Students speak about why they took a gap year

Below are the written quotes and testimonials by students from our gap year program, just before they returned back home, safe and sound.

I always thought like there’s really no room to do things differently.

I wasn’t set on my goals or aspirations, things like that, I was seeking adventure.

So I thought, take a year, slow down and just understand the things I want to do and the person I want to be, and Winterline just seemed to fit that very well.

Going into it, I knew it was a bit of a different program.

It’s a gap year program, but what it really is is an opportunity to step out of that zone of being a tourist and fully immerse yourself in a culture.

Just completely shifts your perspective of what this world has to offer.

Just had like those moments of, “Wow. The world is connected.”

You’re rarely in a classroom setting, you’re always moving.

No matter what your interests are, you’re going to find something you really love on this trip.

It’s kind of given us a chance to test the waters.


It teaches you how to travel, how to function when you’re so tired that you can barely function.

You’re in a different place every week and you’re with sixteen drastically different people.

Kids from all over the world.

Our lives were different, our cultures were different, and yet, I can still find a connection with them.

We wanted to explore what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives, and none of us were sure. And I think that really brought us all together and formed this kind of tight-knit family.

9-months later I know so much about these people that I couldn’t even say about my closest friends from home. These are life-long friends for sure.

Documentary Filmmaking India

You see in the brochure that you’re going to learn 100 skills, but I never expected to learn things about myself.

I have a much better understanding of who I am, and that that person is ever-changing, and that that’s ok.

I really have no idea what I want to do, but I’m ok with that, and I’m confident in that.

I did find a purpose for myself, which I really didn’t expect to.

The trip changes you a bit, and I think for the better.

Take the risk.

Come here so you can step out of your comfort zone. Come here so you can make that first step over that line.

It’s 9 months of traveling the world doing anything and everything. It’s your best experiences, it’s your worst experiences, it’s your favorite moments, it’s your mental breakdowns, all come together to change your perspective on the world.

Interested in joining us for a gap year?

Get info

Bridging the Gap with Oliver


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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Any other advice for students in this current situation?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resiliency, creativity, and empathy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next for you? Where to next?

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

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

Traveling the World with Liam

Maybe you’re considering a gap year for 2020. Making this decision only gets easier with more information and insight – and what better way to learn about a gap year than to follow a Winterline student through the course of their travels? Lucky for you, our 2019-2020 student Liam is creating a vlog series showcasing his Winterline experience. While some things will look a little different this year due to COVID-19, the overall purpose and goals of Winterline’s program remains the same.

Whether you’re looking for a way to have new experiences from home or learn more about a specific program, Liam will take you on an adventure through his own eyes. We’ll update this page each time Liam posts a new episode, but you can follow along or check out his other videos on Liam’s YouTube channel!–R3HQqmY

Do you have your own travel or gap year experiences you want to share? Let us know in the comments!

Location Spotlight: Bangkok, Thailand

One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster”. This opening line from Murray Head’s hit song One Night in Bangkok is the perfect description of the capital city of the beautiful first country of trimester 2, Bangkok, Thailand. During your stay in this massive city of over eight million citizens, your list of activities will range from exploring shrines and temples, to working out in the outdoor gym at the beautiful Lumpini park, to immersing yourself in the shopping district of Ratchaprasong, and so much more. There truly is an activity for everyone, and throughout our stay I was continuously in awe of my surroundings, and excited to see more every day!

Our activities in Bangkok began with a tour of the city with the wonderful tour guide company Bangkok Vanguards. During this tour, the squad was split into groups of three or four, each with a guide of their own, and taken to various locations in the city to complete a scavenger hunt. During this scavenger hunt, we went to places such as Wat Saket, or the Golden Mountain, as it is also known, a beautiful mountain temple renovated by King Rama 1 of Thailand. This temple had a vast view of the city in every direction, and was filled with many different buddha statues, with bells at the peak to ring for good fortune while praying.

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Exploring the temples | Photo By: Micah Zimmerman

Following the Golden Mountain, the tour took us to Chinatown, a bustling district reflective of Chinese culture in Bangkok. Very crowded and dense with many activities and sights to see, it was nothing like the Chinatowns of America; it felt much more authentic and interesting to explore. And with authentic Chinese and Thai street food on every corner, you will never go hungry. Other areas included Ratchaprasong, a massive shopping district that is home to six beautiful shrines of various gods in the Hindu religion, as well as large shopping malls and hotels. This area of the city felt very American in a way, while still managing to capture the feel of Bangkok, the heart of Thailand.

As far as entertainment goes, there is much to see and do in Bangkok. From dense night markets, to exploration, to park visits, you will never be bored during your stay here. On one of our first nights here, we enjoyed a Muay Thai (or Thai boxing) fight, where there was never a dull moment.

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Our students got to learn Muay Thai too!

It is no lie that Bangkok is host to a number of spectacular temples. One of these temples is Wat Pho, one of the oldest temples in Bangkok, which happened to be directly in front of the hotel we stayed at during our time in Bangkok. This temple is home to the Reclining Buddha, a whopping 46 meter (150 foot) long depiction of the Buddha laying down during his final stages of life. This temple is not only home to important Buddhist history, it is also architecturally beautiful; one of the most amazing human creations I have ever seen with my own eyes.

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Josh and Jacob with Field Advisors Jeff and Moriah

Bangkok is one of the greatest cities I have ever had the pleasure of traveling to in my entire life. I would consider it a must see for anybody that happens to catch the travel bug, and thankfully, Winterline was able to provide this for their students!

Quotebook: Time Spent in Panama

Did you enjoy our time in a big city? Why?

“Yes! I love the freedom of choice that we had with food and entertainment. And of course, I enjoyed every single bite of Asian food that I was finally able to eat.” -Sherly

“Definitely, the city is incredible in that it’s an international hub and it combines fun urbanlife with Latin American culture” -Casey

“It was satisfying being in an urban environment after being in two remote locations in Costa Rica, just enjoying the city life and the different culture” -Pablo  

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The extraordinary skyline of Panama City accompanied by a friendly street cat. Photo by Alexandra Johansson

What was the most meaningful experience you had in Panama City?

“The combination of learning business in the Business Hub of Central America, contributing to the Miraflores neighborhood through urban innovation work, and experiencing the beautiful nature with the Parara Puru Indigenous community; the diversity of our experiences is what made it a meaningful trip in Panama.”-Sherly

“While looking for my friend I needed wifi and these two guys that owned a bar helped me out and bought me a beer, we ended up talking for almost two hours and really forming a connection” -Casey

“San Blas. Getting to see San Blas, it’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit, I enjoyed the beauty of the islands and getting a chance to really relax with my best friends” -Pablo

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Me and my friend from high school, James, who joined Winterline alongside me, standing on top of the building where we participated in Business Bootcamp.

What did you learn during our time there?

“Happiness truly comes in different forms; the urban innovation team found it by contributing to the community, the indigenous people found it by living in nature, and me, spending my birthday on the beautiful islands of San Blas.” -Sherly

“I learned different skills, the first being how to be an entrepreneur, making our own start up company. After that, I learned about the concept of urban innovation and how much of an impact it has on a community. And finally, how beautiful this country really is.” -Pablo

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Me and my friend/fellow Winterline student, Lucas, with the indigenous people of Parara Puru.

Would you ever like to go back?

“YES!” – Sherly

“Without a doubt” – Pablo

“Absolutely” – Casey

Business Boot Camp

Young business entrepreneurs of the future, rejoice, for Winterline will not deprive you of the knowledge and experience you seek. During your time staying in Panama City, you will participate in a week-long business course offered by a host of amazing and intelligent teachers. This portion of the trip was entitled “Business Boot Camp” and was perhaps the most practical and applicable of all the skills learned in trimester 1.

The course consisted of four days of exploring the inner workings of the economy, of how businesses utilize markets to their advantages, how businesses grow. We discussed  supply and demand, we learned how to read annual monetary projections, we picked apart why some businesses fail and why others succeed, and we compared and contrasted the perks of leading large companies such as Amazon and Netflix.

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Christian explaining why Netflix is successful (Credit: Lydia Miller)

After four days of learning business basics, we had three days of small group business creation; teams of three to four were tasked with thinking of a business idea, and then fleshing it out to the point of pitching it to a panel of judges, posing as investors, in order to see which team had the best and most feasible overall plan. Originally expecting this not to be too difficult having just spent many hours learning exactly how other businesses complete this very same process, we soon learned this would be no easy task. Not only is an original idea in and of itself difficult to come up with, but including monetary concerns (incomes and expenditures), creative differences within groups, and finding the best way to present these ideas in order to gain funding was harder to manage than it initially seemed.

I think by the end of the week, we all gained a greater appreciation for many big businesses out there when evaluating their success. However, this task was also very fun. The competition aspect gave everyone a motivation to overcome the issues we encountered, and hearing the visions of each of our companies from group to group, and even within our groups themselves, was interesting and eye opening. The time to present came in a flash, the hours passed by like minutes, having worked so hard and so intently. While everyone was nervous due to the professional nature and atmosphere of the presentation, the judges claimed time and again how impressed they were by the zeal and hard work of each student, despite us only having one week of experience prior.

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From left to right: Darshil, Liam, Peyton and Zoe presenting their thrifting company (Credit: Lydia Miller)

To sum up business boot camp in one word, I would choose “rewarding.” The work was hard, but this final presentation made up for all the hangups along the way. Through these business pitches we gained presentation skills and came to understand each other better, as well as how to trust each other better in a professional setting. We learned about delegating roles that were suited to each of our individual strengths, and discovered new strengths we didn’t previously know we had. I have never seriously considered a business career before, but business boot camp in Panama City has definitely gotten me thinking.

Monteverde Host Family Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Homestay family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Monteverde ISP Experience

Each student in Winterline completes two ISPs, also known as an Independent Study Projects, during their gap year. These are apprenticeships in which the participant learns a variety of skills, doing things like coffee farming to shadowing a local government. Our first trimester offered ISPs in the beautiful little tourist town of Monteverde located in the Puntarenas Province of Costa Rica. Definitely a highlight of the first trimester, myself and the other students of Squad 1 all loved our ISPs. Here are a few of the things we learned throughout our time spent in the Monteverde cloud forest.

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Monteverde Cloud Forest | Photo By: Whitfield Smith

My personal ISP was titled “Cooking Costa Rican Food”. Initially, I wasn’t sure what to expect as this had not been my first choice for ISP, but due to overlapping desires in the squad, this was the one I was given. And I can safely say I absolutely loved every second of it. Every morning for a week, I woke up and visited my teacher Karen’s house, where she taught me the recipes of local Costa Rican cuisine. Karen was a regular member of the local community, not some intimidating 5 star chef. I have never cooked anything before in my life, but Karen was such a wonderful teacher that every meal came out more delicious than I ever could have expected. And luckily so, because unlike the other students doing their ISP, I was cooking my own lunch rather than bringing one each day. Whether it was ceviche (raw fish cured in citrus juices), picadillo with tortillas (ground beef served similarly to a taco), or rice pudding for dessert, I enjoyed every meal and came away feeling more proud of myself and satisfied with the dish than I ever thought possible.

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Josh’s ceviche!
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Josh cooking picadillo

The real kicker? Karen couldn’t speak a word of English. I learned everything by watching and inferring certain things based on the way she gestured. I certainly picked up a bit of Spanish after this ISP, though only words that can apply in the kitchen. At least now I can read Spanish menus in restaurants a bit better. This ISP taught me so much about traditional dishes of Costa Rica, of cooking in general, some Spanish, and how to interact with a language barrier. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone, especially since as I said earlier, it wasn’t even my first choice and I couldn’t have had a better time with it.

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Josh and his teacher Karen

My squadmate, Jacob Rona, did the ISP known as “Reusing and Recycling Materials”. This title, while a bit unclear on what the ISP will actually consist of, certainly sounded interesting on paper, as we have been learning all about sustainability throughout trimester 1, and recycling is a huge part of sustainable living. This apprenticeship turned out to be one of my personal favorites as I would visit Jacob after cooking my lunch and I got to see him in action. It may have been the happiest I have seen him on this trip, and he’s the type of guy who is always smiling. During his ISP, he welded scrap metals and other materials together to create useable appliances such as candle and wine holders or small “toy” cars. His mentor, Memo, also spoke no English, but was a very energetic guy and had a certain love for the western genre, so everything they made together was cowboy themed. It looked like a lot of fun and I was very impressed with all the pieces he and Jacob made together and how practical everything they made was. I know that Jacob would recommend this one as well, he loved it so much that he had his pieces shipped home separately from him to gift to his family.

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Jacob showing off his welding tools
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Jacob’s wine bottle holder

Other Squad 1 ISPs included: coffee farming, bird art installations, photography, identifying edible plants, painting, mindfulness, intensive Spanish, baking, and sustainable farming. I never heard a single complaint about any of these apprenticeships, and I can easily say that overall, Monteverde was absolutely a highlight for Squad 1’s first trimester.

Outward Bound Costa Rica: A Family

Outward Bound Costa Rica was an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Spending ten days living in the middle of the rainforest with no signal or TV, with only my peers and a remarkable staff, truly made for an excellent start to my gap year. All of the activities were absolutely incredible, from the waterfall hikes to climbing to the top of ancient trees, to completely immersing ourselves in the culture of Costa Rica. Beyond our activities, the time spent at base also gave us the opportunity to create relationships that will never be forgotten both within and between the different squads, along with Field Advisors and especially the Outward Bound family.

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My squad learning how to technical climb trees in the rainforest

Outward Bound as an organization is all about making a positive impact on everything around them. Two of their main focuses are the environment, not only exploring it but also caring for it, and the community that surrounds them, which includes the city of San Jose. An example of their effort to make a positive impact is that Outward Bound doesn’t use any beef products because the cattle industry is one of the leading causes of deforestation. The products they do use are almost entirely from local sources and thoroughly checked for ethical practices.

For the community they do many things such as teaching children about protecting the forests and oceans, and also how to make a difference at home with practices like composting. All members of the community are welcome at Outward Bound so they can connect with nature and form a greater appreciation for it, this in turn builds a connection with the people of the local community. It has taken time but this process has built not an organization, but one humongous family.

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The view from atop the hill at Outward Bound on a misty day

A family is the only way to describe the people at Outward Bound, everyone there is more than happy to be apart of their community and sharing it with us. Several of the employees credit Outward Bound with changing their lives in incredible ways, either through paying for their education or saving them from a bad situation. Each of them is a member of the surrounding community that Outward Bound works with and cares for. I believe this is where their overwhelming kindness comes from. Whether it was the cooks, Karina and Oscar, or Josh, the guide who has the Outward Bound compass tattooed on his forearm, they all truly connected with our group of young adults.

Among the staff was also Grace, who worked with my squad in facilitating almost all of our activities and is personally one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. She shared with me and a few other students her story of overcoming incredible adversity through her love of dance and animals, which ultimately lead her to Outward Bound. Her openness, along with her kindness and passion, made an impact on everyone around her. When it was time for us to move on, it felt as if we had all joined their wonderful family. During that final meeting there were many bittersweet tears both from our own Winterline family and those at Outward Bound.

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My squad with Grace, Oscar, Kevin, and Karina

Reflecting on Trimester 1: A Squad 1 Quotebook

Traveling alone is certainly a nerve-wracking thing to experience for the first time. For many of the Winterline students, this was our first time leaving home in such a major way. I know for me personally, I was very unsure of what to expect going in to this program, despite all the helpful information the company provided. Of course I was excited, and having been a part of this program for about a month now experiencing living with a new group of people, seeing the beautiful mountains of Colorado, and traveling to Costa Rica for the first time, I can safely say I have enjoyed nearly every second of it. Curious to find out the opinions of my peers, I asked some of my group the following questions:

  1. What were your biggest challenges during the first week in Winterline, and what did you have to do to overcome them?
  2. What were your expectations for the program, and how were they met or subverted?
  3. After a successful beginning to your journey, what are you most looking forward to?

Spencer Turner:

  1. My biggest challenge was probably being shy and putting myself out there. I overcame it by going out and leaving my comfort zone, and going to all of the scheduled events/ talking to as many people as possible.
  2. I thought the people here were going to be very different from me. I was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming and warm everyone was. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make friends with everyone, but after a month now I can say there isn’t a single person I don’t get along with.
  3. I’m most looking forward to seeing my group mate Darshil’s family in India. I’ve always wanted to see India, but never had the guts or opportunity to go. Now I have a friend from there to show me around and finally fulfill that dream.
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Spencer (left) and Darshil (right) traveling to visit an indigenous group in Panama (Credit: Darshil Dholakia)

Lydia Miller:

    1. Leaving all my friends behind was very tough, and being put into a situation where I was forced to make new ones was not something I was used to, coming from a small town. I was very fortunate to have been placed in a squad where I feel I mesh well with everyone.
    2. I had 0 expectations going into Winterline, and that in and of itself was a terrifying feeling. It made me feel like I wasn’t prepared at all because I didn’t know what it was going to be like.
    3. I’ve enjoyed mostly every aspect of this journey up until now. Winterline certainly keeps you busy, in a good way, of course. I feel as though I have experienced something new and fun every single day, but I miss my friends and family so it will be nice to see them and relax during our winter break.
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Lydia enjoying an afternoon at Outward Bound Costa Rica

Darshil Dholakia:

  1. For me the biggest challenge was to be away from my family and friends, and being away from my home country of India. I miss being able to speak my native language, but I already knew English so it wasn’t impossible to transition.
  2. I didn’t really expect much, I just hoped that the food and accommodations would be good. The food at the YMCA was average, but I won’t complain. The living accomodations were different than I am used to for sure, but were sufficient for the week that we stayed, and were valuable to experience for someone like me who has never had to have roommates or lived with a group of ten people.
  3. I’m very excited for driving at the BMW dealership in Germany, and seeing the Panama Canal which is coming up soon in the trip.
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Squad 1 having a fun night out in Monteverde (Credit: Darshil Dholakia)

Are you thinking about taking a gap year? If so, what are you most nervous and excited about? We’re always happy to answer your questions and help you prepare for the journey!

Visiting Playa Potrero

Playa Potrero is in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, which has a rich history that includes actually belonging to Nicaragua until 1825, when the citizens voted to join Costa Rica. The area is known for its amazing beaches, surf sites, and biodiversity throughout the land and ocean. This makes it a tourism hotspot, and that is the major industry in the region. Staying in Playa Potrero outside of tourism season is definitely a strange feeling and standing out is unavoidable. Everyone was excited to see us wherever we went but we could assume it was because we were the only people there besides staff and a few locals.

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Our squad with the Hotel Isolina staff

While staying at the Hotel Isolina right up the street from the beach, we were lucky enough to catch some of the most beautiful sunsets this world has to offer. Along that same beach we found unbeatable seafood and enjoyed the company of friendly locals who were happy to spend time with us. One of my favourite aspects of this location was that everywhere we went we could find friendly animals that are used to tourists and look forward to the attention. It’s not necessarily advised to pet every dog and cat, but when an animal approached me with caution, I found myself pleasantly surprised every time.

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A friendly local dog our squad ran into outside the hot springs

Playa Potrero offers so much natural beauty around every corner and everywhere I looked, it felt like living in a postcard. While staying there, we were lucky enough to surf the beautiful beaches and then explore beneath the waves while scuba diving, all of which created an experience that I can safely say changed my entire view on the ocean for the rest of my life. Learning how fishing is done locally, then how to prepare that same fish is one of the most satisfying and rewarding feelings. After Playa Potrero, I can’t imagine myself not living by the ocean for the rest of my days.

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Shirley, Alex, Carter, and Me 20 meters underwater


CPR and Wilderness First Aid at Outward Bound Costa Rica

Deep within a rainforest in Cartago, Costa Rica lies a boisterous school filled with tremendous opportunities. This is the rainforest base of Outward Bound, a company self described as “the leading provider of experiential and outdoor education programs for youth and adults.” The students of Winterline spent much time on one such program learning the ins and outs of both CPR and Wilderness First Aid. Every single one of us became certified in both, a valuable accomplishment for both the next eight months of our travel, as well as for further than the foreseeable future. The process was quite simple actually.

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Instructor Bailey(Source: Outward Bound Website)
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Instructor Carlos (Source: Outward Bound Website)

Amid some of the craziest travel opportunities of our lives, we began the process to receive our certifications with…school. Not the most exciting portion of the trip, but necessary and helpful nonetheless. Our two instructors, Carlos and Bailey, spent eight hours for three days in a row teaching us everything we needed to know in order to help one another in case of an emergency.

This consisted of typical textbook reading, practicing on dummies as well as each other, and watching videos of possible dangers we may face as well as how to deal with them. Using each other as pretend victims was exhilarating as many of the situations we were acting out required us to trust one another to practice certain skills and handle each other in the appropriate manner. Aside from that, while it wasn’t the most exciting three days of note taking and test stress, Carlos and Bailey worked to make it as interesting as possible to keep us engaged and prepared to earn our certifications.

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Students James and Darshil taking the wilderness first aid test to receive their certification (Credit: Lydia Miller)

Most of the focus with Outward Bound was on wilderness first aid (first aid in a situation where help is not readily available). However, we touched on workplace injuries as well during the CPR portion. This was actually an eye opening experience for many of us, because it really hammered home the point that accidents can happen anywhere at any time, and if nobody is prepared to deal with them, you may be out of luck.

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Certification cards (Credit: Sherly Budiman)

I’m very happy to have received my education in CPR and first aid because I won’t be the person panicking in the background; there’s so much more my peers and I can do to help now. What I’ve taken away from this experience is that everyone should receive an education similar to the one Outward Bound was able to provide, and I’m sure my peers can and will say the same.

I’m very proud of all the work we put in over the course of the week, and looking back I can say the time we spent together throughout this education was very valuable in terms of bonding and trust building within the group. Having to work together in “stressful” situations led us to rely on each other as well as ourselves, and I think that was important for us to go through so early on in the trip while we still don’t know each other too well. Overall, I can say I’m quite pleased with this segment of Winterline.

Changing the World Through Education

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

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

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

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

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

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Looks like Cristina did end up bringing a book or two!

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

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Cristina and a student in Panama | Photo By: Brittany Lane

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

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

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Cristina and Abby in Cambodia

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

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

A Guide to Gaming by a NOLS Alumni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A voice crying out in the wild

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

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

Will you look at that… another tree

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

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

How Spongebob died choking on a crouton in Hogwarts

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

1)        a person

2)        a place, and

3)        a cause of death.

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

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

1)        SpongeBob died in

2)        Hogwarts while

3)        choking on a crouton

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

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Campfire shenanigans | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

The Murph Effect

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

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

The Dawn of India

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

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

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

What is your favorite memory from India?

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

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

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

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

The Ashram Crew | Photo by: Suryatej

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

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

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

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

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

Moo! | Photo by: Suryatej

What was most challenging for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Enriching” – Caedon

“Peace” – Tyler

“Inspiring and introspective”Yeukai

“Exotic” – Sam

Finding a Home on the Road

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.

A Tale of Two Farms: Volunteering in the Panamanian Jungle

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Exploring the farm | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

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.

The Spark

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.

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The man, the myth, the visionary – señor Onecimo | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

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.

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Handrails for señor Onecimo’s patch of jungle | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

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.”

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A sample of señora Edithe’s exquisite craftsmanship | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

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.

Building Relationships

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.)

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Engraving signs with hammer and chisel | Video By: Benjamin Kilimnik

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.winterline, gap year

Photo Timeline: Winterline 18-19

Our students are busy at bootcamp here in Boston, so with graduation quickly approaching, we thought now was the perfect time to look back on just how far our students have come. See it all from the beginning to now, 9 months, 10 countries, 100 skills, and countless memories and friends later.

There are so many good pictures from this year, and it was hard to narrow down which to include! Look back on all of our favorite photos and travel highlights to see the Photos of the Week from the past few months.

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?


Orientation and NOLS

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Becky, Katie, and Cristina at NOLS | Photo By: Brittany Lane
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On the trails | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Christian, Maria, and Ben at orientation | Photo By: Emma Mays
winterline, gap year, orientation
Orientation | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

Costa Rica

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Scuba diving | Photo By: Brittany Lane
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Going surfing | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Maria and Luc painting crosswalks | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Building at Rancho Mastatal | Photo By: Maria O’Neal


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Getting dirty | Photo By: Brittany Lane
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Working on woodcutting skills | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Ivan at the Panama Canal | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Group photo | Photo By: Maria O’Neal


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At the Elephant Sanctuary | Photo By: Brittany Lane
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Enjoying the meal cooked at BaiPai Thai Cooking School | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Micah found a crab | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Squad 2 | Photo By: Maria O’Neal


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Circus school | Photo By: Brittany Lane
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Taking in the waterfall | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Caedon and Yeukai at a temple | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Caedon at Phare Circus School | Photo By: Maria O’Neal


Making pottery | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Silhouettes | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Christian and Nora doing yoga | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Ivan checking out the view | Photo By: Maria O’Neal


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Tile mosaics | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Mask making | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Stella and her mask | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Friends in Venice | Photo By: Maria O’Neal


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BMW Driving Experience | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, germany, europe
BMW Driving Experience | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, germany, europe
Girls in Germany | Photo By: Emma Mays
winterline, gap year, germany, europe
BMW Driving Experience | Photo By: Maria O’Neal


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Austria | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
winterline, gap year, austria, europe
Posing in Austria | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
winterline, gap year, austria, europe
Scooters in Austria | Photo By: Nora Turner

Czech Republic

winterline, gap year, prague, europe
Prague | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, prague, europe
Linnea, Yeukai, and Emma in Prague | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
winterline, gap year, prague, europe
Ivan and Emma hanging around | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

Also, be sure to check out the videos that Abby made! You can get an inside look at Trimester 1:

and Trimesters 2 and 3:

Interested in having these experiences for yourself? Apply today to visit on our next Winterline gap year. To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook.

When Language Fails: My Homestay in Panama

winterline global gap year

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.

winterline global gap year
Exploring the Mountains of Piedras Gordas | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

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.

winterline global gap year
My Host Family’s Pet Turkey | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

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.

winterline global gap year
Shayan, Micah and I decided to celebrate Edith’s birthday by baking homemade banana bread. (Or, as Edith’s 6-year-old grandson affectionately called it: “la torta gringo“) | Video By: Benjamin Kilimnik

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.

Photos of the Week 4/19

Welcome back to America, Winterliners! Our students are officially back, exploring our headquarters city of Boston. This week, they rounded off their experience in Europe by spending time in Prague. Check out the final images from their adventures across the pond.

Every Friday we share our favorite photos and travel highlights from the past week. So be sure to check back again next Friday for another glimpse into our programs.

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?


winterline, gap year, europe, prague
Pink pigeons in Prague! | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, europe, prague
Abby and Tyler in Prague | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, europe, prague
Czech architecture | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Last day in Prague | Photo By: Christian Roch
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Making friends in Prague | Photo By: Christian Roch
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Not ready to leave Europe | Photo By: Nora Turner
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Linnea and Nora in Prague | Photo By: Nora Turner
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Stella and Nora in Prague | Photo By: Nora Turner
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Czech architecture | Photo By: Paris Geolas
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Linnea and Paris in Prague | Photo By: Paris Geolas
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Girl gang in Prague | Photo By: Paris Geolas
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Fooling around | Photo By: Paris Geolas
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Czech architecture | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
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Last day of spring break | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
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Pretty in Prague | Photo By: Stella Johnson

Interested in visiting Europe for yourself? Apply today to visit on our next Winterline gap year. To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook.

Photos of the Week 4/12

Our students are enjoying their spring break before reuniting to continue Trimester 3. Solo, in pairs, or with family, each student is off exploring the countries of Europe. From the United Kingdom to Greece and everywhere in between, these adventures are certainly worth sharing. See for yourself!

Every Friday we share our favorite photos and travel highlights from the past week. So be sure to check back again next Friday for another glimpse into our programs.

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?


winterline, gap year, europe
Exploring Ireland | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, europe
Irish architecture | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Abby and Tyler in London | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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London Bridge | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Crossing London Bridge | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Leaning Tower of Pisa | Photo By: Becky Quilkey
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Views in Italy | Photo By: Becky Quilkey
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Exploring Greece | Photo By: Brittany Lane
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Taking in Italy | Photo By: Becky Quilkey
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Brittany and Jason surfing in Portugal | Photo By: Brittany Lane
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Surfing in Portugal | Photo By: Brittany Lane
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Portuguese sunset | Photo By: Christian Roch
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Scuba diving in Portugal | Photo By: Christian Roch
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Graffiti | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Ivan and Paris in France | Photo By: Ivan Kuhn
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Graffiti | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Eiffel Tower, all lit up | Photo By: Ivan Kuhn
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Exploring Italy | Photo By: Linnea Mosier
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Graffiti | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Making friends | Photo By: Linnea Mosier
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Traveling in the UK | Photo By: Nora Turner
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Paris in Paris! | Photo By: Paris Geolas
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Colorful Italy | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
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Leaning Tower of Pisa | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
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Phone eats first | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
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Architecture in Prague | Photo By: Tyler Trout
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Practicing photography skills | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
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Views of the Blue Hole | Photo By: Micah Romaner
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Soaking in the beauty | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
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Posing in Prague | Photo By: Tyler Trout
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Looking out on the ocean | Photo By: Tyler Trout


Interested in visiting Europe for yourself? Apply today to visit on our next Winterline gap year. To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook.

Photos of the Week 4/5

Students from both of our cohorts are off on their Independent Study Projects (ISPs), which are like 8 day apprenticeships across Europe. This year, our student’s activities are ranging from scuba diving, photography, sailing, and surfing to restaurant management, butchery workshop, music recording, and swordsmanship! They’re honing these skills everywhere in Europe from the Spanish Canary Islands, to Greece, to Northern Ireland, and everywhere in between.

Every Friday we share our favorite photos and travel highlights from the past week. So be sure to check back again next Friday for another glimpse into our programs.

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?


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Barcelona beaches | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, europe, spain
Spanish architecture | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Exploring the market | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Crème brûlée | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Graffiti art | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Hungary at night | Photo By: Becky Quilkey
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Katie and Billy recreating art | Photo By: Katie Mitchell
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Austrian architecture | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
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Nora, Christian, and Stella having fun | Photo By: Nora Turner
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Paris’s ISP is snowboarding in the Alps | Photo By: Paris Geolas
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Snowboarding views | Photo By: Paris Geolas
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Making time for four-legged friends | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
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Exploring Hungary | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
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Greek sunset | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
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Fresh catch | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
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Meal time | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
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Views of Amsterdam | Photo By: Stella Johnson
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Tyler and Abby checking out graffiti | Photo By: Tyler Trout
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Tyler got to make a surfboard for his ISP | Photo By: Tyler Trout
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The finished surfboard | Photo By: Tyler Trout
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Tyler with his finished board | Photo By: Tyler Trout
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Fine dining | Photo By: Will Vesey
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Ready to eat | Photo By: Will Vesey
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Views from the Alps | Photo By: Paris Geolas

Interested in visiting Europe for yourself? Apply today to visit on our next Winterline gap year. To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook.

Photos of the Week 3/29

Italy, Germany, and Austria, oh my! Among these European countries, Winterline students have been practicing skills like defensive driving, molding and painting masks, making tile mosaics, and learning robotics. Talk about a busy week! Take a look at some of the creations Winterliners have made and adventures they’ve had since last week.

Every Friday we share our favorite photos and travel highlights from the past week. So be sure to check back again next Friday for another glimpse into our programs.

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?


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Becoming one with the views | Photo By: Nora Turner
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Enjoying German beers | Photo By: Katie Mitchell
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Reflection time | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Munich architecture | Photo By: Tyler Trout
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Friends at the ballet | Photo By: Yeukai Jiri
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Life is better at the ballet | Photo By: Yeukai Jiri
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Linnea in Germany | Photo By: Emma Mays
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At the BMW Driving Experience | Photo By: Katie Mitchell
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Hanging out at BMW Driving Experience | Photo By: Tyler Trout
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Italian architecture | Photo By: Stella Rose Johnson
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Pasta straight from the source | Photo By: Stella Rose Johnson
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Driving a BMW | Photo By: Brittany Lane
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Christian and Stella in Venice | Photo By: Christian Roch
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Golden hour in Venice | Photo By: Paris Geolas
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Austrian architecture | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
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Scooters in Austria | Photo By: Nora Turner
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Vienna from above | Photo By: Nora Rich, Winterline Admissions Advisor
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Robotics time | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Drink up | Photo By: Becky Quilkey
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BMW Driving Experience | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
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BMW Driving Experience | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
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Paris at BMW Driving Experience | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
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Paris and Christian in Germany | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
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Stella in Germany | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
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Tile mosaics in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Masks in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Mask making in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Mask making in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Mask making in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Mask making in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Glass blowing in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Making tile mosaics in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Making tile mosaics in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Making tile mosaics in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Making tile mosaics in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Making tile mosaics in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Making tile mosaics in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Sunset silhouettes | Photo By: Abby Dulin


Interested in visiting Italy and Germany for yourself? Apply today to visit on our next Winterline gap year. To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook.

The Precarious Art of Singing An Eleven Part Harmony

In music theory there is a term called a polyrhythm: when one hand uses a two count and the other hand counts in three. They are independent beats that carry well on their own, but when intertwined, they mix the way chilies and chocolate do.

In my head, I can draw a line between polyrhythms and love. I’ve been of the belief for a long time that love is not two puzzle pieces of a whole, rather, it is two hearts that beat in time with each other.

I fondly refer to my arrival in Estes Park as a crash landing. The girl who showed up there was desperate for friendship, and trying to speak the languages of twelve other people all at once with no prior learning experience. Smoke and ash filled the air as I smothered people with my presence, and I emerged from the wreck to find myself alone in a crowded room.

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Students at NOLS | Photo By: Leela Ray

I felt that way for quite a while. I missed my home, I missed my friends, I missed my ex. Every once in a while I would dip a toe into the waters of our group, only to recoil as I was scalded by my own mistakes. I stopped dipping my toes in.

I was lonely. My postured state left me unapproachable and callous, which only made me posture more. I had little to lean on save for an electric fence of a person whose touch made my chest numb and brought the taste of metal into my mouth. When I finally pushed him away, the lack of feeling still persisted. It spread into my arms, my head, my legs, my heart… I became a rippled reflection of myself, an unclear image of insecurities and doubt.

I’m what I refer to as a “stress-baker,” the graph that compares anxiety to amount of cupcakes produced is a line with a slope of one. In Costa Rica, at the end of our first trimester, I was assigned to work in a bakery for a week. It became my refuge. My jaw began to unclench, and my shell started to crack. That was the first time I saw Her.

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Leela in Belize

It was early one morning, I rolled over and sat up to see Her walk in on the sunlight that shone through my bedroom window and perch at my feet. She was a mirror image of myself, but something was off. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it was as if She was formed from the dough I’d been rolling, or the dense clouds that fed the forest of Monteverde. It might’ve been the way She stood tall, Her spine straight and strong next to my crippled one. I could feel Her heartbeat as She stood in front of me: jauntily skipping triplets dancing around the dull defeated thud my own two count had taken on in the past months. She reached out, and I felt my own hand raise to meet Her’s. She stood, and I did too. She smiled, and I felt the near forgotten tug at the corners of my chapped lips. Then like a puppet master, She slipped into my shadow, and I watched as my shoulders relaxed and my chin lifted. I didn’t feel so alone.

The last two weeks of that trimester passed in a blur. I was at peace in the company of Her, and for some reason, that brought me closer to the people in our cohort. I went home no longer dreading my return to Winterline, but longing for it. Yet as the winter holidays passed, the proverbial “cuffing season” seemed to be ending. I saw less and less of Her, and more and more of someone not quite who I was, but not quite whom I wanted to be either. I felt abandoned by Her. I knew better than when I started this whole thing, but I also had a long ways to go, so I arrived in Cambodia with a new idea: stop thinking, start doing.

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Cambodian temple | Photo By: Leela Ray

Tired of constantly being stuck inside my own head, I set out to really immerse myself in the countries we visited, and consequently I fell in love. It was painful at first, being alone. My heart was heavy with it’s hollow pulse. But as with every breakup, the more time that passed, the less I thought of Her.

I fell in love so many times I’ve lost count. I basked in the embrace of the Thai sun, Cambodia’s history stole my breath, India whispered secrets in my ear late at night and Venice made my knees weak with its beauty. Germany was a tease, its cold touch sending shivers down my spine, and Austria showed me that a second chance over good drinks can change your perspective. I became un-numb. With every new experience I grew, and with every day I woke up feeling a little fuller, and little more independent, a little less lonely for Her.

Every country gave me a piece of it, but Hungary was a place that made me want to give a piece of myself back. Something about the way the wind pulled at my hair by the river, and how the people spoke to my soul made me want to stay forever. Budapest grabbed my hand and dragged me to places I never expected to see; it held me up when I felt like I couldn’t stand, challenged me to see in new lights and brought me soup when I had a fever of 102 degrees. Hungary ripped off my blinders and helped me see beyond myself, I was alive. 

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Leela and friends celebrating Holi

On my last morning there, I dragged myself out of bed and into the bathroom. Blinking in the harsh light, I kept my head down to brush my teeth and wash my face. I was resistant to leave, to pack my things and return to the noise of my group, but I knew my time in Budapest had taught me all it could. I paused for a moment, feeling the water drip off my chin, and reflected on the person I’d become. I felt stronger and more competent than I ever had before, and despite my want to stay, I knew I was ready to step out into the world. With a new resolve, I grabbed my towel to dry my face, and when I finally looked in the mirror, I felt my breath hitch in my throat. Someone else was looking back at me. Graceful and confident, eyes ablaze with passion and courage, slender yet strong fingers holding the same towel I felt in my own grasp. I raised my hand to touch my face, and so did She.


Photos of the Week 3/22

Now that our students are in Europe with speedy internet, we have a whole lot of pictures to show: this is a long one! This week, Squad 1 began in Italy, where they enjoyed plenty of pizza and gelato, had a photography contest, created tile mosaics, and got to handmake and paint their own Venetian masks. Busy week! Squad 2, meanwhile, started off in Germany, where they got a lesson in safe driving at the BMW Driving Experience. Now our squads have swapped locations, and are off to practice the next skills on the list.

Every Friday we share our favorite photos and travel highlights from the past week. So be sure to check back again next Friday for another glimpse into our programs.

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?


winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Italy at sunset | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
The canals of Venice | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Abby taking a quick break from all the sightseeing in Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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The canals are full of life | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Gelato time! | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Cristina and Abby enjoying Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Colorful houses in Burano | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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One of our Italy photo contest winners | Photo By: Katie Mitchell
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Nothing like pizza in Italy | Photo By: Becky Quilkey
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Nothing like traveling with friends | Photo By: Brittany Lane
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Squad 2 at BMW Headquarters in Germany
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Capturing the culture of Italy | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Cristina enjoying the views in Italy | Photo By: Cristina Hoyos
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Cristina enjoying the local cuisine | Photo By: Cristina Hoyos
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Graffiti on the streets of Munich | Photo By: Emma Mays
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More graffiti! | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Katie having a glass of wine | Photo By: Katie Mitchell
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Paris and Micah hanging out in Germany | Photo By: Micah Romaner
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Paris driving at BMW Driving Experience | Photo By: Paris Geolas
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Paris and Micah celebrating St. Patrick’s Day | Photo By: Paris Geolas
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German architecture | Photo By: Paris Geolas
winterline, germany, europe, gap year
Christian and Paris with a BMW | Photo By: Paris Geolas
winterline, gap year, germany, europe
Welcome to Germany | Photo By: Paris Geolas
winterline, gap year, germany, europe
Paris looking out at the view | Photo By: Paris Geolas
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Beautiful buildings in Italy | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Becky exploring Italy | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Venetian masks | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Becky and Spencer in Italy | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
winterline, gap year, Italy, europe
Becky and Spencer in front of the canals | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
winterline, gap year, Italy, europe
Views on views | Photo By: Tyler Trout


winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Gelato never looked so good | Photo By: Becky Quilkey
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Italian architecture | Photo By: Lydia Summermater
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Abby and Tyler posing in Italy | Photo By: Tyler Trout
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Squad 1 in Italy
winterline, gap year, germany, europe
Hanging out at the BMW Driving Experience | Photo By: Christian Roch
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Reflection in the canal | Photo By: Will Vesey
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Views through the gates | Photo By: Will Vesey
winterline, gap year, italy, europe
Italian architecture | Photo By: Will Vesey
winterline, gap year, germany, europe
Linnea at the National Theater in Munich | Photo By: Linnea Mosier
winterline, gap year, germany, europe
Views in Germany | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, germany, europe
Sights from up above | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, Italy, europe
Nora modeling in Italy | Photo By: Nora Turner
winterline, gap year, Italy, europe
Taking in the beauty of Italy | Photo By: Nora Turner


Interested in visiting Italy and Germany for yourself? Apply today to visit on our next Winterline gap year. To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook.

Hear Me Roar: ThinkImpact Director Gabriela Valencia

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

winterline, think impact, gap year
Gabriela Valencia

Could you tell me about yourself? What motivates you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

ThinkImpact in Rwanda

What is your role in the organization?

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

How do you choose a community to work with?

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

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

How was Piedras Gordas chosen?

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

global gap year winterline

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

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

winterline, gap year, Panama
Renovation in Piedras Gordas | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

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

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

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

Photos of the Week 3/15

Throughout their time in India, Winterline students have worked with a variety of partners such as UWC Mahindra College and Aerie Medicine to practice skills like hiking, self-care, and cooking. This is our last batch of India photos to highlight, so be sure to take a good look and get an idea of what time abroad in this incredible country is like. And, of course, stay tuned for the upcoming photos from Europe!

Every Friday we share our favorite photos and travel highlights from the past week. So be sure to check back again next Friday for another glimpse into our programs.

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?


winterline, gap year, India
Taking in the view | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, India
Playful pups | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, India
Meal prep with Lydia and Alex | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, India
Making friends in the hills | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Pretty kitty | Photo By: Becky Quilkey
winterline, gap year, India
Brittany enjoying life by the water | Photo By: Brittany Lane
winterline, gap year, India
Brittany and Noah soaking up India | Photo By: Brittany Lane
winterline, gap year, India
Abby exploring the beach | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, India
Nora getting her dose of puppy time | Photo By: Nora Turner
winterline, gap year, India
City views are great in any weather | Photo By: Stella Johnson
winterline, gap year, India
Stella and Christian make the view even more beautiful | Photo By: Christian Roch
winterline, gap year, India
Christian and Paris spreading love in India | Photo By: Christian Roch
winterline, gap year, India
Ivan preparing to battle Thanos | Photo By: Ivan Kahn
winterline, gap year, India
Ivan taking Thanos down | Photo By: Ivan Kahn
winterline, gap year, India
Between the houses | Photo By: Katie Mitchell
winterline, gap year, India
Getting to know the culture through the food | Photo By: Katie Mitchell
Winterline, gap year, India
Checking out some homes | Photo By: Katie Mitchell
winterline, gap year, India
Admiring the graffiti | Photo By: Katie Mitchell
winterline, gap year, India
Ivan looking out at the landscape | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
winterline, gap year, India
Micah and Paris: flower children | Photo By: Micah Romaner
winterline, gap year, India
Micah and Linnea make messy eating look fun | Photo By: Micah Romaner
winterline, gap year, India
Squad love | Photo By: Micah Romaner
winterline, gap year, India
Power posing | Photo By: Micah Romaner
winterline, gap year, India
Paris and Christian basking in the sunset | Photo By: Paris Geolas

Interested in visiting India for yourself? Apply today to visit on our next Winterline gap year. To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook.

Photos of the Week 3/8

India: full of sunrises and sunsets, self-care and self-expression, new skills and new photos! Next week, our students will be leaving for Europe, so be sure to soak in the glory of India through their eyes while you can. This week, Winterliners visited Red Stone Organic Farm, celebrated an early Holi, and practiced playing the berimbau, among other adventures!

Every Friday we share our favorite photos and travel highlights from the past week. So be sure to check back again next Friday for another glimpse into our programs.

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?


winterline, gap year, india
Busy in the streets | Photo By: Becky Quilkey
winterline, gap year, india
Taking it all in | Photo By: Brittany Lane
winterline, gap year, india
Another Indian sunset | Photo By: Linnea Mosier
winterline, gap year, india
Tree hugger | Photo By: Nora Turner
winterline, gap year, India
Spices galore | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
winterline, gap year, India
At the farm | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
winterline, gap year, india
Learning the berimbau | Photo By: Becky Quilkey
winterline, gap year, India
Early Holi celebration with Brittany and Jason | Photo By: Brittany Lane
winterline, gap year, India
Jason and Brittany celebrating Holi | Photo By: Brittany Lane
winterline, gap year, India
Artwork with our partner organization | Photo By: Soulsphere Pune
winterline, gap year, India
More art | Photo By: Soulsphere Pune
winterline, gap year, India
Daily life in India | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
Winterline, gap year, India
Incredible views | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
Winterline, gap year, India
Lunch never looked so good | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
winterline, gap year, India
Posing in front of the backdrop | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
Winterline, gap year, India
Puppy love | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
winterline, gap year, India
Traffic patterns | Photo By: Will Vesey
winterline, gap year, India
Not a bad view | Photo By: Will Vesey
winterline, gap year, India
Up close and personal with Jason | Photo By: Will Vesey


Interested in visiting India for yourself? Apply today to visit on our next Winterline gap year. To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook.

Tuktuks and Tourists

A roundtrip tuk tuk ride to the Cambodian Landmine Museum for the seven of us, which will need to include two carts and takes about an hour each way, costs eighteen dollars total. The leather on the seat is cracking and worn, but comfortable. Our tuk tuk drivers speak enough English to negotiate prices, but not to answer any questions that we have about the ride there. We don’t even know enough Khmer to say “thank you” yet, so we resort to smiles and grip the hanging handrails as we begin the journey. My tuk tuk pulls ahead slightly when the second has to pull over to get gas, a process which involves pouring something close to gasoline out of an old Fanta litre bottle into the fuel tank. Gas pumps are few and far between outside the city.

winterline, gap year, cambodia
View of the road outside the Landmine Museum | Photo By: Paris Geolas

We weave through the streets of Siem Reap, and I can’t keep my eyes in one place. Half the drivers are on motorbikes, some with up to two other passengers casually perched on the back. Most of the motorbike drivers are Cambodian, ranging from kids on their way back from school in their white and navy uniform, to people in street clothes, which consists of solid colored pants and shirts. The only people in tank tops and shorts are tourists. They, like us, are lounging in the backs of tuk tuks, hiding behind pairs of Ray-Bans and shielded from the heat. Tuk tuks and motorbikes make up most of the vehicles on the road, but there are a few cars and buses in between.

The traffic patterns remind me of being a kid and dropping a chip on the ground and slowly watching ants engulf and extirpate it. It’s a system, but impossible to understand as an outsider. To my ignorant eyes, it seems like utter chaos. Lanes are nonexistent, everyone drives like they own the road. Even at a standstill, motorbikes swerve in between cars and tuk tuks to be the first to turn. I have yet to see a single traffic light. Yet there is a method, and they do own the road. The drivers look disinterested in what is just their daily commute, as I am completely engrossed.

As we head out of the center of Siem Reap the shops and buildings begin to thin out, and road stands take their place. They boast of discounted brand apparel, mostly knockoff Supreme and Adidas. Huge Chinese lantern stands gleam red and gold, almost spilling into the street. The dirt from the road turns from a gray brown to orange the further out we get. I initially try to move my hair out of my face, but eventually give up completely. The strands of dirty blonde flying in front of my eyes add to the experience. Nicole sits in front of me, her red backpack strap wrapped around her ankle. Motorbikes have been known to fly by tuk tuks and snatch bags. We yell to each other to be heard over the motor, but I don’t have much to say.

Now twenty minutes outside the city, road stands have snacks and piles of simple button down shirts and the infamous “elephant pants”, loose enough to fend off sweat stains, respectful enough to wear to temples, and trendy enough to pull off, all for only a couple dollars. These stands are made for tourists. There are also huge pots sitting low to the ground with billowing smoke. When we ask what they are, James buys us a sample of the contents, palm sugar drops. He tells us they also make palm wine, something that we shouldn’t try in our time here because there’s no way we have the alcohol tolerance. The palm sugar drops are smokey sweet with a grainy texture. I don’t want to eat any more but I can imagine that it would taste great wedged between the back of my cheek and my molars, laying underneath the sun in a hammock staring up at the leaves, as I see a lot of the people we pass are doing. We pass rice fields being burned to bring back the nutrients, one of the reasons that the sky is perpetually gray. It makes the palm trees look even more green. A shirtless teenage boy stands in a puddle a few feet deep with a fishing net. The kids on the side of the road smile and wave to us. We wave back.

When we reach the Landmine Museum, it’s tough to walk around. Founded by Aki Ra, a former child soldier during the Khmer Rouge, the museum doubles as a safehouse for children seeking an education. There are rooms full of the children’s paintings right next to the rooms full of thousands of disabled landmines. It makes you feel something you can’t quite describe, but it’s nothing different from what you felt on the tuk tuk drive over. After spending a few hours at the museum, we walk to the shake stand next door and drink out of coconuts. You can even get an Angkor (the local beer) if you want. I sit there watching, and something in the road catches my attention.

A motorbike rushing by hits one of the street dogs crossing the road. The dog starts howling and the bystanders stand up, some of them rushing to the side of the street. The driver falls, screaming, and the bike skids across the road. The woman who gave us our tickets rushes away from the scene with her now crying child. A couple people rush to help the man up, and he pushes them off and grabs his bike. The dog is nowhere to be seen. He wheels the bike over to the side of the road, dusts himself off, and doesn’t respond to the people shouting at him in Khmer. A couple minutes later, he gets on the bike and drives away. 

winterline, gap year, cambodia
View of truck on the drive | Photo By: Paris Geolas

I used to call myself a driver but now I no longer feel entitled to that name. The tuktuk drive to the Landmine Museum is beautiful, I never for a second wanted to close my eyes. But there is something else that eats away at you, something you do want to close off. It’s the feeling you don’t have a name for, not guilt, not empathy. It hollows you. It would be impossible to travel to a place like Cambodia and not check your privilege. You see it in your hotel mirror, in the thread count of your jeans, in the plastic cards filling up your wallet. The tuktuk drive has left me with orange dirt on my T shirt, a shirt which cost more than the entire drive. I am more thankful for the clothes I wear. I am thankful for the knots in my hair from the wind on the drive.

Photos of the Week 3/1

Welcome to India! Last week, our students arrived in the city of Pune. So far, they’ve had some time to explore the city, visit the Mahindra United World College of India, and practice self-care at an ashram. They even found time to cuddle up with some puppies! This is just the beginning of Winterline’s adventure in India, so stay tuned to see more skills and more exciting photo ops.

Every Friday we share our favorite photos and travel highlights from the past week. So be sure to check back again next Friday for another glimpse into our programs.

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?


gap year, winterline, india
Welcome to India! | Photo By: Nora Turner
winterline, gap year, india
Snuggly pups | Photo By: Nora Turner
winterline, gap year, India
Days in the sun | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
winterline, gap year, India
Taking in the views | Photo By: Will Vesey
winterline, gap year, India
Puppy love | Photo By: Nora Turner
winterline, gap year, India
Spices galore | Photo By: Nora Turner
winterline, gap year, India
Sunsets with friends | Photo By: Spencer Holtschult
winterline, gap year, India
Views from UWC Mahindra College | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, India
A visit to the ashram | Photo By: Linnea Mosier
winterline, gap year, India
Making four-legged friends | Photo By: Linnea Mosier
Winterline, gap year, India
Enjoying India | Photo By: Linnea Mosier
winterline, gap year, India
Unbeatable views | Photo By: Tyler Trout

Interested in visiting India for yourself? Apply today to visit on our next Winterline gap year. To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook.

Photos of the Week 2/22

Our students had a wonderful time exploring Thailand and Cambodia: seeing the attractions, tasting the food, immersing in the culture, and meeting the people. From circus school, to cooking classes, to hiking, biking, and seeing temples, Winterline offers a comprehensive journey through Southeast Asia. We’re so excited that our students can share their experiences with you through their compelling photos! Be sure to tune back in next week to get the first look into the new adventures that India brings.

Every Friday we share our favorite photos and travel highlights from the past week. So be sure to check back again next Friday for another glimpse into our programs.

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?



winterline, gap year, cambodia
Squad 1 at Phare Circus School in Cambodia | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, cambodia
Squad 1 at Phare Circus School in Cambodia | Photo By: Abby Dulin
Winterline, gap year, cambodia
Squad 1 at Phare Circus School in Cambodia | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, Cambodia
Squad 1 at Phare Circus School in Cambodia | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, Cambodia
Exploring the temples of Cambodia | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, Cambodia
Cooking in Cambodia | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, Cambodia
Cooking in Cambodia | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, Cambodia
Hanging out at the temples | Photo By: Abby Dulin
winterline, gap year, thailand
Jumping for joy in Thailand | Photo By: Christian Roch
winterline, gap year, thailand
Soaking in Thailand | Photo By: Paris Geolas
winterline, gap year, Thailand
Looking out over Thailand one last time | Photo By: Nora Turner

Interested in visiting Thailand and Cambodia for yourself? Apply today to visit on our next Winterline gap year. To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook.

Panama: The Bridge Between Two Continents (mostly) and the Connector of Oceans

It’s an extremely humbling thing to take control of your life by completely letting go of the details. We didn’t know each other three months ago. We didn’t have any idea how we would get from place to place. We didn’t know the foods we would put in our bodies or the people we would meet, but everyone in the Winterline program had at least one thing in common.

We want adventure. Actually, let’s rephrase that… we crave adventure. We need something in our lives that can completely change the direction of the paths we will take in our futures. Whether it was climbing a mountain in the tiniest community with no air conditioning, partying in Panama City for days on end, or just relaxing at the beach with a couple (but just a couple) margaritas on a rest day, we kept chasing after each day for new experiences. We valued our nights just as much as the days, either too excited for the next day to fall asleep or passing out, exhausted, in one of our many different beds. Sometimes it felt like we haven’t slept in years because of how hard we tried to learn about the new communities and cultures. After living in Panama for about a month with my best friends, I can confidently say that we found a consuming adventure, which marks the beginning of our expedition traveling the world with one another, through Winterline.  

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First, we traveled to the Panama Canal to learn the history of the beautiful country we were living in. We went through a museum of the canal’s building process and watched a documentary on its purpose.. After exploring the area for a bit, we were informed there was a ship passing through and had the opportunity to watch the locks in action as we enjoyed the wonderful weather and sipped on iced coffee. Pictured above is our field advisor, Jeff, watching how the water levels rose and fell while delivering the cargo ship on its way into the Pacific.

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El Cocal marks our first home. We were briefed shortly on the special drinking water and lack of service and air conditioning. After embarking on what felt like a lifetime of driving, we found our homes in this tiny, relatively unknown community. In pairs, we were welcomed into homes of community members for our home-stays and given a quick tour of the area. I walked 15 minutes every day to get to the meeting area for work and food. We interviewed locals, played futbol with the teenagers, and we even climbed a mountain. We spent nine days here and it was the best way to commence our travels of Panama. Pictured above are the children of El Cocal, who welcomed us into their homes with a traditional dance ceremony.

winterline, gap year

At the end of our stay in El Cocal, we were reunited with Squad 2 for an educational experience at the farms outside the town. Here, we took a tour around the sugar cane farms, learned to squeeze juices with old fashioned machinery, and learned about natural building. The picture above shows us preparing the mud to build up the walls. To do so, we jumped around in the mud and slowly added straw to help strengthen the house. Everyone working with us was extremely excited to teach us very knowledgeable about their town’s history.

winterline, gap year

Taking to the water, we jumped in some kayaks to paddle our way out to the Caribbean Sea. After a brief instruction, we made our way to the historic area of Portablo, Colon and learned about how pirates attacked the port during the Spanish Empire. When we were still, we could hear howling monkeys throughout the jungle and feel the sun shining down on us on from the clearest blue sky. We finished our journey on foot through the trees to the battle ground,where we could see the ocean go on forever into the horizon. Pictured above are Josie and Becky taking a little break on our very physically demanding, but rewarding, trip.

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Next, we headed inside to learn about creation with our hands and were introduced to the educational work of the FABLABS. They showed us how 3D printers worked, how to use heavy machinery, and told us to use our imaginations to build anything we could think of. Pictured above is our friend, Katie, learning how difficult it is to cut a straight line with a hand tool. This was a great way of being introduced to wood work and getting a taste of how hands-on we can be, whether we want to make a simple keychain or build furniture for our home.

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After our day in the FABLAB, we put our skills to the test as we built house 2.0 which is the idea of building houses with reused materials for a very low price. This project started in efforts to end homelessness around the world. We bolted together large pieces of wood that we had cut out in the labs and spend hours in the heat working on. Becky and Josie were nothing but smiles as they held up the large beams while others inserted g the foundation pieces to keep our house up! We learned so much about teamwork and communication as we put up this house.

winterline, gap year

In the streets of Panama City (literally), we teamed up with an urban innovation team to try out an idea we had. After noticing how busy the streets were around a preschool, we realized there were no crosswalks, no signs, and no speed bumps. We wanted to improve the safety for children seeking an education, so we grabbed some paint brushes and tape to create a combination of the three missing features.. We themed four streets of the sea to remind drivers of the school across the street and to keep kids from wandering too far from the sidewalks. Above are the whales we designed being painted by our friends of Squad 2, while others worked on bubbles, starfish, and sharks. We wanted to bring attention and awareness to the fact that this was an area where young kids were learning and we did just that with the bright colored paints and designs of the cities newest crosswalks!

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Across the street from our crosswalks, we found ourselves in a small bakery known for their Venezuelan empanadas. We were taught how they were originally made, how they are made now, and how they are different from traditional Panamanian empanadas. We took turns making our own personal empanadas filled with our choice of beef, chicken, fish, and, in my case, cheese and beans (plenty of great vegetarian options in Central America). Pictured above is Jason demonstrating his new skill of shaping dough before it’s filled and fried to perfection. After trying all of their specialty condiments and eating way too many empanadas, we left the bakery feeling even more connected to the community of Panama City through food.

winterline, gap year

After a long days work, we did one of our favorite things: pile into one of our tiny rooms and listen to the stories we all had to share. Coming from all different places, New York City to Colombia, California to Kansas, we loved hearing about where each other came from. After spending every day and night together for weeks, it truly felt like I had known my squad for years, yet I still am learning new things about everyone every day. Fitting so many people into our small but comfortable living spaces sometimes lead to us being way too loud for the hostel and having to hang out outside, but we all loved staying up all night just talking to each other. Hostel Amador was the perfect place for getting to know each other while watching movies, playing ping pong and playing with our pet goat, Luna. (Our friend, Brogan, really loved that goat).

winterline, gap year

Another interesting workshop we did was stopping by a famous Panamanian rum distillery. Here, we sampled the beer and rum they made and walked through the ways different drinks were created. We toured the machinery, which had many different processes of creating various alcohol flavors. Pictured above is our field advisor, Jeff, explaining to Tyler how the rum is transported through pipes from machine to machine.

winterline, gap year

Sneaking away to Casco Viejo, Lydia and I enjoyed one of the most amazing helpings of Carbonara we had ever had. The food culture of Panama was something we all enjoyed and deepened our appreciation for the new and inviting places we traveled to. Some of our favorites (besides the endless supply of carbonara) were rice and beans (of course), empanadas, the pizzas and (veggie) burgers delivered by Uber drivers at all hours of the night, the Colombian crepes, delicious coffee, gyros, and anything from Cafe Niko’s.

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We stayed in many places in our travels around Panama, from hotels and hostels, to home-stays, and even our transport bus with Eduardo, driving from city to city on the scariest roads with the most intense drivers I have ever experienced. We never stayed in the same place for more than two weeks but somehow we were accepted in every community with open arms. Everyone showed patience with our horrible (but improving) Spanish and our loud nights that kept everyone awake. We enjoyed time with the locals who made us way more food than we could eat and taught us about the most important values of their culture – family. That’s how Panama impacted me in ways I will never forget. My family. I started this 9-month long adventure as an individual with thirty-one other young travelers and five loving field advisors and somewhere along the way we went from strangers to family. We take care of each other, we have fun together, we sometimes cry and get upset but I know they always have my back. The fifteen amazing people in my squad showed me the importance of living fully and completely but will never let me forget where we all began.

Somewhere in Panama, we found a home. This home wasn’t just in the city or in El Cocal or any one specific place. It was carrying all of our stuff on our backs, in the rain and scorching heat, together, as a group. My family is my home and that is how Panama is still with us, forever.

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Halfway There: An Interview with Ivan Kuhn

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

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

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

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

Why Winterline? Why get out of your cozy town?

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite skill so far?

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

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

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

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

Photos of the Week 2/15

From waterfalls to skywalks, our students are getting to see all that Cambodia and Thailand have to offer! This week brought a lot of exploring and sightseeing, with partners Bangkok Vanguards and BaiPai Thai Cooking School, to name a few. Soon, students will be heading to India, so prepare with them to say goodbye to Cambodia and Thailand and hello to another new country.

Every Friday we share our favorite photos and travel highlights from the past week. So be sure to check back again next Friday for another glimpse into our programs.

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?



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Yeukai and Linnea in Thailand | Photo By Emma Mays
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Caedon taking in the view | Photo By Emma Mays
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Checking out a Cambodian waterfall | Photo By Abby Dulin
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A delicious meal cooked at BaiPai Thai Cooking School | Photo By Ivan Kuhn
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Squad 2 hanging out in Cambodia | Photo By Maria O’Neal
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Monkeying around | Photo By Maria O’Neal
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Waterfall fun | Photo By Spencer Holtschult
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Taking in the views from Mahanakhon SkyWalk | Photo By Nora Turner
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Learning to read a Thai map | Photo By Michael Biedassek, tour guide for the Bangkok Vanguards
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Exploring Thailand | Photo By Bangkok Vanguards

Interested in visiting Thailand and Cambodia for yourself? Apply today to visit on our next Winterline gap year. To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook.

Señor Ernesto’s Farm


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The Gate which sits just outside the entrance to Señor Ernesto’s Farm | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

Señor Ernesto’s farm sits at the top of a steep gravel road just outside of Piedras Gordas in rural Cocle. The walk up is nothing different from what we have seen so far, flanked by thick tropical forest, a few stout and brightly colored houses appearing every now and then. Most houses are one story, made of cement and plaster, and have a few hammocks and community members always decorating their porch.

Señor Ernesto is waiting for us at the end of a dirt path at the crest of the hill. He sits at just above five foot three but is undoubtedly stronger than all of us put together. Winterline has partnered with an organization called ThinkImpact to cultivate social innovation in the Piedras Gordas community. As we’re all unskilled workers with very limited Spanish, labor is our best method of communication. The farmer my group will be working with is Señor Ernesto. He leads us up without words, and he’s trailed by around twelve dogs all ranging in color and size, as well as a few kittens. He invites us to sit on his porch, and starts speaking. He’s quiet but holds a heavy wisdom is his words. Through our translator Felix, begins to explain the history of his farm.

It’s been a work in progress for the past five years, starting with a few plants and expanding into one of the largest and most impressive natural farms in this part of Panama. It serves three main purposes, one unspoken. It is most obviously a source of much community food production, and is one of the main sources of tourism for the rural and very out-of-the-way town. What became more clear to us in the week to follow was that the farm serves as a huge inspiration to other community members to work with permaculture and natural farming. Another farmer we spoke to, Señor Ornecimo, has worked on his own farm for seven years, and says that Ernesto’s farm still far surpasses him in size, production, and creativity.

After the introduction, Señor Ernesto takes us into the center of the lower half of his farm. It’s split into two main sectors, with his home and animals sitting in the center. In addition to the array of dogs and cats we saw, Señor Ernesto has chickens, pigs, and ducks. They are mostly free range, and occasionally pecked at our shoes as we headed down the hill into the farm. It’s about a ten minute walk along a windy and muddy path.

We finally reach a gated area which separates into two paths, one leading to a natural gazebo made of canopy and several handcrafted wooden benches, and another which snakes deeper into tropical forest. It’s clear immediately to my group that this is not like any farm we have seen before. The land is not flat, clear, or organized. It’s impossible to separate natural growth from crops except for what’s been designated with signs, clearly put in for tourists like us.

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Señor Ernesto showing us how to measure an appropriate distance between coffee plants | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

Señor Ernesto takes us further into the dark while we take in as much as we can. Along the way he shouts out the names of plants as they appear. Banana trees, orange trees, coffee plants, cacao trees, and this is only a small section of his farm. As we walk, we begin to see how it works. New trees and plants have been integrated nearly seamlessly into existing forest, with a few sectors popping up here and there. Some open chicken coops, toolshed, and a fertilizer shack. After a brief tour of the farm, we’re instructed to come back the next day with questions and ideas.

We return the next day armed with curiosity. We’ve been sent to provide physical labor, but what we’ve truly come for is to learn. The farm is already incredibly impressive, but Señor Ernesto explains that he has far greater plans for it. We’ll be working on repairing trails and planting coffee sprouts, but he hopes that soon he’ll be building bunkhouses and bathrooms along the trails of the farm. When asked why, he describes his desire to make this a huge tourism hub in Piedras Gordas.

The farm will one day be able to house up to twenty people in the bunkhouses, enough for school and other groups to come stay for up to two weeks at a time. In addition to being able to explore and potentially work on the farm, Señor Ernesto wants to install a zipline on another sector of his land, and has a large boulder that he thinks tourists could use for climbing.

With so many things to do, Señor Ernesto will undoubtedly be bringing people into Piedras Gordas, but the dreams he has for the future of his farm all come back to one thing. Education. We ask why he wants so badly to bring new people in, and Señor Ernesto looks at us. He tells us that everything has has comes from the land, and because of that, everything he receives, he gives back. When he was first growing up in Piedras Gordas, he told us that all farmers cleared their land in order to farm. He felt the air become different from the lack of trees, and vowed never to cut down trees when he began to farm his own land. Now, he doesn’t cut down trees other than trimming branches, and he doesn’t import fertilizer. All fertilizer he makes himself using a composting toilet that a peace corps volunteer helped him install a few years back. In there, solid and liquid waste are separated, he mixes the solid waste with banana leaves and sawdust to make something better for the soil, and the urine becomes a natural pesticide.

He also shows us to his other source of fertilizer, his large compost bins. He recycles all of his food waste, paper, cardboard, and cartons back into the soil. While recycling is very difficult in this community, he fights back by reusing all plastic and glass containers. In a place where people have no choice but to burn their trash, these steps are monumental in building a more sustainable life. Señor Ernesto tells us that since he has made these practices public, community members are making their own composting bins, reusing their plastics, and clearing less land.

By bringing in tourists, Señor Ernesto believes that he will be able to not only show them the importance of natural building, permaculture, and sustainability, but prove that it is something anyone can do. Contrary to current belief, living an environmentally conscientious lifestyle does not have to be modern or expensive. Groups like us who come through his farm can see that it is achievable, and it is important.

Over the next two days, we will help build trails and plant crops, but we’ll take away new perspectives. It doesn’t seem like a fair trade for what we’ve learned and the generosity we’ve been shown. ThinkImpact sent us here to cultivate social innovation, but it feels more like this has something which has been cultivated within us.

Photos of the Week 2/8

Trimester 2 kicked off at the end of January as our Squad 1 arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, and Squad 2 arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia. As they jump back into their travels after Winter Break, students were introduced to their new set field advisors: Patrick and Kimiko in Squad 1,  and James and Nicole in Squad 2, who all have experience traveling in Asia. Throughout this trimester, all of our students in both squads will travel throughout Thailand, Cambodia, and India.

In these countries they’ll get to participate in plenty of unique activities through our incredible partners: Phare Circus School in Cambodia, Grasshopper Adventures bike tours in Cambodia, Hanifl Centre for Outdoor Education and Environmental Study in India, and more. Keep reading to see the first of many envy-inspiring pictures to come!

Every Friday we will be putting together our favorite photos and travel highlights from the past week. So be sure to check back again next Friday for another glimpse into our programs.

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?


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Ben learning bike maintenance in Cambodia | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Caedon learning to juggle at Phare Circus School | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
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Becky hitting a gong in Thailand | Photo By: Brittany Lane
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Squad 2 group photo in Cambodia | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
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Squad 2 at Phare Circus School | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
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Linnea practicing balancing at Phare Circus School: Photo By: Emma Mays
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All thumbs up from Sam at Circus School | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Yeukai and Linnea soaking in the sun on a break from juggling | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Yeukai and Caedon in Cambodia | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Sam hanging out in a Cambodian temple | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Ivan working on his photography skills | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Hanging around in Cambodia | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Caedon flipping out at Circus School | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
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Smiles from Linnea | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Nora posing at Circus School | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Sam, Stella, and Christian prove that bike maintenance can be fun | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Shayan learning bike maintenance | Photo By: Emma Mays
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Cristina, Katie, and Abby show us their “hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil” | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Monkeys everywhere in Thailand | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Becky at BaiPai Thai Cooking School | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Squad 1 enjoying the meal they cooked at BaiPai Thai Cooking School | Photo By: Abby Dulin
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Katie, Abby, and Cristina enjoying Thailand | Photo By: Abby Dulin

Interested in visiting Thailand and Cambodia for yourself? Apply today to visit on our next Winterline gap year. To see more photos of our students in the field be sure to check out our InstagramTumblr, and Facebook.

Panama Quotebook: Homestay Bonanza

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

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What is your favorite memory from Piedras Gordas?

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

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

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

winterline global gap year
Micah Inspecting Freshly Harvested Coffee | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

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

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

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

winterline global gap year
Beware! Carpentry Lies Ahead. | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

What was most challenging for you?

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

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

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

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

“Peaceful” Micah

“Excited for another homestay experience!” – Sam

“Simple and noble” – Ivan


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


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

NOLS Quotebook: Highlights from the Field

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

NOLS Canyon River Crossing | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik
Canyon River Crossing | Photo By: Benjamin Kilimnik

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

Nature’s Best Bath | Video By: Noah Bestgen

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!

Mom & Daughter: What was the best part of your gap year program?

In gearing up for graduation for the Winterline Global Skills Gap Year Program, I wanted to hear how our alumna, Sydney, was doing in college, and I wanted to know if she and her gap year mom, Mindy, had any news, regrets, recent accomplishments, or reservations about having taken a gap year, and if they still felt it was the best idea to go on a gap year program.

In the end, they both strongly agreed that the variety and breadth of global exposure provided by the Winterline gap year program was very valuable. Coming to college, it was easy for Sydney to get along with any type of roommate, and her experiences abroad have been extremely relevant to her life at college. Both Mindy and Sydney would recommend others to seriously consider taking a gap year.

Read on to see what they have to say to students and parents thinking about a gap year before college!

Wondering what it takes to go on a gap year?


What was the best part of the program, in your opinion?

Sydney Gap Year Student - winterline gap year mom

Sydney: I think the first thing that stood out about Winterline was the wide variety of opportunities. I was able to travel, meet new people, be immersed in different cultures, and discover different interests.

When I was looking for a gap year, most programs only offered semester programs, or only offered travel to one or two countries. When my mom discovered Winterline, one of the first things I remember doing was looking on a map with my dad, counting all the places I could travel to if doing Winterline. Because it was a full school year, I’d get to travel to ten countries and learn a variety of skills while being away at the same time as my friends. The experience definitely tested limits and expanded my perspectives and views on numerous topics.

One of my favorite things offered was the Independent Study Project. I was able to travel to London on my own. I definitely experienced complete independence, grew confidence, and learned how to trust myself.

That particular week gave me a chance to explore a skill which I believed would serve me long term. It showed me what life would be like if I were to pursue being a CEO. I was able to peek into the business life, giving me new perspective on what it takes to build a business from the ground up. After this experience I realized that going after what you want can be a lot of hard work! As young people we hear, “Oh, you can do this job or that job,” but we don’t really understand what goes into it. It definitely opened my eyes and gave me great insight into reality.

Sydney Gap Year Student - winterline gap year momMindy: All of this is in my opinion, only because I obviously was not on the gap year; Darn! First of all, having the gap year organized around the same calendar dates as college was a big attraction for us. For students who felt awkward about not going to college immediately after high school (like their friends), keeping a similar calendar as colleges takes one hurdle off the list.

Brian, Sydney and I appreciated Winterline’s focus on life skills over additional academics. It gave Sydney a break from more of the same. Getting away from what they’ve been doing basically all their life, and instead learning more about life and people and themselves made this program attractive.

The experiences Winterline provided invited students to explore their fears, as well as recognize their talents. The 9 months of travel, all the challenging environments, the different cultures, jobs and responsibilities was a great learning platform for increased growth and self confidence. In addition, living with others taught them priceless skills about conflict resolution, how to be vulnerable and trust others, while also providing the opportunity to learn about yourself.

We are grateful Sydney was exposed to a global world, as opposed to just the United States. She then could create her own opinions. We see things on TV, and they’re often presented one way so often we believe what we hear is true. Alternatively, when you travel somewhere, meet the people, you can have your own unique experiences and are better equipped to form your own objective views. I feel Sydney sees all people very similarly at the heart because she sees the world more globally.

I don’t know if you know this about me yet, but I am the poster adult for gap years! Philosophically, I believe in Gap years for many students. Sydney proved my theory correct. The pause or the dash or in this case the Gap year is merely an opportunity to provide students a better lens into their future and themselves. Not to mention, entering college a little older gives them greater maturity.

What most changed about you, what was the most noticeable outcome?

Sydney: What Winterline helped me do is help me find my voice. Definitely, growing up I was a people pleaser. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I would just go with the flow. I think when you’re living with sixteen other people, sometimes you fall into a leadership role, sometimes into a follower role — everyone has their strengths, weaknesses and adopt certain roles. I was fortunately able to come out of my shell and the group always encouraged and supported me.

Coming into college, I’m definitely more confident, I definitely speak up, and I know what I want. Things are much more clear. Through Winterline I grew up and found myself. I’m not afraid to ask any question and I easily advocate for myself. Because I’ve traveled around the world and closely with other people, I knew I could live with any type of roommate. I do not sweat the small stuff.

I definitely feel like I’ve changed as a person and I’ve realized what skills I need. I know more about what I am capable of tackling and what I am not. I know my strengths and see my weaknesses as challenges I can choose to overcome.

For example, I thought I wanted to be a business major and eventually start my own business. Unfortunately, pursuing a business degree would swallow me up and stress me out with all the math required. Yet, I was convinced I needed a business major to start a business. I now know deep down that is not true. I recently decided to pursue something in education knowing that I can still create a business but in the meantime I will have a career I can count on and enjoy.

I just went through sorority recruitment, and I know this can be very challenging, emotional and often filled with drama. I think Winterline helped prepare me to talk to all kinds of people. People do not intimidate me and I realize I make people feel comfortable in just the ease of having a genuine conversation with them. I felt very confident going into recruitment, because conversation is fairly easy for me and I certainly had my share of gap year stories in case the conversation fell flat! At each sorority I could connect on a personal level with so many types of people regardless of social status, age, looks, culture. I attribute this heavily to my gap year experience.

At Winterline, I was with Paso, who was from Nepal, and Bamae, from India. Our time together along with the world travel gave me insight into how people think different culturally. Without that experience I may not know or understand different points of views. Also, now I might meet someone from Costa Rica and be able to say “I’ve been to Costa Rica,” and they say, “Oh I’m from Monteverde,” “Oh wow! I’ve been there!” I met one girl from Germany, and I was able to tell her about my BMW experience and she said she’s actually been there before. It’s a very small world. It is almost like we have an immediate connection because we have something familiar between us.

Going through recruitment, obviously the gap year came up a few times. I think I met at least two other girls who did one! We clicked immediately and we had so much to talk about. We all agreed that more people should take gap years!

Sydney Gap Year Student - winterline gap year mom

Mindy: First of all, change is a pretty strong word — I don’t think Sydney’s soul changed. I think she just matured. I think she blossomed more than we really ever imagined. Her perspective was broadened. She was definitely more confident and she was much more worldly, self-sufficient, and independent. She grew a stronger voice, and is even more at ease with herself and others than she was before.

I used to tell her that the gap year was going to give her a lifelong toolkit in her pocket, and she would know it was there when she needed it. I think this has already proven itself over and over again in college. She is quite the “handy woman”!

For example, when we saw how easy her college transition was it was staggering. She wasn’t worried about her roommate because after living with eighteen people, she could live with almost anyone. Walking in the dorm for the first time not knowing a soul, Sydney was meeting people easily. There were no tearful goodbyes from her. I was another story! She has already attracted a wonderful, solid group of friends.

In addition she’s managing a heavy course-load with a fair amount of outside involvement. She’s handling stress pretty well! I think she no longer sees challenges as weaknesses and more as opportunities, she has faith that things are going to work out.

I know that her sense of self is noticeably stronger. She doesn’t ask me for my opinion as often. She just does not need much reassurance. She just handles making decisions without checking in. Sydney probably learned what she was made of in the hardest places on the trip. Being out in the wilderness in the freezing cold for a week during NOLS tested her resilience. I think she’d say she learned the most there and got closer with people because of the extreme elements. Sydney got sick in Panama and had sand-fly bites all over her, and getting through all of that by herself, and not easily being able to call us was life-changing. Getting through each hurdle grew her survival muscles.

Sydney Gap Year Student - winterline gap year mom

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

Sydney: Without a doubt, I’d recommend Winterline to a friend. I think every person transitioning into college, or out of college and into adulthood should learn about themselves and what they’re interested in before embarking into the future.

Winterline is a group of people who become your family. If you’re a person who wants to challenge themselves by traveling and discovering new things about themselves and the world in which we live in, then don’t miss out. DO IT!

I think the desire to learn has to be part of the person. A person who’s willing to look for new opportunities, want to learn more about themselves, be innovative, and be a risk-taker is ideal for Winterline. A person that wants to question why we do certain things, and has the interest in making change and wants to know how to adapt is ideal for Winterline. I think like anything the program is also what you make of the experience.

I had a fabulous group which helped significantly. I believe if I wasn’t surrounded by such a great group who I knew loved me and I loved them, I wouldn’t have had the same experience. Each individual brought something valuable to the group. They were my rock, and now part of my soul. I could tell them anything. I was so fortunate to be able to travel the world and grow with such dynamic individuals. I couldn’t ask for anything else. It was an amazing experience.

I also think the team of Winterline was very on top of things. I am not just saying that. Whenever we would need something, or even asked for something or had a particular challenge, I felt we were heard and solutions were always found. I really appreciated all the things you did to make it a life changing, life-long unforgettable experience.

Sydney Gap Year Student - winterline gap year mom

Mindy: As I said before, I’m the poster mom of gap years. Personally, I wish gap years were mandatory before college and the government subsidized some of it. Many parents may worry their kids will not go to college if they take a gap year.

Obviously, I would recommend it, and if I were to say something to someone, I’d say, “If money was no object, and you could give your kid one year to grow and mature, and the potential to be more confident and prepared to make life choices, why would you think twice? It could be your best investment.

Sydney Gap Year Student - winterline gap year mom

Which skills are you using the most?

Sydney: Definitely the skills I learned at the business bootcamp. I was able to actually make my own business in my business class because of it. I kept the Powerpoints that Winterline gave us, and I was able to look back and show my group what I’ve already done. I was able to help the group in that way. Those skills helped me understand the system and what goes into starting my own business.

Another thing was learning about the different leadership styles, the communication styles. You definitely see that when you go into college. It helped me make connections with people. I now understand why some people may not be as talkative, or why I get along with one person over another. In Spanish class, I actually just read about Earth University! I said to my teacher, “Guess what, I went here!” Then she did a lesson on it, and it was surreal that I’ve actually been to this place she’s teaching the class about.

In a lot of our classes we talk about poverty, and what’s happening around the world. Having been in India, I had a lot to contribute to group conversations and class discussions solely because of where I’ve been and what I’ve seen through Winterline.

For example, in my sociology class, we were talking about women’s rights and female status in different countries like China and India. I brought up how I’ve been to India, how women in rural India don’t have as many rights as men. In Jamkhed, where we visited, women were trying to take on more leadership roles and have a voice in local decisions. I explained about the pre-school teacher who I made a documentary on, and how she teaches kids in the slums, making a difference and being a role model to these kids. I was able to use a real life example to support the class topics.

I also think the blogging, making videos with the GoPro, and keeping a journal definitely helped me with my writing and storytelling. I really enjoyed that because I feel like I have more experience and examples to use in my work, which my teachers love reading. It’s been really useful in my writing class, and my class, “Media & Violence.” We talked about how other cultures are portrayed as being very violent and harmful, and how Americans are led not to think of them as actual people, and treat them differently.

To actually be able to go to countries in SE Asia and Central America where there is some conflict, it’s cool to be able to speak up as a voice of those people — “Well, these people are actually just like us.” Everybody just wants someone to listen to them, someone to talk to. We all have the same goal, to be accepted, and be appreciated and heard. Those in poverty just want to live their life and have equal opportunity. I don’t think other countries are perceived as having equal opportunity, and they lack technology and good education.

Winterline made me realize how lucky and privileged I am. We have to do something about it because it’s not fair. Everybody should have the same opportunity to start their life how they desire. Winterline helped give me a broad perspective. I am less judgmental and pretty accepting of most. I am very grateful for my experience.

Think you have what it takes to go on a gap year?



This post was originally published Apr 14, 2017 by Julian Goetz

Alum Q&A

Overall, what was your Winterline Global Gap year like?

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

What was the best thing about your experience?

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

What was the hardest thing about your experience?

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

Winterline Alum
These (crazy) people!

What surprised you the most?

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

What scared you the most?

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

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

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

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

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

What do you wish you had known before you started?

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

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

What does Trimester 1 feel like?

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

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

What do Tri 2 & 3 feel like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who was your favorite partner? Least favorite?

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

What was your favorite location? Least favorite?

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

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

How much spending money did you need?

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

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

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

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

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

What It’s Like to be a Work-Study Student

A Winterline work-study is a scholarship opportunity to publish your work (photos, videos, and/or writing) on various platforms, while reducing the overall cost of the Winterline Program, typically by $5,000. As a former student on the journalism scholarship with Winterline, I want to share my experience with work-study and offer advice if this is something you’re interested in adding to your gap year experience.

There are four different types of Winterline work-study scholarships: photography, videography, social media, and journalism. Each scholarship has different requirements, but the general idea is the same for each; Students send their work to Jess, our Marketing Manager, and she then posts it on the blog and Winterline’s various social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, etc.).

The ideal person for the work-study is someone who is driven, self-motivated, organized, and passionate about either writing, photography, videography or social media, to suit their respective scholarship work. I worked with some students who were great photographers, but couldn’t follow through on actually sending their photos to Winterline, which was frustrating. If you see yourself potentially doing the same thing, it may be a good idea to re-evaluate if you are able to make a commitment throughout the entirety of the Winterline program. But also remember that it’s not like a full-time job. I typically spent a few hours every week on my work-study, and never felt super overwhelmed. It’s just all about time management.


winterline work study student
Anna during the “photography day” in Burano, Italy. She created a photo essay on her blog from that day!

Another important thing to mention about the work-study is when you’re assigned to one type of media, that doesn’t mean you have to only do that! I was on the journalism scholarship, so I did quite a bit of writing for the blog as my main work. I am also passionate about photography and videography, so I posted my pictures on Winterline’s social media and even created video edits throughout the year. Jess was very encouraging of me to explore different types of media, which definitely created an environment where I learned even more on Winterline because of my work-study, which was such a plus!


winterline work study student
Anna writing in her journal, perhaps to give her some blog inspiration!

Overall, I am so glad that I decided to do the journalism scholarship with Winterline. Not only did I reduce the cost of the program, but I improved so many of my already-existing skills. My writing became much stronger and more fluid, simply as a result of the amount of blog posts I wrote throughout the year (more than 20). My people skills improved because I interviewed people for the blog, so I learned how to ask good questions and be an engaging interviewer. I also became better at managing and prioritizing my time, and became even more organized. And one of the coolest things for all of work-study students is that by the end of the year, we all had created “portfolios” of our work. I posted all my Winterline blog posts to my personal blog, which is a great way for me to access a lot of my work from my gap year. This is something I will be able to send to potential employers, which is really helpful (and makes you look even more impressive).

If you’re planning to take a Winterline gap year, and you’re interested in a work-study scholarship, I strongly encourage it! Feel free to read our FAQ page if you have any questions, or visit my personal blog to see some posts from my work-study.

Alumni Spotlight: Ana Paulina


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


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

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


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


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


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

Winterline Alumni Ana Paulina
Ana enjoying her time in Thailand!


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

A Guide to Winterline’s “ISP”

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.

Winterline_ISP_Anna Nickerson
Anna with the “Tarzan rope” at the suspended bridges tour in Monteverde

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.

Winterline_ISP_Anna Nickerson Alice and Anna post Holi | Photo From: Anna Nickerson
Alice and Anna celebrating Holi during their ISP in India.

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.

Winterline_ISP_Anna Nickerson
Anna holding up her eclairs that she made at La Cuisine.

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.

Alumni Spotlight: Daniela Mallarino


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


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

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


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


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

Daniela Winterline Alumni
Daniela and Gabbi working with crops!


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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

Introspective Reflection in India

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.

Anna expressing herself with color in India | Photo By: Anna Nickerson
Anna expressing herself with color in India | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

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. 

anna kayaking
Anna kaying in India. | Photo From: Anna Nickerson

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.

India | Photo By: Anna Nickerson
India | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

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!


New Student Spotlight: Emma Mays

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

Thinking about taking a gap year too?



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


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

Emma-Mays-gap year student


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

Social Entrepreneurship: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

The term, “social entrepreneurship” comes up almost every day as I travel through Southeast Asia. People interpret this term differently, which makes sense given that the buzzword combines two complex ideas; society/social causes and entrepreneurship. As someone who wants to become a social entrepreneur, I want to break down the meaning of this term and what I have gained by looking at it through a cross-cultural lense.

I personally define social entrepreneurship as a mindset, rather than a component of a business entity. I believe that all social enterprises must start as social enterprises. This mindset cannot be an afterthought, rather the foundational aspect of any successful social enterprise.

Anna cutting the ribbon at Clarity’s launch event last year!
Anna cutting the ribbon at Clarity’s launch event last year!

During my senior year of high school, I was the CEO of a social enterprise, called “Clarity.” My peers and I started the business to bring awareness to teenage suicide within our school district. Our mission was to decrease factors in our school and district that played a role in teen suicide by promoting positive future-seeking visions in every student. We achieved this by selling unique water bottles and stickers that acted as conversations starters within our school. From my own personal experience of having friends and family members suffer from suicidal thoughts, I feel strongly about the issue and I wanted to make a change, even if it was on a small scale within in my high school. The name “Clarity” was inspired by the lack of clarity that many teenagers face in their lives, and that they struggle to find. Our slogan “See Your Future” encouraged students to look past these clouding visions and see their own unique futures.

Our enterprise was successful, both socially and fiscally. We nearly quadrupled our initial investment, which we then donated to a local mental health center and our high school’s business department. We also had better results from students, regarding mental health and conversations about suicide, in our post-business survey. We only attained success because we were passionate about our mission, and we were involved primarily for the social outcome. We succeeded because of our entrepreneurial spirit and passion for achieving our mission.

Clarity goes international
Clarity goes international

I recently interviewed Max Simpson, a social entrepreneur and SEN (special educational needs) teacher who co-founded “Steps with Theera.” This restaurant/café is located in Bangkok, Thailand and is on a mission to create a place where everyone is accepted for who they are, which they attain by supporting special-needs people through sustainable employment and other measures. Max didn’t move to Bangkok in search of business opportunities nor did she have any idea that she’d ever become an entrepreneur. She was an SEN teacher in Bangkok for 4 years until she discovered the lack of social and educational support for adults with SEN. She then decided to leave her job as a teacher and collaborated with her co-founder, Theera, to build the social enterprise they have today.

Theera and Max
Theera and Max

Max defines the term “social enterprise” as, “Helping a social cause whilst developing sustainable business opportunities – which in turn creates wider awareness and acceptance.” Max’s answer varies from my own personal definition of social entrepreneurship, and probably varies from your very own definition. But that’s okay. What I’ve learned while traveling in Southeast Asia, and working with many social enterprises, is that we all define this term differently.

Steps with Theera
Steps with Theera

Despite the disparity amongst definitions, there is a common theme amongst the international definitions of social entrepreneurship. And I believe that it is finding the symbiotic relationship between one’s chosen social cause and their means of entrepreneurship. It’s all in the balance between the two, which can vary from business to business. Social enterprises that you’ve most likely heard of such as Seventh Generation, Newman’s Own, and even Teach for America, all have different missions and their own unique ways of defining “social entrepreneurship” for themselves, but they all have mastered the balance between their social and fiscal goals.

All successful social enterprises, corporate or small-scale, have an unbreakable passion for their chosen social cause and a foundational mindset of what social entrepreneurship means to them. Throughout this trimester I have learned more about what social entrepreneurship means to me personally and to others that I’ve met in different countries. And after what I’ve seen in, I know that the entrepreneurial spirit is something that no one can take away from me, or anyone else who has it.

To learn more about Winterline’s relationship with social enterprises, please contact us!








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

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

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

Why did you join Winterline this year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alice: “People will surprise you.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

New Student Spotlight: Spencer Holtschult

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

Thinking about taking a gap year too?



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


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

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

WHAT skill are you most excited to learn?

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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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


Healthy Travel Tips

I have an impressively weak immune system and a knack for getting bizarre diseases and sicknesses. I have gotten a number of eye and ear infections while in Hawaii and California, stomach bugs in the Dominican Republic and Canada, and I even discovered I had a MRSA staph infection on my leg two days before leaving for Tanzania. I take my own health precautions more seriously when I travel to foreign countries to avoid malaria, the dreaded “Montezuma’s revenge,” and other travel-provoking illnesses. But unfortunately, within the last two months of trimester 2, I have gotten sick in every city that we’ve been to. Along the way, I’ve learned some things about my own health habits that I’d love to share.

Whether you decide to take a gap year with Winterline, or a family vacation, these tips will help you stay healthier and happier abroad…

#1) Take Daily Probiotics

I always take daily probiotics, whether I am traveling or at home, but it can get easy to slack off on remembering to take these pills every morning. Set a reminder on your phone for the same time every day (and adjust it when you change time zones) so that you remember to take that probiotic every day. Your gut will thank you.

#2) Exercise Regularly

I find it extremely difficult to fit in time (or space) for exercise while traveling. Spending only 20 minutes a day to go on a long walk, roll out the yoga mat, or go for a swim will keep your body so much stronger and up for the toll that travel has on the body. I have found many simple exercises that you can do without any equipment online and recommend coming up with a plan that will keep yourself accountable to your physical wellbeing while traveling.

Anna biking in Cambodia with Winterline student, Alex. | Photo from: Anna Nickerson
Anna biking in Cambodia with Winterline student, Alex. | Photo from: Anna Nickerson

#3) Everything in Moderation (even moderation, sometimes)

One of the biggest challenges for a lot of people this trimester has been eating healthy. With all the amazing new food in different countries, there are plenty of healthy options to explore. But there are also Burger Kings on every corner of Phnom Penh and 7-11’s in Bangkok, which can be tempting, especially when you’re homesick. The way I have been able to avoid this issue is to allow myself “treats” such as an ice cream bar on a particularly hot day or a soda with dinner. It has helped me immensely to not be strict with my diet, but to keep in mind that almost everything I eat should be in moderation. Encourage yourself and your travel buddies to try the local street food and skip the McDonalds.

Anna enjoying a local cafe with fellow Winterline Gapper, Alice. | Photo by: Anna Nickerson
Anna enjoying a local cafe with fellow Winterline Gapper, Alice. | Photo by: Anna Nickerson

#4) Get Good Sleep!  

This is a huge one that I am convinced has caused a lot of my sicknesses this trimester. I have gotten into the pattern of staying up late to watch Netflix, talk to friends, or work on my writing, and then needing to get up early for program days. I try to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night, program day or not, and reserve my late nights for the weekends. It’s easier said than done, but once you get into this habit, which can be aided by incorporating melatonin or meditation into your nightly routine, you will avoid getting sick.

#5) Drink CLEAN Water

I may or may not have gotten sick in Phnom Penh because I wasn’t careful about where my drinking water/ice was coming from in restaurants. It’s obviously important to drink water, whether you’re traveling or not. For me, this looks like carrying around a Nalgene and filling it up with bottled or filtered water in the hotels and hostels. Don’t be afraid to ask your waiter if their water is filtered or bottled, and even ask them to see their water filter. It’s your health, and it’s your responsibility to make sure that you are consuming clean water and ice. I learned that the hard way, so don’t make that mistake!

Anna exploring with water in tow. | Photo From: Anna Nickerson
Anna exploring with water in tow. | Photo From: Anna Nickerson

#6) Go to the Hospital (if necessary)

My automatic assumption was that healthcare in Southeast Asia was bad. I had to put this stereotype to the test when I went to an international hospital in Bangkok due to my incessant cough attacks and fatigue. It was the most beautiful hospital I had ever been to and the staff was amazing. I was diagnosed with acute bronchitis, got my medication, and was on my way. Obviously not all hospital experiences around the world will be like this, but don’t push the idea of going to a hospital aside, especially when you really need it. Do your research before going to the hospital, and have a friend evaluate you to see if you really even need to go.

This brings me right to my most important tip…


Before I left for Southeast Asia, I had a check-up with my physician. I showed her the list of the countries and cities I’d be visiting and she showed me how to look up medical facts about each place that are vital to know if you want to be an informed traveler. All of this information is available through the Center for Disease Control and Prevention ( If you want to stay healthy, you absolutely have to do your research well before traveling to a new country.

Anna researching the next steps of her adventure while abroad.

I will be the first person to say that being sick while traveling is not fun. The physical toll it has taken on my body also infringes on my ability to be present on Winterline somedays, and I wish I had taken even more precautions before entering Southeast Asia. Make your health a priority, and I promise your experience anywhere in the world will be so much more worthwhile!

New Student Spotlight: Abby Dulin

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

Thinking about taking a gap year too?



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


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

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


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


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

Abby adventuring.


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


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


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

Abby (right) smiling with a friend.


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


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

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


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

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

Who are you? What motivates you?

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


When were you first introduced to backcountry medicine?

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


What is the most rewarding part of your job?

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

The Highs and Lows of Time Traveling

The following blog contains graphic descriptions of the Cambodian Killing Fields and strife Cambodian people experienced. Though I highly encourage you to read on, their stories can be extremely intense and might not be suited for all readers.

One month ago, our little Green Gang reunited in the Los Angeles airport to embark on the larger portion of our nine-month travel program. Next stop: Cambodia. 3 plane rides, 30 hours of travel, and the loss of January 21st (rest in peace). It was a draining day, but most of us were just happy to see each other again. There were so many questions to ask about our time spent apart; the air was buzzing with intrigue and excitement. For a lot of us it was our first time in Cambodia, or Southeast Asia itself, and no knew quite what to expect.

The first thing that hit me when we got off the plane was the familiar smell that is unique to the environment of Southeast Asia. I relaxed immediately as a combination of dust, fried foods, tropical plants, warmth, and faint hints of the sheer cloth of pollution that envelops the region filled my lungs. Contrary to what you might think, it’s inviting, and as someone who’s grown up travelling back and forth from India, it felt like home.

Photo By: Leela Ray
Photo By: Leela Ray

The air was thick with humidity and heat; sweat beaded on everyone’s temples as we clamoured to get on the large (air conditioned) charter bus sent to take us to our hostel. Finally, in a sleep-deprived stupor, we lugged our backpacks, duffle bags, daypacks, and spare miscellaneous objects into our respective rooms and, save for some 3am wake-up calls courtesy of jet-lag, we slept for the next twelve hours before diving into our second trimester.

To say I’m unaffected by most things would be an overstatement, however I can say that travelling for four months and constantly experiencing new things has created a me that is far less anxious or attached to trivial matters. I’m by no means enlightened, but I am far better at seeing the big picture, and I breathe easier knowing that this too, whatever it is, shall pass. All that being said, I was struck by the intensity and grief that presented itself to me at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre in Phnom Penh. We’d been in Cambodia all of three days and I already was seeing things I never expected, let alone was aware of.

I’m not necessarily well versed in world history, it’s a small stain on my otherwise acceptable school record, but it was astonishing to find that only a small handful of us knew about the Cambodian genocide that occurred from 1975-1978. Communism was on the rise, and with some of the US bombings of Vietnam spilling into Cambodia, there was a perfect opportunity for one Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge to quickly rise to power. With the intent of returning Cambodia to an agrarian society, Pol Pot persecuted the educated intellectuals and those who rejected his ideals, along with the sick, old, young, and weak. Those persecuted were sent first to prisons, and then to killing fields, where a third of the Cambodian population perished.

Photo By: Leela Ray
Photo By: Leela Ray
Photo By: Leela Ray
Photo By: Leela Ray

We witnessed one of these mass graves. I still don’t have all the words to describe it. I will forever struggle to fathom the scale on which so many people were not just murdered, but tortured and maimed. Though I’ve seen memorials like this, in Israel and India, they never fail to stop me in my tracks. The tyranny and sadistic acts of Pol Pot the Khmer Rouge rivaled those of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime, and yet rarely anyone in westernized nations knows what happened.

Victims of Choeung Ek were men, women, children, and infants; they were mostly from Sector 21, a Khmer Rouge operated prison. Kept in the dark, both literally and figuratively, these tortured and starved individuals were shuttled to the repurposed orchard in the middle of the night under the guise of being brought to another prison. Upon arrival, they were immediately sent to a violent death. Because bullets and gunpowder were deemed too expensive, officers of the Khmer Rouge made use of the farming tools that previous inhabitants had left behind. Everyday items such as backhoes and shovels became weapons of mass murder, and chemicals were sprayed upon the dying to seal their fate. Pop music blared on loudspeakers that hung from a large tree in the centre of the camp to drown out the screaming. It was this and the ominous hum of a large diesel generator that serenaded these souls to their death. Corpses were packed tightly into pits not much larger than king sized beds, with bones upon bones upon bones, their graves just as ghastly as their living conditions. Despite being excavated a few decades ago, heavy rains still drag bones up through the soil, and scrapes of clothing protrude from the dusty earth.

It was difficult to start out our trip with such a harrowing experience, but ultimately it made me look at each Cambodian person with an elevated sense of respect. After all, you could look around and it was apparent that an entire generation was missing from the streets. Every face you saw knew someone who either perished or was still lost to them, yet somehow the Cambodian people still found a way to smile and live life to its fullest.

Leela's mixology instructor in Cambodia | Photo By: Leela Ray
Leela’s mixology instructor in Cambodia | Photo By: Leela Ray
Alice in Cambodia | Photo By: Leela Ray
Alice in Cambodia | Photo By: Leela Ray

Following our history lesson, we spent the next two weeks learning how to draw, use animation software, sharpen our bargaining skills, mix the perfect drink, explore and navigate different communication styles, and live purposefully. Though I wish I could write a little about everything, that many words would keep even me struggling to stay attentive. So here is where I leave you, at the end of Phnom Penh and the beginning a five hour bus ride to the Siem Reap. I’ve made new friends, strengthened relationships with old ones, gained more insight and respect for different cultures, and finally begun to settle into the routine of once again living my life from seventy litres of canvas. At the end of it all this much is certain: even being 8000 miles away from everything I know, I feel more at home than I ever have, and I can’t wait to see what antics we get up to next.

T0 hear more from our Leela and our other students check out our student voices page.

Thank you, Cambodia.

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.

Phnom Penh | Photo By: Anna Nickerson
Phnom Penh | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

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.

Tuk Tuk | Photo By: Anna Nickerson
Tuk Tuk | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

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.

Thank you to that man, and thank you to Cambodia.

To hear more from our Anna check out our student voices page, as well as her personal blog.





Home, Sweet Home? A Teenager’s Guide To Reverse Culture Shock

I’m back, and I have a lot of feelings.

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.

Photo from Leela’s Holiday

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.

Photo from Leela’s Holiday

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.

Photo from Leela’s Holiday

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 InstagramTumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).

Living on Purpose: Interview with Matthew Fairfax

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew at a salon opening
Matthew at a salon opening

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

How long have you been a Spanish teacher?

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

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

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

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

How long have you been working at the Monteverde Institute?

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

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

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

What is something you find rewarding about your job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Diving | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

Is there anything you would want to change about TIDE?

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

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

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

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

leela cacao
Leela making chocolate.

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

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


*This interview has been edited for clarity and length*




Connecting, Not Just Communicating: The Beauty of Learning a Foreign Language

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.

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

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.

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

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.

One of the bridges on the tour. | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

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.

One of the bridges on the tour. | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

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.

Winterline_Anna Nickerson
Learning to make home-made/hand-made corn tortillas in cooking class! (It’s much harder than it looks) | Photo By: Anna Nickerson

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 InstagramTumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).

Sugar, Butter, Flour: What’s Inside My Final Week Of Trimester One.

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.

Ingrid's Bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray
Ingrid’s Bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray

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.

Bakery Perfection | Photo From: Leela Ray
Bakery Perfection | Photo From: Leela Ray
Baking at Ingrid's | Photo From: Leela Ray
Baking at Ingrid’s | Photo From: Leela Ray

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.

Alex at Ingrid's Bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray
Alex at Ingrid’s Bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray
Leela and Alex together at Ingrid's Bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray
Leela and Alex together at Ingrid’s Bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray

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.

Working at the bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray
Working at the bakery | Photo From: Leela Ray

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 InstagramTumblr, and Facebook. We’re also on Snapchat (@Winterliner).

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

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

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

Why did you join Winterline this year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thrown Off the Deep End: My Experience Diving in Belize

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.

Anna Nickerson
Photo By: Anna Nickerson

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.

Scuba Anna Nickerson
Photo By: Anna Nickerson

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.

Anna Diving
Anna Diving | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What I Learned from NOLS

Finally, I could breathe a sigh of relief. Drop my pack knowing it was the last time I’d have to heave it around for more than a quick second. And look back – the trail we’d just traversed faintly visible in the distance. The sun completely risen now, I slumped into a seat of a recommissioned school bus exchanging tired but triumphant smiles with the rest of the group. What would I take away from these 9 days? That was the question that continually ran through my mind as we prepared our return to the frontcountry.

Winterline_Samir Kumar

Long after my NOLS expedition through the Wind River Range concluded, I’m still processing what it’s imparted on me. There was no doubt that this was the most physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding experience of my life. But having given it time to digest, I’ve realized that much of what I’d expected to learn differed from the lessons I actually internalized. These were some of my takeaways:

1) Make it about the work.

The first day of the course, our instructors led us on a six-mile hike to our campsite. A heavy backpack coupled with the fact that it was mostly uphill left me completely drained. That night, I wondered how I would get through another week of this. It was the first leg of Winterline and I already felt stuck.

But the next day, these thoughts were swept aside by tasks in need of completion then and there – cooking breakfast, packing the tent, boiling water. The immediacy of the situation left me with little time to be frustrated or concerned for the future. The end of the day came and went and I felt accomplished. Everything I did – whether it be drinking water or scouting for an area to set up camp – became another step in the right direction. I felt like I was getting somewhere.

The day after, I adopted a similar mindset, reminding myself to focus on what needed to be done just as I began feeling demoralized. This repeated the next day and the day after that until finally the week had come and gone. I realized that thinking about the future can be a useful tool but it can also be incredibly daunting. It’s necessary to allow yourself to lose sight of it and remain present from time to time. If you can keep it about the work, you’ll find that there is always something to be done and a path forward.

Winterline_Samir Kumar

2) Type II fun

Type II fun is an apt description of the moments that are uncomfortable at the given time but are appreciated in retrospect. This was an idea introduced to me by Jerrick, one of our instructors. Throughout the hike, we had plenty of these – twelve-hour trekking days, long stretches spent bushwhacking through the forest, and crossing frigid rivers all come to mind. Just as it can be beneficial to stay in the present when you feel anxious, imagining your future self having moved past your current situation can also be crucial. This was a great coping mechanism when I ran out of dry socks late at night – imagining my future self reflecting fondly on the memory. And sure enough, that’s how I look back on it today.

Winterline_Samir Kumar

3) Trusting yourself and failing publicly

I’ve never been an outdoorsy person. I wasn’t great at any of the skills that the course seemed to require to be successful (navigation, cooking, heavy-lifting, etc.) and I didn’t trust myself to try them. I was afraid of holding my peers back. Inevitably, I had to put myself out there to do quite the opposite and propel my group forward. I realized that much of what I had been scared to foray into was easier than I had imagined. Nothing was perfect or ever handed to me – setting up our tent was regularly a process of trial and error and the meals I cooked were often crude at best, but it was refreshing to be reminded that if I took a risk, more often than not I could exceed my own expectations.

Winterline_Samir Kumar

 4) Recognize, plan, and act

In the wilderness, you run into problems – the kind you can’t ignore. For example, we once failed to anticipate running into another hiking group camping in our planned resting point. There wasn’t time to worry about deviating from our initial plan or where we’d be spending the night. We simply picked up a map, plotted a new route, and were off within minutes.

Before NOLS, I often accepted the discomfort of having problems or fretted about how they had arisen. Now I’m trying to be more solution-oriented and adaptable – devising an alternative and wholeheartedly committing to the decisions I make in the face of an obstacle.

You can’t bring the mountains with you when you leave the wilderness. The snow covered trees. The wildlife. But if you play your cards right, you just might return with a little more perspective and a bit more self-assured. -SK

Winterline_Samir Kumar
All Photos Courtesy of Samir Kumar

To hear from more students in the field,  be sure to check out other posts on our Blog, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, we are on Snapchat (@winterliner) and we upload new photos to our Tumblr everyday.

Meet Cody: Lifelong Skier and Aspiring Pilot Taking a Gap Year

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

Thinking about taking a gap year too?


The concept of a gap year program is still new for many students. When were you first introduced to the idea of taking a gap year before college?

I was first introduced to the idea of taking a gap year a few years ago while I was in high school and I would over hear the seniors talking about them. After a while I understood what it all meant but never really thought that I would take one. at the time I was so focused on wanting to go straight to college that I did not want to stop and take an extra year. This was the case all the way through high school until I saw what Winterline was.

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

Like I mentioned in the previous question, I never really wanted to go on a gap year until I saw what Winterline was. I was just searching for something to pass the time while I waited for college and I came across Winterline. Winterline completely changed my entire view of what a gap year is and what it can do. It made me realize all the potential I have and the extreme benefits of traveling and learning new skills. This is why I chose to take a gap year.

What activity or learning experience captivates you most about Winterline?

I am super excited about the travel and the overall amount of skills that I will learn. I searched over a hundred other trips and programs and none of them even began to compare with winterline and what they have to offer. The skills that I will learn excite me beyond expression because I know that although they may be hard or difficult, it is an opportunity to grow and be a new person by the end of the trip.

Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?

While attending college I want to join AFROTC and train to become an officer in the Air Force. I am not exactly sure on how long I will stay in the military, but my goal is to one day be a civilian pilot. Whether it be commercial or private, I am not sure, either.

Have you traveled before? If so, which trip has been your favorite, and why?

Yes, I have done a lot of traveling! I have been to 22 of the States, and I have been to Europe on 6 different occasions visiting the countries of Iceland, Germany, Luxembourg, France and Austria. I have also visited Canada on a few occasions. My favorite trip overall has been my last time going to Europe, when I visited Iceland and went to Normandy, France for the first time. This is my favorite trip because it was one of the first times I recognized the actual beauty and excitement in traveling and seeing new places. I also enjoyed this the most because the places we visited were overwhelmingly unique.

What do you expect to gain from your gap year program and while traveling abroad?

I expect that while on this gap year trip I will face challenges and obstacles that I have never faced before. Because of these challenges over the course of the nine-month trip I know that I will be a new person with a lifetime full of experience in over 100 new skills that I would not have without the overcoming of those hard tasks and challenges. While traveling I expect to meet tons of new people that come from all walks of life and learn how to perceive the world differently. The saying “it’s a small world” will have an entirely different meaning by the end of this trip.

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

I am a very persistent and strong-willed person. I make goals and strive with everything I have to meet or exceed those goals.

Why Winterline?

I saw hundreds of opportunities in front of me, but when I saw Winterline I saw not just an opportunity, but a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will change everything I once understood about my life and the world I live in. I did not have a decision to make when I saw Winterline, I already knew that this was what I needed to do.

Tell us something fun about you!

Skiing is my favorite sport. I have done every version of it that I can come up with, and I started skiing when I was only three years old!

This Too Shall Pass

NOLS Wind River Range Expedition: “This Too Shall Pass”

I once saw a woman with the words, “This Too Shall Pass” tattooed in huge cursive letters across her chest and collarbone. At the time, I was struck with utter disbelief that someone would mark their body with this quote.  It was ironic to me that she had permanently marked her body with a statement claiming that all things are temporary. I hadn’t thought of this phrase until my experience last week in the Wind River Range of Wyoming in which I was forced to remind myself constantly that “this too shall pass” more so than I hoped. Looking back on my time in the mountains, there is one day in particular that stands out to me as most significant with this quote in mind.

Photo By: Anna Nickerson
Photo By: Anna Nickerson

The infamous “Monday” of my NOLS trip has been quite the conversation piece in my Winterline cohort. Whenever someone mentions this day, there is an audible groan followed by sighs of relief that we are forever done with the misery and pain that ensued that day.  For me, the morning and the afternoon of that day completely juxtapose each other. In hindsight, the stark contrast between various events that day is beautiful, but at the time I failed to appreciate the value of this experience.  

We woke up that Monday morning to copious amounts of snow dumping from the sky in addition to below-freezing conditions. Despite the extreme discomfort that came with dragging my body out of my warm sleeping bag, layering up with every article of clothing I packed, and forcing myself to brush my teeth with snowballs outside, I managed to make it to the “kitchen.” Patrick, Leela, and I huddled underneath our kitchen fly, which was caving from the snow. We boiled some water in hopes of warming ourselves up with “cowboy coffee” and hot cocoa. I decided that to raise the morale of my cooking group, I would make Mickey Mouse pancakes with cranberries and chocolate chips, which were a big success and had us all feeling optimistic about the day to come.

Anna and Alice
Anna and Alice

By the time we were packed up and ready to go, thick snowflakes covered our bags and paved the trail for our hike. We divided ourselves up into small hiking groups and set out through the freshly made winter wonderland, making the hike markedly more tedious than it had been in prior days. While many people have told me since NOLS that this was their least favorite hiking day, I had the complete opposite reaction. Walking alongside the thick trees and frozen rivers that were each buried in light, sparkling snow was a euphoric experience. My hiking group was completely silent during the majority of our walking, which gave me an opportunity to just focus on myself and my thoughts. I found myself being completely present in the moment, something I often struggle to emulate in my day-to-day life. I felt at peace. We all continued to trek through the dense powder until we reached the apex of the hike: the river.

Photo By: Anna Nickerson
Photo By: Anna Nickerson

The river. The merciless river. The monster of a river that we reached when we were almost completely finished with our four-mile hike. As opposed to previous water hazards we had encountered in prior days, this river did not have an obvious trail of rocks to use as a bridge. We spent about twenty minutes scouting up and down the riverbank, trying to find the path of least resistance, but we were unable to do so. We hesitantly accepted our fate, but trusted that our NOLS instructors knew what they were doing. While everyone decided to roll up their pants, I decided that my high-quality boots and gaiters were adequate to protect me from the frigid water. Not a good idea. As I waded through the river, the water reached to just above my knees and I was drenched and felt slightly hypothermic upon reaching the other side. By this point, group morale was at an all-time low. As I heard people complaining and groaning and even crying, I stripped off my soaking wet boots, socks, and one of my layers of pants.  I changed into my “camp shoes,” which were running shoes that did not provide any protection from the frigid cold. I decided to break a rule of fashion in order to warm up and, as much as I hate to admit this, I put plastic bags on my feet as a layer between my socks and my camp shoes. Yes, plastic bags. It was quite the look. After getting somewhat more comfortable, my cooking group and I set up our kitchen flies and hunkered down to drink tea and soup.

Photo By: Anna Nickerson

Although the rest of the evening was freezing cold, ridiculously uncomfortable, and provided us with frozen boots and socks for the next morning, I somewhat tentatively will admit that this day was my favorite day- only in hindsight. When I look back on the morning hike I can only be content with the way in which I lived so effortlessly in the moment. When I look back on the river and the events that followed, I am proud of myself for how I tolerated the adversity. I think that because those two drastically different experiences ensued in the same day, let alone just a few hours, I can appreciate the day for what it is: a day of personal growth. And when I look back on the entire day as a whole I find myself going back to the phrase, “this too shall pass.” Everything is temporary, but what we take from each experience is permanent. I went through various trials and tribulations throughout my 8-day NOLS course, but I will forever have the appreciation and gratitude for that cold Monday ingrained in my mind, whether I like it or not. -AN

Photo By: Anna Nickerson
Photo By: Anna Nickerson

To hear from more students in the field, like Anna, be sure to check out other posts on our Blog, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, we are on Snapchat (@winterliner) and we upload new photos to our Tumblr everyday.


Stories from the Field: Leela Ray & NOLS

“My bruises have bruises,” Alice says, but it’s with a smile, because it’s Thursday morning and we’ve just plodded onto the recommissioned school bus that is set to return us to the real world. Where were we? The Wind River range in Wyoming, United States.

Alice, Patrick, Anna, Sophia, Susie, Andrew, Pablo, Liam, Alex, Jack, Natanielle, Hayden and I make up Winterline’s Green Cohort, or as we’ve fondly coined it: The Green Gang. We’ve been together for a little over two weeks, and after a lovely five days of orientation in Estes Park, Colorado, Winterline threw us right into the fire. Eight days, twenty miles, and our entire lives wrapped in eighty liters of water repellent canvas. In partnership with The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) we ventured out into the woods, and I think we all came back with a little more than we expected to find.

What was supposed to be a week of mid forties and minimal precipitation, as per usual late September in Lander, Wyoming, ended up being an average of thirty degrees and about two feet of snowfall throughout the week. In other words, it was cold. Snow and below freezing temperatures made even the most mundane tasks seem exasperating. I struggled to find the energy to brush my teeth in the morning, a task I’m usually hard pressed to accomplish regardless of circumstances. All of our energy was spent keeping warm, for every minute of the day, and doing so meant we ate a lot of food. Namely, cheese.

winterline nols Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow
Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow

I’m someone whose primary sources of food are plant-based and non-processed, but wow did those rules go out the window. When its below freezing the only thing you’re thinking about when looking at food is “how much fat will this have?” Not to avoid it, but to covet it, to shove it in your face. And in case you missed it, cheese is full of fat. So in addition to straight up spoonfuls of peanut butter (of which I had so very many of), we would eat copious amounts of the cultured dairy product just to stay warm at night.

Naturally, we carried every bite of food with us over the week, all dried or processed goods. Every morning and every evening we would get together with our cook groups, crowd around a faltering Whisperlight Stove, and do our very best to chef up something both edible and calorie dense enough to sustain us until our next meal. Every night after our evening meeting we’d sit for up to an hour waiting for the tiny fuel run burner to bring otherwise undrinkable water to a boil. Water that would then be bottled and put in our sleeping bag for temporary warmth. We rationed to ensure that we’d have food for every meal. We had to be creative, but also conservative. The good news? I was lucky to have some pretty proficient people cooking with me. I’d might even be inclined to say we were the best, but that’s besides the point.

Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow
Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow

During the day we’d hike. Though NOLS stands for the National Outdoor Leadership School, it might be more appropriate to call it by its name known by those who partake in the adventures: The No Official Lunch School. Nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and (if you’re were lucky enough to have extra from breakfast) leftovers acted as our lunch as we hiked anywhere between two and five miles each day. Now I’m aware that not everything I’ve said thus far sounds less than appetising, and maybe this won’t change your mind, but the most amazing part of our trip were the hikes themselves. The lengths we traveled and the views we saw were like nothing I’d ever encountered. We made it above the tree line on our fourth day, our highest point being 10,600 feet about sea level. If the altitude didn’t make you swoon, the sight of the snow dusted Wind River Range would.

Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow
Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow

I’m not going to lie, it was excruciatingly difficult at times. We waded through frozen rivers, and pitched tents in the snow; honestly if I see another freeze dried carrot I might cry. But to leave behind the world you know for what some call the bare minimum? It’s an experience like no other.  There is something extremely empowering about knowing you are responsible for not just your survival, but for your ability to thrive out there.

Winterline NOLS Photo by Leela Ray Barlow
Photo By: Leela Ray Barlow

So here we are, the thirteen of us: a handful of musicians, a few sports fanatics, a Spaniard, and a couple of zealots. A motley crew of many beliefs, ideals, and cultures who, if anything else, can agree on the following:

  1. You are capable of far more than you know.
  2. “Ride That Pony” is the single most effective way to raise spirits, with the exception of a good hype circle.
  3. Tummy time (the act of warming your feet of someone’s bare stomach) creates a sacred bond that can never be broken.
  4. And finally, years from now, when this program has long been finished, we will all find solace in the little things: fresh fruits and vegetables, dinosaur oatmeal, and the promise of a warm shower.


To hear from more students in the field, like Leela, be sure to check out other posts on our Blog, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, we are on Snapchat (@winterliner) and we upload new photos to our Tumblr everyday.

Keep Up with the Cohort | Meagan Kindrat

Want an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the daily happenings on Winterlife’s gap year program? Lucky for you, one of our own students is keeping a blog as she travels.

Meagan Kindrat
Meagan hiking in NOLS | Photo by: Dini Vermaat

We gave you a spotlight on Meagan already, but now we want to direct you to her blog! In her last post, Meagan gave us some words of wisdom and told us what she learned on their wilderness expedition in Wyoming. Here’s what she said:

  • Sacred socks are socks that never leave your sleeping bag and are possibly the best creation ever
  • Appreciate the little things like running water and having feeling in your toes
  • You don’t realize how strong you are until you get put somewhere completely out of your comfort zone

Meagan Kindrat

One of Meagan’s photos from NOLSThat last point is especially important. We think that the whole point of a gap year is to push yourself out of your comfort zone and experience new things. That way, you know what you like and what you’re good at when it comes time to move forward.

Meagan has other great words and photos to share with you, so head on over to her blog to read what else she has to say!

My Dream Gap Year

Dartmouth, Yale, Harvard. Decision Day had arrived and while all my friends were announcing their acceptances into elite colleges, I was buying what my sister calls “grandma sandals” and a 70-litre backpack for what was, and is, supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime. I sat there, observing the stream of committed students and proud mothers, attempting to quell my frustrations. Their senior years had been a breeze as soon as winter holidays hit. Applications were done, and their fun could finally begin, but I was in a different boat.

With the decision of taking a gap year comes a few complications, the first being that most all of the colleges I want to apply to don’t accept deferments. Unlike everyone else, whose grades past their application date are to some extent irrelevant, all my grades are taken into account. However, I didn’t have grades until I started taking classes at my local community college. “Why Leela,” you might ask, “What do you mean you didn’t have grades until community college?” Well, my high school is what I lovingly refer to as a “crunchy granola private school,” and I was legally registered as a homeschooler because my three day a week “learning community” didn’t meet the hour requirements for a legitimate school. For someone who wants to go to Stanford, waiting a year has its pros and cons. On one hand I get more of a chance to prove my worth. The extra time means they have more grades to look at when I apply. On the other hand, I have to take summer classes while everyone else is on vacation because I want the best chance of acceptance possible. Admittedly I’m not looking forward to it, but my saving grace is my gap year. Although, it wasn’t always so easy to say that.

It was the end of junior year, and my school had it’s annual college prep class: five days of exploring secondary education and—more pertinently, alternative options to attending university. My dream gap year was exactly that: a dream. Murky and unknown, with only a few concrete details. I wanted to travel, I wanted to learn about the world beyond my front door, and I wanted to come back with a better idea of what I wanted to do with my life so I wasn’t attending college just to say I was. I had minimal resources and poor planning skills. In addition, traversing the globe alone sounded mildly terrifying for the moment, and I wasn’t sure how much I’d learn if I just did the whole “I’m going to Europe!” thing, so I used that five-day course to explore my options. There was a semester at sea, a year in Ireland, and a handful of other eye-catching options, but none of them quite struck me as fulfilling. In fact, by the time that course was done, I wasn’t quite sure I even wanted to take a gap year anymore. I have a habit of giving up when the going gets hard, and boy was it getting hard. But I kept searching, and one day there it was, a small advertisement sitting in the middle of my facebook feed at two o’clock in the morning: Winterline (cue the commercial music).

My parents were more than skeptical when I told them the next morning. They didn’t really believe that I’d go back to school if I stopped, and to be honest, I felt it too. But I stood there in my fleecy plaid pajamas and I told them my truth: I felt silly applying for esteemed colleges that cost immense sums of money without a plan in mind. Yes, straying from the path is scary, but where I was, and where I am currently, with no clue what I’d even want to study, is scarier. I mean, most everyone has at least an idea of what they wanted from life, and me? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. As I am now, I know who I am, I know my flaws and my strengths, and I’ve finally become very confident in myself and my personality. But ask me what I want to do in college or what I like to do in general, and I’ll probably change the subject.

So yes, this gap year idea is strange, and mildly terrifying. In fact, it was so scary I didn’t even send out grad announcements. I didn’t want to give anyone an excuse to ask me what I’m doing this year, because as excited as I am, there’s still so many questions that I have. And of course there’s the ever looming thought of not getting into my dream school afterwards, that all this work will be for naught. Even since beginning to write this, I’ve had a few panic attacks.

Yet, for all the hard work I’ve been sloughing through; for every party I missed because I had an 8AM class in the middle of July the next morning, for every invite to the lake I declined to work on my SAT studies, and for every late night where I was lost in the plethora of existential crises that plagues my brain; for every one of those moments, there is a moment where I picture myself. Past this summer, past the gap year even, right after the most wonderful adventure in the world. When I think about the end of this, I hold one very specific image in my head: I am settled down one evening, a September sunset streaming through my dorm room window, thinking about my road so far; remembering every obstacle I encountered, and how euphoric it felt to overcome each one. And then future me looks up and smiles, she looks me straight in the eyes and says, “It was all worth it, and Paolo Alto is beautiful.”

Meet Meagan Kindrat who’ll be dancing her way around the world!


Thinking about taking a gap year too?


Megan Kindrat, dancer and gap year student

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

I always knew I wanted to go to university, but I don’t know what I want to do. I decided to wait to go to school when I have a clear final goal in mind. So, I’m taking a gap year to help me figure out what I really enjoy and what I don’t enjoy doing! Then I’ll be ready to go to university.

How did you learn about the Winterline Global Skills Gap Year Program?

Well, my original plan was to live in Austria with a host family that I know. I have a good friend from kindergarten who lives there now. We’ve stayed in close touch! Every year I visit her or she comes to visit me. I spent a month there last summer and was planning to go back next year. One day I was Googling group travel ideas for when I was there and I came across the Winterline program. It sounded great!

Why did you choose Winterline? What about the program appeals to you the most?

What I like best about Winterline is that I’ll get to travel to so many different places. What my dad likes best is that I’ll still be learning throughout the year so it is not just a long “vacation” trip.  As for the skills, I am interested in the coding and robotics part of the trip. My dad says that it’s the way the world is going, so I’d really like to see what it’s all about. What I’m most excited about is probably the scuba diving. I’ve never done it before and want to learn!

What country on the itinerary are you most excited to visit?

I think India will be really cool. It is somewhere I’ve never been and had never planned to go. I’ve traveled to tropical places and to Europe with my family but never to anywhere like India. It is so different culturally. I can’t wait.

Meagan taking gap year

What do you expect to gain from taking a gap year and while traveling abroad?

I hope to find out more about myself. All I’ve done my entire life is go to school and dance. I want to try new things find out what else is out there!

I’ve been a competitive dancer for 6 years and taught dance for 4 years. I train 7 days a week! I’ve entered dances in every genre from tap, to ballet and hip hop, both solo and in a group.

I thought about pursuing it professionally but it’s pretty strict and very competitive. Even if I don’t pursue it professionally, I know I’ll never stop dancing… Even when I’m at the supermarket when a great song comes on I start dancing!  Dance will stick with me for sure.

What are your plans for after your gap year?

I want to go to university for sure. I haven’t applied yet. I have good grades and have done a lot of volunteer work so I’ll be ready when the time comes to apply.

Gap year student
Meagan Kindrat, Winterline student

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

I want to them to know that I believe that a sense of humor is important to bring with me everywhere. I think I’m really funny and my family thinks I am too. I hope my Winterline peers will as well!

Tell us something fun about you! What is your favorite TV show?

Well, my favorite TV show is Dancing with the Stars because I love dance and Witney Carson is my primary role model.

Lastly, Coke or Pepsi?

Neither. I’d have to say water!

What It Feels Like to Get Ready for a Gap Year: Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

9 months. 10 countries. 100 skills. The best gap year ever.


The phrase, “get comfortable being uncomfortable,” has shaped my actions since I was a little girl. My father has constantly instilled this idea and way of life into me through both repeating the phrase and implementing it through his active parenting style.

I’ll never forget that for three consecutive summers in a row, he told me, “This is the summer you get tough.” Looking back on it, we laugh at his endless hope that I would “get tough” each summer. But, in hindsight I think his advice has encouraged me to become the adventurous person I am today: getting ready to take a gap year with Winterline. I challenge myself each year more so than the last to take a step even further beyond my comfort zone. My gap year is naturally that next step.

So, why am I even taking a gap year?

To take a step away from school

I have been on such an academically-motivated path for most of my life that I feel as if I’m going to burn out if I don’t take a break. I think I will be more confident going into college with the experience that Winterline will provide me during my gap year.

To learn more about myself and discover who I am

Although many people tell me that I have a clear vision of my identity, I tend to constantly ask myself, “Who am I?” as I’m sure most 17-year-olds do. I want to be able to learn more about my passions, what makes me tick, what I love to do, and who I truly am at my core.

To learn skills

The main reason I chose Winterline is because of the amount of countries we will visit and the amount of skills I’ll learn. I’m hoping to not only learn skills, but to become a more marketable and independent person as a result. I don’t want these skills to just last for the trip, but for my lifetime.

To have fun

This slightly goes back to my first reason, but I need to have some fun. I have stressed myself out way too much with school, golf, work, etc. due to my self-imposed “perfectionism.” I need to take a break from those day-to-day stressors and allow myself to let loose and have more fun in new and exciting environments.

To challenge myself to become comfortable being uncomfortable

This is the year I am going to “toughen up” and challenge myself in more exhilarating ways. Each year I make progress on learning to love being out of my comfort zone, so naturally I think Winterline is my perfect next step.

anna get ready for gap year

Compared to my friends who will all be attending college in the fall, I am definitely in the minority of what I am doing to prepare for my upcoming year. There are so many differences in how we are all getting ready for our years away from home:

Dorm shopping versus gap-year shopping

While all my friends are already Snapchatting pictures of red Target carts full of bedding, appliances and new clothes, I have just received my Winterline packing list and am currently deciding which travel backpack I should purchase for all my belongings. I am definitely already a bit envious that my friends don’t have to endure the anxiety and stress that comes with bringing less than 50 lbs of stuff for an entire trimester abroad.

Searching for a roommate versus preparing to be nomadic

Aside from a few friends who have decided to go “random” with their roommate, most rising freshmen have already found their perfect match and know what to expect with the person they’ll be living with. I, on the other hand, don’t even know how to start mentally preparing to have no stable roommate. Instead, I will be living nomadically with a large group of people for one year.

Picking out college courses versus having a trip itinerary

While my friends are trying to avoid taking Microeconomics at 8 AM, I have a specific trip itinerary that will not be changing based on whether or not I want to get up early. But I definitely can say I have a better pick of classes than most of my friends, like “SCUBA 101” and “Principles of BMW Driving.”

Keeping in touch with family and friends versus trying really hard to keep in touch

Although my friends and I will both be away from home, I think we will face some different obstacles in terms of trying to stay in touch with family. While the Wi-Fi on campus may be acting up and not letting students FaceTime their parents, I’m afraid that being completely off the grid at any given time may challenge me to think of new ways to keep in touch with my family… Pigeon messengers may be making a comeback for me. 🕊

Snapchats about school versus Instagram-filled travel posts

My Instagram will be filled with exotic pictures around the world while my friends’ feeds will be pictures at parties and football games. I will be trying to live vicariously through them in some ways (except when I see them post about midterms on Snapchat), but I know they will also be jealously drooling over my feed.

In spite of some of the amusing aspects that make up the differences between my preparations for a gap year and those of my friends getting ready for college, we are all feeling pretty nervous. We all will need to “get comfortable being uncomfortable” regardless of whether we are taking a gap year or going to college in the upcoming fall.

I am confident that I will be able to not only achieve what I have set out to do with this year, but that I will also be able to make new goals for myself that will encourage me to continue to step beyond my comfort zone in the future. Life is about getting comfortable being uncomfortable and I am ecstatic to start this journey in September.



Should international students take a gap year?

Maria, an alum from the 2015-2016 cohort, is now at university in the Netherlands. Originally from Colombia, Maria submitted this interview for US News & World Report on the growing trend of international students taking gap years.

9 months. 10 countries. 100 skills. The best gap year ever.


Why did you decide to do a gap year before attending university?

I was lucky enough to attend an international school in the middle of rural India from 2013 to 2015 when I graduated. My classmates came from more than sixty different countries and all of them had a repertoire of diverse adventures and stories to tell.

Sometimes we would all sit down sipping some chai, telling anecdotes of our motherlands with pride in our hearts and tears in our faces. These evenings could go on until two or three in the morning but they taught me the lessons of a lifetime.

It was like this that I discovered that sometimes I would learn more about the world and life in those sessions than what I had learned in school for a whole semester. This is when I realized that there were other ways of learning, there were stories to discover and people to meet.

University sounded like an amazing opportunity to expand my knowledge on something that I am going to spend my whole life doing, but there was something else calling me. There was a desire of seeing those places that my peers were talking about, of experiencing those landscapes and feeling the people.

I was tired of sitting in a classroom while the world had so much more to offer. I wanted to learn, but I didn’t want to do it on their terms.

group photo gap year cohort alpha smile angkor wat cambodia-4062

Where did you go and what did you do for your gap year?

In September 2015, I found myself traveling to ten different countries, with seventeen strangers, learning 100 different skills.

I started in Central America and moved to South East Asia and lastly, Europe. I am now a certified SCUBA diver, a certified Thai Masseuse, semi fluent in French and fluent in permaculture; passionate about Ballet, Bollywood, Flamenco, and my list could go on and on.

In each country, we learned a skill that was relevant to the location that we were at. In this way, we were not only tourists but we were travelers, tasting each country as we flew in and out.

How did it help you prepare for university?

My gap year taught me how to be comfortable while feeling extremely uncomfortable.

Changing not only countries but cultures from one day to the next can be extremely exhausting for the mind. Being away from home means that the comforts that you once experienced are no longer there and not having a permanent home teaches you how to make of yourself the home you deserve.

And to be honest, isn’t that exactly what we need for university? Don’t we need to feel comfortable in a foreign place surrounded by strangers that will soon become your friends?

If you ask me, after traveling the world for nine months, university sounded like a piece of cake… and it kind of was.

Meet Alice: Hamilton Fan and Dog Lover Taking A Gap Year

Alice will be traveling to 10 different countries and learning 100 new skills as part of the Winterline Global Skills Gap Year program. Read on to learn why she considered taking a gap year, and the things that excite her the most about traveling the world.

Thinking about taking a gap year too?



I remember sophomore year, hearing of a student at my high school doing a gap year and it piqued my interest. For a long time I was set on being in the graduating class of ’21 and in a weird way I felt like this college graduation year defined me. Then, I realized it was more important to actually accomplish something and experience the world than it was to graduate college the same year as my high school peers.


My mom was in the foreign service as a diplomat, and has been really supportive and encouraged me.


I think one of the first questions a child is asked from an early age is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and I’ve always had a vague answer or said something I was somewhat confident I could be decent at. But I’ve never had an answer to that question that I felt any confidence about. Winterline provides an opportunity for me to try so many different skills and provide me insight on my strengths.


It’s pretty hard to choose, each country sounds amazing. I’m pretty excited about Thailand, I really love food and it’s pretty different from the Asian countries I’ve been too.


I’m pretty excited to scuba dive, I’ve always been interested in the underwater ecosystem. I always am interested in the problem solving and negotiation learning experience. I think I’m pretty good at that and I’m a quick thinker.

Alice taking a gap year


Unrealistically, I’d live in California in a mansion with 100 dogs. But realistically maybe something in psychology or publishing. I’m not really sure though.


I’ve traveled to Beijing and Hong Kong. I was adopted from Beijing when I was four months old, and I went back when I was five when we adopted my sister. Two years ago I traveled to Hong Kong with a friend because my dad was the consul general and the government paid for my flight which was a perk. I then flew to Beijing to visit a friend who had moved there and I climbed the Great Wall of China in Birkenstocks.


I think there’s going to be a lot of self-growth and I’m interested in comparing myself from the beginning to the end of the trip.


I am extremely extroverted, but when I first meet people I’m kinda quiet. Not to toot my own horn but I think I’m pretty funny, and go with the flow. I don’t really get mad for longer than an hour and then I move on. I also managed to forget how to ride a bike.


I really like musicals, I can’t sing but I can appreciate and envy those who can. Since New York is four hours away by bus I’ve been able to go to a couple broadway shows, Ameliè and Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. I also know Hamilton by heart.



Ready to take a gap year too?


Meet Leela: Shaolin Practitioner and Eyeliner Wizard Taking A Gap Year

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

Thinking about taking a gap year too?


The concept of a gap year program is still new for many students. When were you first introduced to the idea of taking a gap year before college?

I was first introduced to the idea of taking a gap year by an elder student who attended my school. He took a gap year and when he returned there was a panel to discuss his adventures and how they helped him decide what he truly wanted to do. I was in middle school when all this happened, but it sounded like fun so I kept it in mind.

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

I knew I had a plethora of activities that I participated in, and I had no idea how to decipher what was a passion, what was a hobby, and what was still out there. As I moved up into high school, I continued to love learning for the sake of learning. I wanted to be good at everything. When the time came to start attending college fairs and figuring out my plan, I was petrified.

What if I picked the wrong path as my “favorite one”? What if I hadn’t actually discovered what I liked to do yet? I live in the middle of the forest, and the nearest grocery store is 11 miles from my house. I’ve been trapped in this bubble for far too long. All I could do was hope that getting out of this small town might expose me to things I truly loved to do, and teach me new things along the way.

Leela - gap year program

What country on our itinerary are you most excited to visit?

Okay, so, I’ve got this crazy story (it’s not that crazy I’m just good at exaggerating), are you ready? I’m Indian. If you ask me “dot or feather?” I’ll cry.

I’m from India. The country. The subcontinent of Asia. Look at my skin. You never would’ve guessed right? One person in all my eighteen years has actually figured it out without me telling them. Something about my cheekbones being “too high for a white girl,” whatever that means.

Anyways, that’s beside the point, because I’m actually most excited for India. I’ve had the privilege to go there before to visit my (very) extensive family, but I was in Kolkata. If you want to know where not to go to see the sights, it’s Kolkata. I want to see the rest of my country, or at least more of it.

And please, please, don’t get me wrong. I love Kolkata, it’s my home. But I want to know more than just the place the was once the British’s home base in India, and if I can pick up new skills on the way, why wouldn’t I?

What activity or learning experience captivates you the most about Winterline?

Responsible Alcohol Management. I’m kidding (although I think that’s actually extremely important). Just from reading the skills list self-defense sounds super interesting.

I did Northern Style Shaolin Kung Fu for about eight years, but because of injury and school I had to quit. I think it’d be fun to brush up or learn entirely new skills.

Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?

I’m going on this gap year because I have no idea what I want to do in the future. Help people? Work in international relations? Study the arts? Be on broadway? Become a polyglot and teach in schools in the Himalayas? I have no clue.

leela gap year program

Have you traveled before? If so, which trip has been your favorite and why?

Oh wow. Yes. I’ve traveled. But because my parents are such gems (they really are). They decided to do a solid 85% of our traveling before I could remember anything. So! My favorite trip I remember was actually taken last December for Christmas. We decided to fly half way across the world and found ourselves in a place we’d never been before. The Middle East. To be specific: Israel.

When my mum first suggested the place, I wasn’t so sure. As an avid Model UN kid, I was all too aware of Israel’s neighboring countries and their current states, but I was so curious to explore somewhere beyond Western culture, so I gritted my teeth, packed my most modest clothing, and said yes.

Boy was it worth it. The history, the culture, the chocolate. Every memorial was a work of art, every museum far more interesting than anything you’ll find in Seattle, but what I loved most was the melting pot of religions. I’m not religious, mostly because I get kind of freaked out trying to figure out how we got here, but wow is religion fascinating. I got to walk the Via Dolorosa, pray at the Weeping Wall, and visit the Dome of the Rock, all in the same city. It was truly beautiful to see such harmony between people, even if it is a rocky harmony at times.

What do you expect to gain from your gap year program and while traveling abroad?

I suppose I expect to gain a better understanding of what I like to do, I want to explore my passions. Like I said before: small town equals not a lot of opportunity for growth.

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

Remind me to shut up every once in a while and I SWEAR I’m a good listener. Also, I’m super pumped to meet people that actually like adventures and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

Tell us something fun about you!

I lived in London for 3 1/2 years, so I say and spell words funny. Also my friend says I’m a wizard because I switch hands when I switch eyes while doing eyeliner. I think girls who torque their arm all funny to get their opposite eye and succeed are the real magic ones.

And finally, Coke or Pepsi?

Pepsi? Pepsi products? I like Dr. Pepper.

Thinking about taking a gap year too?


Meet Anna: Young Entrepreneur and Avid Punster Taking A Gap Year

As she gears up for her 9-month gap year with Winterline, traveling to 10 different countries and learning 100 new skills, Anna shares her thoughts on why she decided to take a gap year in the first place, and why traveling is so important to her.

Thinking about taking a gap year too?


The concept of a gap year program is still new for many students. When were you first introduced to the idea of taking a gap year before college?

So, I have always been a year young for my grade. Ever since Freshman year I’ve aspired to do a gap year. But never really knew exactly what I wanted to do. This year when I was applying to all my colleges, I started thinking about it more seriously. And that’s when I started seeing online advertisements from Winterline and other gap year programs, getting serious about the idea, and talking to my parents about it.

But it’s kind of been something I’ve wanted to do all throughout high school.

At what point did your parents get on board?

Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot of convincing I had to do. Both my parents are avid travelers, especially my dad. So they both understood the concept of it and were encouraging about it. Any time I told an adult that I’m taking a gap year or considering it, they’d say, “I wish I had done that when I was a kid.”

So, most of the time my parents were very encouraging about it. The main thing was figuring out how to pay for it. But other than that, they were very encouraging. There wasn’t much convincing to do, which was nice.

anna with family taking a gap year

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

I’ve always been the youngest kid in my class, which has never really been an issue, but something that I wanted to take advantage of it, having that extra year and not being put behind. And I just really love traveling.

I went on a service trip to the Dominican Republic for just 10 days. That was when I was applying to colleges, and when I started considering a gap year more seriously. It really solidified the reasons why I wanted to do it: you know, meet some amazing people, make great connection, travel to parts of the world independently, beyond just being on vacation with my parents.

What really attracted me about Winterline is the skills-based program.

Whenever I mention that I’m going on a gap year, people sometimes automatically assume it’s either a service trip or a vacation. And obviously I am taking a year off, that can be perceived as a vacation. But the way Winterline does it by teaching real life skills, that’s something important to me that I’m really interested in doing before going off to school next year.

anna taking a gap year winterline

What country on our itinerary are you most excited to visit?

Honestly, I’m excited for all of them! I think I’m most excited for Costa Rica. I’ve been speaking Spanish since 7th grade and it’s been one of my favorite classes every year. Going to the Dominican Republic, I got to practice my Spanish and see a different Latin culture. That’s probably what I’m most excited for.

What activity or learning experience captivates you the most about Winterline?

Just looking at the list of all the skills, and everything really, there hasn’t been just one thing that I’m super excited for.

One thing I’m excited for is all the people I’m going to be meeting. In the Dominican Republic, that was the main thing. It really didn’t matter what we were doing, but having those connections — these are friends that I still talk to. That’s one of the things I’m most excited for.

Another thing I’m looking forward to is the independent study week in Europe. I watched some Youtube videos of people that went on the Winterline gap year last year, like Jonathon’s and Molly’s videos. I really liked watching those.

It was cool to see how they viewed their time and what they did. There’s so much I could do, and especially independently. That would be such a great way to end the trip. So I’m definitely excited for that.

Anna taking a gap year winterline

Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?

Yeah! I’ve actually deferred my admission to Babson College. I’m definitely on more on a business track. In my high school, we had this program called High School of Business. Since then I’ve been taking 1-3 business classes each year, and I’ve been involved in business clubs, and both my parents are in business.

I was the CEO of a social enterprise this year for our school. It was a really great experience to see how I could apply all my business knowledge the past four years to an applicable, real-life business. I’m definitely more on the entrepreneurship track. But I don’t know what I’d do with it. I am really interested in social enterprise and marketing, not so much finance.

But I do really like combining my passion for business with a social cause. I think that’s really cool.

You’ve traveled before. Which trip was your favorite and why?

The Dominican Republic was the first trip where I was out of the country by myself — definitely one of my favorite trips. I went with one of my best friends. I’d even say that was my favorite trip ever. I’ve been with family to England and Wales, six years ago, with my dad and brother. We have family there. It was really beautiful.

We also went to Costa Rica a few years ago. One of my favorite parts was seeing Mt Arenal and going to the hotsprings there.

What do you expect to gain from your gap year program and while traveling abroad?

One of the things I hope to gain with my gap year — I’ve been on such an academically focused track. I’m top of my class. And focusing entirely on school is one of the main things that causes stress in my life. That’s been very difficult to balance. And I’m definitely not burned out. But I think taking this gap year will be a great refresher for me, to realize some of the things I’m passionate about that I’ve almost forgotten about.

I think it would be really awesome to step away from school for a bit. Obviously I’m going to go back to school and be career-oriented. I’m not trying to just take a gap year and have no idea what I’m doing with my life. But it will provide me with clarity on things that I’m interested in, and help me step away from being so academically focused for a bit. That’s one of the main things I’m looking forward to.

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

I’d say, in terms of my personality, at first I come across as very introverted — just because I’m going to be put into new and uncomfortable situations and I’m going to be shy at first. But with my friends and when I open up to people, I’m a genuinely outgoing and extroverted person. A lot of people think I’m really shy at first, but I’m just trying to get to know you and be observational.

I want to make lifelong connections on this trip. I’m definitely open to hearing from other people, hearing their stories. And I’d encourage my Winterline peers to be very open with telling me about themselves. I’m a trustworthy person.

Tell us something fun about you!

I am surprisingly quite a jokester. I don’t think a lot of people know that. But I have a weird obsession with puns, and I’m constantly making up my own jokes and puns. That’s something my friends give me a lot of crap for, but I know that they actually like it.

So that’s something interesting with my personality, I guess.

And finally, Coke or Pepsi?

Coke. But I’m actually not a big soda person. So, I’d honestly say neither.

Don’t want to be left behind?


Savannah Pallazola: Swimmer And Rock Climber Taking A Gap Year

Ready for the best gap year ever?


The concept of a gap year program is still new for many students. When were you first introduced to the idea of taking a gap year before college?

I was introduced to it when I was younger, because my sister didn’t go straight to college after high school, so I thought that was cool. It’s sort of unconventional for our family, but my mother’s spawns are a little unconventional. Tiff took a gap year to work and she’s been continuing to do that for a while now. My plan is to attend college, I just need to find myself a little first. To take a gap year would be really helpful for me, so it’s been interesting to learn more about it.

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

I just really don’t know what I want to do in college, and then I found out about Winterline, and I’ve always wanted to travel so it was kind of perfect. It just clicked for me and I realized that it’s something more beneficial than anything else I could be doing. I really liked the concept of doing all these things I’ve never done before with people I’ve just met, and figuring out what I like. Also, I live in a small town in Massachusetts, so I have got to get out there.

savannah p taking a gap year abroad

What country on our itinerary are you most excited to visit?

I think I’m most excited about Thailand, to be honest. Though I’ve always wanted to visit places in Europe, and that’s wicked exciting, Thailand is an awesome destination that I’ve heard so many great things about. There’s a lot of tourism there, a lot of people — and the food!

What activity or learning experience captivates you the most about Winterline?

I think the hiking is going to be a wicked cool challenge for me, though I don’t have pervious hiking experience. I really like being outdoors, but I’ve never truly immersed myself in nature, and the challenges it can bring to someone like me. I do a lot of indoor sports, like swimming and rock climbing. I feel like sport is a lot more exhilarating when you’re outside.

My number one concern about the hiking is the fact that we’ll be without power, and my knees are computerized. I charge them every night and the charge will last about a day and a half. It’s a little concerning, but I know people. We’re discussing solar-powered options, or even new attachments specifically for the hiking aspect of the trip.

Overall, the hiking trip is the most captivating to me because it’s in the beginning of it all. It’ll be the first time I get to meet all of these new people, and I just think it’s going to really kick off this journey right.

savannah gloucester taking a gap year

Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?

I really like the Spanish language. I’ve been taking it for 2 years now, but I’m not fluent. I would like study more Spanish in college; that’s a big interest of mine. Maybe one day I can teach English in Spain, like my current Spanish teacher did for eleven years.

I’d also love to study music. I sing, and I also bought a ukulele that I haven’t learned how to play yet. I really like singing songs from musicals, like Rent. I’m a fan of R&B, older music, and some alternative stuff from today. I love to sing in Spanish, as well. Learning songs from Spanish-speaking artists has been beneficial to my pronunciation and coherence.

Have you traveled before? If so, which trip has been your favorite and why?

I’ve traveled inside the country, a bit. When I was nine years old, I went to Disneyworld in Florida with my family. That was awesome, but I didn’t go on any rides. I was too dramatically scared to back then. Though, my favourite park was Jurassic Park.

I’m from Massachusetts, so driving to Maine and New Hampshire is a breeze. With my school, I’ve visited Culinary Institutes in both Vermont and New York.

I did, also, learn to ski in Colorado, which was probably my favorite trip. I mountain skied for two years in a row. I haven’t been in a while, but it’s something I’m sure to pick up again when I come back.

What do you expect to gain from taking a gap year and while traveling abroad?

I expect to be scared, seeing as I don’t have much travel experience. But I also expect to be grateful for the chances I’ll get to be a better version of myself. I guess I just want to gain more worldly knowledge, and to also to be enlightened as to what I’m capable of. I generally like to seek new challenges and be self aware, but I need some more experience.

savannah taking a gap year abroad

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

I want them to know that I’m an open book.

Tell us something fun about you!

I can beatbox a little! Just little things, not too complex. I beatbox with my brother. We have a very compatible sense of humor and we do a lot of riffing off of whatever song is in our heads.

I am looking for that compatible sense of humor in a Winterline friend! I’m excited about making new friends, and singing and beatboxing with them, if they so wish to as well.

And finally, Coke or Pepsi?

Neither! I don’t really like Coke or Pepsi! I’m a Ginger Ale type of person. Schweppes Ginger Ale. It’s gotta be Schweppes.

Ready to begin your adventure?


Winterline Gap Year Program: Photo Contest II

In this most recent gap year program photo contest, students competed for prizes in five different categories.

A number of the students are photographers on our Media Team, a group of students composed of recipients of our work-study gap year scholarships. To account for any bias, all photographs were stripped of their photographers’ names.

The five categories were People, Places, Culture, Skills, and of course, Winterline. Here are the winners!

Interested in taking a gap year with us?


People: Runner Up

  1. Captures kinetic energy, frozen in time
  2. Honesty of emotion
  3. Close up
  4. Shallow depth of field, bokeh, brings intimacy with subject

gap year photo contest runner up

People: Winner

  1. Powerful symmetry broken by the human form
  2. Formal narrative is asymmetric with half-nudity
  3. The expression captures curiosity, joy, even mischief

gap year photo contest winner people

Places: Runner Up

  1. Quality use of depth of field
  2. Subjects are perfectly crisp at the edge of an unknown height
  3. Captures a candid repose into human history, mixed with the challenge toward digital modernity

Places runner up gap year scholarships

Places: Winner

  1. Powerful sense of place
  2. Intimacy with an unknown owner, their belongings and their colorful attention to detail
  3. Architecture merges the old with the new, disarray with uniformity, roughness and tenderness

Culture: Runner Up

  1. Unique, close crop framing
  2. Colors of subject and sky contrast to reveal relationship between subject and others
  3. Decorations brought out in bite size via proximity to subject

photo contest gap year scholarship

Culture: Winner

  1. Abundant detail and humanity shines through in this image
  2. Universality and homogeny meet in the faces of the subjects
  3. Use of bokeh and focus pulls back the curtain between observer and observed
  4. Striking minimalism in the framing of the subjects

gap year photo contest scholarship

Skills: Runner Up

  1. Care and attention to detail from the subject brings out tenderness in this moment captured
  2. Eye-level humility meets the narrative of the subject’s focus
  3. Soft lighting from natural source adds to the emotional experience

gap year scholarship photo contest
Skills: Winner

  1. Close crop creates tension between subjects and what lies outside the frame
  2. Emotional tension & curiosity captured perfectly in the seen subjects’ eyes and the presence of an unseen subject.
  3. Lettering on main subject’s T-Shirt brings out further, unscripted meaning

gap year study abroad scholarship

Winterline: Runner Up

  1. The unknown background contrasts with the familiarity of the foreground, creating tension between the direction of the subject and the weighted centrality of the written logo
  2. Adventure and exploration captured perfectly with matched anonymity

gap year photo contest scholarship runner up

Winterline: Winner

  1. Dominant narrative of friendship and togetherness
  2. Adventure and respite brought to mind by the outfits and heavy lean of the subjects
  3. Symmetric framing and individuality despite matching outfits

gap year scholarship photo contest 2

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?


How to Travel Alone On A Gap Year

You start finding opportunities everywhere and in everything. You open up to things. You program yourself to find awesome experiences. You seek for more. You need more in order to feel fulfilled.

Throughout this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe that’s one of the reasons why we love to travel so much. Because you push yourself, you surpass your limits and you don’t judge yourself. Instead, you just laugh and move on. You live everyday to the fullest waiting for something crazy to happen, it’s almost as if you went for it.

Ready to learn 100 skills and visit 10 different countries?


I could relate that to how you should change the way you live day-to-day and make life an experience that you want to share and remember. But, that’s extremely cheesy, so instead I’m just gonna write about my process of deciding what I wanted to do for my Winterline Independent Study Project (ISP).

The way Winterline does it, they give you the budget and you can do whatever you want.


Go learn Flamenco in Sevilla, work at a cockroach farm in Greece, hike El Camino de Santiago, or go to Switzerland and learn the art of chocolate-making. There are almost no limits. You just have to go get the experience, because in the end, that’s what it is. It’s the perfect opportunity to do something completely new, that you might end up loving, or practice something you already love.

Daniela Gap Year Programs

So, when I was thinking about what I wanted to do during this week, many ideas came to my mind. (Learning Flamenco was actually one of them, believe it or not). I could go work with refugees in Hamburg, do an internship in an environmental organization (maybe?), start learning a new language or practice German while doing engaging and fun activities. All of them seemed nice and enjoyable, but none of them really, truly, excited me. I wasn’t thrilled by any of them.

I started making up “excuses.” (I can work with people in my country. I already dance a lot and no one would dance Flamenco with me anyways. I want to be outdoors not at an office!).

And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I had an idea. Biking. In high school, a friend and I tried to promote their use, we created a logo and did research on it, and I love bikes — yes!

They’re a beautiful human-propelled machine. But, I’d never done a biking trip before. The closest experience to a “bike trip” I’ve had was this one time when I was in France with my homestay mom.

It was Sunday. Sunday morning. I was having breakfast at around eight, still trying to wake up, my eyes half open, my brain trying to understand why I was awake.

She invited me biking and I said yes. I almost died. She was going so fast, her legs were so strong and she still managed to have this BIG smile on her face. I was in the back, far away, almost crying and cursing, thinking that I could be in my bed reading and drinking tea or sleeping. She kept on motivating me and pushing me to finish and make it to the house. We finally arrived. I was sweating, my legs were hurting and my butt… I couldn’t feel it.

And yet, somehow, I felt good. I felt accomplished and happy. I even said I was glad I went instead of being in my bed “doing nothing”. We did twenty kilometers and I had survived. This was four years ago, and I can still remember that one time I went biking in France.

So, somehow, this idea of biking for my ISP made me feel happy and motivated. There were endless possibilities! I could go to a big city and study urban biking and how it looks to have biking as one of the main ways of transportation. I could compare a bike friendly city to Bogotá. Or even better — I could go from one place to another on a bike.

That last idea got stuck in my head. I wanted to bike. I wanted to travel even more. And, I wanted to do something crazy and difficult. I had made my decision.

Now of course, I had to choose a location. I had all of Europe to choose from. Copenhagen? Amsterdam? Spain? Portugal? France?

Winterline Gap Year Programs

I finally decided to go to Italy. I was really open to any location, but one thing I was sure of. I didn’t want to go on a tour. Tours are boring, and I’d have to follow people and maybe even a guide that will talk and talk… Maybe even keep on talking…

I wanted to be by myself, alone. I wanted Freedom.

I did extensive and exquisite research until I found this thing called “a self-guided tour”. The bike company stated: “we will provide you with accommodations, breakfast included and a perfectly detailed route, many maps, a bike AND luggage transfer” (What type of magical sorcery is this? Could it get any better?).

It sounded perfect, except that I have to confess I’m terrible when it comes to reading maps. Pieces of paper full of lines and names and sometimes even numbers. I’ve been lucky to have always been surrounded by friends that know exactly where they are by literally looking at the sun and the tree next to them.

But, as long as I could be alone on my tour I didn’t really care. I was willing to pay the price of getting lost once in awhile, asking for directions with my poorly poor Italian and even probably riding the bike with the Google maps lady loudly embarrassing me by saying: “Wrong way. Turn left and go the complete opposite direction you useless human being”.

Bike companies offered many tour options, so I ranked them and analyzed the situation for a couple of months, until I decided to go with the one that offered a “free pistachio gelato” (that was the main reason why I chose it, of course).

I emailed them and told them what I wanted — my budget, my dates, and they made it happen. We did the business and I was ready for my ISP. They gave me my hotel list (I thought I was going to sleep at hostels or a “biker’s bed and breakfast” full of smelly shoes in the entrance and a bathroom or two for everyone; instead, I was offered four star hotels everywhere I went. Single room, king size bed).

Now we’re in Frankfurt and I leave to Italy tonight, at midnight. I have a six-hour train to München and then another five-hour train to Bolzano. This is where my tour starts.

I’m clearly nervous. But the idea of traveling alone and being by myself makes me extremely happy. I feel confident transporting myself from one place to another and blending in multitudes (unless I was in India, that’s another story), but biking with paper maps and no one around me? That’s new.

I kept doubting and asking myself questions like, “Daniela, will this be too hard for you? Maybe you should’ve chosen something less complicated. Are you really prepared?”

But then I got tired and realized it was too late to ask myself those types of questions. I was wasting my time. There was nothing I could do at this point. I decided to change the questions for statements instead and make myself believe that I was ready for it. (I had to be ready).

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Help us Win the GoAbroad Innovation Awards!

The GoAbroad Innovation Awards are the premier source of recognition for innovation in the study abroad and gap year space. Molly’s video series culminated this month in two hyper-condensed visual narratives on the lasting value of a gap year, and more precisely, the value of the relationships acquired while taking a gap year.


Her 9-months in five minutes video, “Around the World,” was selected as an Innovation Awards Video Finalist for illuminating the courageous fine line between learning and fear, comfort and growth. Molly’s entire video series on her time spent in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Europe, as well as her 5-part vlog series on independent travel in Croatia, highlights the powerful dynamism of a gap year abroad, as well as the nuance of personal growth in this unique moment in life.

According to the GoAbroad contest moderators, the winner of the award will be determined by popular vote, so please share widely! It is a one person one vote system, so remember to fill out the form. The winners will be announced at the GoAbroad Reception during the NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo in Los Angeles, on Thursday, June 1, at 5:30PM.

Please take a second to upvote Molly’s video series by visiting the voting page here and filling out the form!

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Alex Messitidis: Traveler, Athlete, Gap Year Student

Get to know a our newest member of the Winterline family, Alex Messitidis!

The concept of a gap year program is still new for many students. When were you first introduced to the idea of taking a gap year?

I was first introduced to the idea of taking a gap year from my friend Madison, who is currently on the 9-month program with Winterline. Last year she had talked to me about how excited she was about this experience and the exposure she was going to get, and I knew it was the path I wanted to be on as well.

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

I chose to take a gap year because I wanted a new opportunity, a different opportunity. Though the traditional four years of college sounded great, thinking about how I could be traveling and learning (my two favorite things) with other kids who share the same interests as I do, there was no better fit than this.

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Alex - gap year winterline

What country on our itinerary are you most excited to visit?

I believe I am most excited to visit Thailand. This is a place I have wanted to visit my whole life, and never thought I’d actually make it out there till now! Between the culture, food, environment, and history, it has always had my heart.

What activity or learning experience captivates you the most about Winterline?

To choose just one would be impossible, the whole program amazes me. The amount of self-determination and soul-searching we do, I have no doubt in my mind that every experience will mold and shape us into better, more well-rounded human beings. The culture and diversity we are going to be immersed in is going to truly help us in our growth process.

gap year winterline

Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?

In the future, I hope to become an environmental lawyer. My family has always been very environmentally-focused, and from a young age I was taught about all the things going wrong in our world. Our earth is so under-appreciated and poorly taken care of, I’d like to be able to dedicate my life to bettering this place we call home.

Have you traveled before? If so, which trip has been your favorite and why?

My family has the travel-bug FEVER! We’ve been all around the USA, Europe, islands in between. We try our best to get as exposed as possible. My parents always told me that the more knowledge I had, the more power I held. So they always tried to bring my sister and I anywhere they could so we could expand our minds a bit. If I had to choose a favorite trip, it would have to be either Hawaii or Greece. The weather was gorgeous and people were unbelievably kind and welcoming, I couldn’t have asked for much more!

Alex - gap year programs winterline

What do you expect to gain from your gap year program and while traveling abroad?

During this gap year program, I hope to become more aware, more open-minded, and all-around a better human being. I think traveling to other countries is going to give us such different perspectives on living, culture, people, and it really is going to help us have a better understanding of what goes on all around us. Most people tend to only focus on themselves and their lives, but to understand people as a whole, and how different things could be halfway across the world — that is a beautiful thing. It will teach us appreciation for what we have, and the lives we live, and compassion for those who are not as fortunate.

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

One thing I want my future Winterline peers to know about me is that I will always look at the positive in every situation we are put in. The experiences we share are only as amazing as the attitude we have going into them, and I am a firm believer that positivity is always key.

alex - gap year abroad

Tell us something fun about you!

My parents migrated from Greece to Montreal when they were young, and then had me and my sister Kate. We came to the U.S when I was about four, and started our life in Chester, New Hampshire! My family is sprouted throughout Greece and a bit in Montreal, so I’m lucky enough to be able to travel a good amount and learn so many new things about my culture and family.

And finally, Coke or Pepsi?

Neither, I’m a water type of girl 🙂

Ready to get out of your comfort zone?

Winterline Gap Year Photo Contest

At the end of each trimester, we like to host a photo contest among our students. It’s a fun way for friends and family back home to see how far we’ve come and what we’ve been up to.

This fall, we had five prize-winners for our photo contest:

  1. Landscape
  2. Skills
  3. Wildlife
  4. People
  5. Winterline

The last one is meant to be defined in the eyes of the photographer-students themselves, and a few of them got pretty creative! The photos were judged anonymously by a Winterline staff committee. Submissions were cleared of original titles and sources. Merits were determined by image alone. Runner ups received prizes of local Costa Rican coffee mugs, winners received a range of prizes from Winterline Nalgenes up to an REI day pack.

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All in all, it was an incredibly difficult selection process, with many quality submissions across the board. Above all else, we at Winterline want to give our congratulations to all the winners and wish them the best in the rest of their gap years.

The first runner up for “Landscape” was considered on these points:

  1. Strong narrative.
  2. Playful light and dark shadows with silhouette foreground
  3. Landscape includes a sense of the immediate experience
  4. Strong colors despite bleak expanse


The winner for “Landscape” was considered on these points:

  1. Strong use of shadows and multiple landscape dimensions (water, rock, mountain)
  2. Self-portrait-esque
  3. The Golden Hour


The runner up for “Skills” was considered on these points:

  1. Strong tension between strength of the measurement tool and the fragility of the living organism
  2. Vivid use of macro detail
  3. Cute
  4. Immediately understandable narrative

gap year photo contest wildlife photography

The winner for “Skills” was considered on these points:

  1. Clearly a new skill
  2. Strong use of eye-level perspective, brings audience down the level of the activity
  3. Strong use of depth of field & wide aperture: face is perfectly crisp, drawing attention to the subject immediately
  4. Emotional

gapyear program photo contest goat milking costa rica

The runner up for “Wildlife” was considered on these points:

  1. Beautifully photographed wildlife subject
  2. Colorful, in focus, context provided for size
  3. Intimate & casual


The winner for “Wildlife” was considered on these points:

  1. Perhaps not technically wildlife, subject is dramatically framed by its context, in situ
  2. Lighting well chosen
  3. Perspective — nearly eye-level


The runner up for “People” was considered on these points:

  1. Strong narrative of ease and rest.
  2. Human and approachable.
  3. Composition is beautifully imbalanced.
  4. Strong perspective, captures the sense of ground & earth which draws out the emotion


The winner for “People” was considered on these points:

  1. Strong narratives, easily understandable
  2. Eye-level perspective adds to the sense of dignity of the subject
  3. Framing with wall brings out the sense of intimacy with the subject
  4. Subject and objects hold each other in contrast with the uniformity of the background


The runner up for “Winterline” was considered on these points:

  1. Strong narrative, well-aligned with Winterline brand of skills, friendship, and exposure to new experiences
  2. Use of Winterline logo
  3. Clear emotions of joy & spontaneity with new experience
  4. Strong use of non-candid subjects


The winner for “Winterline” was considered on these points:

  1. Visually impressive colors and use of light
  2. Strong 1st person perspective
  3. Strong narrative of personal reflection mixed with the reflection on the water
  4. Answers the questions: why a gap year and why winterline while also capturing the feeling of adventure and delight at the end of an eventful day.

gap year photo contest winner winterline

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Meet Dylan Gosdin — Drone pilot preparing for a gap year

Dylan Gosdin is one of our first members of the 2017 cohort. He has a love for photography, and is excited to discover more about his career and life goals during his Winterline gap year experience.

The concept of a gap year program is still new for many students. When were you first introduced to the idea of taking a gap year before college?

My Dad first introduced me to the idea of taking a gap year. He believes that this program will be beneficial for a lot of my friends if they choose to take one as well. I think it’s a great idea. If I had just decided to go to college, I believe that my chances of making it to sophomore year would be 50/50. This program will show me how to take care of myself and live on my own as well as experience things most people only dreamed about.

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

I chose to take a gap year because I don’t know what I want to do with my life.  I think the opportunity to travel the world and learn without sitting in a classroom is great.

What country on our itinerary are you most excited to visit? What activity or learning experience captivates you the most about Winterline? 

The country I am most excited about is either Germany or India. I think India will be an incredible place to go visit. I really want to visit Germany because I have a big interest in cars and going to the BMW Driving School is going to be very cool.

Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?

That’s another reason why I’m taking a gap year. I have no idea what I want to do in the future so while I’m on this trip I’m going to try and find something that I have a passion about that I could pursue and make a career out of.


Have you traveled before? If so, which trip has been your favorite and why?

Yes, I have. Growing up, we traveled a lot as a family. This past summer, however, I went to the British Virgin Islands to live on a boat and scuba dive for 40 days. I met a lot of awesome people from all around the world. Some I still keep in touch with regularly. That trip was very important to me because it showed me how much I enjoy traveling on my own and how much I can learn about myself in this type of environment.

What do you expect to gain from your gap year program and while traveling abroad? 

Independence, maturity, and passion for a path in life. I think those are 3 things that are most important to me.

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

I’m quiet when I first meet people but once I get to know you that changes very quickly.

Tell us something fun about you!

Yeah, I suck at these kinds of questions.What is one unique object you plan on bringing with you to Winterline and why? I love video and photography so I will be bringing a DJI Mavic Pro Drone and DJI Osmo Camera, both of which I plan on using as a video and photo journal for this trip.  I am not great with words but hope that photos and videos will help me explain what I’ve experienced.

And finally, Coke or Pepsi?

Coke, no doubt.


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My Gap Year Hasn’t Opened My Eyes to the World

I’ve always been out of place, a stray puzzle piece that doesn’t really fit in anywhere. Back in Nepal, boarding school in India – it didn’t matter where I went, there was always someone who didn’t like what I wore or what I represented. Winterline has been different – it has been a wonderful group that not only accepts, but respects me. I’ve experienced something I feel like I’ve rarely experienced before: a sense of adequacy. Everything so far has felt comfortable, even if I’d never done it before. Everyone else has been pushed outside of their comfort zone. I’ve been pushed into a comfort zone.

Discover the world & yourself.



I’ve learned a lot of valuable life lessons there – inside of the comfort zone, where I can really stand still for a second and evaluate, something I’ve almost never done. I’ve learned that there’s so much growing to be done every day! I’ve learned to throw myself out there. Sure, I could just sit back and do what is expected of me and be enough. But that’s not where I want to be. I don’t want to be just good enough. There are days where even doing just that is difficult but when I’m barely making an effort is when I need to be working the hardest. I’ve met many people on this journey, driven by goals and ideas who have more knowledge on one single skill or idea than you would think there is to know! All because they’ve dedicated themselves to never being just good enough and pushing themselves constantly.

I found that growth is an incredibly slow-moving, constant, lifetime process. And most of that is the daily grind of effort and willingness to grow and understand that it’s never easy and it’s not supposed to be. It’s kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs when I think I can’t do it anymore and I keep doing it anyways. I’ve learned growth is intentional; it doesn’t happen by accident. I saw on my gap year that growth hurts. It hurts the same way everything hurts when I’m on the last stretch of ascending a hill on a long trek and my muscles are screaming in pain but I keep going because I’ve made it so far and I know that it’s going to be worth it. And I know that it’s going to hurt more the next day, but I do it anyways, because what I will remember is the reward and not the pain. I imagine a lifetime of growth, never any less painful but always stronger for it. I ask myself these questions: “Would I rather not have seen or felt struggle? Do I doubt myself for saying maybe? Am I stronger or weaker for this realization? Do the experiences I’ve had make me indestructible or vulnerable?”


I am who I am. Nothing will change that. I can’t change who I am, and I can be bitter about it or I can maybe try and love myself and maybe do some good in the process.

I guess the answer is choice: what I do with what I have. Do I let the struggles I’ve seen make me more hateful towards those who choose to ignore them? Or do I help them see what can change? It’s something I struggle with every day. I would have never imagined myself where am today. Never. I could have easily been the next kid, fighting for an education, married off at age nine. Instead, I try to have gratitude for what I have. I have choice. And on Winterline, I have had and will have all the resources I need to make my own choices, good ones that I will be proud of and bad ones that I will be thankful to have known and learnt from.

At the beginning of Winterline, they told us it will be as difficult as we make it. We can shuffle around people and cultures like the next tourist or we can simply be present in the crazy whirlpool of opportunities that are already there for us. I’m trying to chose to make an effort every day of my life, whatever it’s going to throw at me. My gap year didn’t change my life, I did.


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Student Video: Gap year Week 1 Orientation

Students travel together for 9 months across 10 countries learning 100 different skills, and that means building up the knowledge at the beginning around healthy communication, leaning out of the comfort zone, dealing with conflict, personal care, and getting smart about packing light.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t time to get out and explore. Our student, Sam, made this video to capture the beautiful moments during and in between our intense orientation schedule.

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Video: Getting to school in the morning on your gap year

And you do this for 9 months, learning crazy new skills at each place, meeting beautiful people.

Here’s a video of one of those mornings, someplace new.

Our students learn to travel using a wide variety of local media. By the end of their 9 months, they are skilled at riding trains, buses, cars, planes, horses, tuktuks, sometimes even water buffalo.

They learn how to bargain for the right rates, how to use the metro in a foreign city, and how to stay awake on an international flight from Phnom Penh to Bangkok to Mumbai India. They learn how to travel safely, know when to say ‘No’ to a seemingly attractive opportunity, and how to eat right.

Street food in particular is a major concern. The survival and wilderness skills they learn in their first trimester, backpacking and getting certified in Wilderness First Aid with NOLS becomes immediately relevant, despite the absence of a natural environment. Bangkok can be quite wild. As can Mumbai, Phnom Penh, Singapore, Venice, even Munich.

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Student Video: My Gap Year With Winterline

Nothing warms our hearts more than knowing that our students have made lifelong friendships, grown in their personal lives, and learned skills to prepare them for the real world.

One of our alumna, Sydney, put this video together, demonstrating proficiency in all of these critical life areas.

The opening shots are an actual “Winterline” in the Himalayas. The phenomenon where the sun’s light is dispersed horizontally by a massive compression of warm, sub-continental air by the cold mountain air. The Winterline represents a false horizon, whereby, when you are able to ascend above it, you can see a new truth, a new vision of beauty and reality.

They travel to Bangkok, where they learn to meditate and participate in the annual water festival.

In Phnom Penh, the great buddhist architectural heritage site, they visit the many spaces by bicycle, learning of the rich history of intellectualism and religion there.

They ride tuktuks in India, learn etiquette and wine tasting in Europe. They visit castles, eat plenty, play in the snow in Vermont, fly around the world, learn Thai massage, ride trains in Spain and the Netherlands. Learn business in Boston. Ride in boats in Panama and Costa Rica, Venice, and even get a time to play in the pool and run a few charity races.

At the end is the Winterline ceremony of completion, where we bring the families together for a big party and graduation.

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Callie’s BMW Driving School Experience

This is what it’s like to do the Winterline program.

In the third trimester of our gap year program, our students travel to Europe and the United States, where they learn about systems theory and societies from a wider perspective. But they also get a chance to learn how to race BMWs on a closed track.

Defensive driving is as much about anticipating occurrences in your environment as it is about being able to out-maneuver your obstacles.

Many people learn defensive driving at some point in there lives. But Callie learned this skill from a German driving coach at the BMW Driving School outside Frankfurt.

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Why Winterline is Awesome: Skills-Based Gap Year Programs

In this info-video, Susie and Ben from HQ go in-depth into how our programs work, where our students travel, and answer questions about preparation, applications, and scholarships.

The Winterline gap year is about giving students ownership over their education, giving them control of what they’re learning, enabling them to be excited about what they’re learning for the rest of their lives.

“Every day is extraordinary. Every day I’m doing something I’ve never done before. And that’s how I hope to live the rest of my life.” – Student, Molly, Boston, MA.

We’ve created a skills-based gap year program, giving students a chance to sample of a lot of different areas, figure out what their interests are, and become confident and competent in what they’re learning. You travel to 10 different countries over 9 months. The gap year program is a great chance to try a lot of different things. You can check things off and say, ‘Ok I tried that,’ and know whether something is what you want to pursue in college or in a career.

“I am blown away again and again by the Winterline program. Seeing the photos and reading the blogs makes me feel joy.” – Parent, Kate, Cambridge, MA.

We are looking for students who are eager and willing to try new things. Our gap year program is not in a classroom. After 13 years in a classroom, you won’t be at a desk. You’ll be learning in the field, getting certifications that may be applicable for jobs and school, as well as meditation, scuba diving, building a house. You’ll be traveling the world on your gap year. You’ll learn everything from personal finance to how to look a person in the eye when you’re talking to them. You’re going to come away with a lot of different skills that you might not even realize until after the fact.

We deliver our skills by partnering with top-notch organizations around the world, cherry-picked for quality and delivering the kind of experiential education we value. You’re not sitting in a classroom with someone telling you what to do. You’re out there, learning and trying different things, sweating, laughing, backpacking.

The skills we teach are practical, real-world skills. They are the focus of all Winterline programs. We want students to come out of the program with deliverable skills and be able to contribute to the world. Our focus is to make students both confident and competent, and those are two very different things. We want our students to be competent in a number of different areas. If you’re just coming out of high school, by the time you finish the program you’ll be entering college at a completely different level than your peers. You’ll have a better sense of what you want to study, as well as be on your way toward doing and being able to do those things.

Not all the skills are equally loved by every student. Sometimes a student will say, “Oh I tried that and I didn’t like it at all. And that’s just as valuable.” You might learn early on that perhaps you don’t like engineering, and that can save you years on the other end.

“I am going to be the best husband possible. I can do Thai massage, make beds, know how to be a butler, sew a button on an ironed shirt.” Student, Cole, Millwood, NY

In the end, you may even find that these competencies make you well-loved by many different people because of your new skills.

Ready to apply for our gap year program?