Meet the Field Advisors: James Townsend


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Where are you from originally?

I was born and raised in a small town just north of Baltimore, Maryland.

Why did you choose to become a field advisor?

Being a Field Advisor with Winterline is such a special position and the choice was easy to make. I’ve often asked, and have been asked by coworkers while working in similar jobs: if I could create my own program, what would it look like? When I first discovered Winterline’s Gap Year program, my mind was blown by how similar it felt to what I had been imagining all along. Strong emphasis on a global education, with practical skills learning, an introduction not only to the world but in a way to one’s self, and in a time frame in which participants can really make the most impact on their life, that’s the kind of program I have always wanted to be a part of!

How did you begin teaching/traveling?

I got my start working internationally with a company that runs trips out of Tanzania. I studied abroad in Tanzania for a semester and it was the regional focus of my degree in International Studies, so finding an opportunity to lead and teach in a country I am completely in love with and knew a lot about was something I had to do! Previously I had been leading outdoor adventure and leadership trips in the USA for several years, and to find an industry that combined my passions for experiential education as well as travel and culture was nothing short of a dream job.

james townsend winterline gap year

What are you most excited for about Winterline in Trimester 2?

This will be my second or third time to most of the countries on the itinerary. Part of what I love about my job is being able to introduce and share the things that made me fall in love with in these places in the first place! For example, I spent a month in Cambodia last year and one thing I was so struck by is how it really wears its history on its sleeve. From the ancient temples of the Angkor period 1,200 years ago to the abandoned structures from the Khmer Rogue era in the 70s found throughout the country, the more you see, the more you’re constantly inspired to learn more about its history and people. The more you learn, the more you can understand and contextualize every experience you have into a greater understanding of what Cambodia really is. Being a part of that learning journey is what I love not only about my job, but about traveling as well.

james townsend winterline gap year

What’s the most incredible thing you’ve ever seen while traveling?

Honestly, the most incredible thing I’ve seen is the amount of hospitality so much of the world gives freely to complete strangers visiting their country. Last year I bought a motorcycle in Vietnam and spent two months traveling up the country. The tough thing when traveling by bike is that between all the tourist sites and major cities, there tends to be up to three to four days of travel through rural villages, mountain passes, and dense jungles before you get to where you’re going, and not very many resources to know if there will be a place to stay or eat on the road ahead of you. The real surprise came in these moments, where I’d stop in a village and ask for a nearby hotel and people would insist I stay with them and their family for the night. Or I’d stop under a tree in the rain to take a break and someone would just appear with a hot cup of coffee and a towel, without a word of English. One memorable night involved an invitation to camp on the beach with a family who brought all the tents, a massive feast, and a giant portable karaoke machine. The amount of meals offered to me by complete strangers who refused any money in exchange was incredible, and has really taught me the value in trusting others.

james townsend winterline gap year

What’s the most important thing students and parents should know about you?

I was a student of experiential education. I grew up going to summer camps, doing multiple study abroad courses and semesters at university, and even now to a degree by being a part of programs like Winterline. By far those have been the most impactful and transformational experiences of my entire life. They’re exciting and rewarding, but can also be challenging and demanding at times. It’s often those challenging moments that are the most defining in our personal growth. I believe having someone who understands those challenges, and the rewards that come with surmounting them there to mentor you is one of the unsung benefits of a gap year program, and it is a part of my position that I take most seriously.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

The Maasai tribe of East Africa takes the honor of who they offer the first drink of the meal to quite seriously. In my constant effort to not offend my hosts’ culture, customs, or hospitality, I am pleased to report on behalf of anyone curious, that raw goat’s blood tastes exactly as you’d probably imagine raw goat’s blood to taste.

james townsend winterline gap year

 

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

Location Spotlight: Rancho Mastatal

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!

Working with wood | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
winterline, global skills, gap year
Working with wood | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
winterline, global skills, gap year
Building at Rancho Mastatal | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

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!

winterline, global skills, gap year
Yeukai showing off her handmade chocolate | Photo By: Emma Mays
winterline, global skills, gap year
Paris squeezing limes | Photo By: Emma Mays
winterline, global skills, gap year
Grinding beans | Photo By: Emma Mays
winterline, global skills, gap year
Starting the food prep | Photo By: Emma Mays
winterline, global skills, gap year
Chocolate time! | Photo By: Emma Mays

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!

winterline, global skills, gap year
Planting at Rancho Mastatal | Photo By: Emma Mays
Winterline, global skills, gap year
Planting at Rancho Mastatal | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
winterline, global skills, gap year
Planting at Rancho Mastatal | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

Interested in learning more about Rancho Mastatal? Check out their website or join us when we head back next year for the 2019-2020 gap year!