At Winterline Global Education, we take skills seriously. We tell our students that skills are important, that they will become more capable and competent adults as they learn diverse skill sets. We explain that they will need ever more global skills to both survive and thrive in the global workplace and global economy. And we not only ‘tell’ them these things, we are actually engaged every day in teaching them these skills – skills to help them succeed, skills to make them better people, better communicators, and better collaborators, skills to help them become more independent, more resilient, more thoughtful, more considerate, more critically aware.
Our focus on skills is not just about teaching “job skills”, but life skills and interpersonal skills with the goal of helping young people grow into mature, responsible, and capable adults. This is implicit in everything we do — from the partners we work with to the mentors we hire. During our nine-month global skills program this focus is about consciously supporting students’ growth into adulthood. Gap years are perfect for this, and students who elect to take a gap year are perfectly positioned to take advantage of it. Gap year students are by definition “in between”, for that is what a ‘gap’ is – a break or span of time or distance between two separate things, two separate states of being.
“We are not an assembly line, guaranteeing newly minted adults at the end of every year.”
Anthropologists call this “in between-ness” a liminal state, where one is “betwixt and between.” The concept of liminality comes from the Latin word limen, meaning a threshold, where one is neither inside nor outside. There is potency and potentiality during liminal periods, but also vulnerability, as with all states of transition. Symbolically, liminal periods require the loss of identity, or more accurately, the loss of one identity before taking on another one. Liminal periods are often characterized by a journey, and invariably someone to help or facilitate the transition and to guard against danger during this vulnerable state.
The young people on their Winterline gap year are both literally and figuratively on a journey (in our case, around the world), letting go of one identity before taking on another one. Our Field Advisors or mentors, play the role of facilitators guiding them on their journey into adulthood.
Do all our students enter their Winterline year as ‘young people’ and come out the other end as ‘adults’? Does every single student let go of one identity during their year which is then replaced by another? No, of course not. We are not an assembly line, guaranteeing newly minted adults at the end of every year. The students all struggle at some point during their year, and we struggle with them. Some of them can’t get themselves out of bed and to a program on time when they start their year, and haven’t gotten much better by the end of the year.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
But they learn other things; perhaps more important skills. Along the way, they learn new ways to interact, to reflect, to communicate, to collaborate, to handle conflict, to speak in public, to be independent, to take and manage risks. The list goes on. They learn the skills of Non-Violent Communication and getting to the heart of conflict resolution. They learn the skills of Restorative Justice, being present through a circle process, being accountable and how to repair harm. These are skills most adults don’t have!
At the end of the day, teaching discrete or individual skills is not our goal, for every competent, mature and responsible adult carries with them a different set of skills. Rather than teaching young people the skills to make them adults, we teach young people how to be skilled adults. As Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This transformation from ‘learning skills’ as a young person to ‘being skilled’ as an adult takes time and energy, but is the most valuable gift we offer.