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.
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:
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.
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!
We’re so thrilled to have our students back in the field for Trimester 2! Our squads are in Southeast Asia, spread out among Siem Reap, Cambodia; Nan, Thailand, and Bangkok, Thailand. They’re jumping back in: exploring the colorful streets, admiring the temples and religious monuments, conversing with the locals, and tasting the unique flavors.
In fact, this has been a food-focused week, with our students attending Bai Pai Thai Cooking School in Bangkok and Ecole Paul Dubrule in Siem Reap! Take a look to see the dishes they cooked, sites they’ve seen, and smiles they’ve had since landing in these incredible countries.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not everyone has 9 months to dedicate to a gap year, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to have an hands-on education and travel experience. That’s why we created a semester full of skills and and cultural exploration in Latin America! This program kicks off in September 2020, but it’s never too soon to start thinking about the future. Here are 10 reasons you should consider applying for to join us.
Visit not one, not two, but three different countries! Many study abroad trips only offer you the experience to live and learn in one country. Maybe you can fit in visits to other countries along the way, but they’ll likely be shorter trips that you have to plan yourself. On Winterline’s Latin America semester program, your whole group will spend time in Panama, Costa Rica, and Peru. No need to choose just one!
Spend minimal time in the classroom. While some of your skills require a classroom day or two, the majority of your time will be spent in the field, learning by doing. Practice Spanish by conversing with native speakers, learn about sustainability by building and farming on a rainforest ranch, hone your business skills alongside local entrepreneurs, and so much more.
Immerse yourself in each community. Yes, you’ll be living and learning in a group, but you’ll be doing so alongside locals. Some programs house you in a dorm, where you live together and learn from instructors they’ve hired. We know that, in order for you to learn cross-cultural communication and actually experience each country, you need to be spending time with and learning from the people who actually live there.
Head home with 3 certifications under your belt. That’s right, you’ll have plenty to add to your resume, including certifications in CPR, Wilderness First Aid, and scuba diving! If you’re interested in a career in outdoor education, this is a great head start. If not, this will be a fun and out-of-the-box dose of real world skill-building.
Get a taste for rural and urban life. Embrace the outdoors through scuba diving, artisanal fishing, surfing, beach lifesaving, technical tree climbing, natural building, hiking…the list goes on! It’s time to make yourself comfortable in nature, and all of these skills will help you do so. But you’ll also spend time in the city working on leadership, presentations, designing for urban resilience, prototyping, project planning, and more.
Learn from the experts. The people who teach you these skills know what they’re talking about. We partner with a variety of organizations to ensure that you’re learning from qualified individuals or groups in each field.
Find your path and your purpose. Not sure what you want to study in college or pursue as a career? Getting a taste of so many different skills will expose you to ideas you’ve never heard of or considered. You’ll learn what you like, what you’re good at, and what you’re passionate about.
Balance between guidance and independence. Your Winterline semester will be led by Field Advisors who live and travel with you, ensuring you stay safe and on track. They’re there to help when you need it, but they won’t hold your hands the whole way like a parent! You’re responsible for aspects such as your budget, showing up on time to skills, and planning your own activities on free days.
Save on tuition with a scholarship. If you’re interested in traveling with a friend, you can save $500 each by enrolling together. Looking to build a portfolio for journalism, photography, videography, or social media? Save $500 with work-study scholarship!
Make memories to last a lifetime. One semester is plenty of time to change your life. These new skills, countries, and friends will leave you with stories, photos, and learnings to bring with you wherever the future takes you.
The last few months were pretty busy for our students! Now they’re home for a few weeks to rest and recover before jetting off to Southeast Asia in January. With so many skills and adventures, you might have already forgotten what they accomplished during their fir. While you can always look back at our past Photos of the Week to remind yourself, we also have some pictures that were previously unpublished to share. Take a look to see the beach adventures, the tree climbing, the rainforest explorations, the scuba diving, the business building, the urban innovation, the homestays, and more.
While he and his squad were learning about sustainability at Rancho Mastatal, our student Liam took some time to interview staff member Ryan Roberts. Liam learned all about Ryan: what brought him to Rancho Mastatal, what it’s like to live on the ranch, and how he intends to use what he’s learned in the future when he eventually leaves the ranch.
We’re very sad to say that Trimester 1 is just about over! Tomorrow, November 23rd, our students will travel back to their homes for winter break to recharge for the next two trimesters. Students who came in as strangers are now family, and it’ll be hard to say goodbye for the next few weeks. But they’ve certainly had an incredible time in Costa Rica and Panama for the past few months, and it won’t be long until they’re reuniting to jet off to Asia!
Take a look at the last photos from Trimester 1 and try not to miss us too much while our students are at home. Don’t worry: you can always look back at our past Photos of the Week to get your fix, and we might even have a special Trimester 1 recap blog coming up soon…
If you’re interested in living this journey for yourself, apply now for our 2020-2021 gap year. It’s never too early to start thinking about your future. And if you apply between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you’ll automatically save $1,000 on your tuition!
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.
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.
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.
We’re back with your weekly fix of our student photos, and some added critters and creatures in the mix! There’s still plenty to see from our students in Costa Rica: more photos from Monteverde ISPs, more sustainable fishing with ConnectOcean, and more sustainability education at Rancho Mastatal. Even though all three squads work with the same partners and learn the same skills, their experiences are entirely individual.
You know what that means: you can’t really understand the Winterline experience until you have it yourself!
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:
What were your biggest challenges during the first week in Winterline, and what did you have to do to overcome them?
What were your expectations for the program, and how were they met or subverted?
After a successful beginning to your journey, what are you most looking forward to?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Our three squads are back in Costa Rica, and if you can believe it, there’s only two weeks left of Trimester 1! We’re happy to say that our students are still having an amazing time in Central America. This week, Squad 3 is off on their Monteverde ISPs, learning skills like recycled paper-making and neotropical bird monitoring. Squad 2 has been in the water, learning ocean safety with ConnectOcean and getting scuba certified with Pacific Coast Dive Center. Finally, Squad 1 is enjoying some time off the grid at Rancho Mastatal, so stay tuned for their photos when they resurface on WiFi next week!
Which Costa Rican partner would you most like to work with and learn from on a Winterline gap year? It’s hard to choose: as you can tell from the photos below, they’re all an amazing experience!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When we talk about Independent Study Projects, we often emphasize the Trimester 3 ISP most heavily. After all, this is the project that you spend Trimesters 1 and 2 planning and gearing up for. It’s the biggest taste of independence, and one of the most unique parts of a Winterline gap year. However, did you know that during the first trimester, you get an ISP, too?
In Monteverde, Costa Rica, our students get to participate in an ISP that’s a little more structured since it occurs so early. While no two students can participate in the same Trimester 3 ISP, students may work side-by-side in their Trimester 1 ISP. However, there’s only one student per homestay family. That’s right; in Trimester 3, students find their own ISP accommodations. But in Trimester 1, students are placed with a local family. This allows you to become immersed in the cultural experience, connect with new people, and learn even more skills.
There’s a long list of potential Trimester 1 ISPs that students get to pick from. Below we’ve highlighted just a few of the possibilities to give you a glimpse of how much Monteverde has to offer!
Coffee – Farm to Cup
If you can’t start your day without caffeine, you’ll love this experience. Students will learn and practice the process that coffee goes through from seed to cup. This includes fertilizing soil; picking, washing, and drying coffee; running sample roasts; and even preparing espressos!
We use paper all the time, but have you ever really considered how it’s made? Now, you can learn how to turn pulp into paper. Not only will you get to create the pulp and screen it into paper, but you’ll take it to the next step and learn bookbinding!
Animal lovers, this one’s for you. Learn how to take care of horses the Costa Rican way. First, you’ll get a basic lesson in horseback riding. From here, you’ll tackle feeding and washing, checking and cleaning equipment, and even shoeing and training the horses! Once you’ve got this down, you can improve your riding skills on a horse tour.
Herbalism is both an art and a science, meaning this ISP can appeal to anyone. You can pick up botanical vocabulary and learn how to identify plants, as well as their medicinal properties and herbal actions. Once you know what they do, you can use them to prepare teas and other products!
Traditional Cooking with Local Crops
The best way to understand another culture is to eat their food. Not only will you learn to prepare Costa Rican cuisine, but you’ll do so using fresh and local food produce, like yuca, corn, and guava. Each day, you’ll learn about the ingredient, what you can make out of it, and taste its flavor.
Remember, these are just five of our 30 ISP possibilities! If you were going to Monteverde today, which ISP would you pick? Is there anything in Costa Rica that you’d love to get hands-on experience in that we haven’t listed? Let us know!
Last year, we gave you a look into our Costa Rican partner Rancho Mastatal, but we thought it was time for an update!
At Rancho Mastatal, our students learn about permaculture and immerse themselves in a community that cares deeply about environmental sustainability. By doing so, students learn how to live in balance with the environment, making the most of what nature provides us without causing harm to our ecosystem. This includes cultivating natural building and food production skills, as well as learning about soil ecology and fertility.
Rancho Mastatal takes pride in their focus on natural building, which emphasizes the use of local labor and resources. These materials include wood, sourced from the region and sometimes directly from their property, earth, straw and natural grasses, bamboo, stone and rock, and manure. All of these resources are found in abundance and are not just strong, but renewable and sustainable. Students also get to learn the proper techniques to use each of these materials, which they put to test by building on their own!
Another main focus at Rancho Mastatal is hand preparing meals from whole foods that are locally or regionally sourced. For many students, this is a far cry from the processed and prepackaged foods that are so prominent in America. At Rancho Mastatal, students develop an appreciation for every step of the food preparation process, from gathering ingredients all the way to eating the final product. For example, our students get to make and enjoy their very own chocolate!
Finally, students get a lesson in permaculture, which is the practice of sustainable land use design. This involves planting in patterns that occur naturally to maximize efficiency and minimize labor and waste. Permaculture allows us to reach the desired level of harmony between man and nature, making it a win-win situation for all sides!