Winterline’s gap year and short programs give students opportunities to earn different certifications to prepare them for various careers. But what are the benefits of having these certifications?
Each year, high school seniors approaching graduation experience an unfamiliar combination of stress, anticipation, and anxiety. As students plan how they’ll spend the precious time between graduation and the start of college, many compare the benefits of a romantic quest for adventure and self discovery with the more pragmatic search for professional experience.
Certifications like these may prove incredibly beneficial to students pursuing careers in everything from outdoor education, medicine, health care, environmental science, coaching, camp counseling, hospitality, tourism, and the like.
While general experience in these fields is useful, students’ individual experiences can often be abstract and “unofficial”, making it difficult for a future employer to feel confident about a potential hire. Inexperienced students seeking a job often face a frustrating catch-22 when they lack the experience needed to get a job they were planning to use for experience.
Certified students avoid this conundrum, bypassing the stress and disappointment. Our affiliated certification programs are internationally recognized. So by training for and receiving a certification from them, students have a chance to build connections with instructors and get their foot in the door – a major advantage in many competitive fields.
Certifications provide undeniable proof of one’s burgeoning commitment and expertise within a particular field. Pursuing a certification may also be the solution for a more goal-oriented individual, or an answer to doubtful friends or family members who ask, “what will you get out of your gap semester?”.
For students planning to study at a liberal arts college, earning a certification can offer a refreshing dose of real world skill-building before entering a highly academic environment.
Not only do Winterline students leave the program with these valuable certifications on their resume, they also make lifelong friends, hone their skills, and develop their worldview while travelling through breathtaking environments.
Learning a new language can be intimidating. We worry about our pronunciation, grammar rules, speaking too slowly…and that’s when we know the right words! But learning a new language is also unbelievably rewarding, and worth the work it takes. Here’s 7 reasons that we incorporate Spanish language learning into our gap year.
Learning is best in-context
We always strive to embed our programs into the contexts where they’d best be learned. Why not learn SCUBA diving at a coral reef, rather than a swimming pool? Why not learn about sustainable energy at some of the premiere institutions in Europe? Learning Spanish is the same. The meanings within the grammar and the motivation for learning itself come together quickly and more naturally in context, such as at a homestay in Panama. We’re all about deep learning experiences.
Ability to communicate with other people
Spanish is spoken by over four hundred million people world wide, which makes it the second most spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese. Spanish is the main official language for twenty-one different countries, which makes it one of the most useful travel languages out there. If you study it at the start of your gap year, think of all the doors that might open for you along the way.
Appreciation of more cultures
There’s often no better way to learn about the intricacies of a culture than to learn the ways people express themselves verbally. Even from region to region, variations in speech can tell you an enormous amount about the ways others see the world. Learning Spanish during your gap year can open up encounters with people that might forever change your life for the better, increasing access to the culture on an immediate scale.
This one is not unique to Spanish per se, but learning a foreign language often provides a much deeper appreciation for your own native language, and of the sensibilities and idiosyncracies of the lengua franca in which you grew up, especially your own grammar. For example, why can you say three cups in English, but not three milks?
Because its cool
Speaking Spanish is awesome. Ben Affleck, Maya Angelou, David Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Matt Damon all speak it, even though its not their native tongue. Plus, you probably have friends who speak Spanish. Wouldn’t you want to know when they’re sharing secrets with each other?
It keeps your brain active
There are many documented advantages to bilingualism. But even if you’re not a young child or concerned about the long-term effects of aging on the human mind, speaking another language can really sharpen your mind, and help you keep bringing your A-Game to whatever you do.
It will help you get ahead when you get to college
Most colleges and universities have language requirements. They used to be Latin, but thankfully, these days you get to choose. A solid foreign language foundation often allows you to ‘test out’ of the foreign language requirement, or at least skip basic intro classes. This saves time and gives you the opportunity to focus on all the things you want to do.
Interested in learning Spanish and other skills on your gap year? Check out our skills list and itineraries for an idea of what a Winterline gap year entails!
The beginning of the school year can be a terrifying time for the teenage mind. New expectations, new routines, and worst of all, new friends, all combine to create the perfect storm of social anxiety.
Going into college prepared means having learned these skills to a ‘T’. Students who can effectively navigate social settings, and manage conflicts are in the best position for success in college.
Critical to the research, teenage depression is at nearly 11 percent, and many teenagers battle high stress daily. Despite that, research sees rates of coping skills as “weak.”
At Winterline, we’ve structured all of our gap year programs to be heavily oriented toward these peer-related skills, skills that we see as essential for life, career, and work in the 21st century. From the start or our program, students practice team-building and leadership skills, non-violent communication, and conflict mediation. Throughout their months abroad, experienced Field Advisors lead by example. Students observe how to navigate conflict, negotiate, bargain, and empathize with peers and colleagues.
Dr. Yeager’s suggestion that students learn ways to “hold onto a long view” is exactly what we teach during our Global Skills Programs. When you travel the world and learn skills in their appropriate context, you immediately begin to connect the dots between what you’re doing on a daily basis and the impacts you can have in the world.
The gap year is the perfect opportunity to distance yourself and recalibrate. Doing so will help you figure out what you’re good at and how you want to impact the world.
Studies gathered by the American Gap Association show that taking a gap year can improve grade point averages for returning students and solidify academic major and career choices. A 2011 study at Middlebury College, conducted by its former dean of admissions Robert Clagett, found that students who had taken a year off had consistently higher GPAs than those who didn’t. How can a gap year actually improve a student’s study skills and academic performance?
Developing practical and applicable skills.
Structure and problem-solving are just two of the many skills necessary for developing good study habits. When a student chooses a structured gap year they will learn time management, effective communication, and critical-thinking throughout the program. Many gap year students will also volunteer and work during their gap year program, which also requires organization and problem-solving. These tasks will help improve their discipline, attention to detail, and study skills over time before entering college.
A sense of purpose and focus.
Academic burnout is one reason students consider taking gap years. Many high school students say they chose a gap year because they needed a break from studying. After taking a gap year, students say they have a greater sense of purpose in their studies and their career choice. Taking a gap year exposes students to new experiences, new cultures, and new environments. Therefore students have a better view of the world and what career choice and educational path they want to pursue. With a sense of purpose, students admit they study more and study harder with career focus.
Maturity and self-awareness.
Gap years force students to mature, learn the language, and become independent adults. Students become aware of their surroundings, of the culture and the people, and of their own ability to solve problems on their own. All of these life experiences, again, lead to improved study skills and academic performance.
There are so many positive reasons why students should consider a gap year between high school and college. Developing practical life skills leads to improved study habits, a sense of true purpose, and maturity.
There’s a feeling of relief and excitement once you’ve finally saved up enough money to book a flight for the trip you’ve been dreaming of. But it’s important to keep an eye on your finances in regards to the rest of your vacation, too. From accommodations to food to experiences, you want to do the most while spending the least. Here’s a few ways to make that happen.
Hostels and home-sharing sites are your friend. On a Winterline gap year, your group accommodations are included in the program cost. But if you’re traveling on your own, don’t go straight for a hotel. Hostels and sites like AirBnB or VRBO are cheaper and have the added benefit of immersing you more directly in the local culture. You’ll get more of a chance to interact with people who actually live in the area and can give you tips and recommendations to make the most of your stay.
Do your research on admissions prices for museums and other institutions. Museums are often a must-see to get a taste of the culture, art, and history. You shouldn’t have to miss out because you can’t afford the trip. Many museums in Europe, for example, offer free or discounted tickets for not just students but young adults up to 25! A lot of museums also offer free admission on a certain night of the month, if you can work it out so that your visit overlaps.
Look for free activities, too! There’s plenty of equally stimulating and cultural activities that you can participate in for no cost. Check out community calendars, look on Facebook, or ask a local to find out what’s going on in the area.
Use the public transportation! Calling a cab may be tempting, but taking a bus, train, or even tuk-tuk will be gentler on your wallet. Even better, again, using the public transportation will give you a more authentic experience of the country you’re in. Maybe you’ll strike up a conversation with the person next to, find a hidden gem at a random stop, or have a fun story to tell your friends. You may also find that an overnight bus or train is much cheaper than a flight and will get you to your destination all the same.
Don’t eat out for every meal. If you have a kitchen, you should try to take advantage and prepare your own food, even if it’s just one meal a day! However, you can save money on food even if you don’t have a kitchen to cook for yourself. There’s plenty of light meals and snacks you can make without a stove: buy food at the grocery store or the local market for breakfast or an outdoor picnic. When you do go out to eat, try to stick to the local places instead of the tourist traps.
Invest in a filtered water bottle. You may have to spend on it up front, but in the long run, you’ll save money refilling your water instead of buying new bottles all day in countries where the tap water isn’t safe for tourists to drink.
Keep track of your spending. Oftentimes we aren’t aware of just how much we’re spending each day. Use a spreadsheet, a notebook, or an app, and take a few minutes at the end of each day to review how much money you spent that day and what you spent it on. This will help you realize if you’re spending too much on food, for example, so tomorrow you’ll know to pack more snacks and avoid eating out. This will also help you prioritize what’s most important to you and therefore worth spending a little more on.
How do you manage your spending while traveling? Are there any tips you’d recommend for fellow adventurers?
One of the easiest ways to keep your friends and family updated on your adventures is by sharing with everyone at once on social media. Why not take it a step further and inspire people you don’t even know to set off on a journey? Getting thousands of followers may take a bit more work than just posting pictures every now and then, so here’s a few tips to keep in mind.
Set up your profile. Choose a name that’s easy to understand and search for, whether it be your real name or a fun moniker that’s relevant to the pictures you’ll be posting. Add a short description that explains who you are or what you do, and make sure that your profile is on public for maximum interaction! Of course, be sure to take precaution on any public profile: don’t share details that are too personal and don’t post anything you wouldn’t want a parent, boss, or teacher to see.
You don’t need an expensive camera to take good pictures, but make sure that your photos are good quality. Smartphone cameras are usually pretty reliable, and there are countless apps you can use to make your images pop. Make sure to post pictures that are visually intriguing and unique.
Build your aesthetic. Do you want to focus on global food? Architecture? Local people you meet while traveling? Of course, you can have a general travel profile as long as your photos all have a cohesive thread.
Interact with your followers. Start your network by reaching out to friends, and friends of friends. Promote your Instagram on other social networks. Use a few, relevant hashtags that speak to your target audience. Follow similar accounts, and follow their followers, as well. This will likely inspire them to check out your profile. But don’t just be a ghost follower. Like people’s photos, comment on them, and respond to any comments they leave you. Build a relationship with your followers to keep them engaged.
Don’t post too often or too little. You don’t want to clog the feed of your followers or they may get annoyed. However, post too scarcely and your followers may forget about you or unfollow. Consistency is key.
Think about your caption, and make it relevant to the photo. Describe your experiences, or use a quote that sums it up. Hone your storytelling skills; nothing draws in an audience more than the combination of a stunning photo and an intriguing story.
Tag your location and any accounts relevant to the photo. For example, if you’re posting a photo of your food, set the location as the restaurant and tag them in the actual photo. This satisfies the curiosity of your followers and allows them to use your account as a reference for their own travels. This also increases the chance that the restaurant may repost your photo or interact with you, so their own followers will become aware of your account, too.
Winterline students will get to spend some considerable time exploring India. And although much of India struggles with extreme overcrowding and poverty, it is a country full of incredible landmarks, religious history, and colorful culture. Gap year student visiting this spectacular country won’t have to look far to discover a vast array of new experiences.
Making Your Journey
For many travelers, the activities and landmark sites make the biggest impact. Visitors to India have plenty of sites to explore.
Taj Mahal— This world-famous marble palace is an architectural wonder with an intriguing back story. You could call it the LeBron James of places to visit in India.
Buddhist Caves of Ajanta — These caves, which date back as far as 2nd Century BC, have tremendous artistic and religious importance. Plus, they’re really beautiful.
Himalayas — You can’t ask for much more from a mountain range. World’s tallest peak? Got it (Mount Everest, at 29,029 feet). Glaciers? Check – the world’s third-largest quantity of snow and ice reside there. Several climates in various spots? Uh-huh. Multiple rivers? Yep.
Tea Gardens —Darjeeling isn’t just a variety of tea. It’s the gorgeous area of India where this type of tea actually comes from. Cool, huh?
With nearly 1.3 billion residents, India contains about one-sixth of the world’s total population. Only China has more people.
India’s Hindu calendar has 6 seasons: spring, summer, monsoon, autumn, pre-winter, and winter.
It’s illegal to take Indian currency (Rupees) out of India.
India has the world’s lowest meat consumption per person.
Hinduism and Buddhism both originated in India. Hinduism is the country’s most commonly practiced religion.
Flavors of a Nation
Like its majestic mountain peaks, Indian food isn’t subtle. It’s quite straightforward with its one-of-a-kind mixture of opposing, yet somehow complementary, flavors and consistencies – sweet vs. salty, creamy vs. spicy.
Spices like turmeric and cumin — along with consistent use of flat breads, rice and lentils, depending on the region — are major components of India’s food profile. The meats of choice are fish, chicken and mutton (that’s sheep, in case you didn’t know).
Whether you want to try new foods or dedicate your time to a social cause, you won’t run out of fascinating places to go, people to see, and cultural nuances to experience in India.
That’s right. A 40-year study conducted by the University of Helsinki found that those who took three weeks or less annual vacation had a 37% greater chance of dying younger than people who take more time to travel.
In 1974, the university began tracking 1,200 businessmen who were identified as being at risk for heart disease due to weight, blood pressure, or cholesterol levels. The results were presented to the European Society of Cardiology in 2018. In addition to a shorter life span, those who traveled less were less productive at work and had more trouble sleeping.
Though the study only tracked men, these results are significant enough to encourage to take a vacation! And they make sense. Overworking can lead to higher stress levels, which can affect your body, emotions, and behavior, leading to many health problems.
Professor Timo Strandberg warns, “don’t think having an otherwise healthy lifestyle will compensate for working too hard and not taking holidays…Vacations can be a good way to relieve stress.” It’s never too early to start thinking about how the way you live impacts your health. So if you think going to college or entering the workforce right away might be too overwhelming for you, consider taking some time off and refreshing yourself.
We already have the research that shows studying abroad increases your likelihood of finding a job. But how do you market your gap year or study abroad time to show potential employers what you’ve learned? Here are some tips for polishing your resume and LinkedIn profile to maximize your chances of your travel paying off.
This should be pretty self-explanatory, but you never know: make sure you actually include your travels on your resume! Don’t just leave a blank space in your chronology. If your travels don’t fit under your work or education experiences, try titling a new section: “International Travel,” “Relevant Experiences,” or “Relevant Skills.” Or, play around to find something else that you feel encapsulates your time abroad.
Tailor the resume for your anticipated next move. You probably accomplished a lot on your gap year, and as great as it all was, it isn’t all relevant to every position. Based on the position you’re applying for, your resume may be a little different. Pay attention to the job description and requirements and use the skills you learned that show your capability for the spot. There are some basic skills that are applicable to every job, like communication skills, so experiences like developing interpersonal skills with Cambodian monks would fit on every resume.
Using action words is a generally good tip, but it’s especially important when you’re summing up an experience as all-encompassing as your gap year. You really want to emphasize the hands-on experience you’ve had by choosing powerful verbs: think “conducted research on lionfish” instead of “learned about marine life.” Be precise, concise, and specific!
Give yourself credit for your work! Sometimes we pick up on skills we aren’t even aware of. For example, if you ran a travel Instagram, you have social media marketing skills. If you ran a travel blog, maybe you picked up on SEO/SEM. Think about what you did on your gap year and push it one step further – what did you gain from each of those experiences?
Think about a challenge you overcame while on your gap year, and be ready to talk about it! Maybe you had trouble adjusting to a new location, or you tried a new skill and failed at it. Employers will always want to know about your initiative, adaptability, resilience, and crisis management skills, as well as your level of self-awareness and ability to plan for future issues.
Prepare real-life examples about your skills and experiences. You can’t put every detail onto your resume, but you can elaborate with anecdotes once you’ve grabbed the interviewer’s attention with your standout resume!
Remember that your resume is just an overview of you and your capabilities. You want it to be succinct and enticing enough that employers want to know more. The interview is the place to really shine and get into the details and examples you’ve already outlined. If you get overwhelmed, just remember how much you’ve already accomplished and it’ll seem less daunting!
Who else has had this idea of changing the world? Who else has had this dream about being the Nelson Mandela or the Mahatma Gandhi of their country? Whether or not you share these dreams, we can all agree that this is a huge cliche. Well…I have to say I’m part of this cliche.
I have had this dream since I was 8 years old. But it was only when I was 12 that I discovered how I could make change happen: through education. Do not ask me how a 12 year old could come to Nelson’s Mandela conclusion that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” but I did.
When I was 15, I experienced something that allowed me to confirm that my 12 year old self was right. I attended a German school through an exchange program, and it was the first time I experienced a different style of education inside the traditional system. It had the same structure as my school in Colombia but it was more basic and straightforward. This allowed me to have a lot of free time for myself. My life was not about school, it was about developing my passions. So I started to ask myself why the education style was so different and if that impacts the development of the country. The answer was hard for me to find because there are so many things going on behind the scenes in education. When I came back home I realized I had to do something to improve the Colombian system in order to improve our country.
Many people would say that if you are against the system, you should get out. However, I knew I had to finish high school to have the tools required to make a change. I took advantage of the system and used the opportunities given to me, such as the Monographic Project and student government, to get involved with the field of education. However, my involvement burned me out. I put so much effort into being the best that I didn’t leave enough time for myself. I realized that if I really wanted to change the world, I would have to change myself. The first thing I knew I had to do was put my beliefs into practice and, in order to do so, experience a different kind of education.
Originally, I didn’t even want to bring a book on my gap year trip. I wanted to be as far as possible from everything related to academia. But I realized that through travel, I could explore the world through education and give the word a new meaning.
In every country we visited, I dug into education in order to get closer to the world and create a connection with each place. I started in Panama, in a public school from a rural community that suffered from a low quality of education due to lack of space, teachers and personnel. I was familiar with that, as these issues are commonplace to public education systems in Latin America. It makes a lot of sense; developing countries struggle a lot in financing public education.
In Costa Rica I visited a private school that taught with a Quaker Philosophy. It was a Utopian education, but it represented the minority. The general public school system was closed due to a strike and I was unable to visit a public school.
Asia is different in every way: religion, economics, politics, and history, all tie into the different education system. For example, I couldn’t even find information about Cambodian education because the country found peace only 30 years ago. They are still recovering and reconstructing from genocide, which makes education not as high of a priority as it is, for example, in India. In India I visited UWC Mahindra College (MUWCI), an IB college with an excellent education, an example of one of the highest levels in the world. But is that really representative of India? In some ways, MUWCI felt like a bubble, because you drive 15 minutes away and you understand what poverty is.
In Europe, the Spanish education system looks a lot like the Latin American one. Then we get to Switzerland, Germany and Austria. All of them have this excellent system where students don’t need to finish high school to succeed. And finishing in the US, the greatest world power, education is the country’s Achilles heel.
I was able to observe how education can impact a country’s development and future and it allowed me to make important conclusions about the world. Asking myself the role of education in every place helped me to piece together the building blocks of countries and allowed me to understand the diversity of the world. I could connect better with every place we visited and see it from a different perspective. Education was a universal constant in every place, something I was always looking for. Through this experience I was able to collect ideas to implement in my own country and achieve my biggest life goal. I believe that my experience on Winterline allowed me to change and develop myself, my passions and my understanding of the world. I hope that one day the tools I gathered during this year help me to change the world.
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?
For the first time in twelve years, I am not in typical schooling. Despite the lack of a desk, learning has not stopped. On a program where my life consists of new experiences and new people constantly, my brain feels more stretched now than it did in Calculus III. As I’ve been trying to process the newness and the lessons I learn every day, I’ve realized that not only am I gaining new perspectives, but I’m changing old ones. As complex ideas like permaculture and design thinking become more clear, simple ones, like “home”, are becoming much more muddy.
When I moved out at sixteen to attend boarding school, I don’t think I understood then how much that word would become something I circled back to. “Home” was no longer a GPS destination, it existed somewhere between my house and dorm room, a place I couldn’t pinpoint. I listened to my friends assign it all sorts of different meanings, the backseats of their cars, their pets, their beds at home, and it became more and more difficult to make home a concrete structure. We talked about home, but we knew every time we went back that it wasn’t the same anymore.
This year, I have a less permanent home than I ever have. Almost every week is a new location, sometimes hostels, sometimes a hammock, sometimes even tents. During our NOLS course, a week long backpacking trek in the Gila, the homes we referred to started as the houses we left behind. Once we arrived in Panama, I started to see a shift. We were starting to become comfortable with the constant discomfort that comes with travel. My backpack wasn’t a piece of foreign equipment, it was everything I owned. All the things I forgot about or left in my drawers at home almost didn’t exist. And if I did need something, I could count on almost anyone else in my group to share or let me borrow it.
In our rural homestays in Piedras Gordas, my “home” was with a host family. Although it was clear that I didn’t know the customs, and I couldn’t speak the language, I fell into patterns of comfortability with them. Through sharing food, stumbling over Spanish, and even acting things out, we fell into understanding.
At present, I don’t live in a house. Yet home is not a word that I have banned from my vocabulary. In fact, I find myself saying it more and more as I am away. I’ve found that home is not a place, a person, or even a group of people, but places we build within ourselves. The home I used to talk about referred to places where I felt comfortable. Creating a home while you’re away from one is all about finding the peace within your own mind to create spaces where you’re comfortable, and you feel loved.
What this also means is developing the ability to be open to every new environment and every new person you meet. That is not an easy skill at all. Travel comes with exhaustion, fear of change, discomfort, and isolation from being in different places. It can take a lot of bravery to open yourself up even once, let alone having the courage and effort to try on a daily basis. Starting a conversation at a restaurant or with your host family can be daunting. Finding running routes or spots to exercise in a new city is scary. Asking for help in a language that is not your own, or from people you don’t know, can be difficult.
Being an open person is not easy for me. Every day I have to try to open doors, start conversations, and push down my fear of embarrassment. Yet almost every day, I am rewarded. With each new exchange, I’m building a foundation. I think of all of the times I try something I’m afraid of, be it a new hike, new food, new group of people, as putting down a brick for my house. Some bricks are harder to lay than others, and sometimes I can build a wall in a day. The way to truly test the strength of your home is to see if, by the time you leave, you’ve filled it with family.
I’ve bounced around pretty frequently for the last two years, and I felt that the places I left behind were barren and empty. I think of my room at my house in Raleigh sitting empty, my dorm room which is now occupied by someone else, and my cabin in Durango. When I decided to leave, looking back was never an option. I thought that in order to keep moving, you couldn’t put down roots. I see now that in every place you can build a home, and in every place you should try. Over the course of the next year, I will not count the memories I have by the pictures I’ve taken or plane tickets I’ve collected, but by the homes I built and the people I housed.
High in the mountains of Panama, shaded by dense tropical canopy, lies the sleepy town of Piedras Gordas. Most families of the town are subsistence farmers, patiently tending to the land that yields most of what they consume. Within this tranquil town – where time itself seems to slow to a shuffle – local farmer señor Onecimo is nurturing grander ambitions. He hopes that one day his secluded property will transform into an educational hub for tourists, volunteers, and students alike.
Several years ago, señor Onecimo hosted a group of international volunteers from the American Peace Corps, a volunteer program dedicated to socio-economic development abroad. The thoughts and suggestions of these volunteers opened his eyes to opportunities for growth in his community, and their enthusiasm was infectious. For señor Onecimo, the experience marked the start of his vision: to offer educational tours that showcase the unique flora and fauna of his farm.
Since hosting volunteers from the Peace Corps, he has invited many more individuals and groups from abroad. Just as the visitors learn about his way of life by living with his family, so does he gain an appreciation for new perspectives and other cultures. Often, these volunteers can provide the knowledge and manpower needed to implement important projects on señor Onecimo’s farm, and in the community at large.
In October 2018, our Winterline Squad 2 worked with local entrepreneurs in Piedras Gordas, Panama, under the guidance of ThinkImpact instructors. During our stay, I had the opportunity to work with señor Onecimo, who also happened to be a member of my host family.
While staying in his family home, I picked up on aspects of his vision. Despite my limited Spanish skills (see “When Language Fails: My Homestay in Panama” for details), I could understand certain chunks of conversation, and was able to grasp the gist of señor Onecimo’s ideas for the farm. The tough part was organizing these ideas, and developing a more concrete plan to turn his vision into reality.
To start with, fellow Winterliners and I focused on expanding access to señor Onecimo’s farm for visitors by constructing handrails along the trails of his property. Our primary design used wooden stakes and recycled rubber wires – materials señor Onecimo already owned or could acquire easily. Afterwards, we set to work crafting signs that would label important plants, fruits and vegetables along the trail.
While my fellow Winterliners and I were not able to fully realize señor Onecimo’s dream of offering educational tours and attracting more visitors – a difficult feat given our less than 2-week time constraint – we were able to get him several steps closer to his vision.
The Blazing Startups of Piedras Gordas
I happened to work with señor Onecimo, but he wasn’t the only entrepreneur Winterline supported in Piedras Gordas. Another group working with Onecimo’s wife, señora Edithe, constructed and installed signs to direct people to señora Edithe’s artisanal weaving business. Using techniques handed down for generations, señora Edithe has been crafting traditional sombreros and intricate decorations by hand for decades. The skill of weaving a sombrero is recognized by UNESCO as part of Panamanian “Intangible Cultural Heritage.”
The Neighborhood Zipliner
Just a short hike down the road, señor Ernesto is busy establishing a center for eco-tourism and ecological education on his farm and around the wilderness reserve which he manages. Eventually he hopes to offer everything from guided tours of his jungle reserve to a zipline spanning part of his property. He has already begun construction on a climbable rockface for visitors to enjoy as well as jungle cabins for visitors to stay in. The winterline group that worked with señor Ernesto expanded and improved the network of trails running through his property, constructing signs and planted over 100 coffee shrubs.
Beyond our construction projects, what I have found most valuable about volunteering are the conversations and human connections I made with the people of Piedras Gordas, and especially señor Onecimo. Something a ThinkImpact instructor said to me captures it quite well:
“…when you’re here for a short amount of time, it can be hard to realize the specific impact you’ve made. However, – even if you didn’t create something tangible – by interacting and communicating with your hosts, you have built trust and intercultural empathy. When you consider a longer timespan like I’ve been able to, you realize how valuable these interactions are for everyone involved. The skills of open-mindedness and empathy you learn here are things you can take with you wherever you go.” – Gabriela Valencia, ThinkImpact Country Director for Panama (check out the full interview here.)
The Virtues of Listening
Perhaps the most important thing I learned during our community work was to avoid what I call “Helicoptering”, which involves assessing a community’s needs and how to address them based on your own worldview. It can be all too easy to make assumptions from an outsider’s perspective, but it is worth keeping an open mind and learning from the community. Before creating designs and prototypes I made sure to talk to señor Onecimo and others in Piedras Gordas to gather information about the situation. That’s how fellow Winterliners and I found out about locally available materials, and how we were able to design several prototypes of handrails and signs that met his specifications – designs that he can recreate fairly easily without us.
It is clear to me now that bringing about lasting change in a community through volunteering is no easy task. No project reliant on external help will last very long once that help evaporates. The projects that succeed have the interests of the community at heart, include participation from the community, and above all, provide locals with the means to continue long after you have left.
Recently, we came across an article that emphasized a very important point: “gap years are really useful for two purposes: finding yourself and optimizing yourself. But both of these things take some intentional work – they don’t just happen automatically.”
We can wax poetic about how a gap year is a great way to find yourself, and it’s true! But it’s also very true that things won’t just fall perfectly into place without any effort on your own part. You have to be mindful about how your gap year is influencing you, and how you want it to influence you. One way to do this is to set goals, and keep track of their progress in a journal.
It’s ok if your goals aren’t super specific; it’s hard to know exactly what you’ll learn or like. So build that in when you’re forming them! You can set skills-based goals like: learn 10 words in a new language, and keep track of the ones you learned and how you used them, or find an outrageous skill that you’re really good at (maybe you’ll surprise yourself with bicycle maintenance or at clown school). You can set cultural goals: try 10 new foods and write about what they were, how they’re made, and whether you liked them; talk to people you wouldn’t normally talk to and write down their life stories; do a deep dive into the history behind 5 cities or locations that you felt a particular connection to.
This approach has two purposes. First, by setting goals, you’re setting a base expectation of what your gap year will entail. Use your itinerary to form these, and you can always reach out to a staff member of your program if you’re unsure whether your goals are accurate or attainable. Setting goals will also give you direction and ambition: when a plate of food is set in front of you that isn’t what you consider appetizing, remember you made a promise to yourself to try it. When you have a free day and the options are to hang out around the house or explore the local scene, challenge yourself to take advantage of the new opportunity.
Second, by journaling about your experiences (can you tell this is somethingI’m passionate about?) you’ll be able to reduce the clutter in your head while preserving your thoughts, experiences, and memories as they are right now. By thinking of the future and reflecting on your experiences as they happen, you’ll be able to reconsider your expectations, your interests, your likes and dislikes – which will lead you down the path of self-discovery.
And of course, along with discovering your true self comes the opportunity to become your best self. Whether you’re headed to college or work after your gap year, there will be some unexpected challenges. But you can use your newly learned skills to help smooth the transition. When you’re quite literally traveling across the world, you’ll develop task and time management skills that will allow you to juggle a workload. You can cultivate these skills intentionally by familiarizing yourself with a planner or calendar – paper or digital, your choice! Scheduling will teach you to make time for what’s most important to you, therefore giving you the chance to reflect on your own passions and priorities.
Your gap year shouldn’t be all fun or all work, but instead a healthy mix of both. And don’t forget, they can (and will!) overlap! So don’t worry, because things will work out, but don’t let your trip pass you by without making the most of it, either.
A tap of the toes; a spin of the heel; a whirl of red satin.
We arrived in the small mountain town of Piedras Gordas to the sound of traditional Panamanian music and the sight of dancers in traditional dress. Gathered in the community center, several locals had interrupted their daily routines to celebrate our arrival with song and dance. The festive welcome was as unexpected as it was heartwarming. Following their performance, we had our first interactions with the people that welcomed us – sixteen young adults from all over the world – into their very own homes.
Although the mountain scenery of the town was gorgeous, our intentions were far from touristic. As part of an 8-day homestay program, our goal was to immerse ourselves in the culture of our hosts while working with local entrepreneurs to improve the community. We spent most mornings and evenings with our host families while taking part in workshops led by ThinkImpact during the day. Topics of instruction ranged from design-thinking and asset analysis to rapid prototyping and hands-on work with local entrepreneurs.
Behold Its Feathers
When a community is not used to receiving foreigners, interacting with locals can be a challenging ordeal. At times, while exploring the town of Piedras Gordas, I felt treated somewhat like an exotic bird: observed with curiosity by everyone I passed, but always kept at a distance. For someone with very basic Spanish skills like mine, it felt very intimidating to start conversations with strangers in a community I barely knew – especially with all eyes focused on me.
Only gradually did I realize that the key to breaking the communication barrier was to stop acting the part of the bird. Instead of staying undercover, I swallowed my shyness and tried to be as open and obvious as possible, starting conversations or non-verbal interactions whenever possible. By actively going against their expectations I normalized my presence. Over time – i.e. many clunky interactions later – I stopped being viewed as this mysterious person and became more approachable for some members of the community.
This same tactic also applied to interactions with my host family, whom I spent the majority of my time with. For the entire 8 days, I had the opportunity to stay in the cosy home of Señor Onecimo and his wife Señora Edith, together with 3 fellow Winterliners: Micah, Shayan and Noah. Despite our vastly different backgrounds and cultures, our host familia welcomed our mix-match group of two Americans, one Italian and one German with open arms. On the day we arrived, Onecimo, Edith and their eldest son Victor stayed up long into the night to talk with us – offering us fruits all the while – despite having to get up early the next morning. In my eyes, these gestures conveyed a curiosity and openness that really set the tone for my homestay experience.
How to Talk without Speaking
It was through interactions with my host family that I came to another realization. Although I expanded my knowledge of Spanish vocabulary and Panamanian slang immensely, I came to realize that – beyond some key vocabulary – communication took on another dimension. More often than not, I found that my actions did most of the talking. Be it while grinding coffee, playing card games, working on the farm or preparing dinner, each activity and interaction left me knowing a bit more about Panamanian customs and the lives of my hosts.
The most important phrase I learned did not involve the bathroom, food or any basic necessities; it was something far more general: “cómo puedo ayudar?“ or “how can I help?“. This simple phrase made it so much easier for me to take part in their daily routine. Instead of watching from a distance, I became personally involved in everything from cooking to woodworking, absorbing Panamanian customs along the way. Within days, my host family treated me less like a hotel guest from abroad, and more like a long-lost, inarticulate cousin. The more time I spent participating and being curious, the easier it was to connect with the family.
The perhaps most challenging aspect of my homestay was overcoming the feeling of shyness that kept me from taking risks in social situations. Only by accepting the misunderstandings and awkward moments that inevitably arose when I tried to communicate was I able to truly rise out of my comfort zone and learn from my mistakes. A prime example: A few days into my homestay, I realized that instead of responding to explanations with “I understand“ in Spanish, I had been saying “me entiendo“ or “I understand me“ the entire time. If I hadn’t sought out those explanations and more opportunities to speak Spanish in the first place, that realization may never have come…
It is still mind-blowing to me that even though my Spanish skills were basic at best, I was able to interact with and learn so much from mi familia. Even weeks after the experience, I still feel indebted to these incredible people who welcomed me into their home while treating me with such kindness and curiosity.
In this hour-long documentary “Skills Powered” from Roadtrip Nation, three young adults explore the idea of using their skill sets on a 21 day, 3200 mile cross-country trip. In some ways, the road trip that Alex, Ryan, and Shyane set out upon is like a condensed version of a Winterline gap year, though they focus solely upon tradework.
Who are the travelers?
The documentary begins with a quick introduction to the three young adults and their reasoning for joining this trip.
23 year old Alex went to college on a soccer scholarship. However, after an injury he’s unsure what to do with his life. “I want to try everything,” he boasts. “I’m going to be a sponge for this trip.”
Ryan is 24, working in a job he doesn’t love. Ryan brings up a point that many people struggle with: “for a lot of us, a four year degree just isn’t feasible.” And as he’s going to learn, while college can be a fantastic investment, it isn’t necessary for every person in every job. “A cubicle seems like a jail cell to me,” Ryan tells the camera, and “I think it’s kinda ridiculous that we expect an 18 year old kid to go into tens of thousands of dollars of debt without them having any idea of what it is that they want to do.” So desk job and college aside, Ryan is eager to find out what else is out there, especially the things beyond his imagination.
“There’s stuff out there that I’m sure I don’t even know exists, and it might be what I love to do but I have no idea that it’s even out there.” We agree with Ryan, and that’s exactly why skills are such an integral part of a Winterline gap year.
Finally, there’s 19 year old Shyane, who’s lost about what to do for a living. Shyane didn’t have a great family life growing up, is lost about what to do for a living, and is afraid to go back home and feel stuck again. So she turns her gaze outwards to explore the possibilities.
What lessons did they learn?
Along this trip, the three get to learn from individuals in a variety of trades: welding, woodshop, cooking and buffet management, solar energy and sustainable housing, animal behavior consultants at the Oklahoma City Zoo, engineers at the GE Aviation plant, scuba divers, small business owners, makeup and wardrobe consultants, musical technicians, and audio engineers. Some of the professionals loved the skill their whole life. Some didn’t even know it existed or give it a try until they were older. Some went to college, some didn’t.
Each tradesperson had fantastic advice to give to Alex, Ryan, and Shyane. Though much of it follows the same vein, it can be hard to internalize this type of advice when you’ve grown up in a society that teaches the typical “high school, college, work” path is the right one. So we’re going to let each tradesperson tell you that this isn’t the one and only path you can take to success.
“You don’t have to feel like a failure if you don’t go to a four year university.” – Lisa Legohn, Welder
“You have to explore in order to find out what you really like, but don’t let opportunities pass you by. They’re not always going to come and knock, you have to go find them.” – Lisa Legohn, Welder
“You have to be in love with what you’re doing because life has many ups and downs but it’s that love that keeps you going everyday.” – Leticia Nunez, Chef
“There’s a huge on-the-job training aspect that you can’t get in a book. You have to go out and start doing it and learning and making mistakes and building upon it.” – Kimberly Leser, Curator of Animal Behavior & Welfare
“If you think that you like something and you want to pursue it, pursue it. The last thing you want is to be stuck in a career for 20, 30 years and hate it and by the time you realize that, you’re ready to retire and you don’t have any other options. Now’s the time to explore that.” – Bill Lamp’l, Small Business Owner
“You have to look for your own opportunity. No one is going to hand it to you.” – Nancy Feldman, Blue Man Group Makeup Artist and Wardrobe Supervisor
And by the end of their trip, the young adults had taken this to heart. “I feel like I’m more awake,” Alex says about returning from this experience. Shyane felt as though she experienced an “aha” moment working with the seals at the zoo. After, she admits that there are way more options for work than she ever would have assumed. “I’ve always had a fear of just jumping into something. But worst case scenario, you just jump into something else.” She concludes. Finally, Ryan “didn’t even know that a lot of these careers existed. All I knew was to go to a four year university. [But] you can do trades and be successful and love what you do.”
We highly recommend that you watch the documentary to see this growth for yourself, but if you don’t, take away a lesson from Alex, Shyane, and Ryan’s journey: there’s a whole world of possibilities out there, and you won’t know until you try them.
When I meet students and parents at gap year fairs, I get asked this question a lot. “What kind of student joins a Winterline program?” Having been a Field Advisor for the 2017-18 programming year, I have first hand knowledge as to what kind of students we have join us for such a journey. The answer is very simple.
Every type of student.
Whether you’ve had an opportunity to travel extensively or have only experienced your hometown, Winterline will show you how to be a traveler. If you’re right on track with college, but are just dog tired of school and lack excitement for learning, Winterline will give you experiences to learn from, not books and classrooms. If the thought of going off to college alone scares you, believe me, Winterline will prepare you for that too. No matter the reason, Winterline attracts students due to the vast array of skills taught by reputable partner organizations, the countries they visit and immerse themselves into, and the people and cultures they meet along the way. It’s hard to narrow down a specific type of student, because there really isn’t one for Winterline! Below I’ve done my best to highlight some of the most common students we get on our program! If any of these sound like you, you’ve definitely come to the right place!
You want to understand other people, cultures, and places. You’ll visit 10+ countries on our 9-month Global Skills program. It may seem like we jump around from country to country, but our program stays in Costa Rica and India for close to a month. I found that my students grew tremendously in our first trimester, specifically because of the allotted time in Costa Rica, between scuba certification, living in dorm-style housing for 10 days in the rainforest, staying in homestays for a week while working alongside local community members, the list really does go on! You’ll live in homestays while learning a skill of your choice in Monteverde. Maybe you’ll harness up and build bridges up in the treelines to support sloth migration to neighboring trees. Maybe your homestay family will invite you to their wedding anniversary. What’s guaranteed is a true experience with real people doing real-life activities.
You want an academic component. We offer 9 optional college credits through Western Colorado University that allow students to stay on track for college. Credits correlate with a few specific skills on our program. Once that associated skill is completed, the student writes an essay about the learning experience. Along with credit, students also get certified in scuba, Wilderness First Aid, and receive certificates of completion from a few other skills. Examples of these include safe driving at the BMW Driving Experience in Munich and cooking and etiquette at the Paul Debrule French Cooking School in Cambodia. Lastly, all of the skills are experiential learning, so as long as you are engaged throughout the program, you’ll leave Winterline with a much stronger understanding of careers, the world, and yourself!
You want an internship of sorts. Our Independent Study Projects (click this link and scroll to the bottom to find the interactive map!) are great opportunities to try something before really pursuing it full on. Each one is designed to give you more options and to hone in on a skill of your choosing, either with a small group of students from your cohort, or by yourself. For the third trimester independent project, students plan out a travel itinerary, learn how to budget, create emergency action plans, and vet partners and accommodations. This process takes part throughout the program in order to prepare them for their one week solo travel in a European country of their choice to learn a skill of their choosing. By the time the third trimester comes around, our students are expert travelers, so it’s your final hurrah to showcase what you’ve learned from your time with us! Plus, you will have countless opportunities to network with the organizations and companies that teach you these 100+ skills. A lot of them offer internships of their own!
You want to grow personally. Don’t feel ready for college?Have zero clue what you want to major in? Not even planning to go to college? Haven’t had an opportunity to explore much outside of your hometown or country? You’ll literally see the world on Winterline by visiting at least 10 countries. While you explore other cultures, cuisines, and terrain, you’ll be taught skills by reputable companies and organizations, such as Earthenable, ThinkImpact, and Rancho Mastatal.
You won’t be nervous getting a random roommate in the dorms at college after living and traveling with 12-16 students throughout the program! Everything from tents to hotels, hostels to guest houses, even homestays; you will learn to live with others in every travel environment. Sometimes you’ll be in charge of cleanup after dinner. Sometimes you’ll have to go find a local laundromat in order to have a fresh bag of clothes again. By the time the 9 months are over, you’ll have gained confidence and independence in a multitude of ways.
You’re burnt out. We get it. You’ve made it through a lot of schooling at this point and the last thing you want to do is sit in another uncomfortable classroom desk. School doesn’t leave much room for self-exploration and self-guided learning. On a Winterline program, you’ll have very minimal time in the classroom and way more experience out in the field getting hands-on with your skills. Trekking in the Himalayas while learning about disaster medicine, cooking classes in Thailand, finding out how mosaic tiles are really made and trying your hand at your very own in the heart of Venice. Winterline allows students to try new skills that they may have never had the opportunity to take part in prior to a gap year – or maybe ever again in their life!
You want to make a difference. Though Winterline does not offer volunteer projects, our students are supporting communities they visit through cultural immersion and understanding, as well as taking part in social innovation skills with one of our partners, ThinkImpact. These skills are learned during their time in Panama, South Africa, and Rwanda, covering social innovation topics ranging from clean energy and health care to urban agriculture and wildlife conservation. Plus, my favorite part of South Africa is the opportunity our students have to really connect with the culture through students their age! All of the skills our students learn will be side by side with local South African students to gain a better cultural understanding of what it’s like living and growing up in South Africa. In Rwanda, students take part in their 2nd trimester independent study project, collaborating with the community that their homestay resides in.
Winterline really caters to a well rounded experience so that students not only dive deeper into something they’re specifically passionate about, but equally as important, they experience a variety of other topics to broaden their perspectives and passions in life. It’s impossible for a student to go through our program without having gained any skills or growth from their time exploring the globe. What I witnessed by the end of my cohort’s gap year was that many students started the program in one of the categories above, but graduated with a new sense of what they want from life, from their education, and from themselves. So, what kind of student are you? And what are you waiting for?
Can traveling more actually lead to better grades? A survey conducted by the Student and Youth Travel Association (SYTA) suggests that this is true. So if you’re trying to convince your parents to take you on vacation, or better yet, are searching to validate your dream of a gap year, look no further.
The SYTA surveyed approximately 1,500 U.S.-based teachers to examine the social impact that international travel has on students. The survey found that 74% of teachers believe travel has a very positive impact on students’ personal development. 56% believe it has a very positive impact on students’ education and career as well.
In fact, teachers believe that travel has an educational benefit in the same way that Winterline does. We like to focus on learning skills hands-on, outside the classroom. Almost 80% of teachers agreed that travel is extremely effective as a teaching resource compared to computer-based learning. 45% of teachers also agree that travel is extremely effective compared to classroom instruction alone. There truly is no better way for students to learn something than by trying it themselves!
The positive impact on students themselves is noteworthy, too: the effects of travel include an increased willingness to know, learn and explore; better adaptability and sensitivity; increased tolerance and respectfulness across culture and ethnicity; increased independence and confidence; better self-expression; and more. You can find the entire list of results on the SYTA website.
And finally, 76% of teachers said that they observed students wanting to travel even more after participating in international travel. So why not apply for a program that brings you on not just one, or two, or three destinations, but ten? Check out a Winterline gap year for all of these benefits and more! However, if you or your parents worry that all this travel will make you want to forfeit higher education and career entirely, don’t fret. The survey also found that students who travel have an increased desire to attend college. So what are you waiting for?
Last week we posted part I of our tips for having a great gap year. Here’s the rest of our advice!
5. Pursue one (or more than one) potential career.
One reason many people take gap years is because they don’t know exactly what they want to study. This doesn’t mean they don’t have interests, but they may not be able to decide on just one major.
If you are considering a few different areas of study, try them all during your gap year. You may find you hate engineering, are bad at coding, but really enjoy marine biology.
Pursuing your fields of interest may help focus you for college, so be sure to structure your gap year in a way that you can try multiple things, check some off your list, and enter college with a good idea of what you want to study.
6. At least plan the first few months.
Starting a gap year is a stressful process. You are leaving your friends and family to do something that is not normal. This will be a lot less stressful if you at least know what you’re about to go do. After all, you have a limited time with just one year. You want to make it count. Still, you don’t want to over-plan your gap year to the point that you have no room for flexibility. Plan at least the first three months so that you have a reason to walk out the door and start your adventure.
Within the first month, you will get into a rhythm and have confidence in what you’re doing. Once you’re well into your gap year, you may be confronted with other exciting opportunities. You might meet someone who owns a ranch, and has invited you to come work with them. You might make some friends who want you to join them on their trek along the Inca Trail.
If you have committed to one twelve-month project, you have removed your ability to be flexible and say, “yes” to serendipity. A good way to solve this problem is to either commit yourself to a few months in the beginning, or to find a program that offers a full range of experiences.
7. Stop worrying about your peers.
You are about to accomplish more than they will in their freshman year. If you think about them while on your gap year, you will slow yourself down.
You are taking a gap year because you want to take a leap and do something big. Do NOT spend this time looking to what everyone else is doing.
If you are looking for guidance before embarking on your gap year, talk to someone who has taken a gap year – not someone who has had the same experiences as you, and who is choosing to go straight to college. If it helps, please feel free to get in touch with me at email@example.com. I love talking about this stuff.
8. Be prepared to learn (don’t be prepared to teach).
Many people spend their gap years teaching at a school in another country (myself included), which is awesome, but you’ll likely learn at least as much from the experience as your students do.
Your students will teach you about life in their hometown and in their country. Be a sponge. This is your year to soak everything up that you can. You are not yet halfway to the average human life expectancy, which means the average person you’ll encounter on your gap year is older than you, and has more life experience than you.
You have more to absorb than you do to share. This is not meant as an insult, but as a motivator. This is exciting! You have so much unfinished business. So defer for a year, and go do it all.
Before you graduate from high school, apply to college along with everyone else. You may be anxious about college, which is why you want to take a gap year. But if you don’t apply to college while you’re in high school, you will spend your entire gap year stressing out about what comes next. Even if you defer for a year, you can always change your mind and go somewhere else. But you will at least be set up to start your education.
From the college’s perspective: While colleges do encourage gap years, they want to see that you have a plan. Getting started early (or on time) shows that you are serious, and intend on having a constructive, productive gap year. This tip is huge. Nobody wants you to spend your gap year sitting at your parents’ kitchen table, stressing out about college applications.
Before applying to colleges, check in with each school’s admissions office to see how they treat deferrals. Asking will not hurt your chances of getting in, and it is crucial that you find schools that are encouraging of your decision to take a year, and will honor any scholarships you have been awarded. We live in a wonderful time, when most universities understand the value of a gap year, and will honor the scholarships you were offered during your time in high school.
2. Confront your weaknesses.
This one’s exciting. This is a time in your life when you should acknowledge your weaknesses, and confront them head-on. Figure out what you are afraid of, and do specifically that.
Your gap year is a relatively risk-free time. You haven’t made a substantial multi-year investment; you likely don’t have a mortgage, kids, or accountability to other people. This is a rare chance to jump into the deep end and do what makes you nervous, without any serious repercussions or lost opportunities; college will still wait for you.
Are you bad at speaking French? Go to France. Have you always wanted to get SCUBA certified, but are nervous about deep water? Go to Cambodia and jump in the water with a dive instructor. Are you interested in business management, but are nervous about public speaking? Join a business program and enter a public speaking boot camp.
If there are real risks to any of your interests, just be sure to pursue them through a reputable program. Other than that, your gap year will be the perfect time to overcome any fears you have about pursuing your interests. You will become a stronger, more confident, more interesting person.
This may seem obvious, but there are countless benefits to traveling that go beyond seeing beautiful places and doing cool things. You are likely just graduating high school, and have spent your childhood at home with your family.
Families are more than a group of people with the same accent and nose. They are a group of people with similar values and experiences. When you travel, you meet countless people from different families – with different values, and different experiences. With this, come different opinions on politics, religion, the economy, and even on Justin Bieber (his “Purpose” album was actually pretty good).
Traveling will introduce you to totally different experiences and perspectives – some that you never thought of. You may try a food that is considered disgusting at home, but is actually pretty good. You may hear an opinion about your home country’s political leader, and you might find out how your government interacts with the rest of the world. In some cases, traveling may help you appreciate the way things are at home. Either way, it will give your thoughts more perspective, and your opinions more bases for legitimacy. Traveling creates well-rounded global citizens, and fosters empathy. Everyone should try it.
You have a high school degree. Congratulations! You’ve worked and studied for most of your life, so your degree really is a huge accomplishment. A college degree may be your next goal, but do you know what that degree is worth? I don’t mean how much it costs, but rather what its value is.
Spend part of your gap year working at a job, and you will quickly discover the value of your high school degree. Most likely, you will be able to get entry-level jobs that require little skill. You may get a job in customer service, data entry, or manual labor, but it is extremely difficult to get a job in your field of interest right out of high school.
I myself spent part of my gap year doing data entry in a factory that makes fluorescent light fixtures, I worked as a telemarketer, and I worked in customer service. Working during your gap year will quickly show you the kinds of jobs you can get with your new high school diploma, and will be a huge motivator to go to college and get a higher level degree.
It can be hard to find the perfect balance of using technology and living unplugged while you’re traveling. All of these amazing gadgets exist that give you the power to capture every moment of your adventures, and you can find WiFi in almost any corner of the globe. However, do you know when to put the phone away and just live in the moment?
Technology is great…
Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for technology. It’s revolutionized the way that we travel. With a phone, camera, or other device of your choosing, you have endless abilities. You can take photos and videos that are so high-quality and immersive any viewer feels like they’re seeing the sights with you. You can maintain contact with anyone around the world, whether that be friends from home or others you’ve met on your journey. You can get directions and recommendations for what to see, what to do, where to go, at any time.
Even more so, technology allows us to be safe and responsible travelers even on our own. For those who travel solo, having a phone means you can contact people when in need, figure out what areas to avoid, or find your path if you’re lost. Along with all of this, technology allows you to cross a language barrier. Whether you need help contacting emergency services or reading a map or sign, translation is available at our fingertips.
And of course, this feature doesn’t only help us in worrying or dangerous times. This ability to transcend language differences means that we can connect with any and everyone we meet along our journeys. You can have conversations, written or verbal, with someone of any tongue using apps even as basic as Google Translate. This is incredible progress and can truly help bring together different people, people who you may not have ever had the ability to understand before.
…But we don’t need it 24/7
All of that said, it’s good to take a break from your phone. Take out your headphones and listen to the local sounds of chit-chatter. Close the Yelp app and follow your nose to whatever restaurant smells the best. If it’s safe to do so, turn your GPS off and let yourself get lost. You might discover something unique that you would have overlooked otherwise. Don’t just focus on getting to your destination; make sure to take a look at everything you pass along the way.
And of course, the camera. I love to take pictures and videos of everything I do, because I always worry that one day I won’t remember it. It’s a valid fear, but I realize that it takes away from my experience at times. The way that I’m trying to remedy this is only allowing one picture at each experience. Sometimes I follow this rule and sometimes I can’t stop myself, but at the end of the day, I don’t need 80 pictures of every beach I go to. I’d rather take one, if any, and really use my other senses: smell the ocean air, feel the wind on my face, dig my toes in the sand.
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.
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.
Last year, we gave you a look into our Costa Rican partner Rancho Mastatal, but we thought it was time for an update!
At Rancho Mastatal, our students learn about permaculture and immerse themselves in a community that cares deeply about environmental sustainability. By doing so, students learn how to live in balance with the environment, making the most of what nature provides us without causing harm to our ecosystem. This includes cultivating natural building and food production skills, as well as learning about soil ecology and fertility.
Rancho Mastatal takes pride in their focus on natural building, which emphasizes the use of local labor and resources. These materials include wood, sourced from the region and sometimes directly from their property, earth, straw and natural grasses, bamboo, stone and rock, and manure. All of these resources are found in abundance and are not just strong, but renewable and sustainable. Students also get to learn the proper techniques to use each of these materials, which they put to test by building on their own!
Another main focus at Rancho Mastatal is hand preparing meals from whole foods that are locally or regionally sourced. For many students, this is a far cry from the processed and prepackaged foods that are so prominent in America. At Rancho Mastatal, students develop an appreciation for every step of the food preparation process, from gathering ingredients all the way to eating the final product. For example, our students get to make and enjoy their very own chocolate!
Finally, students get a lesson in permaculture, which is the practice of sustainable land use design. This involves planting in patterns that occur naturally to maximize efficiency and minimize labor and waste. Permaculture allows us to reach the desired level of harmony between man and nature, making it a win-win situation for all sides!
“Thirty percent of freshmen…go away to college only to recognize — either because of their grades, their habits, their mental health or all of the above — that they’re not ready for college life.” This statistic from the New York Timesmay seem shocking to some, but many of us may be able to relate.
College is hard. I’m a senior now, in my second to last semester, and it’s still hard. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun and rewarding, and worth it, but it does mean that many of us – despite the best efforts of our secondary schools, parents, etc. – are ill-prepared to tackle college. If you’re like me, you’ve spent most of your life in the same town, following the same routine: wake up, school, extracurriculars, homework, sleep, repeat. Maybe the weekends and vacations offered variation, but for the most part, you’ve known only one way of life. William Stixrud and Ned Johnson say it best: “for so much of these students’ lives, their parents, teachers, tutors and coaches have told them what to do and when.” Going to college and suddenly being responsible for yourself can be a shell-shock.
Stixrud and Johnson have more words of wisdom: “if you question your teenager’s readiness for college at the end of high school, you cannot expect that he or she will be ready by fall. It takes time, practice and some failure to learn how to run a life.” So how do you prepare? A gap year, they say (and we agree!), “can help students mature so that when they do enroll, they are more likely to be successful. For highly stressed, high-achieving students, a gap year offers time to recover from high school before tackling college.”
I’ve written before about my regret in not taking a gap year for myself. Though I did return to college after freshman year, it certainly wasn’t easy. In fact, the fall semester of my sophomore year were some of the most difficult months of my life. I was withdrawn, constantly exhausted, crying or sleeping all the time. I went to one or two of my eight class periods a week. It wasn’t until I was sitting in the Behavioral Medicine office, discussing the possibility of taking a semester off, that I realized how unprepared I had been for this part of my life.
I’d done really well in high school, maintaining an impressive GPA in all honors and AP classes, being on the cheerleading team, and participating in multiple clubs before and after school. On the weekends I held a part-time job and volunteered. I considered myself responsible in high school, and looking back, I still do for that age. I packed my own lunch every day, drove myself everywhere, got my homework done without being nagged, and paid for a lot of my own leisure expenses.
But I didn’t know how to properly study for a college exam, or maintain a strict budget. I didn’t know how to cook a meal, work a laundry machine, or clean a bathroom. I didn’t know how to maintain communication with roommates, advocate for myself in a job or internship interview, or make an impact on a community to which I was new. And that didn’t magically change when I got to school. I didn’t absorb these skills by osmosis from my parents or my peers; I didn’t pick up on it easily. All that happened was that the skills I didn’t know suddenly became more important and necessary and I still didn’t know them – and I began to collapse under the pressure.
Luckily, with support from my parents, doctor, and the school, I did finish that first semester of sophomore year, kept my scholarship, and returned to school the following semester after a much-needed winter break. But not all students are so lucky. Some can’t afford to return to a school where they didn’t succeed as expected. Some are so burnt out, so mentally taxed, that returning right away isn’t an option.
So in my opinion, Stixrud and Johnson are right. If you aren’t prepared for college when you graduate high school, it’s ok – and maybe better! – not to go right away. You can’t learn the necessary life lessons in a week, or even a month. That’s why I wish I had done, and I recommend, a program like Winterline. Doing a gap year gives you a longer period of time to learn these lessons so that you aren’t overwhelmed, and the ability to do so while traveling with a group of your peers makes the lessons so much more fun to learn. A gap year gives you world experience that you just can’t learn at home or in the classroom, and opens your eyes to how many ways of life there are.
You don’t have to maintain that “wake up, school, extracurriculars, homework, sleep, repeat” routine. Immersing yourself in different cultures will show you how rich and fulfilling your life can be with different experiences. And if you decide to return and go on to college, as many do, you’ll be armed with skills that you’ve learned hands-on, making your school experience as smooth and as fun as it’s meant to be.
Looking for a fun way to #OptOutside this Thanksgiving weekend? We have your back. Whether you’re adventuring with friends, family, or your fur baby we’ve got you covered. With 20 ways to #OptOutside, we’re sure you’ll love something on our list.
A Gap Year you’ll be thankful for.
1. Explore your city
No matter where you are there is always something to see. History is all around us and sometimes when it’s in our home town we never get the chance to see it. Whether you’re home or abroad, explore the sites, parks, and world around you. We promise you won’t regret it!
2. Build Something
Opt outside by building a new inside for those who need it. So many amazing skills come together when you build something using your own two hands, and nothing will make you feel more accomplished than seeing the end result.
3. SCUBA Dive
Live near the Coast? Spend your weekend diving. Our students have loved their time getting their SCUBA certifications in Costa Rica. Not near the coast? No worries! Most SCUBA diving courses start with you learning in the pool. One of our students from Kansas came on our program having already earned her diving certification!
4. Go Camping
Camping with friends and family is an easy way to #OptOutside for the whole weekend. Be sure to enjoy what’s left of the fall weather while you still can.
This may be dependent on where you live, but if you have a pool and some warm weather, invite some friends over to share in your leftovers and spend the day swimming together. (Or just relaxing in the hot tub.) And if you live up north, you can always opt for a Polar Bear Plunge!
6. Chase Waterfalls
You don’t have to be in Costa Rica or Belize to take in an amazing view. There are plenty of waterfalls here in the U.S. that you can enjoy. Not sure where to begin? Google “Waterfalls Near Me” and grab your pack and get chasing.
7. Go boating
With so many different types of boats to choose from there’s sure to be something to fit your city. Boating is a great way to enjoy the water and see places from a new perspective.
Bird-watching isn’t just for grandmas. You’d be by surprised the amazing wildlife you can spot in your own backyard. And, with your smartphone you don’t need a book to identify the birds you see. Just download one of the many bird-watching apps and go adventure. Just be sure to not disturb the birds you do see.
9. Practice Yoga
Of course we’re not all as talented as our Yogi Field Advisor, Arielle…Yoga is a great exercise pretty much anyone can do. And it’s a great way to take in the fresh air while practicing.
10. Take a hike
We mean it in a nice way. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to #OptOutside is to take a hike. Bring a friend, bring your pup, bring some water, and enjoy.
11. Water sports
From wakeboarding to wake surfing, to water skiing and tubing. There’s sure to be something you’ll love when it comes to getting your adrenaline pumping on the water.
Give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for day. Teach a man to fish, you’ll feed him for his whole life. Fishing is a peaceful and great way to #OptOutside alone or with friends or family.
And we don’t mean watching it. We mean getting outside and playing with your friends and family. Feeling frisky? Raise the stakes and play for that last piece of pie.
14. Learn a new skill
There are so many outdoor skills to choose from! Our students especially loved learning archery but maybe you’ll love rock-climbing, gardening, or golf! Learning a new skill is a great way to feel accomplished after your long weekend.
15. Practice your photography
Nature is a great model! Head outside with your camera and work on your photography or videography skills. Your instagram will thank you later.
There’s nothing like a clear night sky. Keep track of how many constellations and planets you can find.
17. Spend some quality time with your pet
Whether you’re taking your dog for a walk, playing with your animal outside, or going horseback riding. Spending some quality time with your pet outside in nature is one of the cutest ways to #OptOutside.
Cooking is probably the last thing you want to do after all the time you’ve spent in the kitchen for Thanksgiving, but cooking outside can be loads of fun. Whether you’re roasting nuts, grilling, or improving your campfire cooking skills, cooking outside can be a good time – and also prep you for your audition for Survivor.
Kayaking is a great way to enjoy the water and the company of others. If you live on the coast or even a city with an urban river there’s sure to be a place you can rent a kayak and embark on this fun adventure.
20. Take a nap
Set up your Eno hammock or a picnic blanket and sleep off your turkey coma in the great outdoors. We won’t judge you.
Interested in our programs? Apply today for our Fall 2019 Winterline gap year. To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook.
In mid-September, our Squad spent eight days and nights hiking through the desert, climbing canyons, and trudging through rivers in the Gila National Forest, New Mexico.
Be it thoughts, mental images, or sensations, each of us has unique memories of our course with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). In my case, the smell of our portable gas stove seems to have never escaped my nostrils…
In order to showcase our varied perspectives and experiences, I asked my fellow squad members to engage in a bit of self-reflection. The following collection of responses grants a glimpse into the thoughts of Squad 2 throughout our NOLS expedition.
What is your favorite memory from NOLS?
“My favorite memory from NOLS was when everyone arrived at camp at the same time on the fourth night. It had been a long and hard day, and along with the expedition of the tent pole retrieval there were a lot of doubts. To see everyone make it was amazing.” — Caedon
“My favourite memory was the river crossings in the canyon. It was a refreshing change from hiking through the more desert-like areas, and the scenery down there was worthy of postcards and desktop screensavers.” –– Yeukai
“It was the last hour of the most grueling hike of my life. But singing Mamma Mia and relishing in old memories of McDonald’s McGriddles actually made the long, dark trek down the canyon really enjoyable.” — Sam
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
“I am proud of myself for completing the trip. It felt like a very long week, and our squad went through a lot…Forgotten gear at previous campsites, and a lot of miles to travel.We all finished the journey and came out with a new respect for nature, and for the industrial revolution.” — Caedon
“I’m happy that I was able to complete the course and still be mesmerized by nature rather than get distracted by the tasks at hand” — Ben
“Completing an 8-mile hike in a single day. It was my longest hike, with my heaviest pack on and the fastest travel group. The final descent was in the dark and the trail was ridiculously steep but we were all determined to reach the X on the map. It was the first time that we made camp after dark, so that was a new experience.” — Yeukai
“Getting down that giant canyon after 10 hours straight of just hiking. Seeing camp and everyone waiting for us with the tent pole and piping hot ramen was the best thing ever. I’ve never had better ramen in my life.” — Sam
What was most challenging for you?
“There was this phrase we had for having to go to the bathroom, called “Trowel Time”. Basically, you and a trowel ventured far off into the woods and you had to relieve yourself without the comfort of a seat or toilet paper. You would use water to clean yourself. It was horrible and I hope I never have to Trowel Time again.” — Caedon
“Being cold at night was really tough. Even though I was wearing multiple layers, thick socks, gloves, a buff, and a hat, I’d constantly wake up cold and have to try to curl up and hold my freezing knees, whilst inside my sleeping bag.” — Yeukai
“Getting up in the morning. Giving up my nice, warm sleeping bag to a cold, wet morning with a grueling day of hiking ahead was hard to psych myself up for.” — Sam
If you were to sum up your experiences at NOLS with a single word or phrase, what would it be?
“Loco” — Caedon
“Worth the hardship” — Ben
“Stay hydrated everyone” — Yeukai
“Fulfilling” — Sam
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!
Each country varies greatly in the amount of freedom granted to its internet users. Even within regions, there can be great differences in freedom of speech.
Consult resources like this Reporters Without Borders map, that outline levels of freedom along a number of different measures, in order to know your risks. Notice, for example, how greatly freedom of speech varies in the Caribbean, or Southeast Asia.
2. Talk to locals about your blog ideas
Depending on the kinds of things you see or experience, you may want to write a celebration of cultural diversity, or a scathing diatribe of a city policy.
Pitch your ideas to locals before you publish them, people you can trust. If you’re in Vietnam, for example, and you want to write about resource distribution, talk to locals about it. If they give you a lukewarm response, it probably means you shouldn’t publish it until you leave. And that brings us to our next piece of advice.
3. Use a tor hidden service
Anonymizing your internet presence can make a big impact on other people’s ability to track you down. This may not sound very sexy at first, but if there’s something so serious that you absolutely have to write about it, it might be worthwhile to mask your identity. Even when you’re doing the right thing, you can still be punished or used as a scape-goat.
Tor services, developed by the US Navy, are one of the best ways to anonymize yourself. Read up on how to do it right, and remember to log out of whatever account you’re posting with. Just because you’re on Tor doesn’t mean your Facebook post will not have your profile photo attached to it!
4. Sometimes you just have to wait
You may have a great idea, or a great article, or expose, but if publishing it would put your life or safety in great jeopardy, it’s probably not worth it to publish immediately. As a foreigner, you don’t have the same rights as you would back at home, and you may even have less protection than the locals themselves, certainly not the same depth of personal connections.
Publish your articles, pieces, works of art, when you know you will be safe. Don’t even publish it on your way to the airport if it’s probably sensitive. Wait until your flight touches down at your next destination.
5. Don’t be discouraged!
It may sound like a lot of work to keep up a blog during your gap year, but the rewards can be immense.
Blogs can be an incredible reflection point for you, pushing your thinking and helping you digest all the crazy different things you’re seeing day-to-day. They’re an awesome exercise in public dialogue and written presentation. They may even offer something of value to the local communities in which you find yourself.
And of course, they can pull your friends and family along with you for the ride, helping them share in the same insights you’re having, as they’re happening.
Whatever your reasons, stay safe out there, and keep your head about you when publishing content in another country.
Some of these tips may seem self-explanatory, but it’s easy to forget and be thrown off guard when you’re in a new surrounding. Remember that your host family signed up to host you, so they’re excited to have you and help you familiarize yourself with the surroundings. Be appreciative of this!
1. Don’t forget your manners: Remember to always say please and thank you just like your parents taught you.
2. Speak their language: You are spending time in a homestay to get more acquainted with not only your host family’s culture, but also their language. It’s the perfect place to practice. Don’t worry about making mistakes or sounding silly!
3. Food for thought: Always, always, always eat the food your homestay offers, or at least take a small portion to try it. If you have dietary constrictions be sure to relay that up front.
4. Be outgoing: It will probably be somewhat out of your comfort zone, but don’t retreat. Ask questions and share your experiences; now is not the time to be shy.
5. Dress as they dress: Be mindful of your family’s customary dress and customs. Showing too much skin for women in some countries, for example, is frowned upon.
6. Lean on your host family: It’s perfectly normal to feel homesick while away. Remember your host family is their to help.
7. Unplug: Be respectful. No phones, iPads or laptops while enjoying time with your host family. I repeat..put the phones away!
8. Help out: While you are living there, chip in as much as possible with household chores and upkeep.
9. Give them a gift: It’s a nice gesture to leave a parting gift. And keep in touch, too. I am sure they will love to hear from you time to time.
Living in a homestay can be one of the most rewarding experiences your will have while traveling and studying abroad. Refer to these easy tips to make your time there carefree.
I’ve experienced homesickness in a variety of different contexts, especially since I started traveling independently during high school. I specifically had a difficult time with this during the second trimester of my gap year with Winterline, when we were in Southeast Asia. At that point during the trip, I got sick so many times. Because I was physically uncomfortable for a portion of those couple months, I missed the comforts of my home, my friends and family, and even just the grocery store in my neighborhood. I’ve come up with 10 things that helped me feel more at home, even when I was on the other side of the world.
Keep in touch with your friends and family (but not too much). I found that using FaceTime to talk to my parents and best friends from home was a great way to feel like I was still connected to home. But, I’d advise you to do this only about once a week. More than that, and you’re spending too much time in your room and dwelling on your own homesickness!
Take a hiatus from social media. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is too real, especially when you miss home. Try to limit your social media usage and be more present where you are. I personally turned off all social media notifications, so I only see posts when I open the apps.
Create routine in your life. When you’re traveling, especially with Winterline, you’re constantly moving from point A to point B. I found that by sticking with a routine when I woke up and before I went to bed, I was happier and took better care of myself.
Watch your favorite show on Netflix. Okay, I only recommend this if you’re sick in bed and seriously need to just chill out. When I was cooped up in bed, I watched Friends (my favorite show) and it definitely made me feel more comfortable and at-home.
Get outside! If you’re missing home, get outside and breathe in the fresh air. Whether it’s taking a hike, renting a kayak, or even just sitting outside, you’ll feel better after you spend some quality time outside. This one always helps me.
Talk to the people you’re with about how you’re feeling. On Winterline, the people you travel with are your family. Take advantage of that! Talk to them about how you’re feeling, and maybe someone else feels the same way and you can help each other get through it. Use the support system you have! The Field Advisors are also trained to help students in a variety of scenarios, so you can always go to them.
Exercise. Simple enough, but admittedly hard to maintain while you’re traveling. Yoga, running, and even finding a local workout class or gym are great options. Get your blood pumping and those endorphins will help you feel better and forget about home.
Overexpose yourself to your surroundings. If you’re really uncomfortable in crowded areas, then spend more time in those settings until you actually feel better about it. You’ll be proud of yourself for overcoming your anxiety and fears associated with whatever is making you uncomfortable. Where you are will start to feel more like your new (temporary) home.
Write! Write! Write! This comes up in a lot of my blog posts, but it’s because it works so well and is such a great outlet! I love to keep a journal and write about how I’m feeling, what I experience on a day-to-day basis, etc. It’s a nice way to express what you’re going through if you don’t want to talk to someone about it.
Put your *positive* energy towards something productive. It’s easy to bog yourself down with negative thoughts and feel sorry for yourself when you’re experiencing homesickness. I found that by focusing on productive things (writing for my blog, learning more about photography, focusing on skills, etc.) while traveling, I became more positive and excited for each new day.
Unfortunately, homesickness is sometimes inevitable, especially when you are thousands of miles away from wherever you call “home.” I hope these tips help, and just remember: you are not alone! You always have a support system during Winterline, and you’ll learn to believe that “home is where the heart is.”
The bond created amongst students who are traveling on a gap year together will foster lifelong friendships. Author and President of the Board of the American Gap Association, Joseph O’Shea’s book: Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs, outlines ways a gap year can impact relationships otherwise:
Engaging with other age groups.
Most students admittedly spend a majority of their time at home with peers. During a gap year, students meet and interact with people of all ages from very young children to seniors. Generations of people become their network, and they’re more likely to want to continue to engage with older/younger people after their years abroad.
Reflection on strangers.
Students react differently and change their attitude towards strangers. For many, there is a distrust of strangers; many are “positively disposed” to people they do not know. While traveling, almost everyone is a stranger. After taking a gap year, students report having more faith in people and understand that for the most part, people are genuine and friendly. Approaching and interacting with strangers becomes second nature and a must, especially when traveling independently.
Many countries have differing viewpoints on men’s and women’s roles, especially in regards to their household responsibilities. Acute awareness of these differences helps students appreciate the challenges of family and gender equality overall, and influences how they will develop their own family dynamics back at home.
Changing ideas on family and their relationships back home.
In many developing countries, extended family often plays a larger emotional role (living together, caring for each other, etc.) than in the United States. Many students recognize the need to reconnect or make more effort to spend time with their own relatives. And if they didn’t have a close family growing up, it may also become a bigger priority for them when they return home.
In these communities, students see the importance of strong parenting in a child’s life. This encourages students to be an influential role model for their own future children. Many young adults say they dislike children until they actually spend time with children from all of the world and in different cultures. It helps broaden their perspectives, as well as connect with people in a different way.
Students took a closer look at how marriages work and what makes them work beyond living with their own parents.
Students often feel that their parent-child relationship becomes one of mutual respect as adults. And after a year abroad, they tend to be more grateful for their parents, especially if they helped to fund their gap year.
Students benefit in so many social and emotional ways while traveling on a gap year and then once home. Gap years encourage students to engage with their world in ways they never had before. And we think that’s pretty cool.
Taking a gap year offers many unique benefits, including developing leadership. But what does that actually mean? How is leadership defined? How does it apply to a gap year? Frankly, there are so many ways to characterize leadership, but at the most elementary level, here are some of traits that they typically embody. And how they can be learned and applied to students traveling and exploring new cultures during their gap year.
1. Awareness: A keen sense of what’s going on around you. It goes without saying that by merely traveling alone, you can’t help but take in all the scenery, people, and cultural traditions in any given country. It’s a great opportunity for students to not only explore the world, but to also “be aware” of the world, and broaden their perspectives.
2. Decisiveness: Making a fast and firm choice. There are always going to be times during a gap year when students have to make a decision quickly, even it means going with their gut. You miss a flight, now jump on a bus. This is a skill that empowers students to become effective leaders in school and within the workplace!
3. Confidence:The mentality that “you can do it.” Challenging activities, such as mastering a high-ropes course or backpacking through tough terrain on an excursion-type gap year are just two examples of ways to build confidence. Confidence allows students the space to try more, during and after their gap year.
4. Empathy:Experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and mannerisms of the people around you. Exemplifying respect. In a recent post, I outlined the ways students can be respectful travelers, which is worth a read. But empathy probably goes far beyond that, especially in terms of experiencing life in developing countries; you come to appreciate what you have.
5. Individuality: You being you. Many students come from small towns or have grown up with the same people; standing out is sometimes tough. A gap year provides the perfect opportunity to showcase how students are unique; they get to meet a new group of peers, and start anew. A gap year is also a great time for self-discovery; finding out other things about yourself that you did not realize before, but lends to your individuality.
6. Honesty:Telling the truth. Students will most likely be traveling in a small cohort. Being “straight-up” with peers and truthful with Field Advisors opens up strong communication and a positive dialogue across the board.
7. Focus and Accountability:Thinking through a situation and taking responsibility for your actions. I will relate this to post-gap year life. There is ample research to support that gap year students return to academics with a definitive course of study and career choice, which demonstrates focus. They don’t waste their time or their parents’ money, keeping themselves accountable.
8. Inspiration: Uplifting people. Students return home refreshed, with new life perspective. They feel optimistic about their future and it’s something they want to share. That’s also why they become a program’s best advocate. So many of our Winterline alum have shared their stories about what Winterline has done for them since the program. Check them out under “Alum Spotlights” on our blog.
Taking a gap year is a journey. A learning experience. An evolution of character that can certainly develop into the strong attributes that define leadership.
If there’s anything that I dislike about travel, which is verylittle, it’s the long flights. And I mean long flights. When I flew to Cambodia with Winterline, we took a 17-hour flight from Los Angeles and a 4-hour flight from Taipei. We completely skipped January 21stbecause of the International Date Line! Here’s 19 tips (hopefully not the same number of hours as your flight) to help you survive all that air time:
Melatonin/eye mask/earplugs:If your flight is a redeye, and even if it’s not, it’s a good idea to bring a sleep aid and things to make you more comfortable. I have a hard time falling asleep on planes, so I like melatonin because it’s natural and doesn’t leave me feeling groggy when I wake up. I also like to bring an eye mask (or a big hoodie) and earplugs to help me forget I’m on a plane.
Work/be productive:There’s not many opportunities to work on things without the distraction of emails, your phone buzzing, or social media notifications. I find that I get a lot of productive work done (writing/editing blogs, video edits, drafting emails) when I’m 30,000 feet in the air.
Read: I tend to get distracted with life and forget to catch up on my reading. I love bringing a kindle or paperback book on long flights. Again, a nice advantage of the distraction free environment!
TV/Movies:Hopefully your airline has movie players attached to the back of each seat, but it’s always a good idea to check before your flight. If they don’t, download some movies on iTunes and have a good ole movie marathon.
Music: I love to download new music before a long plane ride and listen to it throughout the flight. It’s a great time to sit down and just explore some new songs and artists, especially if you have a habit of listening to the same playlists for months!
Portable charger:Definitely a must for long flights! If you plan on using your phone throughout the flight, have a charged portable charger on hand. I like this one from Amazon.
Neck pillow:This is so essential, whether you want to sleep during the flight or not. If you get one that inflates (like this one), you can save room in your carry-on!
Stretch and walk around: This is a tip for true survival. Some people suffer from blood clots on long flights if they don’t get up and move around. Every hour or so, I like to get up and walk around to prevent this. Bonus:if you make friends with the flight attendants, you can walk to the back and get free snacks!
Change of clothes, deodorant, toothbrush: You change your clothes after a 12-hour day, right? So why not change them in the middle of the flight? I like to pack a pair of comfy pants and a loose t-shirt to change into midway on a long flight (12-18 hours). It’s also really refreshing to put on some deodorant and brush your teeth!
Journal: If you like to keep a notebook/diary/journal, long flights are a great way to write your heart out! I love to journal and I’ve found this to be a great way at both killing time and reconnecting with myself.
Podcasts: I don’t regularly listen to podcasts, but I have friends who have told me they lovepodcasts, especially on long flights. Just make sure to download episodes before the flight.
Look out the window: Something so simple, yet often forgotten. I tend to get distracted by looking out the window and listening to music. Some of my favorite views have been from an airplane!
Call ahead to order special meals. Most international airlines will provide meals throughout the flight, but it’s always good to call ahead and check. If you are vegetarian, gluten free, or have another dietary restriction, you can call ahead and order a special meal for no extra cost (usually up to 24 hours before the flight).
Play a game:My brother and I play tic-tac-toe, my dad and I play hangman, and I’ve even played Uno with some people on flights. Bring a mini chess board, a deck of cards, or even a multiplayer game on your phone!
Coloring book:I love filling in coloring books, especially mandalas, but I never have any time. Long airplane rides are the exception! It’s a lot of fun and can be a great way to pass time and spark your creativity.
Learn the local language: If you happen to buy Wi-Fi on the plane, you can practice the language on Duolingo or watching basic language videos on YouTube. It’s always good to know some basics of the local language. If you don’t have Wi-Fi, bring some downloaded YouTube lessons, or old-fashioned flash cards!
Have a conversation: I’ve met quite a few really interesting people on planes. Sometimes, people don’t want to be bothered with annoying conversation on the plane, so don’t force it. But, if you do start chatting, you can kill a lot of time getting to know your fellow passengers!
Crossword/Sudoku in the airline magazine: Honestly, the airline magazines can be pretty interesting. I’ve read some cool articles, and I alwaysdo the crosswords and Sudoku! It’s also fun to play with a travel buddy.
Take your shoes off:Last, but certainly not least, and my personal favorite! As long as your feet don’t smell bad, take you shoes off and relax!
Most people know the saying, “curiosity killed the cat.” But fewer people have heard the rest of that sentence, which ends, “but satisfaction brought it back.” I have always considered myself a curious person, but my personal approach to curiosity changed throughout the course of my gap year with Winterline. I discovered new ways to satisfy my curiosity by seeing new places, trying new things, and saying, “yes” to new opportunities.
When I first enrolled in Winterline, I was focused on the skills and travel aspect of the program. I only envisioned myself learning and discovering new countries, but I failed to remember that there would be a significant amount of free time during the program. As a result, I found myself just hanging out and watching Netflix on our rest days. I wasn’t really doing anything with that valuable time. When I got home for winter break, I did some reflecting and realized that I hadn’t been satiating my desire for adventure outsideof the Winterline program.
So, I made a goal for myself going into Southeast Asia and Europe. My goal was to do something with my rest days, whether it was visiting a new temple in Bangkok, seeing a Bollywood movie in Mumbai, or visiting a beautiful cathedral in Vienna. I made a list of all the locations on our itinerary for second and third trimester, did some research on each city/town, and came up with a list of things I wanted to do and see on my rest days in these specific locations.
As I moved into second trimester, my goal evolved into “saying yes” to opportunities that presented themselves to me throughout my travels. And I had some incredible experiences as a result.
I woke up at 5 in the morning to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat with Nick, my field advisor, and one of my best friends, Alice. I visited a floating city in Siem Reap with Alice, to see the sunset. I went to China town in Bangkok to celebrate Chinese New Year, and we all stumbled upon a famous Thai rock star’s concert. I celebrated Holi at an Ashram with Nonny, Pablo, Alice, an old Austrian couple and an Ayurvedic doctor and his kids. I went to Dachau concentration camp by myself and had a humbling and moving experience. I went to Easter Mass at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice with Patrick. I modeled for an artist in front of Notre Dame. I even saw Waka Flocka perform in Munich. I had all of these experiences during free time and on rest days.
I did so much and all because I began to say yes, to everything, within reason of course.
There was one specific time, though, that sticks out to me. On my first full day in Pune, India, I went out to lunch with Sophia and Alice. I remember we all had an incredible lunch and then decided to explore. I looked at my list from winter break and saw “Aga Khan Palace,” which I knew nothing about. When we got there, we began to explore and wander the grounds. I learned that the palace had been turned into a museum and that it was where Gandhi, his wife, and assistant were imprisoned. We continued to wander around aimlessly. I was in awe of the beauty of the palace and its dark history. We saw a little pathway with a sign in Marathi, the local language in Pune. We decided to just follow it, even though we had no idea what it meant or where it led. We entered an enclosed garden and I saw a tombstone. As I walked closer to it, I made out the words, “Here rest the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi.”
We stumbled upon the ashes of Gandhi.
It was in that moment when I realized how powerful my curiosity is and how far saying, “yes” can get me. I’ve learned to look at my own curiosity as an evolving skill- something that grows and develops as I do. I want to continue to say yes to new opportunities as I go to college, further immerse myself while traveling, and continue to lead a meaningful life.
So, how will you satisfy your curiosity on your gap year?
Overall, the idea of an ISP is simple: to provide students an opportunity to have freedom in what, with whom, and where they study. This week encourages all students to take a bigger step towards more independence. ISP weeks occur once in every trimester of the Winterline program, so a total of three times. The first two ISPs lead up to one of the best aspects of everyone’s time during Winterline: the Europe ISP. It’s during that week where students get to finally do what they’ve been planning all year, with full independence. To give prospective students and parents a better idea of what an ISP week is like, I’ll jump into my experience with ISPs as a former Winterline student.
My first ISP was in Monteverde, Costa Rica during the first trimester. I chose the “Spanish Language Intensive” course for five days, but the other choices ranged drastically. Some of my friends worked in an in-home bakery for the week, learning how to bake all sorts of delicious treats. One friend learned about foot reflexology and practiced on real patients. Two students even spent their time tree climbing and building a “sloth bridge.” In total, there were about 14 different things to choose from. During the week, I continued to learn Spanish with two amazing professors and I made huge strides towards becoming fluent! We all stayed with different homestay families during this week, which contributed towards our independence. I was with a young couple, and I had a great time getting to know them and speaking Spanish with them. At the end of the week, we all presented to our friends and homestay families, which allowed us all to learn a bit about what our peers had been doing in their ISP week.
My second ISP was in India, and the theme of all the Indian ISPs was “self-care.” Options ranged from practicing yoga in an ashram, learning about Ayurvedic principles, practicing art and dance therapy, and spending time doing a variety of these things on a remote farm. I chose to learn about Ayurvedic principles and I learned much more than just that. I spent my week at Atmasantulana Village, one of India’s first and largest Ayurveda centers. I practiced yoga and meditation, listened to lectures about Ayurveda, took cooking and nutrition lessons, and discovered my interest in health and holistic care. I spent my time there with four other students on the program, which was a great way for us all to get closer with one another and take a break from being with the whole group.
My third and final ISP was my favorite. We all began planning our ISPs in the first trimester of the program, and this week was a culmination of all our hard work. I went to Paris to take cooking classes with a company called La Cuisine. It was one of my favorite weeks out of all of my Winterline experience, and the independence had a lot to do with that. I planned my days around cooking classes and was able to do and see so much in the city, despite having a busy schedule. Because I was alone, I was able to do everything I wanted. My friends did some amazing things too, like fashion design and film/photography classes in London, learning at a spa in Italy, cooking classes in Spain, cultural tours in Scotland, and even working on a farm in Slovenia. The Europe ISP week is a highlight for every student, and it’s actually one of the reasons I was originally so excited about Winterline when I enrolled.
ISPs are an experience that follow each student throughout their time on Winterline. I personally learned the value of independence and being invested in topics and skills that I had an interest in, which ignited my own interest in doing things outside of program or ISP days. When I look back on my time as a Winterline student, the ISP weeks helped me grow and come out of my comfort zone more than any other times. If anything, I hope that sharing my experience with ISPs will help you decide to take a gap year with Winterline, or maybe even just find something that you want to learn about independently.
Most people are familiar with regular culture shock, the feeling that you get during your travels where you realize you’ve truly left home. I’m sure you probably felt this while traveling on your gap year. You’re experiencing foreign and new things which sometimes are a blast and sometimes aren’t as fun (hence the word shock). But reverse culture shock isn’t talked about as much. It can be disorienting and uncomfortable when you come back from your time abroad and realize your idea of home isn’t quite the same anymore. As our Field Advisor, Mischa, outlined in his blog on reverse culture shock,
Accept and understand that you’ve grown as a person. This isn’t always a quick process, but understanding how you’ve changed will help you adjust your “new” self in your “old” surroundings. Additionally, it’s important to connect with others who have shared your experience. Know that you’re not alone when it comes to feeling reverse culture shock. If you find that a text or a snapchat doesn’t meet your need for connection…reach out to your travel friends! Don’t be afraid to press the call button on your phone and just talk to your friends you spent time traveling with. After all, on a program like ours, you just spent 9 months seeing each other, every. single. day.
You may also find that journaling, blogging, or vlogging helps you keep your experiences alive and eases your transition into coming home. These activities can help you integrate your travels into your daily lives. And don’t forget, if you really love travel you can always work in the industry. Just because you spent the last 9 months traveling doesn’t mean you can’t make it your lifestyle or go abroad for an extended period of time again!
2. Tell Your Story!
As we mentioned above, journaling and blogging can help you with your transition from travels to coming home. As many of you may be discovering, your family and friends may have a limited capacity to relate to your experience abroad. As Mischa mentioned in his blog,
“Go easy on these people. You will have to find a sweet spot in your story telling. You don’t want to be that person who flips every conversation into “well… when I was in India…” But you also don’t want to keep your experience to yourself and let it fade into memory.”
A great way to find the “sweet spot” in your storytelling is to be intentional. Ask people to come over and watch your GoPro videos with you, look at photos, and share stories. Create the space for it so they know that it’s your time and it’s important to you. Another great way is to share your experiences on social media or with other students who plan on going abroad. Do you remember your own uncertainty, anxiety, and excitement as you researched the perfect gap year program for you? Wouldn’t it have been great to have a review from someone like you, who’s been in the exact same situation, had a great experience traveling, and come home to share their story.
By leaving a review on websites like Go Overseas or Go Abroad, you’ll give back to the global travel community. You’ll help future students like you feel more confident making their travel decisions and you’ll be encouraging more people to go abroad and share in experiences like you had. Seriously, it’ll give you warm fuzzies and make you fall in love with your gap year all over again.
Once you’re home and adjusted, you may notice this itching feeling in your stomach. It’s the travel bug! Now that you’ve experienced such amazing adventures abroad, you know what to expect when you travel the world again. Right? It’s time to start planning your next trip. Maybe you’ll head back to that amazing town in Costa Rica, or use your new certification to go SCUBA Diving near the Great Barrier reef–whatever the case is, we’re sure you have a head full of ideas, and we can’t wait to see where you wanderlust takes you.
Need help going abroad again? Check out that Go Overseas contest we mentioned above. This contest runs from literally right NOW through June 15th, and there are prizes available every week — including the grand prize, which is $1000 toward your next trip overseas.
Let’s face it. It can be scary to travel alone, either as a man or a woman, especially in a foreign country where you don’t have your friends or family to help you, or even explore with you. As someone who has traveled alone in different parts of the world, I have some “do’s” and “don’ts” for when it comes to traveling alone. And maybe I’ll even give you a few reasons to start solo traveling…
#1: DO learn a few basics of the language in that country. It could be as simple as learning a few greetings and how to order a coffee, but that goes a long way. Locals, no matter where you are, really appreciate if you put in some amount of effort to speak their language. And it can help you feel more confident when you’re by yourself in a new place.
#2: DON’T be scared to take public transportation. Specifically, in Europe, I was afraid that it would be dangerous to take the metro or tram alone, especially at night. However, I found that I had no problems, always felt safe, and I saved tons of money taking the metro as opposed to taking Uber or taxis!
#3: DO start up conversations with other people. You’d be surprised by how many locals are interested in getting to know you, and how many fellow travelers you’re surrounded by! I found that I actually connected better with people I met along the way when I was alone because I was more invested in finding friends and people to keep me company. I’m even friends on Facebook with a few of them now!
#4: DON’T lock yourself away in your hotel room! It’s easy to put something off because you’d only do it or see it if you had someone with you, but don’t make that an excuse to do nothing! Come up with things you want to do, and then go out and do them!
#5: DO ask other people to take photos of you. This is something I felt really awkward about at first. I wanted photos to document what I saw, and I wanted to be in at least some of them (and I am not a fan of public selfies). I was pleasantly surprised at how nice people were when I asked them to take a photo of just me. I got over my fear of being “awkward” very quickly, and now I have photos from my solo trips that I’ll have forever.
#6: DON’T always have your headphones on. This is something I’ve noticed that a lot of people do when they’re by themselves, traveling or not. I’m not telling you to stop entirely, but when you’re traveling, it is so amazing to observe and listen to things as you walk by. There are definitely some things you can miss when you’re “plugged in.”
#7: DO stay in hostels! Hostels can be a great way to meet other people from around the world who are either traveling alone or in a group. Either way, hanging out at the bar or in the common area of your hostel is a great way to meet other travelers and make friends!
#8: DON’T be afraid to eat alone. So many of my friends have told me that they’ve skipped meals in the past, just because they have no one to eat with. I understand this feeling of awkwardness, but the reality is that no one else besides you really cares. I tend to feel comfortable eating alone, but sometimes I will bring along a book to read, my journal to write in, or even my phone to watch a show on. Just, please, don’t skip a meal because you’re alone!
Solo traveling is an amazing thing, and I encourage everyone to do it at some point during their lives. So many of my positive experiences while traveling have been when I’m without anyone else. There’s something about traveling alone that changes my perspective and makes me more eager to connect with others, more observant, and more grateful for what I’m doing. DO travel alone!
I could sit someone down for, well nine months, and go through the nitty, gritty details of my gap year trip with Winterline. Instead, I would like to share why I decided to do Winterline and how that morphed into what I’ve gotten out of the program.
In my first journal entry that I completed in my first week of the program, I claimed that the reason I was on Winterline was to “learn more about myself, bond with my peers and form lifelong relationships, and learn in an alternative way.” Sitting here, looking back on the past nine months of my life, I accomplished all of those goals that I set for myself.
One of the biggest surprises for me in terms of “learning about myself” was how much I learned about myself. I always envisioned that “discovering who I am” would miraculously just happen at one point in my life, and I would suddenly have this answer. But, I discovered that my journey with Winterline was primarily an introspective journey, which ended up being one of the most important skills for me. And I learned a lot about myself.
I learned about my love and connectedness to the outdoors. I learned that I can’t “sit still” for long and need to stay active and explore, wherever I am. I learned how much I value, and need, alone time. I learned how much of a hard time I have receiving feedback, and I learned how to navigate that weakness. I learned that it’s okay to be an emotional person. I learned that I need to dedicate myself to self-care. I learned that I am a powerful leader, something I already knew, but that I further discovered in this group. And I learned that I still have a lot more to learn about myself, and it is an ever-evolving journey.
When I think about my desire to get close with my peers and “form lifelong relationships,” it’s funny to look back on how naïve I was. I had this plan to be best friends with everyone in my group and be a peace-maker. In reality, I formed three strong, unbreakable bonds with people in my group and I am confident that I will stay in touch with those three in the future. The biggest lesson I learned when navigating relationships in the group is that it is okay to not like some people, and it is a given in any big group. It’s not necessary to be best friends with everyone, and frankly that’s not realistic for anyone. I made incredible connections with my peers and field advisors, but I wasn’t everyone’s best friend. It was a difficult lesson for me to learn, especially because I am so people-oriented, but I am grateful for my group as a whole and for every individual in the group. Everyone taught me something different.
And lastly, I learned in many, many alternative ways. I am an academically-focused person, and it’s just a core part of who I am. I enjoy taking notes, asking questions, and completing projects. A big part of my reason to go on Winterline was to challenge this traditional way I learn, and to see how I respond to learning in an environment without grades. One of the biggest examples that stands out to me is when I did my independent study project in Costa Rica. I did a “Spanish Immersion” course for five days with two professors. Every day, I had conversations entirely in Spanish and learned through asking questions in Spanishand by being corrected by my professors. I also took a cooking class, dancing lesson, and tour of the suspended bridges in Monteverde, all in Spanish.I learned more Spanish in those 5 days that I did in probably a full semester in high school. That experience is a reflection of the countless other ways I learned skills, and I feel more confident to go into college with more learning strategies under my belt.
Winterline is special. I miss the program and the people dearly, but I look back on my year with no regrets, knowing that I got everything out of the program that I sought out to. I learned the life skills, but I learned much more beyond those- a lot of intangible lessons.
If you have the opportunity to do Winterline, you owe it to yourself to do it. Coming from an academically-focused person, doing Winterline was the best decision I have ever made. I encourage you to take the first step out of your comfort zone and apply.
Before I was even enrolled in Winterline, I knew that I wanted to study cooking in France during my Europe ISP (Independent Study Project). I’ve always had a deep interest in baking and cooking, especially given that I grew up in a household where family meals were of high importance, and brought us all together. What I didn’t realize, however, was that spending a week alone in Paris, with my sole intent of learning a variety of traditional French cooking skills, would actually teach me the power of my own independence.
On my first full day in Paris, I had an entire day to spend doing nothing. I didn’t have cooking classes, nor did I have anything scheduled on my calendar (a rare occurrence for me). After sleeping in, going out to get some groceries, and having lunch at a local Pho restaurant, I got back to my Airbnb apartment and came up with a general itinerary for my week. I realized that there was so much I wanted to do in Paris- more than I could even fit in if I stayed for a month. And this was in addition to wanting to learn how to cook and bake, so I set out to do all those things. And I was able to do all of them, because I was alone.
I walked through the Tuileries and took a nap in a chair at a small fountain, like all the locals were doing. I visited Musee D’Orsay and fell in love with Van Gogh’s work. I visited the Eiffel Tower. I had the richest and most delicious hot chocolate, at Angelina. I had the best macaron of my life. I had the best ice cream of my life. I had the only, and best, escargot of my life. I had a personal style consultation. I saw the most beautiful view of Paris, on the roof of a mall. I walked everywhere. And I fearlessly navigated the metro every day and night. I ran across the Paris marathon. I went to L’Orangerie and wandered as I admired Monet’s Water Lilies. I interviewed a French chef. I modeled for a caricaturist in front of Notre Dame. And I learned how to make classic French sauces, pate a choux and eclairs, two types of macarons, debone a chicken and make a variety of meals with it, and how to select the proper ingredients at any market.
That encompasses a little more than half of what I did while I was in Paris for just over a week.
During this week, I discovered how competent and powerful I am, and that my interests range even more than I thought. The cooking classes were amazing, and I’ve already used some of my newfound skills at home. But most importantly, I discovered more for myself in Paris than I would have if I was with anyone else. Because I was alone, I only did the things that I wanted to do, and I never felt badly for dragging someone along with me because I wanted to see something.
Spending my week alone in Paris was empowering and thrilling. And it allowed me to see how much I can do on my own.
If given the opportunity, I highly recommend that every traveler, spends a significant amount of time traveling alone. I promise you’ll see yourself, and wherever you are, in a different light.
To learn more about independent travel, feel free to contact us or read more on our blog!
A follow up of Ben’s first post about his gap year.
A Gap Year is a fantastic way to get some answers. Typically, more important than finding what you want to pursue, is finding out what you absolutely don’t want to pursue. Prospective gap year students should seek the greatest breadth of experiences possible in order to check off potential areas of study, and pursue the short list that remains once in college.
Designing my own gap year is still one of my greatest accomplishments. I take pride in the fact that I turned “I’m not ready for college yet” into one of the most productive years of my life. I hiked the 2,174.6-mile Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia, worked in a variety of industries, and taught English in Peru. In looking at potential interests that I pursued, however, I was only able to check off a few. I learned that I didn’t want to work in telemarketing or light fixture manufacturing (no surprise there), data entry, or retail. But these were the jobs that I could get straight out of high school. The good news is this lesson made me really want to get a college degree, so my first semester in college yielded my highest grades yet. The bad news? I still didn’t know what to study.
I came away from my gap year interested in education, but my lack of breadth throughout the year meant my examination of other disciplines was far from over. I started majors in communication, economics, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology. I waited until the last possible day – halfway through sophomore year – to declare my major as international relations. I wandered through more than a third of my college education. J.R.R. Tolkien was right when he wrote that, “Not all who wander are lost” – in fact, I had a pin stating that on my backpack for the entire trail that year – but when the financial stakes are as high as they are in college, it’s best to have focus.
My advice to you: don’t treat your college tuition money like the entrance to a buffet. Instead, spend your gap year doing as much as possible in as many areas of interest as possible. You will become a well-rounded person, a greater asset to your school and future employer, and a more interesting person!
A skills-based gap year is the best way to ensure that when you step on campus as a freshman, you’ll know what to do next.
The Creator, The Sustainer, and The Transformer. These three deities make up “Trimurti,” the trinity of supreme divinity in the religion of Hinduism. When they come together like this, they form one singular being that Hindu followers, and followers of other Indian religions, worship and highly revere. Despite the fact that I am not a follower of Hinduism, I find personal value in each of these three deities. The ideas behind Trimurti continue to teach me about myself and the roles I play in others’ lives as well as my own.
I learned about Trimurti when I stayed at Atmasantulana, an Ayruvedic health center and ashram, during my independent study project in Lonavala, India. Ayurveda is an ancient practice of medicine that began in India. One of its main principles is to treat and cure the body holistically, as opposed to simply treating symptoms and ignoring root causes. They attempt to do so through diet, meditation, yoga, exercise and various Ayurvedic treatments. Over my five-day stay, I learned more about myself than I have in any other singular week on Winterline, which is saying a lot. I didn’t expect to have such an intense week of introspective reflection, especially given that the environment was so unorthodox by my standards.
Sunil, one of our clinic program directors, told us about Ayurveda on our first day. He taught us about the elements of the body, which are Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space. He explained that when all of our elements are in perfect symbiosis and alignment, the body will have no problems, but when one or more of the elements is misaligned, ailments and symptoms of the body will occur. The goal of Ayurveda, he explained, is to use natural methods to bring these elements back into alignment, therefore healing the body directly. As I went on the next few days, I kept what Sunil said in mind and stayed open to the idea that yoga, meditation, and following basic Ayurvedic principles could heal some of my body’s ailments. I quickly realized that my mindset was preventing me from healing, and I needed to change that.
I had an appointment with an Ayurvedic physician during the middle of the week to discuss my chronic joint pain, digestive issues, and recurring acne, which have all plagued me for years. She went through my medical history with me, asked me questions about my lifestyle, and then “felt my pulses.” As silly as it may sound, she was feeling the pulse in my wrist for my “energy.” Within 30 seconds of this, she looked at me and said, “You get angry soon.” She meant that I have a quick temperament, and get upset with very little reaction time, which is true to an extent. I asked her to tell me more about this and how she felt it in my energy. She told me that I have too much “Vata,” which is responsible for the elements of air and space, and determine overall movement in the body. She prescribed me all-natural ayruvedic medicine and told me to meditate and practice yoga every day. I proceeded to go to the yoga sessions each morning and meditation each evening. After each session, I felt lighter and more comfortable within my own body. I didn’t feel any desire to worry or to stress, and I just felt good. When I thought about the stuff that had bothered me the previous week, it all seemed more trivial to me. And I seriously wondered if my temperament was really preventing me from healing and being a more productive person. I wanted to keep this feeling of calmness and stability, which was so new to me.
I have attained, and am still attaining, more calmness and less temperament in my daily life. I have a deeper understanding of what I need to keep myself grounded, and I am more comfortable being “selfish” when it is necessary for me to take care of myself, especially while living with a large group of people. Meditation is now a part of my routine, and yoga is something I sometimes incorporate when I have enough floor space in my hostel room.
The thing I often come back to is the idea behind Trimurti, which has deeply resonated with me since I first learned about it. We all have aspects of the creator, the sustainer, and the transformer within us. I’ve found that it’s by looking at those aspects of ourselves that we are able to identify what we do well, and what could be improved. I am a great creator and sustainer within most realms of my life, but when it comes to “transforming,” I have a difficult time. By actively recognizing that, and framing it in an intuitive way that works for me, I am able to work on myself and let go of so much.
I am my own creator and my own sustainer and my own transformer. The biggest lesson for me in the last few weeks has been this idea, but applied to my mindset and attitude about my life. I create my mindset. I am the creator of my own environment and my own reactions to what happens in my life. I sustain my mindset. I am able to look at the grand scheme of things, believe that what I am doing in this moment is helping me now and in the future, and actively sustain my progress. And I can transform my mindset. I hold the power to transform my own life. And it’s liberating.
To learn more about our students be sure to check out the rest of our blog. We upload new posts three times a week!
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.”
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.’”
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.”
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!
But where these articles fall short is in describing how one actually learns these skills. Where in our modern testing culture do you learn the ability to learn? Where do you learn collaboration and critical thinking?
The gap year is the perfect opportunity to define your own education, and create the kind of learning you know should be a part of your pedagogical repertoire. It’s your opportunity to zoom out, and figure out, “What are the kinds of things that I want to learn?” rather than the things that are mandated to you.
The short-list below is about inspiring you to be active about your own learning, and to use the gap year as an important opportunity to explore a number of different lifestyles, experiences, careers, and fields of study.
Which skills do you need to be prepared for life?
No matter what your job or lifestyle in the future requires, the ability to collaborate effectively will be an invaluable skill. Increased automation and artificial intelligence will probably be taking over all of the tasks that don’t require an innate understanding of human nature. Anything rote is likely to be replaced too.
The one thing robots can’t do is think like a human. They’re not inherently team players. So those jobs are here to stay. Working on a design team, negotiating a deal, doing scientific research, developing new energy policy and technology — these are just a few examples of careers that depend structurally on effective collaboration.
Semester abroad, gap year, and summer programs don’t always support collaboration. Many programs will send you to a far-off place on your own, with no team to bounce ideas off of, no peers to challenge your thinking or push you to understand how another team mate is feeling. Living in community is harder.
All of our programs focus on cohort models specifically for this reason. But that’s not to say there’s no alone time.
2. Independence & self-sufficiency
We’ve all heard the stories. A student leaves home to go visit a far-off country. Runs out of money, gets robbed, gets stuck at an airport with the wrong visa and can’t come home, or worse.
Learning independence and self-sufficiency is a matter of degree. You don’t give yourself something too easy, nor too hard. You don’t drop yourself in the middle of a Mumbai slum on your first time away from home. And you don’t want to spend all your time abroad on the Thames, sipping lattes. You want to find the place where you’ll grow the most, the fastest.
Winterline’s approach is to sequence independence, building up to the Independent Study Project, where our students propose budgets, planning itineraries, and their own learning schedule, and, for the 9-month program, are given free reign to pursue them anywhere in Western Europe on a given stipend. In advance of that, students learn how to survive in the wilderness, how to deal with solitude with meditation, how to negotiate and manage a budget.
You learn independence by taking out more and more sizeable chunks of it. The key is balancing safety with challenge, knowing your limits, and knowing when you’re ready for the next big bite.
3. Cross-cultural understanding
The world is becoming smaller. Interactions that weren’t possible a decade ago occur on the regular. Flying around the world for business used to be the sole definition of globalization, but now these things can occur instantaneously across the web. You can FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangout, Zoom, Uber Conference, Facebook Live and so on. You can probably even Twitch your meetings.
But what all this means is that any international understanding you possess is inherently magnified. You may be running a startup in Boston, but your interactions with people from different countries, of different faiths, time zones, values, priorities will be extremely regular.
Having spent time in a certain country is one thing. But having interacted with people from those places in a deep, sincere, and meaningful way, beyond “Do No Harm” and toward actually contributing to those communities as they’ve defined it, is of far more value. You can speak to their work styles, their deference to elders, their ways of expressing respect because you’ve taken the time to understand them. But also, you can know your own limits, the limits of your own culture, perspective, and sense of what’s possible in the world.
Culture is a powerful force, and it shapes what we believe we can do with our lives. The more cultures you are familiar with, the more of an impact you will be able to have in your life.
Ultimately, the value of a gap year is not just about making you more prepared for a career, but making you more prepared for all of what life has to offer. The more you see, the more you experience and interact with regarding collaboration, independence, and cross-cultural understanding, the more you will be prepared for life.
I had just finished my delicious seafood fried rice and dragon fruit smoothie at a local Khmer restaurant down the street from my hostel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I started heading back to the hostel to fill up my water before going back to the yoga studio where programming was that day. As I made it into my room, I quickly realized that I had misplaced my sunglasses (an absolute necessity under the scorching southeast Asian sun). I tore my room apart trying to find them, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I half-heartedly accepted the loss, but as I walked back I stopped at the restaurant anyways. I asked the hostess if I had left my sunglasses at my lunch table, but she told me the staff hadn’t seen any. I thanked her and walked away from the restaurant. I crossed a couple busy streets with tuk-tuks, motorcycles, taxis, and people on bicycles weaving in and out of the traffic, and I eventually made it to a sidewalk when I heard someone behind me yelling. Assuming it was a street vendor or tuk-tuk driver trying to get my attention, I ignored it. But after a few seconds, I turned around curiously. A man on a motorcycle stopped next to me and waved. I recognized him from the restaurant as he handed me my sunglasses. He smiled as I thanked him repeatedly, and then we both carried on in our opposite directions.
This all took place on my first full day in Cambodia, and I feel that this little anecdote fully encapsulates my 3-week experience in Cambodia. Earlier that same morning, we had been with our regional director who was giving us an orientation of the country. He told us the precautions we needed to take in order to prevent theft and assault, and how to maximize our personal safety. Given that it was my first day in a new city, country, and continent, I had my guard up, especially with my newfound knowledge of Phnom Penh’s dangers. My experience with the man and my sunglasses completely altered my view of the Cambodian people, and shifted my perception of where I was.
As most of my friends and family know, I hate big cities. They tend to be overcrowded, loud, dirty, and congested, all of which are things that stress me out. I hardly find myself going out of my way to get into a city; typically, I do just the opposite. Being from both Washington State and Colorado, I have become accustomed to living in more rural and natural environments with easy access to the ocean and rivers and forests and mountains. First trimester’s somewhat rural settings of Wyoming, Belize, and Costa Rica were right up my alley. But upon arriving to Phnom Penh, I knew it would be a challenge for me to assimilate to “big city living.” After my encounter with the man from the restaurant, I found myself looking for more positive aspects of being in a big city rather than dwelling on the things I hated about it. No longer afraid or extremely weary of my environment, I naturally became more accustomed to Phnom Penh, and genuinely appreciated what it had to offer, even though it wasn’t where I was actively choosing to live.
I went out of my way to break through my own discomforts about being in the city, which didn’t come as naturally to me as it did to most people in my group. I forced myself to cross the street without hesitation, holding my ground with the motorcycles and tuk-tuks zooming in and out around me (and not letting myself freak out). I stayed open-minded about eating the local cuisine by eating at different restaurants and cafes, night markets, and street vendors. I even made an effort to take Natanielle’s advice of “speaking smile” by smiling at the locals, even if I couldn’t speak with them in their native language.
The overarching lesson I learned from that occurrence on my first day in Phnom Penh is that both receiving and giving little acts of kindnesses, especially while traveling abroad, can become pivotal moments that alter your view of where you are, how you act, and the culture around you. I want to thank that man from the restaurant, wherever he is and whatever he is doing. His act of hospitality and kindness allowed me to see Cambodia for what it is: an amazing country that has gone through immense loss, yet is filled with some of the kindest and genuine people I’ve encountered.
High school students receive drastically different messaging than I do as someone in the field of experiential education. They’re asked every day what they want to be when they grow up, where they are going two months after they graduate from high school, what they want to study, and what they want to accomplish. Most of the adults who ask that probably don’t even know what they want to be, do, or accomplish, so they’re asking pretty unfair questions.
My favorite thing about getting out of high school and college is that I now hear a completely different philosophy. My colleagues consistently say that there’s no way a high school student should be expected to know what they want to study, let alone what they want to do with their life. My life goal is to make sure high school students receive similar, more supportive messaging.
If you’re thinking about taking a gap year, you’re probably feeling pretty vulnerable. People probably ask you “why?” Because you have guts, that’s why. If something doesn’t quite feel right about going straight to college, listen to your gut, and figure out a responsible plan of action. People will understand – even if it’s after the fact.
Senior year, students at my high school consistently asked me why I wasn’t going straight to college, and they asked the question with both curiosity and a palpable tone of confusion. A few weeks into my gap year, I was a couple hundred miles into the Appalachian Trail when a Facebook group popped up: “I wish I was Ben Welbourn.” Front and center: a photo of me conquering another mountain. It was created by our class president/football captain/lacrosse captain/resident stud. That was my first positive reinforcement from a peer, and it happened over a year after my decision to defer from college. After that, I got more and more support from high school friends and complete strangers from the college I was yet to attend. Be patient!
A week before graduation, my high school Spanish teacher asked me what my plans were post-high school. When I told her I was about to start a gap year, she told me “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.” Initially, I took that as an insult, as if she was telling me, “Yeah, you’re a mess, so you’re probably not ready for college.” I’ve kept in touch with her long enough to know now that she just saw a gap year as a great opportunity for me to find focus.
Stick to your guns, but put in the leg work to make sure that once you do take your gap year, you’ll come out with new skills and experiences that everyone will appreciate.
You’ll say to yourself, that was so amazing, there’s no way I’ll forget it. And then..
While there are many good reasons to bring a journal with you on your gap year travels. There are even more reasons to keep a journal. Here’s five!
You’ll be changing so much during your gap year. That was the whole reason you’re doing it. Documenting your observations, your reactions, your perspectives as you move through the world will create enormous value for you in terms of presenting what it was you did, who it was you met, and what you visibly learned and engaged with.
Writing is a powerful tool. Not just for spreading the word about what you’ve been up to, but for processing what it is you’re seeing. Whether you’re writing in a journal or writing on a blog, documenting your journey helps you grow when you slow down and take stock of what’s happening to you. If you’re doing it right, every day of your gap year will be a completely new adventure.
3. Bring your friends along for the ride
While not everything you’ll write down in your journal is or should be public knowledge, you’ll want to have something to share with your friends and family back home. Keeping that journal updated daily will ensure that those crazy quotes that blew your mind open about how that sailor in Greece or that tea-stand owner in India sees the world don’t get forgotten.
Your gap year should be as much about exposing you to new experiences, new cultures, and ways of seeing, as it should be about acquiring new skills and abilities. You have a whole year to get better at something. Why not make it something that is useful in just about every profession, career, and life setting? Writing is an invaluable tool for communicating at scale.
And of course, you’ll want to revisit those memories that you’ve made. You’ll want to hit ‘save’ on life while you’re living it up or stuck at some bus stop somewhere. Because all of the ups and downs are what make your gap year beautiful (though hopefully you’ll have more ups). Looking back on how you were thinking about a predicament, perhaps thinking about it too hard, or not enough, you’ll realize how much fun you were having on the road, figuring everything out for the first time. You may even get a few laughs out of your old self.
Many of our students love to share their experiences with others through journaling. Be sure to check out the “Student Voices” section of our blog. Additionally, two of our current gap year students have travel blogs themselves check out Anna and Meagan’s adventures by reading their blogs!
Previously on “Leela’s Winterline Adventure” you took a step inside an amazing in-home bakery. What happened next? We drove to San Jose, spent a few final days debriefing, and then dispersed back across the United States and Europe to our respective families and friends. For seven weeks. I was ready to go home. Though trimester one was amazing, it was also one of the hardest periods of time in my life.
The biggest oversight I had when preparing for Winterline was that living with eleven other people wouldn’t be difficult. I’d been a part of multiple different programs where I was living as part of a larger group, and the social aspect of things had never been an issue. I feel like it should’ve been obvious, but it didn’t occur to me that when you take a dozen people from different states, ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles and ship them over two thousand miles away from everything they know, there’s going to be some issues.
Reality set in, and suddenly I was hyper aware that everything I thought I knew about myself was a reflection of everyone else around me. In simpler terms? I discovered that 90% of my values and ideologies were just echoes of the people in my life.
Flash forward two months and I finally had a grasp on what I meant to myself. Two months of almost giving up. Two months of sitting by myself wondering if anyone would ever want to sit next to me. Two months of the most profound self-growth I have ever experienced. I became someone whom I didn’t recognise, and it was awesome. The woman looking back at me in the mirror stands taller, speaks clearer, and creates the world around her, rather than the world projecting onto her.
Yet, right when I felt like a new person, I was stuck with the reality of returning to a home where not much had changed. Before we left, we all got together to acknowledge how far we’d come, and we were forewarned of the dreaded “sameness” we would encounter upon our homecoming. Equipped with this knowledge, I braced myself, but the mental preparation was to no avail.
My parents asked me maybe four questions about my adventure, and my friends, save for those few special beings, asked me zero. It was like I had never left, and it was infuriating. As much as I love my friends, they were living the same days they always had. Granted, for some of them that meant fruitful productive lives, but I’m talking about the ones who spent more time envying my life (and then proceeding to either make resentful comments or completely avoid asking me about my travels at all) than focusing on what they could do to make theirs better. In fact, there’s a part of me that wishes I hadn’t told certain people when I’d be home, because ultimately, they wanted to hang out with me, but never found anything to do when we did. When I finally conceded to being in the company of these particular individuals they wouldn’t tell me about their lives, most likely because they were comparing our experiences, but wouldn’t ask me about my adventures either, probably for the exact same reason.
So yeah, that sucked, there’s no amount of eloquent wording I can use to disguise that, but it wasn’t all in vain. There wasn’t immediate acknowledgement of my growth, nor was I celebrated with fanfare and confetti. My recognition came in the form of a holiday party I wasn’t even planning to go to, full of food I couldn’t eat and drunk adults gambling with alcohol minis. It was my first appearance at any event since returning home, and I was immediately roped into conversation with a family friend. It was in this conversation that I received the most validating compliment I’ve ever gotten.
“You stand different,” she said, and I inflated like a balloon. Someone was finally noticing the person who now looks back at me in the mirror, I was elated. My struggles weren’t all for naught, because though she couldn’t pinpoint it, she saw me as I wanted to be seen. My outsides reflected my insides, and it wasn’t all in my head.
That excitement lasted all of five minutes, because pleasure is a temporary high, and I went home that night noticing I didn’t feel any different than from before I was given that compliment. Then I realized that it wasn’t a bad thing, because I felt good. I had always felt good, regardless of what was said. I knew intrinsically that I was different, and it was enough. I was chasing after something that ultimately just enabled me to see how much happier I was after my two months with Winterline.
Moral of the story (because you know there always is one): if you feel different, like really truly different, after having a life experience, chances are you are. The experience doesn’t have to be taking everything you know, throwing it out the window, and living out of a backpack for three months (although I won’t lie to you, it is a pretty good launch point). It can be as simple as starting a daily practice of something beneficial to your health and overall well-being. It doesn’t have to be a lot; making a mental note of people’s passions and mannerisms or making an effort to be extra intentional with your words is enough. In fact, these are the changes I made, travelling the world just gave me the right platform for commitment.
I’ll leave you with a quote from my high-school math teacher, who said the following: “Say you draw an infinite line from a vertex, and then draw a second infinite line just one degree off from the first. Although initially there is an almost undetectable distance between the two lines, ultimately you would find, if you were to follow them, that two points equidistant from the vertex would be miles from each other down the road.” In non-mathematical terms: it’s the littlest change that can make the biggest difference in the long run. So even if you’re not on a course like Winterline, try making a commitment to changing something small in your life, you never know where it will take you.
To hear more from our Gap Year students be sure to check out our Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).
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.”
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?
Don’t run from the lesson or it will keep presenting itself to you – harder each time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can’t rush self-esteem.
Listen twice as much as you speak. Ask good questions.
Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.
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.”
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!—
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!”
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.”
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 Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).
I’ll admit it: I’m a technology addicted millennial. I have my phone on all the time. I can’t go five minutes without checking my phone. It’s a problem, but if you’re like me, you’ve got a thousand excuses to justify it: I get anxious when I don’t know what time it is. It’s a digital age, I need to stay connected. I can see and do things on my phone that I can’t in real life. Simply, I like my phone! This is all true. But there’s a difference between enjoying the use of your phone and being unhealthily dependent on it. And many of us – including myself – are.
So let’s go back to excuse number three: I can see and do things on my phone that I can’t in real life. When I’m sitting in bed, that’s true. But if you have the opportunity, why not actually go see and do those things? A gap year or studying abroad may be the perfect lesson in learning to live without relying on your phone.
I’m guilty of scrolling through my phone while having conversations with people. While I tell myself that I’m a great multitasker, I know deep down that it actually prevents me from fully listening and is incredibly rude. When you put your phone away, you can make deeper connections with the people in front of you, and hear things you might not have if you were trying to tweet and listen at the same time.
By doing so, you’ll learn so much about yourself, and who you are without the world influencing you 24/7. Without social media, you’ll have no pressure to impress anyone. You can focus on what you actually want to do, and not worry what anyone else will think of it. When you’re traveling the world, you want to be sure you’re having experiences that matter to you, not ones that you’re only having so you can post about it later. This in turn will teach you individuality and confidence in your own decisions, which will help you in both your school and career.
A gap year is all about new perspectives and stepping out of your comfort zone. For a technology addict, there’s no better way to achieve this than putting the phone away.
I’m not arguing you dump your phone for good (unless you want to! Power to you!). I’m sure we all have friends and family who we can’t often see in real life. You probably love keeping up with memes and trends. But remember to put real life first so that you’re in control of your technology instead of your phone having power over you.
The school system in America is so rigorous and stressful, it makes sense that high school students are burning out. In 2016, 62% of undergraduate students reported struggling with “overwhelming anxiety”. The same study found that specifically, 41% of incoming college freshmen were seriously overwhelmed by their responsibilities. So you’re not alone if you’re having difficulty finding the motivation to continue post-graduation. Allow yourself a break. A gap year may be just what you need to reinvigorate your curiosity. However, not every gap year will provide you with the same outcomes. An an ideal gap year should allow you to take on a fresh perspective. You should build relationships with new people, visit new places, and interact with new cultures.
A gap year will instill a new sense of purpose in you. Many of us live in one place for our entire youth, where all we do is go to school, maybe work, and participate in a few extracurriculars. This routine can get boring and you may start to wonder what the point of day-to-day routine is. Travel will give you the chance to see corners of the world where you’ll be reminded that life for others is so different.
You’ll understand that you don’t have to confine your life to your current routine. The possibilities for your life are endless. You may find a new passion or renew your love for an old hobby or interest. A program involving volunteering will remind you of the status you hold in the world. You may have a newfound gratitude for the opportunities you’ve had and dedicate yourself to helping others, or you may find resources that can help you in the future if you need them.
Gap years will also teach you the skills needed to cope with periods of anxiety or depression. Traveling in a structured program will give you room to develop individual skills and self-sufficiency while knowing that you have support to fall back on if needed. This allows for trial-and-error similar to college. You’ll be in new situations with new people, but you will not be alone. By having this practice, you’ll gain maturity along with confidence in yourself and your communication abilities, which will help you immensely in college.
Another difficult skill that you’ll pick up on is resilience. Many students go to college and perform differently than they expected, then have difficulty bouncing back. The same goes for people applying to jobs that don’t work out. On your gap year, you’ll work through trying times, physically and emotionally. You’ll probably fail at something, and you’ll deal with fear and stress at some point. Having field advisors and a group of students around you will help you figure out how to move forward and reflect on your experience to succeed the next time around, which is invaluable knowledge.
I’ve been a perfectionist, type-A student my entire life, and over time, that started to affect me negatively. By the time I got to college applications, I was exhausted. I didn’t want to go to college. I didn’t think I could take any more of the constant work, but the societal pressure for higher education influenced me to go directly to college after high school, anyway. My parents were very supportive of me taking a gap year if I decided, but it was my own anxiety that pushed me to go to college. My freshman year was full of excitement, and I was happy with my transition.
But sophomore year, everything fell apart. My fall semester, I was skipping almost every single class due to being overwhelmed and uninspired. I had no motivation to get out of bed in the morning, often sleeping all day and crying all night. I so desperately needed a break, but I had not allowed myself to take one. A gap year may not have prevented this, as mental health has many factors. However, I do know that I should have been kinder to myself and taken time to recuperate.
Your Personal Brand. In today’s world everything is digital and everything is on the internet. Don’t fight your presence on social media, brand it! Understanding your personal brand can help you land a top internship and position yourself for success during and after college. During this intensive program you’ll explore your personal brand and gain an important business perspective.
Learn from the Best. What makes a compelling marketing video? Learn to create one. Learn what clients are looking for. While in Mumbai you’ll take a deep dive into marketing and branding with one of India’s top ad agencies. Not only will this be a fun learning experience for you, but it will look stellar on your resume and set you apart from everyone else.
Gain a new perspective. See first hand what it’s like to live and learn in the world’s fastest growing economy. Throughout the program, the focus will be on hands-on skill development and an introduction to the real world of businesses from the dabbawalla lunch delivery service to a behind the scenes day at a world-class hotel.
Real skills. Real Life. You’ll gain invaluable interpersonal, negotiation, and communication skills. Because many of these skills extend beyond business, this program will help you succeed in school, in any job, and even in your personal life. Why not invest in yourself?
Here at Winterline, we think that studying abroad is one of the most important experiences a student can have. However, some students might be held back or hesitate because of invalid information they’ve heard. We’re going to bust some of the study abroad myths that you might have heard. We don’t want anything keeping you from a journey that will change your life for the better!
Myth: I can’t study abroad if I don’t know the native language.
One of the major points of studying abroad is to push yourself out of your comfort zone. As long as the program has no language requirements, don’t let this keep you from traveling. You’ll probably be surprised at how quickly you pick up on common phrases. There are also a plethora of books, websites, and apps to help you learn the language either over time or help you communicate in a certain moment. Going to a country with a language you don’t know only guarantees that you’ll become more confident putting yourself out there. It even allows the possibility of learning yet another new skill while abroad: a new language!
Myth: I won’t know anyone, so it won’t be fun.
Again, studying abroad is about challenging yourself. It’s like going to kindergarten – or college! Everyone else will be in the same boat as you, and because you’re in a similar situation, it’ll be easy to bond. That said, study abroad is a great time to learn to become comfortable being alone. Independence and self-sufficiency may be hard to learn, but they’re important skills to have.
Myth: Studying abroad is too expensive.
As much as it sucks, sometimes money does hold us back from things. Luckily, most academic programs want you to study abroad, so they’re willing to help you do what it takes to achieve this. Talk to your advisor and see what financial aid and scholarships your school applies. You can also find scholarships through websites like Mach25, FastWeb, and the Gilman International Scholarship program. There’s plenty more; all it takes is setting aside some time to Google. Some countries even offer scholarships as incentive for students to study there, so be sure to explore that option, too. For our programs we offer a variety of scholarships and financial aid. Additionally, since our Gap Year Program is worth college credit, we can accept 529 funds.
Myth: It isn’t safe to study abroad.
Be assured that your program was carefully vetted before being opening up to students. Every program wants to keep you safe, both for your benefit and for their own reputation! You should use a certain amount of caution, but that’s standard even in your home town. Pay attention to government and program warnings and use common sense, and you’ll be just fine.
Going along with this, many female students, students of color, or students with disabilities may feel that certain countries aren’t safe for them. Of course, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, but studying abroad is a worthwhile experience that you can, and deserve the opportunity to, do. If you need more support, check out Diversity Abroad, Mobility International USA, or the NAFSA Member Interest Group websites.
Myth: They don’t offer my major, so I shouldn’t go.
Say it with me this time: study abroad is about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone! Even if you can’t study your major, you can get credit for required core courses or even for a minor. You could also discover a passion or hobby you love unrelated to your major! If your worry is that taking a semester off your major will prevent you from graduating on time, check in with your advisor to make it work. Or, you could consider a summer abroad. Research actually shows that four-year graduation rates for students who studied abroad is 17.8% higher than it is for those who didn’t go abroad. If you’re worried about study abroad impacting your employability after college, we have a whole blog on that.
Myth: I’ll miss out on things.
Ah, yes, FOMO: the fear of missing out. I get it. I’ll be studying abroad this spring, and I’m jealous of my friends who get to stay together, hang out, make new jokes and have new experiences. But they’re probably thinking the same thing about me getting to go somewhere new! Your friends will still be there when you get back, and you may miss something going on at home, but you’ll be back. You’re just temporarily trading a familiar setting for the opportunity of a lifetime to experience something new somewhere different.
Myth: I can just travel on my own after college, and it’ll be the same.
Sure, study abroad is a great opportunity to travel and explore the community. But it is also about learning – learning about your major, the country or city you’re in, and yourself. Study abroad challenges you both personally and academically. It allows you to build new skills while exploring the world. You still have to go to class, which gives you a structured model for experiencing the culture around you.
The whole world is at your fingertips with study abroad, and you have the opportunity to experience an adventure that so many people don’t get. No matter where you choose to go or what you choose to study, you’ll learn more than you ever thought you could, and that’s reason enough to pack your bag.
Thailand is quickly rising on the list of popular travel destinations. Don’t waste any time in getting there for yourself. It can be difficult to choose where to go in another country: do you stay in its biggest city or one of its small, hidden gem towns? We won’t make you choose on our nine day trip. If the promise of authentic pad thai isn’t enough to convince you to apply, maybe these reasons will. The Final Application deadline for our spring trip is January 26th, what’s holding you back?
It doesn’t matter if you’re a city or a country person; you’ll get to experience both! Spend part of your adventure exploring an area you’re comfortable with. The rest of the time, you’ll get to push your boundaries in a new setting.
Travel off the beaten path in both urban and rural areas for a unique trip. You’ll visit non-tourist destinations for an exciting and one-of-a-kind journey.
Learn directly from Thai chefs how to create a traditional three-course meal. If you love cooking, then you’ll learn to put a twist on your daily meals. Don’t know how to hold a knife? This is a great way to learn. And, of course, you’ll get to eat what you make. Is there any better way to connect with a culture than to eat their cuisine?
Pick up a skill that you would never have thought to learn otherwise. Maybe you already know how to fish, but have you ever been a rice or coconut farmer? Now’s your chance to see how agriculture works on the other side of the world.
Protect the earth, or more specifically, mangrove forests. You’ll be taught coastline protection techniques to help keep these important ecosystems intact. It’s important to take any and every chance to reduce your carbon footprint and learn how to save precious biodiversity.
Thailand is brimming with culture, especially in its temples. Learn about religion, spirituality, and history in a country that your classes might not focus on. The predominant Buddhist heritage is apparent in everything from the architecture to the interpersonal interactions.
Nicknamed “The Land of Smiles”, Thailand has notably friendly people. Get to know them and their stories through conversation while you’re traveling. The country welcomes tourism, so really, you’d be doing them a disservice by staying home!
What’s holding you back? Apply now to experience Thailand for yourself; you won’t regret it. Don’t forget, our Final Application deadline for our spring trip is January 26th, sign up while spots are still available!
While taking a gap year has become an increasingly popular trend among high school seniors for various reasons, there are many benefits to doing so for those who are in the workforce, too. Whether you’re about to don your cap and gown — or already among the employed — taking a gap year offers specific advantages that can positively affect your career.
What a Gap Year Is All About
In a recent post by Counseling@NYU, which offers an online masters in school counseling from NYU Steinhardt, titled “Gap Year Basics: How Taking a Year Off Increases the Ceiling for Students,” looks at the dynamics of a gap year. Although some may view such a choice as a luxury, individuals take gap years for various reasons — such as saving for college, working, traveling or for religious purposes. In an interview for the article, Ethan Knight, executive director of the American Gap Association (AGA), noted that serious gappers dig deep to learn more about themselves. He says they: “… confront limits they didn’t know they had, succeed more frequently than they would have thought before, and are exposed to new and different ways to lead this thing called life.”
5 Ways a Gap Year Can Benefit Your Career
There are many advantages to taking a gap year. In addition to the positive results of its own 2015 National Alumni Survey, the AGA highlights data across a variety of studies that show what benefits can result from making this choice. This and other resources demonstrate the advantages that are possible, including the following five:
A better sense of self and deeper multicultural understanding — which helps individuals learn how to cope with new challenges in a creative manner.
The acquisition of new skills and knowledge for career enhancement — many of the attributes that employers look for can be gained during gap year activities. Many take a gapyear to learn a new trade, or do a short course that enhances their skills.
Increased job satisfaction and employability — studying abroad during a gap year has been shown to have a big impact on getting both jobs and promotions.
Expanded networking potential — made possible both by extensive travel and the ability to shed the pressures felt back home.
When Your Gap Year Is Over
Although it may seem daunting to re-enter the workforce or school after the gap year is through, there are specific things you can do to ease your transition. If you’re headed to school and your admission has been deferred, be sure to contact the institution involved and let them know you’re ready to hit the books. When it comes to getting back into the workforce, it’s important to let your current employer know you’re back — and to rework your resume if you’re looking for something knew. The AGA offers the following tips for doing so:
Communicate the value of your experience clearly.
Focus on the skills you acquired, rather than the experiences you enjoyed most.
Structure your resume correctly, with gap experience under the right section, like ‘Volunteer Experience’
Know your audience and what role you want, and align your resume accordingly.
Use specific metrics to be concise and communicate the value of your experiences.
Remember that a gap year is seen by many as a choice made by the privileged, which is not always the case. Clearly articulate why you took the gap year and emphasize the well-rounded experience.
Is your New Year’s resolution to learn a new language? If you checked out our recent blog by our Gap Year student Anna, then you know learning a language can help you truly connect with a country’s culture. You don’t need to be fluent in a country’s native language to visit, but it’s always cool to know another language. Whether you want to brush up on a language you’re no longer confident in, or learn a new one entirely, these 5 free resources will help you out.
This site and app work best for practicing as opposed to learning. DuoLingo familiarizes you with a language through reading, writing, listening, and speaking drills. The site gives daily reminders to study and allows you to track your progress. You can also share with friends, and even list your skills on LinkedIn! DuoLingo offers almost 30 languages, including High Valyrian – the language spoken in Game of Thrones.
This site allows you to learn vocabulary, practice writing in the language, and chat with native speakers to perfect your speaking and listening skills. In order to keep you motivated, Busuu offers badges and in-site awards when you reach your goals. Busuu also offer specialty courses for necessary travel phrases, which is great if you’re just trying to get a basic grasp on a country’s language before you visit.
The unique feature of Memrise is the ability to learn new words and phrases by seeing them in sentences with similar sounding words and phrases from your native language. This helps build the correlation in your mind between the languages. The site also uses pictures in tandem with words for added visual association. Finally, Memrise also re-words translations to ensure that you’re actually learning the meaning instead of just memorizing the translation.
This source has a different app for each language you want to learn. The setup and features are the same; the only difference is the language itself. AccellaStudy offers flashcards, quizzes, and even a hands-free option so that you can practice a language while driving or otherwise occupied without even looking at your phone! You can also customize your study set if you find yourself having trouble with a particular word.
Though Rosetta Stone is a professional source that requires payment, they offer a free app specifically for on-the-go translations. The app combines pictures with common phrases so that travelers can learn basic sayings in the language of their choice. A unique and helpful feature is that you have to repeat phrases into your phone’s microphone to practice your pronunciation.
Be sure to keep in mind that sometimes, sites translate word-by-word without taking into account differences in sentence structure or grammar. This may lead to some faulty translations, but learning is a process! For even more resources, check out the page “Fluent in 3 Months”. For more travel skills be sure to check out our recent posts on our blog.
After your gap year, hopefully you’ll have a better understanding of what you love and how you fit into the world. This knowledge will grow as you continue through college and into your post-graduate life. However, you may still need help finding the right job. That’s where Early Stage Careers comes into play.
Early Stage Careers does exactly what it sounds like: they work with college students and recent graduates to focus your interests, prepare you for a career, and empower you to take the necessary steps to launch forward. Your coaches will help you build skills that will propel you throughout the rest of your life. These tools, such as networking and personal branding, are integral in the job force!
You might be thinking, I can get a job on my own. And you certainly may be able to! But Early Stage Careers points out some relevant statistics that show how young graduates face a different entry field than older workers did. The following information is taken directly from their website:
Companies use technology to screen and eliminate up to 75% of resumes submitted
Number of career fields has increased nearly 300% in the past several decades
College graduates need technical skills and work experience to obtain an entry level job or internship. They no longer have the luxury of “learning on the job”.
Even for those with high GPAs at prestigious universities, a college degree is no guarantee of a good job. In fact, 44% are underemployed. On average, college graduates take 7.4 months of full-time job searching until they find a job. (Federal Reserve Bank, NACE)
Because ECS works exclusively with young individuals, they’re experts with the specific issues that you face. This makes them best suited to help you identify and achieve your career aspirations.
ECS helps you fix the most common mistakes college graduates make when applying to jobs. They help you apply early, remind you not to waste time on unrealistic positions, and prepare you for interviews and follow ups. Coaches aid you in honing your personal story, and teach you to maximize LinkedIn use and customize cover letters to the job. ECS covers every aspect of job application and preparation, meaning they can handle all of your questions and needs. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, and it can even benefit you more than you might guess. They are experts, after all!
During my final week in Costa Rica, I did something that I had not anticipated doing before starting Winterline. I presented my photo essay about the suspended bridges of Monteverde to a room full of local Costa Ricans and my Winterline peers. I presented my photos, some brief research I had conducted about the bridges, and my opinion on how the bridges contribute holistically to the town; they individually affect the economy, the natural beauty, and tourism of Monteverde in a positive manner.
I presented entirely in Spanish.
Now, let me go back a little bit… I have been taking Spanish in a classroom for the last six years and I am in love with the language. I find myself listening to “Latin Pop” more often than any other playlist, and I religiously translate words from English to Spanish in my head. There have been a few cases in which I have been able to actually apply my Spanish skills, like when I went to the Dominican Republic for a service project, or when my family and I occasionally go to Mexico on vacation. But it wasn’t until my Independent Study Week (ISP) in Monteverde where I actually realized that my Spanish-speaking capabilities can take me further than greeting someone or asking where the bathroom is.
We each got the opportunity to choose our own ISPs before heading to Central America. Given my interest in improving my Spanish, I signed up for the “Intensive and Immersive Spanish Course,” which may have been one of my best decisions on Winterline thus far. Over the 5-day course, I learned so much about the language, and more importantly Hispanic culture, by simply speaking in nothing other than Spanish. Evelyn, one of my professors, and I spoke entirely in Spanish for four hours straight on my first day of class. I told her about my family and my health and my best friends at home and my reason for doing Winterline, the list goes on. I told her about so many things that I didn’t previously think I was capable of talking about in Spanish. We had genuine conversation in another language and it was beautiful.
Unfortunately, many people approach learning a language too concretely and without a “big-picture” mindset. They only see it as another way to communicate, and nothing more. And people who can speak multiple languages are seen as a novelty rather than an opportunity to learn about connecting (“Breaking The Language Barrier”) with other people and cultures. I initially approached learning Spanish in a very definitive and concrete way by thinking that it was only taught in a classroom. I’ve realized after my ISP that learning a language isn’t just about the language- it is also about the culture. During my week, I took a cooking class, a dance class, and even went on a tour of the suspended bridges- all things that make up the town of Monteverde and more broadly, Costa Rican and Hispanic culture. I’ve also come to realize after speaking a significant amount of Spanish, that learning a new language opens doors to connection. I made real relationships with my two professors, Evelyn and Jessie, and connected with each of them on different levels. I learned about their lives and why they’re teachers. They even gave me personal advice for my travels to come on Winterline. If we all look at learning new languages as ways to simply communicate, we are looking at language-learning incorrectly. Sure, communication comes as a result of learning a new language, but the ability to connect is one that only some people will find as they speak in foreign languages and actually engage and put effort into conversations. This is where language-learning becomes important, and very fun.
But, I digress. Back to my presentation. We were all required to present individually about our ISP weeks; what we did, who we did it with, what we learned, etc. I had been preparing a photo essay for my presentation and knew throughout the whole week that I would be speaking in Spanish, by choice, to a room full of native speakers. Honestly, I was terrified. I prepared my photos and my PowerPoint presentation and even went to the Monteverde Institute early on the morning of presentations just to practice with Jessie, my other professor. She assured me that my speaking was perfect, yet I stayed anxious throughout the day.
Sure enough, it came time to present and I put my whole heart into it. But, my hands were shaky as I pulled up my presentation onto the screen and I could hear my soft voice quiver as I introduced myself and my photo essay. As I moved on throughout the presentation, I stood up taller and spoke louder with more confidence. The words flew out of my mouth without even thinking. “Is this how becoming fluent in Spanish feels like?” I asked myself silently. I completed my presentation and absolutely beamed as my audience members gave me a round of applause and complimented me.
I felt connected with the entire room and proud of myself for making an effort to connect. I didn’t have to speak in Spanish, and initially I did not want to, but I stepped out of my comfort zone and began to finally see language for what it is: an opportunity to connect, not just to communicate.
To hear more from our Gap Year students be sure to check out our Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).
It’s raining again, not unlike the rain I see in Seattle. Less of a real rain, and more of a drizzle. It’s a subtle reminder that my final days here are drawing to a close, and soon I will return to the bustling streets of the Emerald City. I will return to my own bed, in my own house. I will be able to wear something other than the same five outfits I’ve been recycling for the past two months. I will fall back into the routine of both loving and hating my sister, and be reunited with the taste of homemade Indian food from my mother. I’ll get to go home.
All of these thoughts race through my head as I make my way down the cracked narrow sidewalk, one of few existing in the small mountain town of Monteverde, Costa Rica, but I can’t indulge them yet. Something in me knows that I cannot spend my last moments here with one foot in a different world, especially not on Thanksgiving.
I look back over my shoulder to find Alex beaming back at me, her black rain jacket is half-way zipped, and her long dark hair whips around playfully in the breeze. A local greets us as we pass him. “Pura vida,” he says. It’s a customary phrase here that means pure life, among other things, and we echo him in response. We’re on our way to see the rest of our cohort for the first time in four days. It doesn’t sound like long, but when you’ve lived, worked, and played beside the same people for two months, you can’t help but notice their absence.
Part of Winterline’s programming in Costa Rica involves partnering with Monteverde Institute to spend five days living with a family and being independent from the group. In addition to living with these homestay families, we were also assigned to a collection of businesses, artists, and teachers to study a specific skill during the week. I had the privilege of studying with Ingrid Martinez at her in home bakery for five days and it was, without a doubt, my favorite week of our first trimester.
Baking has always been a passion of mine. Whenever a birthday comes around my friends call on me for sweet treats, and I’m happy to oblige. It’s a stress reliever for me, and it was the perfect way to finish up my first few months with Winterline. This past week I’ve lived and breathed sugar, butter, and flour, and I couldn’t be happier about the outcome. I not only learned how to bake traditional Costa Rican pastries and breads, but I also got to practice my Spanish and gain a better understanding of one of my passions. I’ve learned how to make everything, from cinnamon rolls to rosemary bread, lemon bars to bagels. Name it and I probably made it.
Most of my cohort member’s did their study independently, but I was one of four people who had a partner. Enter, Alex Messitidis. At first I was a little disgruntled by the idea of not being truly independent while learning, but by the end of the week, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience or a better person to be working with. My mum is East Indian, and Alex comes from a Greek family; cooking and baking runs in both our bloods. We’ve grown up around the belief that good food can bring people together, and bring us together it did. Though I’d always considered Alex a friend, I’d never had the chance to truly get to know her, and contrary to what we both initially thought, we have a lot in common. We spent most of our days elbows deep in flour or struggling over the art of rolling dough (it’s harder than it sounds), but when things were in the oven, we passed the time by telling each other stories about our lives.
Mitzy, Ingrid’s daughter, taught us alongside her mother. She was only a couple years older than us, but her knowledge and maturity was that of someone much older than her. She worked with us, laughed with us (and at us), and even joined us in dancing in the kitchen when all there was to do was wait for whatever was in the oven. Even though we only spent five days with them, Ingrid and Mitzy treated us like family. They were encouraging, kind, and infinitely patient. I would do anything to spend just one more day with them.
The week flew by, and I’m sad to see the end of it. Through all the chaos our little green gang has seen, it’s been nice to fall into the routine of Monteverde: get up, have breakfast, catch the bus to work, spend the day in the bakery, grab a coffee at the local espresso shop, and return home to spend the evening with my homestay family. This little makeshift Thanksgiving of ours is a subtle reminder that home is where the heart is, and my heart is here. The simplicity of life here is enviable, and it’s made me appreciate the little things. Things like sunsets, salt that hasn’t yet portrayed its hydrophilic qualities, and having people to come home to at the end of the day. As I sit down at this table, watching my newfound family file in, I can’t help but smile. Good food, good friends, and something new to learn every single day. It really is pure life.
To hear more from our Gap Year students be sure to check out our Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).
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…
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.”
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.”
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 Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).
Change. Audible groans normally ensue after hearing this word. The idea of “change” is difficult for many people to wrap their heads around. It’s in our nature to want stability and to find comfort in the consistency of our day-to-day routines. The negative connotation that comes with the word “change” often comes as a result of people not wanting to stray outside of their comfort zones. There’s such a stigma around this word, which I sometimes don’t understand. I am unique in the fact that I actually like change- or rather, I am used to it. In the past eight years, I have learned how to live in two separate homes. I move back and forth between my mom and dad’s house every two weeks, needing to re-adjust for different expectations at each house. It hasn’t been easy and I have gotten sick of moving back and forth between their houses, but a lot of good has come of it. Because of my unique upbringing, I do not struggle adapting to change as much as others, especially while traveling. Throughout my three weeks in Belize, I did not have a difficult time adjusting to the language barrier or the culture or the food. The challenge of being in a foreign country was more fun for me than anything. However, learning to scuba dive literally threw me off the deep end. Diving put me into an extended period of discomfort and forced me to experience a lot of change, both physically and emotionally.
After spending 2 weeks in Big Falls and Punta Gorda, our final destination in Belize was Placencia. Our sole purpose was to get our scuba certification over a 3-day course with our partner, Splash Dive Center. We spent our first day in a classroom, so I felt very comfortable learning in that type of environment. After spending hours and hours watching videos about safety, hand signals, equipment and everything in between, we took a variety of quizzes and then went onto our final exam. After getting a 91% on the test and 100% on my RDP dive table test, I was more than confident going into the next two days of actually diving. It was a slight mistake to be that confident.
As we got onto the dive boat the next day, I knew I was in for a challenging two days. The dive instructors were barking orders at each other while simultaneously going through equipment with their students while also directing people on the boat, all while rain poured down to the point that it was painful on my skin. After spending an hour on the boat, we made it to our island and were instructed to get all of our gear on and enter the water with the “Giant Stride” technique. I got into the water and felt both anxious and excited as I swam towards my instructor and two dive buddies. We went through four confined water dives, which are mini skill-building courses underwater. We went through the motions of clearing our masks, taking our masks off, swimming without a mask and even briefly swimming without our air source, among a variety of other skills. I did not like these skills. When I first cleared my mask, I panicked and rushed to the surface (important thing NOT to do while diving) and got charley horse cramps every time I panicked, which did not help with my level of anxiety at all. I “mastered” the required skills by the time we finished our confined water dives, but I was not confident about going into the open water dive next.
After resting and eating lunch on the boat, it was right back to the water for our first open water dive. I used the Giant Stride technique and followed my instructor to forty feet below the surface. As we descended, a wave of excitement and optimism came over me. I could breathe easily and when we reached the bottom, I realized that enduring the miserable skill building was worth it. I was at the bottom of the ocean! I was in absolute awe of where I was and what I was doing. I was at peace for the first time since starting the day and it gave me even more respect for my mom, who is a passionate scuba diver. I felt like I could finally get a glimpse of something that has always made her so happy and it felt very special. After swimming around for a bit and exploring the diverse marine life, we had to perform our skills. The skills went surprisingly well and I felt prepared to take on our next dive.
On the next dive, I almost died. Okay, not actually, but that’s what I’ve been telling people. It may be a slight exaggeration, but what happened was one of the scariest experiences I’ve had. We had just finished swimming around on our second open water dive and it was time to perform our skills at a greater depth. My instructor motioned to me that I needed to get air from my buddy’s second air source. I signaled “out of air” to Alice and she grabbed onto my arm as I reached for her back-up regulator. Her regulator wouldn’t come loose of her BCD so I had to swim closer to her torso and force the regulator in my mouth. I breathed in and no air entered my mouth, only a few big gulps of sea water. I tried again only to experience the same awful result. I noticed we were floating up to the surface and at this point I was in a complete frenzy. I was out of air and didn’t know what to do. My mind went completely blank. I lost my ability to think. My instructor finally put my own first stage regulator into my mouth and as I got air, I shrieked into my regulator out of a combination of fear and relief. I regained control of myself and we all continued with the dive. I was very cautious for the rest of the dive and made sure to remember to keep breathing. When we surfaced, my instructor explained that I had been trying to use Alice’s regulator upside down. I made a mental note not to do that again. We headed back to the dive center, cleaned and put our equipment away, and we were done with the day. I felt so relived to be on land and didn’t want the next day to come because I knew that meant more scuba and therefore even more discomfort.
Despite my wishes, that next morning did come. I promised to myself that I would stay calm no matter what happened during the day. But… I broke that promise upon surfacing from my first open water dive of the day. Our instructor told us to take off our BCD’s, inflate them, and then use them as flotation devices to relax in the water. I took my BCD off while struggling against the big waves and then had difficulty inflating it, so I was just swimming against the current while holding my heavy BCD and cylinder without any means to help me float, aside from my own body. Needless to say, my anxiety level was high and I was not calm. After about ten minutes of struggling, my instructor came over and helped me. He repeatedly told me, “stay calm,” which everyone knows does not help in stressful situations. My whole body was so exhausted from fighting the waves and the weight of my equipment. I just wanted to be on the boat. He spent about twenty minutes with me in the water, helping me perform this skill with my BCD. I finally got it on my own and the boat came to pick us up. We all had lunch on the boat and for lack of a better phrase, I was not having it. I had so much salt water in my sinuses, felt fatigued and sore, and the last thing I wanted to do was go back in the water. I said, “I don’t want to go back in” multiple times, but after eating something and laughing with friends I found the strength to force myself back in the ocean. I wanted to get certified and I just needed to push through.
I am so proud of myself for having the grit to continue because my last open water dive was incredible. We descended to sixty feet and didn’t have to perform any more skills, so we were able to explore and swim around. Alice and I made little dance routines underwater, which was hilarious and quite a thing to be able to do underwater. At one point, our instructor blew his whistle and signaled that there was a sound up above. We stayed neutrally buoyant and just looked above to the surface. I saw a shadow a couple times, but thought it was a boat. Alice did the “shark” hand motion to me, but because we had been dancing earlier I thought she was joking. When we surfaced, our instructor told us that it was a Blacktip reef shark, which are known to attack people. I had no idea that there was actually a shark in the water with us, so I was relieved that I didn’t know that while being underwater. In hindsight, it’s pretty cool. I swam under a shark that is known to attack humans. Badass.
I am proud of myself for the way in which I went about learning to scuba dive. Well, I am not particularly proud of how panicked I got at times, but when I look at the big picture, I did something that made me very uncomfortable and I really grinded it out. For the first time in a long time I experienced change that I did not take positively. And I could have let that ruin the entire experience for me. But I didn’t. I embraced the change and I was the change for myself. Change can be good and change is good, especially when you force yourself to dive off the deep end, whether it’s literally or figuratively. -AN.
Check out this video Anna put together about her time in Belize.
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 noidea 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?”
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!”
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.”
Time to act fast! It’s Cyber Monday, so today is the perfect day to book your future travels for cheap from the comfort of your own. We’ve compiled for you some of the best travel deals online right now. Don’t waste any time getting your deals!
Save $1,000 on tuition for our very own gap year if you submit your application by midnight tonight PST. That’s right, if you apply today you can travel with us to ten countries and learn 100 new skills for $1,000 less.
Don’t have time for a full gap year? Submit your application for one of our short programs today for $100 off tuition. Save today to spend part of your winter, spring, or summer break in Costa Rica, Italy, Thailand, Cambodia, or India.
StudentUniverse: This website is dedicated to helping students travel for an affordable price. Today, their deals are even more extreme. StudentUniverse is offering extra money off of flights: up to $100 to or from Europe, Asia, and South America; up to $200 to or from the South Pacific; up to $75 to or from India, the Middle East, and Africa; or up to $20 within the United States. These are great deals, so take advantage!
Southwest Airlinesis offering a different daily special for the rest of the week! Today’s offer is up to 50% off a stay at the all-inclusive, 4.5 star resort Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun. Moreso, if you’re looking to travel between now and August of 2018, book a flight and hotel package through Southwest by December 4th. You can save $125 on U.S. destinations with promo code SAVE125, or get $250 off of international destinations with promo code SAVE250.
Alaska Airis offering discounted flights to select cities. Check out their site, figure out where you want to go, and enjoy a low-cost flight! Most offers end on Wednesday, November 29th, so act fast.
Norwegian Airwill get you to Europe cheap if you book by midnight tonight in your time zone. Some flights from New York, Providence, and Miami will run you less than $100 dollars. Most others are still under $200. You won’t find a better deal than this!
If you’re flying from Orlando, VIA Airwill give you 25% off all flights with the code CYBERMONVIA2017. A flight this cheap might be worth a layover in Orlando-Sanford International Airport first!
Say wow! WOW Airis flying you to London, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Dublin for just $99 if you travel before May 15, 2018. You can also use the code WOWCYBERMONDAY for 40% off select flights to Iceland.
Expediais giving new deals every hour for the rest of the day. Right now you can get 50% off select hotels andan extra $50 off using the code HOLIDAY50.
Reveal your Hotels.comdiscount with their Cyber Monday coupon, offering 7 to 99% off up to $1,000. This discount can be used in conjunction with their cyber week deals, up to 60% off.
IHGis offering 15 to 30% off your stay in the U.S., Canada, or Latin America. To be eligible, you have to book by Wednesday, November 29th and travel by March 31, 2018.
Marriott has rooms starting at $89! Book by tonight and travel between December 7, 2017 and January 15, 2018 to get one of these unbeatable rates.
Sail the high seas with Royal Caribbean. When you book today, book a second guest for 50% off, and a third and fourth guest for 25% off. You can also get up to $400 in onboard credits.
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The only thing better than traveling is traveling at a low cost. Most of these deals won’t last beyond tonight, so be sure to take advantage of them while you can. You won’t regret getting your dream trip for a great price!
Italy is widely known for being a center of art and culture, but you can’t fully experience the beauty just by looking at it. Imagine being able to hear directly from local artisans and try your own hand at producing certain art. This April, we’re giving you that opportunity. Read on for the top 7 reasons to join us!
Sure, art is open to interpretation, but haven’t you ever wondered what the artist was thinking or intending? You’ll get face-to-face time with local artists to ask them all the questions you want about their work or art in general.
Being an artist isn’t just about working with your medium of choice. There’s also a business side to it. These artisans will tell educate you about the intersection of being a creative mind and a salesperson.
Get inspiration! Venice is a city full of beauty, and you’ll be surrounded by similarly-minded original individuals. You’ll make friends whom you can work with, bounce ideas off of, and just have fun with. From the architecture, to the canals and bridges, to the vibrant colors, you’ll surely see something that makes you itch to draw (or sculpt, or photograph).
Have hands-on experience with different art styles. You’ll make a mask, craft your own Italian glass, and explore the city through photography. Find which medium you’re most passionate about and push yourself to become familiar with new forms.
You’ll visit some of the most famous attractions in Italy. If you’ve never visited before, let your inner tourist out and appreciate what makes these places so loved! If you’ve been before, try to find a new perspective on places such as St Mark’s Basilica and the Grand Canal.
You’ll discover new things about yourself. Whether you develop your own unique perspective or fall in love with a new medium, grow independence or meet someone who changes your mind about something, you’ll be experiencing personal growth.
Who doesn’t love Italian food? Get it directly from the source, but warning: you might never be able to eat takeout pizza again.
You don’t need artistic experience to come on this trip. All you need is an open mind, a creative spirit, and a longing to learn. Apply now to gain a new perspective on a classic city.
Both of our Gap Year cohorts are currently in Costa Rica, and they’ve just finished up their time at the one-of-a-kind farm within a rainforest, Rancho Mastatal. While there, our students worked with the community to learn how to live sustainably and reduce their carbon footprint.
Climate change is real and it’s happening now. The way we live impacts the Earth, and that means we have the power to decide how much of an effect we have. We hope that the visit to Rancho Mastatal teaches our students not only to be kinder to the earth, but to each other as well.
Rancho Mastatal cares a lot about the people around them. They source their food and building materials locally and “support regional efforts for clean water, healthy food, fertile agricultural land, and safe, naturally constructed buildings”, according to their mission. This focus on community resilience is a lesson students can apply to both home and wherever they travel. While there, the students bunk in communal living, teaching them patience, practice, and balance. Learning to live peacefully and share resources with others is a skill that will go far for students. It’ll come in handy when they get to college and have roommates!
Of course, our students learn a lot about the environment at Rancho Mastatal. A sustainability lesson shows how climate change affects the area of Mastatal. Individuals also learn how they can change their habits to prevent further damage. Students learn about permaculture, a way of agriculture that mimics the patterns and relationships found in nature. This method allows for the reuse of outputs as inputs, minimizes work, and restores environments. Learning permaculture gives students the tools to be ethical and responsible consumers. This means producing their own food when possible or choosing wisely when they shop.
To further protect the environment and its species, Rancho Mastatal created its own wildlife refuge, consisting of an amazing 200 acres of land. Rainforests contain an enormous variety of species, and this area is no exception. Refuge areas like this one are integral to preserving the livelihood of the plant and animal species who call the rainforest home.
Natural building is also a huge focus here. This means building with native and unprocessed materials: wood, earth, straw, natural grasses, bamboo, stone and rocks, and manure. Students learn the different techniques used to build with these materials, like timber frame construction or lime and earthen plasters. You can take a look at some of the infrastructure built with these methods and materials. Not only are building materials natural, but so is the energy use. Rancho Mastatal uses solar energy for power, hot water, and cooking. The ranch also uses biogas, rocket stoves, composting toilets, and wonderbags and hayboxes which minimize fuel use when cooking. Food is sourced locally and prepared by hand without the use of tools like microwaves. The goals at Rancho Mastatal are to make meals cost-efficient, nutritional, and sustainable.
Our students learn a wealth of information about living green. Simultaneously, they get to help the the residents – human, plant, and animal – in Costa Rica. Every day is something different, and no experience here is replicable anywhere else. Rancho Mastatal is truly a one-of-a-kind adventure.
Did you know that today, November 13th, is World Kindness Day!? World Kindness Day was founded by The World Kindness Movement, which is an international movement with no political or religious affiliations – it’s meant truly for everyone. Over 28 nations represent the movement, and you can see if your country participates here.
The concept of World Kindness Day was born on November 13th, 1997: 20 years ago today! On this day, Japan brought kindness organizations from around the world to Tokyo, creating the first body of this format. Their noble mission aims “to inspire individuals towards greater kindness and to connect nations to create a kinder world”.
Winterline & Global Citizens
Like the World Kindness Movement, we at Winterline encourage our students to practice kindness every day. Students on our programs seek to be kind to each other, those they meet while traveling, and themselves. Our global gap year program consists of three trimesters, with the second semester in Asia focusing on connecting individuals across cultures and building relationships.
People typically associate the word “kindness” with interpersonal relationships. At Winterline we feel that kindness in regards to communication is key, and therefore a skill. Our students spend time in Cambodia acquiring skills in conflict resolution and team dynamics. We hope that from this, students will learn how to avoid or peacefully navigate through issues with others, making them more humane global citizens. This part of our gap year program has been so popular, we now offer a short program that focuses specifically on communication and intentional living.
We believe that travelers should have respect for and genuine interest in the native cultures and people. Bringing together people from different backgrounds is one way of establishing a kinder world!
However, kindness to others isn’t the only type of kindness that matters. Once people learn to love and be kind to themselves, they can mirror that affection to others. To achieve this, students train in relationship building, empathy, and mental health support during their stay in India. Self-care is also a strong focus point as our students travel throughout Southeast Asia.
We need to internalize kindness before we can direct it at others. This is what differentiates being nice from being kind. Being kind comes from within; the desire to be a good person simply for the sake of being a good person as opposed to treating others well for recognition.
Making Everyday World Kindness Day
It’s easy to be caught up in the sad or scary things happening in the world around you, but life is so much more than that. It’s important to take time when you can to remember the good things. You can make a day brighter, whether it be someone else’s or your own. Spend a few minutes being kind to yourself: meditate, do yoga, or pray; eat your favorite snack; hug someone (human or animal!) you love. Be kind to others: help someone with a chore they can’t do themself; donate time, resources, or money to an organization that matters to you; smile or say hi to someone new on the street.
An act of kindness doesn’t have to be huge to matter, and today doesn’t have to be the only day you practice kindness. Try working it into your everyday life by focusing on doing one act of compassion each day. Being kind will become second nature, and not only will you make yourself happier, you’ll help to make the world a better place.
What does kindness mean to you? How are you celebrating World Kindness Day? Share with us in the comments or on twitter!
If you need a reason aside from wanderlust to take your studies international, look no further. A recent study found that studying abroad positively impacts the development of job skills, thereby widening career options and presenting the opportunity for long-term growth and promotion. Here at Winterline, WE LOVE SKILLS, so we knew these resulted needed to be shared.
The PIE (Professionals in International Education) News summed up the results of the study to spread the word about the positive effects of learning abroad. More than 4,500 people were surveyed, and 30 were chosen for more in-depth interviews. Over half of all respondents said that their study abroad experience actually helped them to get a job.
Even those who didn’t attribute their employment to study abroad acknowledged its use. Many specifically cited study abroad with helping them stand out and get promotions. Study abroad teaches people interpersonal skills, communication, and the ability to understand and work through differences. These are critical values in the workplace, specifically for establishing leadership. Studying abroad helps you figure out your strengths and how to handle your weaknesses.
“I am a learner, a problem solver, an adventurer, and a creator. Winterline will allow me to explore every tiny facet of my identity, to discover more about who I really am.” –Benji M (Winterline GSP)
The study includes a list of the top five skills rated as most desired by employers: intercultural skills, curiosity, flexibility/adaptability, confidence, and self-awareness. 70% of the survey’s respondents said that their study abroad experience helped shape these values in them. More than 50% also named interpersonal and problem-solving skills as areas in which they grew while abroad.
“I gained an intense understanding of different cultures and managing myself in different situation as well as working with many different types of people. It was an intense maturing experience.” –Alex (Winterline GSP)
Some students worry that going on a program seemingly irrelevant to their major could be harmful, but these results tell a different story: “Among science majors that went on a program outside of the sciences, 47% reported their study abroad contributed to a job offer, whereas among those who went on a science focused experience, only 28% reported it did so”. Our students have experienced the success first hand crediting Winterline for their stellar grades which will help them get a job in the future.
“I just finished my first year of college with a 4.0 and I owe a lot of that to Winterline. Even a year later, I am still benefiting from Winterline. It has truly been life-changing.” –Jamie F. (Winterline GSP)
Maybe there’s isn’t a program specifically for your major, or perhaps you have more interest in going to a different region. Don’t let that prevent you from traveling if there’s somewhere you want to go or something you want to explore! Go where you want for yourself, and take comfort in the knowledge that your experience will benefit you in both your personal life and your career field.
Has your study abroad experience helped you with your job? We’d love to hear about it. Tell us in the comments!
Both of our groups have been basking in the beauty of tropical Belize, where they’ve had the opportunity to work with our partner Ridge to Reef Expeditions. Ridge to Reef, or R2R, was founded in 2014 by the non-profit organization Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) to manage protected areas.
R2R focuses on environmental awareness, using natural resources, and sustainable economic development. These are three skills that our students comprehend and demonstrate everywhere they go. The program is structured specifically for volunteers, making it a great fit with Winterline.
One of the main concerns in Belize was the decline of manatee populations due to hunting and gill netting. R2R continues to work on protecting vulnerable and endangered species today. TIDE reported that a recent study showed 10% of manatee sightings were calves, meaning there’s strong reproductive activity. This shows how the hard work of researchers, scientists, and volunteers is paying off!
As important as the conservation work is, volunteers also get the weekends to relax and explore. Students get to explore the temples, learn to make (and taste) chocolate, swim in waterfalls, and zipline through the jungle. There’s never a dull moment in Belize!
Looking for some color to brighten up your drab winter? Our January trip to the Costa Rican rainforest will help make your life green in more than one way. The luscious canopy of the rainforest is a sight to behold, and the lessons inside at Rancho Mastatal will educate you on how to live sustainably and reduce your carbon footprint to be kinder to the world wherever you go. Need a little convincing? Here’s a few reasons you should join us on our trip!
Rancho Mastatal is focused on community resilience, aka, they care about the people around them. They source their food and building materials locally and “support regional efforts for clean water, healthy food, fertile agricultural land, and safe, naturally constructed buildings”, according to their mission. This will teach you the value of community focus, which you can apply to your home, wherever that may be.
You’ll get to make really good food. Like, really good food. Like, the best food you’ve ever had in your life food. These Healthy, fresh, delicious meals will bring you and your peers together after a day’s adventures.
Through communal living, you’ll learn patience, practice, and balance. This experience will teach you how to live harmoniously with others, an important skill in an increasingly hostile world.
Climate change is real and it’s happening now. The way we live impacts the Earth, and that means we have the power to decide how much of an effect we have. A sustainability lesson will show you how the area of Mastatal has been affected by climate change, and how you can change your habits to prevent further damage.
Learn about permaculture, a way of agriculture that mimics the patterns and relationships found in nature. This will teach you to be a producer when possible, and at other times, an ethical and responsible consumer.
Every day is something different. You’ll be helping with whatever the farm is working on that day, which means no experience can be replicated anywhere else.
You don’t need to love science or farming to join us on this trip. You just have to care about our planet and be adventurous, and you’ll have an amazing time in Costa Rica.
In case you haven’t heard, we’re offering a 9 day trip to Costa Ricathis January where you can get SCUBA certified. We have partnered with PADI, the leading scuba training organization, to provide you with the adventure of a life time.
To get you excited for this trip, we’ve gathered a list of 10 reasons you need to get SCUBA certified this Winter.
71% of our world is ocean, so you can’t truly “see the world” if you don’t take a dive underwater! How else will you see the unique species like hammerhead sharks, turtles, and large schools of fish that live beneath the waves?
You don’t need prior experience. All you need is to be able to swim and breathe. You don’t have to be expert swimmer; as long as you’re comfortable in the water and willing to learn, you can master this skill.
Experience a mindfulness like no other. There’s no technology to distract you underwater. Focus on your breathing, the natural beauty of the fish swimming and the sun filtering through the water around you.
See history up close. Not only are there amazing animals underwater, but there’s so much history. Learning to scuba dive gives you the opportunity to explore wrecks like sunken ships and planes.
Learn to communicate better. Underwater, you can’t use your words, so you get better at using and reading body language and hand signals. This is a skill that will help you when you resurface, too.
This skill travels with you. Anywhere there’s water, there’s an opportunity for you to scuba dive, unlike some other activities. Even though the activity is the same in any body of water, it’s never a boring experience. You’ll always be seeing new species and wrecks and experiencing a new area of the ocean.
Challenge yourself. Scuba diving requires patience and attention, which are skills we sometimes forget to use in such a busy world. It can also be scary relying on the tank and going down into a foreign depth. However, scuba diving is an experience like no other, and it’s worth stepping out of your comfort zone to take the plunge. Don’t let your fear hold you back!
Be your own #TravelGoals. Make your friends (and Instagram followers) jealous. Take amazing pictures, get a tan on the beach, and learn an enviable new skill. When you show off what you learned in science class, all your classmates will wish they went, too.
Become a part of a community. Meet people online and in-person to share your stories with. Get recommendations of the best places to dive, see pictures of the most beautiful places they’ve gone, and learn about the most stunning species they’ve seen. Scuba is a passion that’s easy to bond over anywhere you go.
Protect marine life. By scuba diving, you’ll see firsthand how humanity’s effect travels underwater and harms creatures that get no say. Once you scuba, you’ll help prevent marine animals from becoming captive, and once you see how incredible ocean life is, you’ll want to get more active in protecting our waters.