Friday, learning English. After 2 months, we were best friends. Until she died in 1998, I’ve stayed very close to her. Every time I went back to the US, the first person I saw was Margaret. She was more than a grandmother for me. I am still friends with two of her children. They’re like family for me. So, the two inspirations in my life are women.”

 What is your fondest memory of cooking?

Cyril: “Of course, it has to be in the family, because this is what inspired me most. My grandmother used to make Brioche and I can remember the smell of the yeast and the dough and that has a very special scent to me.”

Do you like to cook cuisine other than French foods?

Cyril: “After French, it’s Italian. I am half French, half Italian. I think that today the best country in Europe is Italy, not France. For ingredients, France is half of what Italy is. In Italy, almost 90% of what you find is great because they have protected all of their products legally, which France has failed to do. So of course, I love to prepare Italian food and it also reminds me of my great grandmother. I also love Japanese. Since I was 6, one of my favorite books was about the everyday life of a little Japanese girl. My parents had no connections to it, I just chose the book all on my own and I was amazed by it. I made my mom buy me chopsticks so I could eat rice out of my bowl. It was totally free inspiration. For many years, I had forgotten about this but it came back to me more recently. It came back strongly. For the past 4 years now, I am organizing the largest sake fair in the world outside of Japan in Paris.”

Cyril demonstrating how to whisk properly during my sauce class with him!

What is your favorite food to serve?

Cyril: “I love family-type food, like stews. It is something very basic, but my favorite is a creamy sauce with veal, carrots, and onions. Not many French people know how to make it properly, because if you want to do it the right way, it takes a long time. It’s quite complicated, and this type of dish is my favorite to serve others.”

What are some of the big lessons you’ve learned after working in different aspects of the cooking scene?

 Cyril: “Once I did the portrait of a 3-star Michelin chef, the number one chef to cook vegetables in Paris today, and when I did his portrait he showed me something I’ve never seen before: how to cook a lobster properly. He just allowed the lobster to inspire him: he wanted to constantly make it better. Most chefs are into speed, but you have to be more than just working during the service and restaurant moment. Your mind is going in other places than a regular chef. Not just because he showed me that trick, because you need to think when you have an ingredient. He showed me with one example that with cooking it’s nice to think before you cook.”

What advice do you have to people who are interested in cooking, but aren’t lucky enough to come to Paris to take one of your classes?

Cyril: “Wherever you are in the world, there’s one thing that you have to do before knowing how to cook: how to buy. You’ll always do the best cooking, even if you’re not the best technician, if you have the best product. And the best product doesn’t mean the most expensive- the best carrot, the best salt, the best bread. I am talking about the love of cooking. You want to get the best when you love cooking. You start inspiring when you go to the best places to get your ingredients. Buy the best ingredients with the money you have. If one day, you only have a little then do the best grated carrots with mayonnaise- not the worst lobster.”

Parent Spotlight: Cory Nickerson

What were you looking for in a program and why did you and Anna choose Winterline?

A couple of reasons actually. I called a parent whose daughter had been through the first year, and this parent had personal connections with the founder and was so impressed with him as a person and a professional. She convinced me with her own testimonial that he would never create a program half-way and that he would do it really well. And I thought that was a great reference point. The program structure of 9 months, 10 countries, and learning 100 life skills was also a really unique selling proposition!

Do you think Winterline was a good investment in your daughter to prepare her for the future?

Yes. It was a very good investment for our family, and it fulfilled just about everything my daughter was looking for. It’s a bit expensive, but I think if a family can make it work with either work-study scholarships, or having their student to contribute to the experience, it is a worthwhile investment. We’re fortunate that Anna received a work-study scholarship that helped with those costs. And once on the program, there weren’t many costs because food and laundry, etc. are covered.

Winterline Gap Year Parent Cory Nickerson
Cory and Anna enjoying vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico last year!

 What is your advice to a parent looking for a gap year experience for their son or daughter?

Trust the process. Winterline has a really good handle on what works and doesn’t work. Really let them explore all these programs and encourage them to try different things. Even if you think your child might be good at one thing, they may discover that they have an interest in something completely new and different.

Here’s some other helpful/random tips for parents:

  • Visit your student on spring break, it’s a great opportunity and really fun to see up close what your child’s experiences have been.
  • Make sure that they have a credit/debit card with reduced or zero international fees.
  • Make sure your child also holds onto their boarding passes throughout the year so that you can request mileage credit for various frequent flier miles.
  • When they go to Asia, make sure they have really good access to probiotics, emergency antibiotics, malaria medication etc. Asia was tough on Anna’s immune system. It’s the place where the kids are more likely to get sick, so it’s good to be prepared.
  • Be sure to research what your cell phone provider requires in order to unlock your child’s phone, in order to use their phone with different sim cards in each foreign country. And do that as soon as possible.

Why did you both choose Winterline over another program?

We didn’t look at any other programs once we found Winterline.

What is your advice to parents who want to keep in touch while their son/daughter is on the program?

Facebook, WhatsApp, Facetime, and occasional emails are helpful for communication.

Resist the urge to pepper your kids with questions every day. It actually can really distract them from what they’re trying to accomplish and you will learn that with your patience, you’ll enjoy the Friday updates and social media posts from Winterline. You’ll enjoy that a little more because it will come in larger quantities. It can be exhausting for the kids to get through the day sometimes, so reducing the number of questions you ask can help them get their rest and focus on the next day.

Be prepared to hear about various group dynamics that may be both positive and somewhat challenging for your child. Be prepared to listen, and don’t try to solve any problems. Part of their learning experience is how to get along in groups with different people in very close quarters. They may be communicating with you or venting to you, but it’s not your role to help them solve a problem, unless it is a true safety issue, in which case there are appropriate channels to help with that.

Winterline Gap Year Parent Cory Nickerson
Cory loving the traditional Czech beer in Prague!

What was the process for Anna to defer from school for a year in order to go on Winterline? Was it worth it?

Oh yes, definitely worth it! Every college will have its own process, but for Anna’s school, which is Babson College, it was a matter of her writing a letter to the dean explaining her request for deferment, putting down a $500 deposit, and securing her spot for the following year. I was particularly interested in staying in touch with Babson, so over the course of the next few months I called and asked about deadlines for paperwork, just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.

 What has changed most about Anna since her gap year, and what has been the most noticeable outcome?

She’s much more mellow. She is much more flexible and tolerant. And she is wildly in control of her own scheduling, and her own ability to navigate in a foreign country. I visited her in Prague and it was clear that she wasn’t intimidated or worried by foreign currency, trying to speak small parts of a foreign language, or use public transportation!

Winterline Gap Year Parent Cory Nickerson
Cory and Anna together in Prague, while Anna was on spring break with Winterline.

Would you recommend Winterline to a friend? And if so, what would you say to them?

We have already recommended Winterline to a few people that have expressed interest! I tell them that if you feel like you’re not quite ready to go to college, it’s a really great opportunity to pause, but keep your mind active and keep your motivation and accountability very high, while meeting lifelong friends and having experiences that are more unique than even a freshman year or a semester abroad. In fact, someone who graduated from Anna’s high school, whose parents I know fairly well, has decided to go on Winterline!

Anything else you’d like to share?

Winterline is an evolving program. It’s less than 5 years old, but it’s remarkable how much they’ve done in such a short period of time. I think the most important thing is if you want your child to attend a program like Winterline, your child has to want to go, not just you. Your role is subordinate and a support role, and it’s not about you projecting your own travel desires onto your child, but that they really need to be genuinely and authentically on board.

New Student Spotlight: Maria O’Neal

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

Thinking about taking a gap year too?



The idea of taking a gap year came up when I told my parents I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to study in college, they suggested a gap year to learn more about myself and what I like to do. I have since kinda figured out what I would like to study but would still want to learn more about the world and myself.

maria o'neal winterline gap year student


I love to travel and want to see a bit of the world and have an adventure before I go back to school.  It could also help me figure out what I want to study.


All of the skills look super fun and interesting though I am looking forward to learning to cook in Thailand; I would love to be able to have some culinary skill besides just pasta, pancakes, and quesadillas.

maria o'neal winterline gap year student


I will be going to Colorado State University (GO Rams!) and the current plan is to get my Master’s in physical therapy with a minor in sports psychology, but I am still open to a lot of different career paths.


I don’t know if this counts as traveling but I was born in Spain and lived there until I was seven. During that time we traveled a lot throughout Europe. Since moving to the states I have been back to Europe a couple of times and have also been to San Carlos, Mexico. My favorite trip was back to Spain when my family and I spent a week sailing around Mallorca and had an amazing time.

maria o'neal winterline gap year student


I hope to learn about the amazing different cultures around the world and I hope to find more activities that I enjoy and could use the rest of my life.


I am always looking forward to new adventures, I consider myself pretty optimistic, I am hardworking and looking forward to the challenges this trip presents. I love to laugh and make cheesy jokes, and I can’t wait to meet new people.

maria o'neal winterline gap year student


I loved that Winterline focuses on exposing its participants to more careers, teaches new skills, and offers a chance to meet fellow adventurers.


I am a mountain girl at heart. As mentioned above I was born in Spain but now reside in a small mountain town where I enjoy skiing, trail running, and many different types of adventuring. I dabble in photography and weird dancing.

To learn more about our students be sure to check out other posts on our blog. We upload new posts three times a week! Also, be sure to catch up with us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

New Student Spotlight: Tyler Trout

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?



I first heard of people taking gap years when I was in middle school. I thought it was a really cool idea and I kept it in the back of my head through high school. When I started applying to various colleges, I wasn’t feeling very excited about it and knew I didn’t want to go straight to four more years of school. I decided that I wanted to take a gap year and through some research on the topic I discovered the Winterline Global Skills Program.  


I chose to take a gap year because I wanted to travel to new places and have new experiences. I have always loved traveling. I also love learning, but sitting in a classroom isn’t my idea of fun. Learning skills without having to be in class sounds like a fantastic opportunity.

Tyler trout winterline


I am most excited to learn how to cook with ingredients in different countries! I love to cook at home and I make various meals for my friends and family, so learning to expand that talent is something I really look forward to.


I’m not entirely sure what I want to do in the future. I have always liked the idea of being a veterinarian because I know I would be happy helping animals. Overall I just want to have fun and do what I feel passionate about.

Tyler trout winterline


I have traveled to various places with family and friends, but my favorite trip was when I visited my uncle in Colombia, South America. It was a really cool experience to be fully immersed in a foreign country. I went to three cities: Medellín, Cartagena, and Santa Marta. Each city had a completely different feel. I saw one of Pablo Escobar’s hideouts in Medellín, hiked to a remote jungle beach in Santa Marta and conversed with Argentine cowboys in Cartagena. It was a really cool adventure with my uncle and, while traveling, I was able to practice my Spanish speaking skills.


I would like to make lifelong friends, get a better understanding of the world, and make great memories. Going to ten different countries and seeing so much of the world is an amazing opportunity that not many people will ever get so I really want to make the most of it.


I’m a fun and outgoing person who tries to see the best in everything! I love meeting new people and making friends! I enjoy trying novel things and am open to unique opportunities!


No other program gives you the chance to see so many different places and learn so many new skills and talents. I looked at a few other gap year programs and they were all only one semester or only went to one location. Winterline is a one-of-a-kind experience that you can’t find anywhere else.


I love dogs and a good game of pick up football!

To learn more about our students be sure to check out other posts on our blog. We upload new posts three times a week! Also, be sure to catch up with us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

New Student Spotlight: Emma Mays

Gap Year Students on the Winterline Global Skills Gap Year Program travel to 10 different countries over 9 months, where they learn 100 new life skills while traveling the world with their best friends.

Thinking about taking a gap year too?



I was only really introduced to the idea of taking a gap year a few months ago. I’d heard of them in the past but they seemed to be a thing mostly in europe and I’d never personally known anyone who decided to take one. A few months back my Mom actually mentioned the idea to me and we just went from there.


I’ve been burnt out on the education system for a very long time now and I think my family and I realized that I just needed some time away from a traditional classroom setting to regain my passion for learning.

Emma-Mays-gap year student


I’m really excited about everything to be honest. That being said I’m weirdly excited about glass blowing, I’m not particularly sure why it just seems so interesting and something no one I’ve ever met has done.


I’m not sure what exactly I’d like to do in the future but I’d definitely love to work in a creative field. Right now I’m considering majoring in film production but I’m interested in seeing what direction the next year pushes me in.

Emma-Mays-gap year student
Legend Titan Front Ensemble at Grand Nationals 2017


I haven’t traveled extensively, mostly just to visit family, but when I was 15 my school’s marching band went to London. It was the first time I had traveled without my family and it was a really great experience. My friends and I got lost in the city and we had to find our way back. It was a really fun experience and it changed my perspective on a lot of stuff.

Emma-Mays-Winterline-gap year student
Emma (far right) with friends.


I think if I knew what exactly I expected to get out this experience it almost wouldn’t be worth going, but I do hope to get a bit more adaptability out of the adventure.


I’m pretty quiet at first but as I get more comfortable I’ll start making a bunch of jokes and you’ll probably want to punch me in the face but that’s alright because I made a really good friend that way.

Emma-Mays-Winterline-gap year student
Emma (middle) with friends.


I don’t think I could articulate it if I tried, when I found Winterline’s site I just had a feeling in my gut that this is where I should be.


I’m a ridiculous person, I do goofy stuff all the time. For example last october I had a half day of school and I dressed up the plastic skeleton we had for halloween and put him in my passenger seat and drove around. His name is Franklin.

To learn more about our students be sure to check out other posts on our blog. We upload new posts three times a week! Also, be sure to catch up with us on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook.

What to Expect from Trimester 2: An Interview with Alice Hart & Sophia Mizrahi

From left to right: Sophia, Alice and Anna at the National Museum of Cambodia
From left to right: Sophia, Alice and Anna at the National Museum of Cambodia

As our group finishes our second trimester, we’ve been doing some reflection about the last few months in Southeast Asia. I interviewed two of my best friends on the trip, Alice and Sophia. They each reflected on their own experiences in Cambodia, Thailand, and India, which was a lot of fun to see…

Why did you join Winterline this year?

 Alice: “I had known I was going to take a gap year and once I saw Winterline’s skills and the variety that they offered, I decided that I wanted to use this year to figure out what I want to do in the future. I wanted to use the skills to put me on track for my future career.”

Sophia: “I wanted to go to college immediately, but my mom was very open to the idea of a gap year and encouraged me to look into it. I was looking at gap year options, and I knew that I didn’t want to stay at home and work before college. At first, I was scared of being away from home for 9 months, but once I looked into the program I knew that it would provide me time to mature before college and allow me to grow, which it’s done.”

Alice cooking at Paul De Brule
Alice cooking at Paul de Brule

What has been your favorite place we have traveled to in the second trimester and why?

Alice: “It’s definitely between Cambodia and India. I loved Siem Reap in Cambodia. It was quiet, but at the same time there was a lot of access to different activities. I loved the different cultures and it was a great place to people watch, especially on Pub Street. I also loved learning to make different Cambodian dishes at Paul de Brule Cooking School and learning about hospitality.”

Sophia: “I loved Bangkok, Thailand. I spent a couple winters there as a child, so it was great to be back. Even though I was sick there with a sinus infection, I loved it so much. I really enjoyed the hustle-and-bustle of a really big city. I also enjoyed doing cooking school in Bangkok!”

Alice and Anna celebrating Holi, the Festival of Colors, in India.
Alice and Anna celebrating Holi, the Festival of Colors, in India.

What has been the greatest challenge during second trimester for you personally?

Alice: “I think living with other people is a challenge I’m still dealing with. It never becomes magically easy to do. I am also still figuring out how I can speak my truth to the group, but I also am learning to accept that people won’t always listen to me.”

Sophia: “Honestly, it’s been challenging to be sick a lot of this trimester. I really wanted to take time to appreciate where we have been, but I had a hard time doing that when I was constantly so physically sick.”

What has been the greatest reward during this trimester for you?

Alice: “I think still being able to learn new things about my peers even though we have all been together for so long. It’s been interesting to see new sides to these people, who I’ve lived with for so long, and I always learn something new from everyone.”

Sophia: “Even though it was a nightmare, my reward was getting through most of the bike ride in Siem Reap. I never thought I would be able to get through it, but it was really satisfying and a personal accomplishment for me.”

Taking a bike ride and making new friends| Photo By: Alice Hart
Southeast Asia Bike Ride| Photo By: Alice Hart

What advice/words of wisdom would you give someone who is contemplating taking a gap year with Winterline?

 Alice: “To have realistic expectations. A lot of people think that this program is a way to escape their own lives. And the truth is that your personal problems will follow you and you’re going to have to learn how to navigate these problems, especially with people you can’t walk away from. Learn to have the sympathy and empathy to manage your relationships within the group.”

Sophia: “You may want to go home. The whole year won’t be unicorns and rainbows. Your group is going to go through so much together as a family, but also remember to rely on people in your group for support. Also, keep your socks dry on NOLS and don’t get trench foot like I did!” 

Anna, Alice, and Sophia having lunch together in Asia.
Anna, Alice, and Sophia having lunch together in Asia.

Is there anything you wish you had known before going into this trimester?

Alice: “People will surprise you.”

Sophia: “I wish that I had packed a real jacket because it’s going to be so cold in Europe. Also, I wish I had known I would get more bug bites on my body and face in Southeast Asia than in Belize and Costa Rica. I was the only one!”

Alice and Sophia at the National Museum of Cambodia | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

Last question… What experience or expedition has been the most fun for you, during second trimester?

 Alice: “Sophia, Anna, and I had a “tourist” day on one of our rest days in Phnom Penh. We went to the National Museum of Cambodia, got massages, had lunch at a local restaurant, and explored some of the temples. It’s one of those days that will always be one of my favorite memories and just picture-perfect. I love my two best friends.”

Sophia: “My favorite day was when we went to the Bai Pai Cooking School in Bangkok, and then explored the mall afterwards. I was very proud of my cooking capabilities and for also navigating the huge city using public transportation.”


To learn more about our students be sure to check out the rest of our blog. We upload new posts three times a week!

New Student Spotlight: Spencer Holtschult

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?



I never thought taking a gap year was something I was ever gonna do, but as the school year went by and college decisions started coming out I decided taking a year to explore and find out what I wanted to do in life would be my best option.


I chose to take a gap year because I wanted to avoid another year of generic education and expand my horizons by learning skills and experiencing all kinds of new cultures.

Spencer and his sisters on a family vacation in the snow
Spencer and his sisters on a family vacation in the snow

WHAT skill are you most excited to learn?

I can’t pin-point an exact skill I’m most excited to learn because all of them seem so fun and interesting to me.


As I’m closing in on the end of my senior year, I’ve realized more than ever that I really have no clue what I want to do in the future and I believe through this program I will gain knowledge that will better prepare me for my future.


Yes, but never outside the country. My favorite trip would have to be our family vacation to Hawaii. We did a lot of fun things including snorkeling, surfing, and swimming with manta rays.

Spencer Holtschult Winterline Gap Year
Spencer walking on the beach on the Big Island of Hawaii


Something I expect to gain from my gap year is a new perspective on the world surrounding me. For my whole life I’ve grown up with the same friends, people, and always the same routine. I think finally breaking out of that bubble will give me a whole new perspective about the world and my place in it.

pencer with his twin sister and older sister
Spencer with his twin sister and older sister


I like to think I have a great sense of humor, I’m always down for an adventure and want have as much fun as possible even when in a bad situation!


I felt that Winterline offered something that no other gap year program really offered…besides the amount of countries and skills you get to experience and learn, Winterline offers a sense of community and friendship within the group of kids that participate in this program and that was the one thing that really made this program stand out to me.

Spencer enjoying the sunset at a local beach
Spencer enjoying the sunset at a local beach


I love listening to music, and although my moves are pretty bad it doesn’t stop me from dancing and having a great time!

To learn more about our students be sure to check out other posts on our blog. We upload new posts three times a week! Also, be sure to catch up with us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.


New Student Spotlight: Abby Dulin

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?



I first learned about a gap year in high school and it struck my interest. I did further research on it and found out that a gap year is exactly what I wanted to do. I never thought I would take one because I didn’t know there were programs that gave you the opportunity to travel and learn new skills.


I chose to take a gap year because I really have no idea what I want to do with my life. I am almost finished with a year of community college. I got most of my gen ed classes out of the way, but I don’t know what to do next. With everything Winterline has to offer, I know I will come out confident in what I want to do.

Abby Dulin Winterline Gap Year 2018-2019
Abby with family. 


Honestly, it’s hard to pick just one because so many of them excite me, but if I had to narrow it down I’d say photography, videography, or scuba diving.


I’m really not sure what I want to do in the future, which is why I am taking this gap year.

Abby adventuring.


Yes, I mainly travel around the states and I started traveling alone when I was 15. I have been out of the country once to Costa Rica and that was my favorite trip. From snorkling to body surfing, Costa Rica just gave off a really good vibe that made it a fun time.


I hope to become more independent and overall a more well-rounded person. I am excited to see all of the different cultures and environments and learn from every experience.


I am a little shy when I first meet people, but I really open up once I get to know them. Don’t be surprised if you see me laughing at absolutely nothing because my mind runs wild, you’ll get used to it. Oh yeah and don’t take anything I say seriously because I am very sarcastic.

Abby (right) smiling with a friend.


Winterline offers everything that I’m looking for from the skills to the travel. I looked at other gap year programs, but nothing compared.


I’ve lived in 6 different states, which opened my eyes to traveling. I love photography and videography, so I will definitely be taking lots of photos and videos on this trip. One last thing, I can say the alphabet backwards and juggle, but not at the same time.

To learn more about our students be sure to check out our blog. We upload new posts three times a week!


Backcountry Medicine as a Life Skill: An Interview with Shantanu Pandit

Backcountry medicine is easily one of my favorite skills we’ve focused on during Winterline. One of our first skills during 1st trimester was with NOLS in Lander, Wyoming when we spent two days learning in our Wilderness First Aid course. And most recently, we completed a three-day Aerie course in the Mahindra United World College Institute, located in a rural part of Maharashtra, India. The course included both lecture-style and hands-on learning in the areas of disaster response and austere/backcountry medicine. I had the pleasure of interviewing one of our three instructors, Shantanu Pandit. He shared some of his personal experiences with backcountry medicine and his passion for working and living in the outdoors… Thank you, Shantanu!

Who are you? What motivates you?

Shantanu: “I [am] an outdoorsperson who is also interested in outdoor education. I have derived immense joy and happiness in the outdoors – hiking, climbing, a bit of rafting, ‘outdoor educating’ and …many a times just doing nothing! I know that each time I have been out I have benefited tremendously as a person. What motivates me today is to have people experience the outdoors in such a way that it is safe and enriching for not only us visitors but also our various environments (e.g., natural, socio-cultural, archaeological, etc.). I believe that it is essential for us to keep experiencing the natural environment and help sustain that environment.”

Winterline Back country medicine
Shantanu working on the Himalayan section of the Aerie WEMT semester, on search-and-rescue navigation exercises. | Photo by: Iris Saxer and Shantanu Pandit

What sparked your passion for being and working in the outdoors?

Shantanu: “I have always lived close to a mountainous area near Mumbai, India. This region is extremely rich in its cultural ethos. I started hiking when in school. Things that I had read in books started coming alive for me as I continued going outdoors… and this soon was a ‘more real’ reality for me than the urban setting that I was brought up in. Eventually, experiencing the Himalaya sealed it. If I have to name the most important aspect that provided the reason for working in the outdoors then it is the sheer sense of comfort that I felt being in the outdoors. This was home.”


What is the best outdoors trip you’ve ever done?

Shantanu: “How can one ever answer that question?! The most rewarding bird-watching trip I have had till now was in Sikkim… the most memorable rafting trip I had was not because of the rafting, but because of the riotous group that I was a part of… there have been several life-changing experiences (being a part of the team that attempted the third highest mountain in the world & the NOLS Instructor Course, to take but two examples)… I am afraid I cannot name one trip, sorry!”


Can you give the overview of Aerie Backcountry Medicine? What does it teach and what is its mission?

Shantanu: “Aerie Backcountry Medicine is a Montana based for-profit organization that teaches wilderness and rural first aid in the United States and other countries. I think Aerie is enriched because people from various walks of life work with its courses. I see Aerie as an agile organization that adapts to various geographies and cultures in order to effectively teach and spread safe practices. Despite its national and international presence, I have experienced Aerie as an organization that is kind of small enough to have an extremely warm and friendly organization culture… The stated mission of Aerie Backcountry Medicine is ‘Caring for injured or sick people is a privilege. Preparing people for this service is Aerie’s mission.’”

Winterline Back country medicine
Shantanu working on the Himalayan section of the Aerie WEMT semester, on search-and-rescue navigation exercises. | Photo by: Iris Saxer and Shantanu Pandit


When were you first introduced to backcountry medicine?

Shantanu: “I was introduced to backcountry medicine in 1987 when a friend who is a doctor-mountaineer started teaching us first aid in the context of outdoors. When I took my Wilderness First Responder course in 2000 (through WMI of NOLS), I got to know the richness of backcountry medicine in its formal and vibrant form. On a peak climbing expedition, while hiking up to the base camp, one of our porters got hit in the face by a falling rock that had bounced off the ground in front of him. This person was ‘responsive to verbal stimuli’ when I reached his camp in the night. After I gave first aid, I cautioned his brother to have the patient sleep in the ‘recovery position’ only and keep a tab on his breathing and explained the reasons behind this. I think that was a good call. The patient was successfully evacuated the next day (fortunately he was LOR x 4 by that time).”


What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Shantanu: “Being a part of a community that teaches safe practices that influence safety of people in the outdoors and the environments that we derive so much pleasure and joy from. Teaching/instructing also keeps me on my toes in terms of updated knowledge and practices, skill-levels, etc.”

Winterline Back country medicine
Shantanu hiking on a NOLS course | Photo by: Iris Saxer and Shantanu Pandit

What advice do you have for people who haven’t taken any first-aid or medical training courses?

Shantanu: “Take any course that you can afford, ideally a ‘wilderness first aid course’ (‘wilderness’ is defined as being one hour away from definitive medical care – a definition that fits so many urban situations also). First aid skills are a ‘life skill’.”


What advice do you have for our own group of Green Cohort students moving into our last months of traveling together?

Shantanu: “Develop the skill and habit of ‘reflection’… make it a part of your daily life. Reflection on one’s experiences – be it a small incident, a day or a course/project – leads to tremendous learning and growth. Shared reflection and/or feedback from others is more powerful. All the Best!”


If you have any questions about taking a backcountry medicine course, please visit the NOLS and Aerie sites, or feel free to contact us!

Living on Purpose: Interview with Matthew Fairfax

During our time in Phnom Penh, we had the privilege of meeting and learning from Matthew Fairfax, an inspiring entrepreneur and wonderful human being. We were first introduced to him in our mixology class and then took part in his 3-day course, “Living on Purpose.” We learned about a myriad of ideas that all built upon each other, leading us to consider how we can live our own lives with more purpose. During this interview, Matthew imparted wisdom and great insight with me… Thank you, Matthew!

How would you describe your job title/what you do for a living?

 Matthew: “This is a tough one.  I am a salon owner, Founder/Country Director of the Justice and Soul Foundation, and educator/trainer.  I also am a coach.  So, on any given day I may be wearing several hats.”

Why do you do this for a living? What drives and motivates you?

Matthew: “To get my intrinsic driving needs met! I love the variety I have, the feeling of giving back and helping people, the constant changing, and watching individuals discover new things about themselves.”

Matthew at a salon opening
Matthew at a salon opening

 When was the first time you were introduced to the idea of “Living with Purpose?”

 Matthew: “I think I’ve always operated on intuition, but when I took courses provided by Context International (now BeMoreU) my whole thought process shifted.  At that point, I started to redefine my life based on my driving needs. I created strategies that got these needs met constructively and started feeling very fulfilled. I moved from resent/revenge to creating a purpose-filled life.”

Since starting your own personal journey of learning to live on purpose, what are some of the most important lessons that you’d like to share with our audience?


  1. Don’t run from the lesson or it will keep presenting itself to you – harder each time.
  2. Relationships are important and it is most important to embrace the reality of who that person is. Change your mind about them and watch great things happen.
  3. How I feel about me, determines how I feel about you. When I start to feel negative feelings about others, I stop and look at what might be lacking in me.
  4. Don’t let others make you wrong for how you create and find fulfillment. Not everyone needs “alone time” and not everyone wants to be around people and on the go all the time.  Find what works for you. I no longer listen when someone tells me to slow down.  I am living at the banquet table of life and there is no need to slow down for me.
  5. I determine what I am allowing to be most important to me based on my results. If I don’t have the results I want, I look at what I am giving my attention to.
  6. You can’t rush self-esteem.
  7. Listen twice as much as you speak. Ask good questions.
  8. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.
  9. Listen to your intuition – it is usually right.

 Can you briefly explain communication styles and why they are so important to understand and utilize in any context (work, social, relationships, etc.)?

Matthew: “Communication styles are at the core of all my training.  It is learning the language by which we all communicate.  Most conflict has its roots in communication styles.  When we learn to recognize other styles, we can modify our style temporarily to create better results.  At work, I get better team experiences and more productivity.  In my relationships, I get deeper, more meaningful relationships.  I tend to have way less conflict when I take the time to understand the needs of the styles I am communicating with.  Of course, it all starts with my choice and I cannot rely on the other person to change to meet my needs.  If I want the results, I must make the choice to meet their needs.”

Matthew at his hair salon in Phnom Penh, Cambodia with staff members
Matthew at his hair salon in Phnom Penh, Cambodia with staff members

What advice do you have for young adults, like students on Winterline, as they learn to navigate their lives independently?

 Matthew: “Be willing to risk, always stay open and ask questions EVEN IF YOU BELIEVE YOU ALREADY KNOW.  Remember, our filter is filled with input from others and we cling to those attitudes, opinions, and beliefs so we can be right.  I have seen too many people be right all the way to the wrong results.”

Do you have any specific advice for our green cohort of Winterline?

Matthew: “I LOVE YOUR ENERGY.  I love that you don’t always live in the boundaries.  Continue to be loud, ask good questions, challenge the status quo, but be respectful and law abiding in the process.  Learn to listen, drop your image, let people get to know the authentic you – that is where rich fulfilling life begins!”


—If you have any questions about this interview or Matthew’s philosophies, please contact us in the comments and we will be happy to provide resources and answers!—



Language Immersion in a Foreign Country: An Interview with Jessie Zúñiga Bustamante from the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica

As one of our final skills in Costa Rica, our group had the opportunity to do 5-day “Independent Study Projects” of our choice. I chose an intensive Spanish course and absolutely loved it. I have taken Spanish in school for a total of six years, so I wanted to take advantage of this week because I want to become more fluent in the language. For five days, I met with two different professors, Evelyn and Jessie. We conversed entirely in Spanish for hours on end, focused on the verb tenses I struggle with, and even did cooking and dancing classes. I enjoyed my time with both my professors immensely and cannot express my gratitude for the two of them enough. Jessie kindly answered some of my questions about her position as a Spanish teacher and shared her take on education and language immersion.

How long have you been a Spanish teacher?

 Jessie: “I started teaching SSL (Spanish Second Language) in 2005 when I was a Spanish & Latin American Literature student in college, so I have 12 years of teaching now. Wow! I’m old, haha!”

Why are you a Spanish teacher? What inspired you to become a Spanish teacher?

Jessie: “[It’s] funny because I would not have thought about it, but one day, one of my professors at University of Costa Rica told me about a Spanish Academy that needed teachers during my college summer break, so I went there and got a job for that summer. I had a group of 4 students: Joe from the United States, Martina from Austria, and Damian and Anna from Germany. We were together for a month and it was awesome! We had so much fun and we learned so much [about] each other from cultures to languages, food, [and] personal space! At that moment, I learned that I love teaching. I love the chance of getting to know people from all over the world. So far, I have had students from the US, Canada, Brazil, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, India, Israel, Jordan, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, France, Italy, some African countries, Romania, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan…and so on. This is amazing because, through our conversations, I could learn a lot about their cultures…it’s like being in those countries somehow. These experiences made me a better person, more open and aware that differences are a good thing for humanity… So, I have been doing it since then! [I feel] so lucky!”

Learning verb conjugations on day two! | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

How long have you been working at the Monteverde Institute?

Jessie: “I first came in January 2015 for a 4-month college course (I did the same in San José), then back to San José, and returned to Monteverde in December 2015 for a permanent position in the Spanish Department as a teacher and coordinator. Although I never thought I wanted to live outside San José, I decided to leave my comfort zone and try a different place and job position. It was a wise decision because I have learned a lot about my job, nature and conservation, grassroots projects, sustainability, etc. It is a pleasure to live and work in such a special and beautiful community like Monteverde.”

 What is your favorite part about working at the Monteverde Institute?

Jessie: “My favorite part is working with students in projects. I totally love the fact that MVI is a non-profit organization, so we do a lot for the community. Many courses have projects for building, interacting with elders or children, giving lectures on climate, conservation, etc., for the people here…It makes me feel proud to be part of an institution that cares so much and is involved with the people.”

What is something you find rewarding about your job?

Jessie: “I strongly believe in education. Education is the key for a better future. Not only for our country, but for our world. There are so much things we need to learn in this life, beginning with ourselves. So, being part of it somehow makes me feel happy and rewarded. If my work contributes to make someone connect with others through language or better culture understanding and respect, I’m more than happy. And since education is a two-way street, I also learn a lot from my students… this is where my satisfaction [in teaching] comes from.”

What advice do you have someone who is trying to learn a new language?

Jessie: “First, do not be afraid of an immersion program. This is the best way ever to learn anything…but also, it takes a lot of practice and studying. Like any other thing in life, if you want to learn a language, desire is a must. If you really want something, you must go for it. Be in a country that speaks the language, live with a family, and make friends. A language is [a part of] culture too.  The most important thing is to enjoy [learning] while doing it!

What advice do you have for our Winterline cohort going into the next two trimesters of traveling?

Jessie: “Attitude is everything. No matter if something bad happens, what matters the most is what you do with it…cheesy, I know, but true. Your attitude could make people open their hearts, or close them forever. Take advantage of every single thing you will find in this journey, and as we talked in class, be a beautiful bridge between your country and culture and the rest of the world. Do not let language or any other cultural issue be an obstacle for your learning. Be open minded. Be grateful for what you receive from people everywhere, and for    all the things you have back home. Give love. Smile. Offer your help. Communicate! Sometimes a smile says more and is better than words.”

Winterline_Anna Nickerson
Anna with the “Tarzan rope” at the suspended bridges tour. | Photo From: Anna Nickerson

Thank you so much for your time with my ISP and for teaching me so much. I had so much fun with you on the bridges and in the classroom. I hope we can stay in touch and I promise to practice my Spanish in the future!

Jessie: “Thanks to you too! I enjoy our time together a lot, and I really hope you learned many things for your life and future! You are good in Spanish, I hope you really continue with it! Have a wonderful trip around the world, chica. Learn as much as you can. You have a once in lifetime opportunity. Treasure it!”


To hear more from our Gap Year students be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).

Our Experience with TIDE in Belize: An Interview with Martin Ack

While we were in Belize, we had the opportunity to work with the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), an internationally recognized organization. During our time there, we learned how to plan a kayaking expedition, surveyed locals to conduct research regarding the invasive lionfish, and earned our open-water SCUBA certification. We had the pleasure of learning about Belize from our tour guide, Martin Ack. After spending three weeks with him, we sat down to talk about his experience working with TIDE. He shared interesting insights with us and gave us both a greater respect and understand for not only his job, but for the work TIDE does as a whole.

How long have you been working for TIDE and how did you come about working for TIDE?

Martin: “I have been working with TIDE for 4 years as a full-time tour guide, but I used to work as a part-time tour guide when I started in 1997. The founder of TIDE is a friend of mine so he comes to my village a lot. He reached out to my community in the same way that TIDE does now. I was working at the shrimp farm at that time until I got tired and bored of it, so I switched to part-time tour guiding. It’s something that I always wanted, but the tour guide course was never available when I was working at the shrimp farm. As soon as that TIDE course came to my community, I resigned from my job and took the course, got my license and submitted at a time when TIDE was hiring. Thankfully, I was the one who they picked and I’m now their main guide.”

Can you explain what TIDE does or what they aim to do as an organization?

Martin: “TIDE stands for Toledo Institute for Development and Environment, so it is aimed at conservation, developing local communities, and working with locals within the boundaries of the conservation and protected areas in Toledo. Initially when TIDE started, many of the locals were using resources such as the marine reserve for fishing. That used to be an area open for anyone to use. TIDE claimed that as a protected area, which ultimately had a positive effect on the livelihood of these fishermen. They didn’t really like the idea at first, but now they are really happy because they are catching fish about a mile away from town. Before, they had to go four miles away and would come back with very small fish. So, TIDE is here to help the locals.

Photo Contest, Skills, Anna Nickerson
Winterline Students with TIDE in Belize | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

In your opinion, what is the best thing that TIDE has done?

Martin: “I think TIDE has created a lot of opportunities for locals, and has also caused local businesses to experience an influx of commerce, especially in regards to tourism. TIDE is the mother organization of TIDE Tours. Though I am the main guide, we also contract other guides to help us out. So, TIDE provides jobs for many locals through creating alternative livelihoods, specifically for fishermen and fisherwomen so they can stop relying on fish and natural resources. Instead, they can rely on alternatives like food drying, craft making, bartending, tourism, hospitality, and landscaping. TIDE helps to provide all of these trade opportunities through funding from its subsidiary bodies.”

Personally, what is your favorite thing about working for TIDE?

Martin: “I love what I’m doing right now as a guide. I love green. I love the natural resources. And without these resources, I wouldn’t be able to talk about birds and animals. A lot of people come to Belize and TIDE is really helping to protect the natural resources, and when they do that it makes me very happy to work for them. They have what I can use to teach people. I love meeting people, great people like you all, so it has really been fun. I do student groups, private tours… all different ages. It’s not just being a tour guide. I do reception work, I run errands, I do diving, community research, and I also get the opportunity to develop myself with different trainings that TIDE offers. I am very happy that TIDE has been so good to me and given me so many opportunities. I have to make good use of them.

Anna Diving | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

Is there anything you would want to change about TIDE?

Martin: “I think TIDE has been really accomplishing their mission, but what I would like to change would be the amount of funding for the organization. I want it to be bigger so we can accomplish more. Activities, training, and all that. I want us to reach as many parts of Belize as possible. TIDE is one of the biggest organizations for it [conservation efforts] so far, it could be the biggest in the country.”

We all really enjoyed coming to your house to learn about the Mayan chocolate making. We’re wondering if they are any other traditions you take part in?

Martin: “My culture is not always appreciated by many. I see it because many young people want to blend into other cultures, which is okay, but they forget their roots. But the Maya is one of the great civilization that many have questions about who we are because a lot of our information is not written in books, only passed down from generation to generation. So with us, we go with it and then we practice. We have celebrations like planting. That’s our way of living. We use incense, which my grandfather still uses. And he taught me about it. Because I work with TIDE I don’t have time.

There is a lot more in terms of food and also music. A lot of it is still practiced, we only focused on chocolate when you visited. It’s been around for thousands of years. You know, cacao is supposed to be spelled kakawa, [it means] our God.  But because the Spanish could not spell it the way it is pronounced by us, they just wrote, “cacao.”

leela cacao
Leela making chocolate.

Do you have any advice for our Winterline cohort moving forward or words of wisdom?

 Martin: “Make use of your opportunity. You never know where you will end up next, so make every day count. I’m sure you all have been enjoying it and I see the potential in all of you. I am so glad you made it down here because a lot of people do not get this kind of opportunity to see places like this or meet our people. You all get an authentic experience in that sense so keep on. Like my mom used to tell me, “Reach for the stars. You may not get there, but aim for them.”


*This interview has been edited for clarity and length*




What to Expect from First Trimester: An Interview with Patrick Neafsey

As we finish up our first trimester in Central America, all of our students in green cohort are starting to reflect on our last two and a half months together. We have gone through a lot as a group. From huddling over a pot of boiling water to warm our freezing bodies in the Wind River Range to doing a scavenger hunt while kayaking in Belize to learning about permaculture in Rancho Mastatal, Costa Rica, we have learned a ton. As individuals, we have all grown and taken different things out of these experiences. As a group, we have all developed our skills and have grown very close. I decided to interview Patrick Neafsey about his first trimester and he had some interesting personal insights…

Patrick at NOLS
Patrick at NOLS | Photo By: Natanielle Huizenga

Why did you join Winterline this year?

Patrick: “I’ve been a part of the traditional education system for the last 16 years of my life, and after a year of college I decided that I wanted a break from the conventional classroom setting. I knew I wanted to travel, but I had no idea how I would be able to until I found Winterline. I knew it was the program I wanted to do as soon as I found their website.”

You’re unique in the fact that you have already been to a year of college and are now taking a year off before heading back. How does this trip compare to your freshman year of college in terms of your responsibilities and style of learning?

Patrick: “I think the most notable similarity between my college experience and Winterline so far has been the idea of freedom and personal responsibility. College kind of throws you into the fire in terms of making you do stuff on your own, which is a skill Winterline definitely tries to foster. I also value the experiential learning aspect of the program because I really wanted to get out of a classroom setting this year. I mean you can’t learn how to scuba dive in a classroom in Ithaca. It’s completely different in regard to responsibilities. In college, you have to make your own decisions and get all of your stuff done independently. Here, there’s different responsibilities like being able to interact in a small group and being responsible for your peers, which is present at college but not nearly as important on a campus of 14,000 people.”

What has been your favorite place we have traveled to and why? 

Patrick: “I think my favorite spot was Mastatal in Costa Rica. That was definitely the biggest culture shock of the trip so far, especially in terms of traveling to different corners of the world that we never would have seen otherwise. I had the unique opportunity to play in a couple soccer games with the locals against nearby towns, which was an incredible experience to really immerse myself in the culture and daily ritual of these people’s lives. I am very grateful for the fact that they welcomed me to their team with open arms and treated me as one of their own on the field.”

Patrick and Andrew playing soccer
Patrick and Andrew playing soccer | Photo From: Patrick Neafsey

What advice/words of wisdom would you give someone who is contemplating taking a gap year with Winterline?

 Patrick: “This is an opportunity that you won’t ever have for the rest of your life. Despite what popular opinion is regarding going from high school to four years of college, there is really no downside to taking a year off and seeing the world. If you’re like me and interested in seeing the parts of the world that you’ve only read about, you’ll regret not taking advantage of an opportunity like this with Winterline.”

Anna and Patrick Diving
Anna and Patrick diving | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

Last question… What experience or expedition has been the most fun for you?

Patrick: “I think the scuba certification was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in my life. I have always been very comfortable in the water and scuba is something that literally unlocks another section of the globe that was previously inaccessible to me, which I think is really cool. And even diving in the small area off the coast of Belize compared to the expansive and available places to dive, I saw so much and it’s crazy to think how much more I can see in other parts of the world while scuba diving. I am excited to take advantage of this certification in the future.”


To hear more from our students be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).

What to Expect from a Homestay: An Interview with Alex Messitidis

Pura Vida! Our green cohort just finished their first homestays, which took place in Mastatal, Costa Rica. Most of our cohort members had never experienced staying with host families before, so we were all anxious about the process beforehand. We spent 3 nights and 3 days with our families and had incredible experiences. I recently interviewed Alex Messitidis so that she could explain the concept of a homestay and how her experience went.

Some people are confused by the concept of a homestay. Could you explain what a homestay/host family is?

Alex: “This was my first homestay so I’ll explain to the best of my ability. A homestay is when you get put up with a family for however many days, for me it was three days, and you get the opportunity to get acclimated to their culture, their family, their ways, all that. You spend time with them all throughout the day. They cook for you, you go out with them, you learn about them, you get close with them. I think the whole point is to get you ‘culturally aware’ and to get you to understand the difference between living in a [city] versus living on a ranch in Costa Rica, like I did. So, for me, a homestay is living with a family in a foreign country and getting acclimated to their culture.”

What were some of your fears or anxieties going into your homestay? How did you get over those while with your host family?

Alex: “One of my biggest fears is change. I really don’t like moving around or getting close with new people. But, growing up my mom always told me that instead of fearing the change, I had to be the change. So, [going into my homestay], I just asked myself what my mom would do if she was there. She’d tell me to look down at my arm, look at my tattoo that says, “Be the Change” in big typewriter font and she would say, “Give it your best shot. Go headfirst and even if you fail, who cares?” So, I guess I just thought to myself that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I didn’t know when the next time I’d be able to do a homestay was. I challenged myself to make the most of it, practice my Spanish, get close with the kids, learn about their culture, eat their food even if I have no idea what’s in it. I think it’s about realizing and recognizing that this might be my only opportunity to get out of that comfort zone and if I don’t now, then I maybe never will. And I think this whole trip is based around getting out of your comfort zone, so why not go headfirst?”

Homestay Winterline
Alex’s host family’s cat that she met on her homestay. | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

 Can you tell me about your experience with your homestay? What were some personal challenges and what were some things that went well?

Alex: “My homestay was absolutely amazing. I already knew the dad, Junior, because I had played soccer with him a few days beforehand. He spoke fluent English, but I made him speak to me in Spanish because I wanted to practice. I was actually pretty surprised because my Spanish is not that bad. His wife was wonderful as well. I only saw her when she was doing laundry and cooking, which is the standard there. The wives do most of the work around the house and I give her a lot of credit for that because everything she did was amazing… They had 2 kids, [a 9-year old girl and a 3-year old boy]. There was a language barrier between me, the wife and the kids…, but it made me test my Spanish and I realized that I knew a lot more than I thought… Putting my Spanish to the test and being in the position where I didn’t have the option of speaking either language, I needed to figure it out and try or I would have starved for 3 days! The challenge was connecting with the family, especially with the language barrier, but it turns out that a smile goes a long way and even if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, smile it off!”

Winterline Homestay
Natanielle coloring with the kids at her homestay | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

What advice would you give someone who is nervous about staying with a host family in a foreign country?

Alex: “It’s completely normal to be nervous, especially when you’re being thrown into a situation that you’re not comfortable with. Most people aren’t comfortable with the thought of change, but I think that’s the whole point of this experience. To do something you never have and cross that cultural barrier- understand the diversity between countries and recognize that even though you may not have a lot in common with these people, like language or cultural barriers, doesn’t matter as long as you’re ready to try. If you’re trying to meet them halfway, and they’re doing the same, and you’re both being patient with each other… it’s going to be fine… Honestly, I’d be shocked if you weren’t nervous! But, everything is an experience, whether it’s good or bad, and I think that everyone should do a homestay in a foreign country because it shows you a different side to family, work, everyday life and a lot of people don’t recognize that… Have an open mind, have an open heart, and a smile goes a long way.”