Photos of the Week 10/11

Can you believe our students are already on to the next country? That’s right: this week they arrived in Panama City, where lessons on the city and canal wait, as do a business bootcamp, visit to an indigenous community, and urban innovation workshop.

If you’re sad to say goodbye to Costa Rica, we have good news for you! After a few weeks in Panama, our students will be headed back to this country to finish off Trimester 1. But for the time being, enjoy these photos as the last highlights from Costa Rica.

winterline, gap year, costa rica
Alexandra and Aimee cheers | Photo By: Sherly Budiman
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Christian and Veronica working at Rancho Mastatal | Photo By: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Lucas and Alyssa on the beach
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Monkeying around | Photo By: Lucas Massolo
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Soaking in the sunset | Photo By: Aimee Diderich
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Don’t forget to smile | Photo By: Micah Zimmerman
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Alexandra at the waterfall
winterline, gap year, costa rica
A friendly face | Photo By: Leon Louw
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Waterfall hikes | Photo By: Whitfield Smith
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Josh at his Monteverde ISP
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Josh cooking at his Monteverde ISP
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Lydia is all smiles
winterline, gap year, costa rica
FA Jamie in the Monteverde Cloud Forest
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Who’s ready for a nap? | Photo By: Lydia Miller
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Jacob recycling at his Monteverde ISP
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Making chocolate | Photo By: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Pablo and Micah on the beach
winterline, gap year, costa rica
The beauty of the rainforest | Photo By: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Working at Rancho Mastatal | Photo By: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Scuba certified | Photo By: Alexandra Johansson
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Underwater adventures | Photo By: Pacific Coast Dive Center
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Scuba has its own language | Photo By: Pacific Coast Dive Center
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Sunset selfie | Photo By: Aimee Diderich
winterline, gap year, costa rica
The boys of Squad 3
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Costa Rican rainbows | Photo By: Whitfield Smith
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Cooling down in the waterfall | Photo By: Whitfield Smith
winterline, gap year, panama
Hello Panama City! | Photo By: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, panama
Panama City views | Photo By: Liam Mcilwain

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!

Certification Programs


Winterline’s gap year and short programs give students opportunities to earn different certifications to prepare them for various careers. But what are the benefits of having these certifications?

Each year, high school seniors approaching graduation experience an unfamiliar combination of stress, anticipation, and anxiety. As students plan how they’ll spend the precious time between graduation and the start of college, many compare the benefits of a romantic quest for adventure and self discovery with the more pragmatic search for professional experience.


Certifications like these may prove incredibly beneficial to students pursuing careers in everything from outdoor education, medicine, health care, environmental science, coaching, camp counseling, hospitality, tourism, and the like.

While general experience in these fields is useful, students’ individual experiences can often be abstract and “unofficial”, making it difficult for a future employer to feel confident about a potential hire. Inexperienced students seeking a job often face a frustrating catch-22 when they lack the experience needed to get a job they were planning to use for experience.

Certified students avoid this conundrum, bypassing the stress and disappointment. Our affiliated certification programs are internationally recognized. So by training for and receiving a certification from them, students have a chance to build connections with instructors and get their foot in the door – a major advantage in many competitive fields.


Certifications provide undeniable proof of one’s burgeoning commitment and expertise within a particular field. Pursuing a certification may also be the solution for a more goal-oriented individual, or an answer to doubtful friends or family members who ask, “what will you get out of your gap semester?”.

For students planning to study at a liberal arts college, earning a certification can offer a refreshing dose of real world skill-building before entering a highly academic environment.

Not only do Winterline students leave the program with these valuable certifications on their resume, they also make lifelong friends, hone their skills, and develop their worldview while travelling through breathtaking environments.

Photos of the Week 10/4

Let the skills begin! This week, our three squads split up to head for different partners. Squad 1 is experiencing their Trimester 1 ISP in Monteverde, Squad 2 is off at Rancho Mastatal (with no WiFi, so stay tuned for their photos next week), and Squad 3 is exploring the seas with ConnectOcean and Pacific Coast Dive Center.

Each of our squads will visit all of these partners and learn the abundance of skills offered, which range from permaculture to scuba diving to cooking and everything in between. If this sounds interesting to you, just wait until you see these pictures – you’ll be filled with wanderlust!

winterline, gap year, costa rica
Exploring Costa Rica | Photo By: Carter Tobin
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Getting ready for scuba at Pacific Coast Dive Center | Photo By: Alexandra Johansson
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Josh cooking at his Monteverde ISP | Photo By: Jamie Hackbarth
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Jacob recycling at his Monteverde ISP | Photo By: Jamie Hackbarth
winterline, gap year, costa rica
La Iguana Chocolate Factory | Photo By: Nik Blushi
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Hanging in the hammock | Photo By: Veronica Allmon
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Making puppy friends | Photo By: Leon Louw
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Fresh ceviche | Photo By: Emma Macfayden
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Time for a cat nap | Photo By: Hannah Wareham
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Costa Rica | Photo By: Sherly Budiman
winterline, gap year, costa rica
At the beach | Photo By: Sherly Budiman
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Photos from the farm | Photo By: Peyton Farley
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Cute and cozy | Photo By: Peyton Farley
winterline, gap year, costa rica
Beautiful views | Photo By: Hannah Wareham
winterline, gap year, costa rica
A sight that never gets old | Photo By: Felipe Buitrago

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!

Travel Blogging with Polarsteps

Keeping a travel blog or journal sounds like a fun idea in theory, and the end result is certainly worth it. But there’s a lot of logistics that go into it from creative energy, to supplies like pens, stickers, or WiFi, to the sheer amount of time necessary to devote. So it’s understandable if your goal to track your adventure falls behind.

Luckily, there’s a way to make this process a whole lot easier: Polarsteps. This app, available for free on both the Google Play and Apple stores, does all of the work for you. Reviews describe the setup as easy and intuitive: you simply click to create a new trip and designate a name, summary, dates, and audience. That’s all you have to do!winterline, gap year, polarsteps

As you travel, the app will automatically track your route and make note of the places you visit. As you add photographs and locations, a travel log will auto-populate. And best of all: you don’t need any data or cell coverage for the app to work! Polarsteps uses GPS, which works independently, and the app will sync it’s data when you reach reception or WiFi at the end of the day or week.

On the app’s homepage, you get a summary of your journey so far, complete with number of miles traveled, number of countries and continents visited, how much of the world you’ve seen, how many people you follow, and how many follow you. There are other statistics available as well.winterline, gap year, polarsteps

And of course, no app would be complete without the ability to share your finished product. You can easily share your trip to social media. If you’re looking for a physical representation, you can also order a custom travel book to look back on.winterline, gap year, polarsteps

Feeling inspired yet? You can check out some of the staff picks of trips on their website, like India by Train or World trip by bicycle. Polarsteps is also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Have you used Polarsteps before? If so, share your experience and your trip with us! If not, are there other apps you like for journaling and blogging?

Meet the Field Advisors: Sam Forti

Where are you from originally?

Columbus, Ohio

Why did you choose to become a field advisor?

I’ve always loved the outdoors and wanted to travel. When I found out I could do both, professionally I took my first instructor job and never looked back.

How did you begin teaching/traveling?

My first major travel experience was studying abroad in Mongolia with SIT for one semester in college.

What are you most excited for about Winterline?


winterline, gap year, sam forti
Sam and his fellow Field Advisors at orientation

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

I really enjoy helping feel comfortable and confident when it’s their first time in the backcountry or immersed in nature.

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

Getting to track and trail the Big 5 (Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Lion, Leopard) and other animals in South Africa.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I’m good at finding four-leaf clovers and can make a flute out of a plastic straw.

Photos of the Week 9/27

Trimester 1 began with our students traveling south to work with Outward Bound Costa Rica. Their 11 days with this amazing partner have just come to an end, but they were full of new adventures, beautiful sights, and challenging skills. From exploring the city of San José and becoming immersed in its culture to technical tree climbing, Spanish language learning, and becoming Wilderness First Aid certified, our students sure have been busy.

Take a look at some of these experiences captured on camera! If you’re interested in seeing more from Outward Bound Costa Rica, you can check them out on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Zoe shooting hoops | Photo By: Veronica Allmon
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Alyssa experiencing Costa Rica | Photo By: Veronica Allmon
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Costa Rican architecture | Photo By: Sherly Budiman
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Waterfall hikes | Photo By: Peyton Farley
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Nik in the waterfall | Photo By: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Felipe and Lydia hanging out | Photo By: Peyton Farley
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Liam and Alyssa high five | Photo By: Veronica Allmon
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Squad 1 playing mini-golf | Photo By: Jacob Rona
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Tropical hikes | Photo By: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Justin tree climbing | Photo By: Veronica Allmon
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Leon and a feline friend
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Lucas in the rain | Photo By: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Sleeping dog | Photo By: Jack Li
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Our students at Outward Bound Costa Rica | Photo By: Outward Bound Costa Rica
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Squad 3 at Outward Bound | Photo By: Outward Bound Costa Rica
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Alyssa tree climbing | Photo By: Veronica Allmon
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
University of Costa Rica | Photo By: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Veronica and Jamie cheers after their skills | Photo By: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
All smiles for waterfalls | Photo By: Emma Macfayden
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Wilderness First Aid certified | Photo By: Sherly Budiman
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Leon getting bandaged for Wilderness First Aid training | Photo By: Outward Bound Costa Rica
winterline, gap year, costa rica, outward bound
Wilderness First Aid training | Photo By: Outward Bound Costa Rica

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!

Hostels vs. AirBnB: Where to Stay?

One thing is for sure: young, modern travelers are tending to eschew hotels in favor of hostels or home sharing. But how should you decide where to stay, when? We’ve broken down the main differences between staying in a hostel vs staying in an AirBnB to help you know which will be right for you on your next trip.


Privacy and Noise

If you’re someone who can’t function with strangers in your space, a hostel might not be for you. AirBnB is the way to go in order to have private space. Depending on how many people you’re traveling with, you can get your own room or even the entire house/apartment to yourself. If you’re going to be coming in after a long day of travel and you want to fall in bed without having to talk to anyone, AirBnB is a good choice.winterline, gap year, hostel


For those traveling alone but looking to meet new adventure buddies, hostels provide a space to interact and connect with like-minded individuals. However, AirBnB is more helpful for immersing yourself in the culture. You’ll be in someone’s actual home, and if the host is there with you, you have a go-to local to ask questions or recommendations from. Additionally, if you’re traveling with more than a few people, you may find that you get more for your money by splitting an apartment than getting a room in a hostel.

winterline,gap year, airbnb
One of our Africa Homestay Families with our Partners, ThinkImpact.


Is there a specific neighborhood you’re looking to stay in? Most cities have more AirBnBs than hostels, meaning you might be more likely to find a place in your ideal area. Transportation factors in here, as well. Many hostels are located in central neighborhoods, near public transportation and tourist attractions. AirBnB allows you to filter by these specifications as well, so you can find accommodation that suits your specific needs and desires from either service!

winterline, gap year
Riding the train in Thailand | Brittany Lane


Do you like to cook? Do you think that after exploring your destination, you’ll actually want to come home and cook? If that’s a yes, it may be worthwhile to find an AirBnB that allows you access to a kitchen! This way you can also save money on eating out by making meals in your room.winterline, gap year, cooking

Duration of Stay

If you’re only in town for a night or two, and you know you’ll only be spending time at your accommodation to sleep, these issues may not matter much. In this case, it may just be worthwhile to go wherever’s cheapest!

Photo By: Emma Mays
After all, you could sleep anywhere | Photo By: Emma Mays

Do you prefer to stay in a hostel or an AirBnB when you travel? If you like to use both, then what’s the tie-breaker for you? Let us know in the comments!

Meet the Field Advisors: Joselin Hernández

Where are you from originally?

I am from Nicaragua, a country full of lakes, volcanoes and beautiful beaches, and warmhearted people. Most of my family still lives there.

Why did you choose to become a field advisor?

I have worked with different organizations focusing on community service, leadership and global education for students abroad. Later in my career I started working on managerial roles & I realized where I could really contribute the most was in the field, working directly with student groups, as a mentor, as a curriculum designer. Winterline was the perfect next step, to be back in the field, to see and experience firsthand with the students the wins, the joys, the challenges and the personal growth that come from international travel.joselin hernandez, winterline, gap year

How did you begin teaching/traveling?

I remember my grandmother taking me on local excursions in Nicaragua, which fed the travel bug inside of me from early on. I decided to do my bachelor’s degree on Tourism Management, with the desire to work on sustainable tourism. I had my first experience abroad when I was 18. I went to Panama on my own for 10 days. I saw the tremendous power travel had on me, pushing me out of my comfort zone & expanding my perspectives on life. 

This trip to Panama motivated me to seek job opportunities where I could facilitate experiential learning experiences for youth abroad, which is how I began working with groups of American students in Nicaragua in 2009. From then on, I have worked in this field in different countries, mostly in Latin America.

What are you most excited for about Winterline?

I believe Winterline is an incredible opportunity for growth in so many areas: personally, professionally, socially. The skills portion of the program makes it worthwhile, and its approach to mentoring students to become increasingly more independent and self-sufficient as the program progresses is incredible. I am excited to try and embrace skills with curiosity, enthusiasm and open-mindedness together with students. I am most excited about Rancho Matastal, where we will be learning natural construction techniques, since this is one of my biggest passions. I have done several workshops on Bamboo and Cobb Building Techniques in the past and want to deepen my knowledge of it.joselin hernandez, winterline, gap year

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

I am 100% committed to support both the students in this journey, and the local partners in each country that have worked so hard to make each learning piece of the program and incredible experience for the students.

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

Exploring the Ecuadorian Amazon rain forest and being mesmerized by the lush and dense vegetation and diversity of animals, I once saw a panther drinking water from a stream, not so far from me. Interacting with indigenous communities, and their traditions and ceremonies, learning from their plant medicine.joselin hernandez, winterline, gap year

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I speak 4 languages. Spanish is my native language, I learnt English while in high school. Then I moved to France to teach Spanish, where I simultaneously learned French. I went to study Tourism Management and Teachers Training in Austria for 2 years and learned German, which I am still studying. German has been the hardest one to learn.joselin hernandez, winterline, gap year

Photos of the Week 9/20

We are so excited to announce that our 2019-2020 gap year has officially begun! On September 11th, students from all three of our squads met up at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado, for orientation. Each individual squad began their own journey in Costa Rica this week, but it was amazing seeing students from each group bond as one entire Winterline family at orientation.

Below, we’ve chosen some of our favorite photos from Colorado to share with you. Be sure to stay tuned, as we’ll be posting Photos of the Week every Friday for the next 9 months as our squads move across the globe, some going to places Winterline students have never been before. Here’s to the best gap year yet!

winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
All 3 Winterline squads at orientation! | Photo by: Erica Schultz
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Hiking views
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Bonding bonfires | Photo by: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Hanging out by the fire | Photo by: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Long bus rides | Photo by: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Alyssa and Veronica at the YMCA | Photo by: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Life looks better from the top | Photo by: Liam Mcilwain
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Shooting hoops | Photo by: Lucas Massolo
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Winterline in nature | Photo by: Eliza Valley
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Pablo jumping for joy | Photo by: Eliza Valley
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Hannah and Peyton showing off the Winterline logo | Photo by: Erica Schultz
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Squad 1 | Photo by: Erica Schultz
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Squad 2 | Photo by: Erica Schultz
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Squad 3 | Photo by: Erica Schultz
winterline, gap year, orientation, colorado
Our incredible Field Advisors | Photo by: Erica Schultz

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!

Monteverde Independent Study Project

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.

winterline, gap year, monteverde, homestay
Homestay family

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!

      winterline, gap year, monteverde, coffee
      Grinding coffee beans
  • Handcrafted Paper
    • 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!

      winterline, gap year, monteverde, paper
      Screening paper
  • Horsemanship
    • 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.winterline, gap year, monteverde, horse
  • Medicinal Plants
    • 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!winterline, gap year, monteverde, plants
  •  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.

      winterline, gap year, monteverde, cooking
      Cooking in Costa Rica

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!

Meet the Field Advisors: Carlos Gustavo Moriera-Alvarez

Where are you from originally?

I am originally from Costa Rica, I was raised in the mountains of Heredia Province, surrounded by wonderful landscapes and coffee fields all around. I now live in London, but will move soon to Canada.

Why did you choose to become a field advisor?

I decided to become a Field Advisor because I got to meet 3 WL students 2 years ago when I designed one of the ISP they enrolled in Monteverde. I liked the spirit they had, I loved the way they were just trying to figure out their lives and I wanted to be a part of it since they all told me that they would like me to lead along their side. I wanted to be able to inspire and help them reach their goals and potential.

How did you begin teaching/traveling?

I started teaching when I was 20, I was traveling and doing a lot of grassroots development back then… I got to work in with students in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Panama. I taught in tough urban and rural, same as for indigenous and afro communities within those countries. I wanted to change the world back then, that spark of altruism started my travels. Then, with time, the rest of South America, some of Europe and Asia as well.

Carlos Gustavo Moriera-Alvarez, winterline, gap year
Carlos at the YMCA of the Rockies for Orientation

What are you most excited for about Winterline?

I am excited about the possibility to create a positive impact in the lives of the students in a way that allows them to discover their path, what may like or not, and to get a general idea of themselves and their role in life.

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

I am going to push them to their limits, I intend to get them to grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually, I will share with them what implies critical thinking and cultural understanding. I love to talk, I smile a lot, I am also a very peaceful person. They can always reach out and find someone that will listen to them, to try to understand what they may be feeling and experiencing.

Carlos Gustavo Moriera-Alvarez, winterline, gap year
Carlos and the other FAs at Orientation

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

There is no way to sum this up with words nor within one sole experience. I lived on the riverside communities scouting the Amazon river all the way from Iquitos (Perú) to Manaos (Brazil). I have done skydiving over the Iguazú waterfalls during sunset. I hicked/ran the Inka Trail towards Machu Picchu. I did 12h trecking over a glacier in Patagonia (Argentina) after backpacking for 300+ km. I backpacked for 1 year between Europe and Asia without a paddle, just figuring out what I wanted to do along the way. Hitchhiked/boat-hiked allover Philippines and then lead a group of volunteer teachers from diverse nationalities. There’s a lot out there in the world, these are a few of the things I remember.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I am very goofy! And I love (in a crazy way) nature and wild animals that are not from the ecosystems I grew up in, therefore I will be with a sense of awe and wonder in these new places… just like a child.

Meeting my Winterline Coworkers

Winterline staff members are spread out across the world – from Southeast Asia, to Latin America, to various cities in the United States. In some ways, this distance is amazing. It allows us to have regional experts in the locations that our students visit, and it means someone is available for assistance in every time zone. However, by far the biggest downside of this distance is that it’s difficult for our staff members to spend time together in person.

There are coworkers I’ve spoken to almost every day for the past two years over the phone, through text, or on a video call – yet we’d never met in person. That is, until September 3rd, when the majority of our office staff met up in Winter Park, Colorado for a staff retreat! We flew in from across the world, with our farthest staff member coming in from Cambodia and our nearest arriving from other parts of Colorado. We also got to spend time with a few members of our sister organization, Thinking Beyond Borders.

winterline, gap year, staff retreat
Colorado views

Now, “work retreat” might sound like an oxymoron to some people, but for many of us, this time together only solidified our passion for Winterline. By far the highlight of these days was getting to know my coworkers on a deeper level! We covered all the basics that just don’t come up over meetings: where people are from, where they went to college, whether they have siblings. But we also got to connect much further. I learned what the perfect day for my coworkers would look like, which values they hold most esteemed, and what their individual goals for the year are.

winterline, gap year, staff retreat
All smiles from Ashley, our Director of Student Services, and Cara, our VP of Sales and Marketing

We sat around and talked, of course, to figure this out, but I also learned a lot about my coworkers through our activities! We participated in a ropes course, just like our students do at orientation. This day was so much fun and it was so inspiring to see how each and every person gave their all. We took risks, we supported each other, and we celebrated each other’s accomplishments. Yet, no one pressured each other to go faster or to complete a course that was too challenging for that individual. This balance of respect for each other’s boundaries and encouragement to push each other to do our best came naturally to our team, and is something that reflects in our workplace relationships, as well.

winterline, gap year, staff retreat
Our Admissions Advisor Nora conquering the ropes course

I think it’s important for you, our students and families, to understand this aspect of our company. Comprehending what goes on behind the scenes or picturing who the individuals are that make up Winterline is hard. Even I have had trouble comprehending this information at times, being separated from the rest of the team!

But let me tell you this: I already knew that Winterline is made up of the most dedicated, passionate individuals. From this staff retreat, I learned that this work ethic comes from strength, diversity, and integrity in my our personal lives. Having a team composed of such well-rounded people allows us to offer a program that allows you or your student to grow and learn, take risks and challenge yourself, and become your best self.

winterline, gap year, staff retreat
Showing some love to our coworkers!

I’m already looking forward to our next retreat. And if you have the chance to talk to any of our incredible staff members, whether it’s about work or not, take us up on it! We’re always happy to meet you, support you, and help you figure out what the right path is for you.

Meet the Field Advisors: Jamie Hackbarth

Where are you from originally?

Columbus, Ohio! Most recently I call home Denver, Colorado.

Why did you choose to become a field advisor?

I choose to become a field advisor because I believe in the transformational power of experiential education. I experienced the positive impacts of learning outside of the walls of the classroom and want to share that experience with young people today to shape and expand their worldview.

winterline, gap year, jamie hackbarth
Hiking Mont Fitz Roy in Patagonia

How did you begin teaching/traveling?

I began traveling during high school down to Honduras to assist at an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS. This experience made me hungry to keep learning from other cultures and people from different life experiences, which led me to study abroad throughout Central America and Barcelona, Spain. After college, I served with the Peace Corps in rural Peru, which is where I began teaching and mentoring young adults. I continued my teaching over the past several years with the State of Colorado by leading educational programs for entrepreneurs and small business owners. I continue to travel for personal growth reasons throughout the world every year and am excited to do so with Winterline!

winterline, jamie hackbarth, gap year
Holding Nala in her Peace Corps community in Peru (brought home the dog!)

What are you most excited for about Winterline?

I am most excited to share my passion about global experiential education with students, and mentor them through this process.

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

I truly believe in the power of authenticity, and bringing that to grow and learn from every experience and person you encounter.

winterline, jamie hackbarth, gap year
Kayaking through Chicago

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

Sky-diving over the Great Barrier Reef and exploring the Amazon Jungle with locals!

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

As a kid, I used to perform in half-time college basketball games as a mini ‘Harlem Globetrotter’! Ask me how to spin a ball on your finger.

winterline, gap year, jamie hackbarth
Hanging out in Machu Picchu

Why You Should Learn Spanish on Your Gap Year

Learning a new language can be intimidating. We worry about our pronunciation, grammar rules, speaking too slowly…and that’s when we know the right words! But learning a new language is also unbelievably rewarding, and worth the work it takes. Here’s 7 reasons that we incorporate Spanish language learning into our gap year.

Learning is best in-context

We always strive to embed our programs into the contexts where they’d best be learned. Why not learn SCUBA diving at a coral reef, rather than a swimming pool? Why not learn about sustainable energy at some of the premiere institutions in Europe? Learning Spanish is the same. The meanings within the grammar and the motivation for learning itself come together quickly and more naturally in context, such as at a homestay in Panama. We’re all about deep learning experiences.

winterline, gap year, spanish
Winterline students at a homestay in Panama | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

Ability to communicate with other people

Spanish is spoken by over four hundred million people world wide, which makes it the second most spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese. Spanish is the main official language for twenty-one different countries, which makes it one of the most useful travel languages out there. If you study it at the start of your gap year, think of all the doors that might open for you along the way.

Appreciation of more cultures

There’s often no better way to learn about the intricacies of a culture than to learn the ways people express themselves verbally. Even from region to region, variations in speech can tell you an enormous amount about the ways others see the world. Learning Spanish during your gap year can open up encounters with people that might forever change your life for the better, increasing access to the culture on an immediate scale.

winterline, spanish, gap year
Being welcomed by the children of El Cocal | Photo By: Brittany Lane

It makes you more hireable

Whether you’re interested in management, sales, marketing, banking, or telecommunications, Spanish-speaking ability is becoming one of the fastest growing job needs in the world. We have nothing against students getting great jobs in fast growing industries.

Helps you understand your own language better

This one is not unique to Spanish per se, but learning a foreign language often provides a much deeper appreciation for your own native language, and of the sensibilities and idiosyncracies of the lengua franca in which you grew up, especially your own grammar. For example, why can you say three cups in English, but not three milks?

winterline, gap year, spanish
Students painting Spanish signs in Panama | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

Because its cool

Speaking Spanish is awesome. Ben Affleck, Maya Angelou, David Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Matt Damon all speak it, even though its not their native tongue. Plus, you probably have friends who speak Spanish. Wouldn’t you want to know when they’re sharing secrets with each other?

It keeps your brain active

There are many documented advantages to bilingualism. But even if you’re not a young child or concerned about the long-term effects of aging on the human mind, speaking another language can really sharpen your mind, and help you keep bringing your A-Game to whatever you do.

It will help you get ahead when you get to college

Most colleges and universities have language requirements. They used to be Latin, but thankfully, these days you get to choose. A solid foreign language foundation often allows you to ‘test out’ of the foreign language requirement, or at least skip basic intro classes. This saves time and gives you the opportunity to focus on all the things you want to do.

winterline, gap year, spanish
Students in Costa Rica | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

Interested in learning Spanish and other skills on your gap year? Check out our skills list and itineraries for an idea of what a Winterline gap year entails!

Location Spotlight: Hanifl Centre

Hanifl Centre, an outreach of the Woodstock School in Mussoorie, India, is an outdoor education center in the Himalaya where Winterline students stay during Trimester 2 of their gap year. 

The centre’s full name is The Hanifl Centre for Outdoor Education and Environmental Study, and it was established in 2003 by Woodstock School alumni Suzanne and Paul Hanifl. The Hanifl’s founded the centre as a way to expand upon skills and knowledge of outdoor education for students and visitors alike.

hanifl centre, india, winterline, gap year
Photo By: Emma Mays

To pursue this mission, the Hanifl Centre offers a catalogue of courses ranging from just a few days in length to an entire semester abroad. Some of these courses are on topics like Wilderness First Aid. The Hanifl Centre defines wilderness as “ being an hour away from definitive medical care, which makes it relevant to most rural and urban settings in India.” The Outdoor Leadership Course is another example, which covers two main topics: leadership and outdoor skills. Some of the focuses here are conflict management and risk management, as well as functional map reading, ropes skills, and Leave No Trace ethics.

So what does a visit to the Hanifl Centre look like for a Winterline student? Hanifl Centre’s campus has both a dormitory and classrooms stocked with resources for learning, scientific equipment, and outdoors gear. In order to be environmentally friendly, the building utilizes a passive solar space-heating system and an active solar water-heating system!hanifl centre, india, winterline, gap year

Over your two week stay on campus, you’ll hone a variety of skills, starting off with a multi-day course in disaster medicine. Once you’re confident in these skills, you and your peers will take off on a week-long trek in the Himalayan Mountains! Finally, to wind down from your adventure, you’ll finish off with another multi-day course in which you practice yoga and meditation.

Interested in having this experience for yourself? Join us next year to visit Hanifl Centre and so many more partners on our 2020 gap year!

Why Your Parents Worry about a Gap Year

One of the most common questions we get asked is, “how do I convince my parents to let me go on a gap year?” We get it. Parents and guardians want what’s best for their children. And sometimes, what’s best is a gap year! So how do you explain that to them and balance your own needs with theirs? You can anticipate some of the questions your parents may have and come prepared with answers to satisfy them.

“How are we going to afford it?”

There’s a misconception that gap years are only for the rich. While some programs are expensive, breaking down the costs makes a sticker price more palatable. For example, we understand that the $55,000 cost for Winterline can be shocking at first. But this payment is all-inclusive, meaning it covers your skills and program fees, travel and lodging within the program, food, emergency medical and evacuation insurance, and other related expenses. Additionally, many programs including our own, offer scholarships and work-study opportunities to bring down the cost. It’s also worth considering that a Winterline gap year is roughly equivalent to the cost of a year’s tuition at a private university. We believe that you’ll get more out of your gap year, especially if you’re not yet sure that college is for you. Of course, Winterline isn’t the only option. Other programs offer different lengths or destinations for lower prices. You can also design your own gap year to fit your specific needs. You can also find a list of non-program specific scholarships through the Gap Year Association website.winterline, gap year

“Is it safe?”

Don’t roll your eyes when your parents ask! It can be daunting for them to look at a long list of countries you want to visit, especially when they know little about the countries or have only heard negative mentions. But Winterline is fully committed to maintaining student safety and keeping risks to a minimum. Our program is accredited by the Gap Year Association for upholding these standards. We hire Field Advisors who are familiar with the regions of the world to which you travel, and have both Travel Medicine First Responder and Wilderness First Responder certifications. Each of our partners have been carefully vetted before we work with them. Additionally, our field staff are in constant communications with our headquarters and always have access to local authorities and emergency personnel. We do everything in our power to ensure student safety and happiness!winterline, gap year

“Won’t it be a waste of time?”

A gap year is about taking space to learn about yourself, your passions, your strengths and weaknesses, the world around you, and how you fit into that world. Does that sound like a waste of time to you? Emphasize that on a program like Winterline, a gap year isn’t about lying around in bed all day. You’ll be out in the world, meeting people with different world views, experiencing new cultures, attempting skills out of your comfort zone or purview. You’ll be learning and growing every single day. What better way could you possibly spend your time? Even if you decide against a program in favor of working, taking non-traditional classes, or traveling, you’ll be discovering new things about yourself. You’ll have a better understanding of who you are and what you want in the future. This means you may actually be less likely to waste time in the future studying something you don’t love or working a job that you’re not cut out for.winterline, gap year

“Won’t you fall behind academically?”

A worry for both parents and students is that if you take a year off from traditional school, you won’t want to return afterward. The first thing to remember here is that there’s no set timeline on education. Just because some of your peers go straight from high school to college and graduate in four years, doesn’t mean you will or have to! Working at your own pace is the best way to succeed. And studies actually show that gap year students outperform other students, both immediately after their gap experience and over the entire four-year college duration. Students report that taking a gap year helped them to figure out their interests, and therefore are more satisfied in their majors and careers.winterline, gap year

Now’s the time to talk to your parents! Explain to them why you want to take a gap year, how you think it will benefit you, and what your ideal gap year would look like. Still need some more help? Our Director of Outreach and Recruitment, Erica, and our Admissions Advisor, Nora, are always happy to chat with families about their particular situations and concerns. Send us an email at or give a call to 1-888-737-4226!

Location Spotlight: Cape Leopard Trust

With the introduction of our new Itinerary 2 option to travel to Rwanda and Africa on a gap year comes the introduction of new partners in these countries. We’re thrilled to be able to add Cape Leopard Trust to our long list of exceptional partners around the world!

The Cape Leopard Trust, formed in 2004, is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that promotes research on and conservation of the Cape mountain leopard and other natural predators.

There’s little known about many of these predators, so in order to keep an eye on the species, Cape Leopard Trust uses cameras with movement sensors to capture footage in the Cederburg Mountains. Further, to monitor the leopards, they’re trapped and tagged with GPS radio collars before being released back into the wild. Fun fact: like human fingerprints, no two leopards have the exact same spot pattern! This makes it possible to identify individual animals and estimate an area’s population size. cape leopard trust, winterline, gap year

Though these leopards are not a threat to humans, they do prey on sheep. This causes problems for farmers and their livestock. Cape Leopard Trust understands that sometimes farmers are desperate because attempts to protect their livestock are not working, but they also understand that leopards are simply following their very nature by preying. Killing all the predators is not sustainable, practical, or effective. So Cape Leopard Trust is trying to find a solution that allows sheep and leopards to coexist.

When you visit Cape Leopard Trust on your Winterline gap year, you’ll be doing more than just learning about conservation in theory. You’ll work in the bush and learn about the Cape Leopard in the only place in the world where they’re found. With this partner, you’ll learn about using camera traps to find these animals, how to extrapolate the data to determine migratory patterns and territory, and use this information to work towards conservation of the species.cape leopard, winterline, gap year

If you’re interested in learning more about the research that Cape Leopard Trust conducts, you can find plenty of information on their website. If you’re inclined to support their endeavors, you can also donate to the organization! But as we all know, the best way to learn is by doing. So if the work and goals of Cape Leopard Trust intrigue you, you should apply now to join us in South Africa and become a part of this effort for yourself.

Meet the Field Advisors: Ellen Molander

Where are you from originally?

I am originally from Cincinnati, Ohio.

Why did you choose to become a field advisor?

After many years as a classroom teacher working in international education I began to feel stagnant and stuck. I wanted to continue working in education with students, but in a different capacity, outside of the classroom. I am passionate about travel, social emotional learning, self discovery and hands on skills based learning. My search for a new career path within education brought me to experiential ed, leading summer programs for high school students. It was through this work that I discovered gap year programs and began leading semesters.winterline, gap year, ellen molander

How did you begin teaching/traveling?

I studied Early Childhood Education in University and began my teaching career in the traditional classroom setting. Having always regretted not studying abroad, after my first year of teaching, I began looking for international teaching opportunities. It was then that I packed up and moved to Guatemala to teach 3rd and 4th grade. Upon arrival I was immediately bit by the travel bug! Fast forward 11 years and I’ve never looked back. I’ve lived, taught or traveled on nearly every contenent.

What are you most excited for about Winterline?

I truly believe that travel has the ability to break down barriers, change perspectives, and open hearts and minds. I am excited to share this journey with students while traveling through Latin America, a region that has become my home over the last 11 years and is near and dear to my heart. winterline, gap year, ellen molander

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

Thats a hard one! I love to laugh and have fun. I’m extremely compassionate and caring and dedicated to what I do. I don’t believe in living inside the “box”

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

So hard to pick! While living and working in East Africa I had the opportunity to see so many incredible animals in the wild. Something that I never dreamed I would do in my life. In Uganda we tracked white rhino on foot, in Zanzibar I swam with wild dolphins in the Indian Ocean, and in Tanzania I went on countless safaris and saw more animals than I ever thought possible.winterline, gap year, ellen molander

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I am a certified yoga teacher. When I’m not leading student groups you can find me in my mat practicing or leading classes. winterline, gap year, ellen molander

Meet the Field Advisors: Felipe Buitrago

Where are you from originally?

I am from Bogota, the capital of Colombia, situated in the middle of the Andes.

Why did you choose to become a field advisor?

It excites me to be back in the “field’” once again and witness the power of other ways of learning unfolding through transformational experiences. I think that as an FA I’ll be able to support young people to articulate, in action and in conversation, the narratives of their own journey.felipe buitrago, winterline, gap year

How did you begin teaching/traveling?

My teaching career started back in 2010 at Earlham College, as a Language and Literature program assistant for the Latin American and Spanish department. During that time I was able to support curriculum, lesson plans, and developed collaborative research with faculty.

Traveling has been a part of my life ever since I was granted a scholarship to finish the International Baccalaureate school diploma at a boarding school in Montezuma, NM. Continuing, with my undergraduate education in a small liberal arts school in Richmond, IN, followed by an MA in Outdoor Education; a program between universities in the UK, Norway and Germany. Currently, I live and work for an international school in Berlin, Germany.

What are you most excited for about Winterline?

I’m thrilled to be part of an organization that is able to imagine and encourage other ways of learning. I believe that Winterline’s exposure to different skills, scenarios, environments, and cultures is key in a course of imagining new processes of active learning and self-discovery.felipe buitrago, winterline, gap year

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

I feel honored to be part and accompany the journey of a group of students that choose to explore their curiosity, step beyond their comfort zone, and acknowledge their privilege while preparing for life.

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

Tracking a pack of wolves in Yellowstone National Park (Lamar Valley) in a research study back in 2010. For four weeks I was able to learn about and understand the effect on the overall health and impact of the reintroduction of the wolves into the ecosystem of the park.felipe buitrago, winterline, gap year

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I’m a big fan of urban gardening. Currently growing in my small balcony: Green beans, a pumpkin, avocado trees, figs, tomatoes, strawberries, coffee, pepper, sweet potato, and two beautiful cucumbers.felipe buitrago, winterline, gap year

7 Reasons to Go to Cambodia

When you’re thinking of travel destinations this year, why not think outside the box? A Winterline gap year offers you unique options. Stand out from the crowd and learn about a beautiful country you might not otherwise consider: Cambodia. We still have a few spots left on our 2019 Itinerary 1 gap year, and our 2020 applications will be opening soon, so get ready to visit with us!

  1. Our trip focuses on interpersonal skills and communication. Maybe you’ve been having trouble getting along with people. Maybe school’s so overwhelming that you need a reminder of the bigger purpose. Maybe you’re trying to learn more about yourself. All of these issues will be touched upon.
  2. Learn about conflict and see how it leaves a lasting mark. From the late 1960s until the 1990s, Cambodia was under the rule of the oppressive Khmer Rouge. While the regime ended long ago, its destruction has left an impact on Cambodia’s citizen today. Visiting Cambodia will teach you first-hand about a history you don’t know. It will also enforce the importance of learning to keep peace, and you’ll be able to pay homage to the country’s losses, helping them move forward.
  3. You’ll get to see the beauty of Angkor Wat, one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The temple complex is the largest religious site in the world. These ancient buildings are not only breathtaking, but full of history you don’t usually learn in class.
  4. Cambodian culture is unlike any other. From the dance, to the cuisine, to the religion, Cambodia is vibrant in color and experience.  
  5. Visitors often say that Cambodians are some of the kindest people in the world. Despite a recent painful past, the people have an infectious and inspiring spirit. The best way to learn about a country is by hearing what its native people have to say. Go to Cambodia and listen to people’s stories. It’ll help you understand more about this country than you could learn from any textbook.
  6. Experience the liveliness of a Cambodian market. Various types of goods pack full bustling stalls. Shopping at one of these markets is not only exciting, but will give you a glimpse into daily life.
  7. The country is more than just its temples. Siem Reap has a diverse nightlife scene, while Phnom Penh is lauded for its cultural renaissance and world-class dining. Battambang is up-and-coming, notably for its architecture and contemporary art scenes.

Going to Cambodia means you’ll get to disconnect from the fast-pace of life. The beauty, the religion, the solemn history, and the kind people of the country will remind you what life is really about. Learning about loss and tragedy is difficult, but it’s important for moving forward. This visit to Cambodia will be both a physical and spiritual journey, as you recognize how to connect and communicate with both other people and your own self.

New Student Spotlight: Darshil Dholakia

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?



Surat, India


I have heard about students taking a gap year to do some internship or some job but after exploring Winterline, I got a new understanding of gap year and what all things we can do in a year. Darshil Dholakia, winterline, gap year


 I planned to take a gap year as it will help me explore myself and the world.


I am interested in cars, so I am excited about driving with BMW. Also, technology drives my life, so I’m very much keen to learn about robotics and stuff.Darshil Dholakia, winterline, gap year


I will be joining my family business wherein we cut and polish rough diamonds. We have expanded into the IT industry so will be joining into that sector.


I have been to many countries in Europe, UK, New Zealand, US, Canada, Thailand, etc. I have also been on cruise ship journeys. My favourite trip was of the Canadian Rockies with family. It was an amazing experience between the mountains and the forests. The best place was Lake Louise. It was all blues and greens. Darshil Dholakia, winterline, gap year


As the program is big enough and has lots of things to learn and explore, I don’t know what I expect, but whatever I get, it will be a life long experience and learning.


This is a tough part for me. I am a bit of a shy guy and introvert trying to express myself. So I’m hoping to make new friends.Darshil Dholakia, winterline, gap year


It provides a range of countries to experience. The way they planned the itinerary and the learnings from each place is amazing. It gives me what I want, i.e. experience, growth, travelling and exploring.


I love listening to music. Whenever I feel lonely, I start listening. I listen to music while I am doing my projects as well. I am a tech geek. I am a pilot by hobby.

Darshil Dholakia, winterline, gap year

What’s in Your Carry-On?: Winterline Staff Edition

Our Winterline staff are no strangers to travel. Former Field Advisors, expats, and general travel enthusiasts alike, we’ve all had our fair share of long flights. So to help you figure out what’s most important to pack in your carry-on bag, I asked our seasoned travelers to share the items they wouldn’t be caught without.


Admissions Advisorwinterline, gap year, travel, earbuds

Headphones!!! I’d lose my mind without them. Lately, I have Netflix episodes downloaded to watch during the flight. A change of clothes or two in case something happens with my luggage. A snack if I can remember-usually a granola bar. I hate flying, so for me I’ve found that music/podcast/Netflix is a better distraction than a book, which is why I don’t really read on the plane.


Director of Outreach and Recruitmentwinterline, gap year, travel, cash

Cash on hand. What if your credit cards don’t work? Did you forget to put a travel notification on it? Cash is ol’ reliable. Plus, it’s super quick and easy to walk up to a currency exchange in your destination airport and change currencies so you can immediately have local cash on hand. But make sure your cash on hand is made up of crisp bills! In many countries if your bills are torn a little or worn out too much, they won’t take it, including currency exchanges. Get crisp new bills from the bank or an ATM before you leave!


Vice President of Sales and Marketingwinterline, gap year, travel, book

Always food for me! Plus a book (old fashioned!), a sweater or scarf in case the plane is chilly, and  extra phone charger.


Chief Risk Officer

winterline, gap year, travel,

A battery pack for phone and a SIM card case to make sure I don’t lose the sim from my home country carrier.


Director of Student Services

winterline, gap year, travel,

A phone charger/battery bank and first aid kit, and a bandanna because they are versatile and come in handy for various things


Director of Programswinterline, gap year, travel, dark chocolate

I would say a book or my kindle and some dark chocolate.


Presidentwinterline, gap year, wild sage, carry-on

I always travel with something from home; a rock, some sage, or a piece of jewelry from home (thus the Navajo turquoise earring I wear). I also always have 2-3 pairs of headphones so I can listen to music and podcasts.


Marketing Coordinatorwinterline, gap year, travel, crossword

I don’t go anywhere without a book, whether it’s downloaded on my phone or a physical copy. I also like a good crossword book to keep me busy, and headphones of course!


Country Director for Costa Rica

winterline, gap year, travel, pen

I always have a pen!!! You never know when you’ll need a pen, and it’s soooo great to have on hand.


Are we missing out on something handy that you like to keep in your carry-on bag? Let us know in the comments! And if you’re looking for a comprehensive packing list, we’ve got that covered, too.

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

Meet the Field Advisors: James Townsend

Ready to start your adventure?


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!