Gap Year Kids go Off the Grid with NOLS

by Monday, September 26, 2016

Week one of the Winterline Global Skills program was their official orientation. It was designed for the kids to get to know each other better. They spent time in Denver, Colorado at Estes Park (aka the YMCA of the Rockies), attempting ropes courses, engaging in team building activities, problem solving, critical thinking and sharing personal stories.

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Winterline orientation (Daniela, Michael, Noah, and Rochelle)

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Leo on the ropes course!

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Emily taking photos of Ana Paulina, while Chandler is throwing up deuces

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Lilly, McKenzie, Chandler and Gabbi all in deep focus, while poor Susie needs a nap. (planning a Gap Year is hard work!)

This week was in preparation for their first big challenge at Winterline; an eight-day backpacking trek off the grid, and into the Rocky mountains of Wyoming.

But first, they needed to be trained by NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School).  They took a bus from Denver, Colorado to Lander, Wyoming, which was where the base camp of NOLS was located.  They spent a few days at the NOLS hotel for training.  They took very intensive classes on wilderness first aid training, leadership skills, outdoor skills, environmental studies and risk management.  Once they have passed their in-class tests, they were ready to put their new skills to use.

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NOLS wilderness first aid training…not funny when you’re sent a snapchat of this with no explanation!

They broke the cohort into two groups of ten. Each group was equipped with NOLS issued tents, sleeping bags, a camp stove, food, and even a bear fence. Yikes! Each group also were accompanied by two, highly trained  NOLS instructors. What couldn’t fit in their, close to 50 lb. backpacks, (and also NOT allowed),  was their smart phones!

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The two teams for the NOLS backpacking adventure. (my daughter Maddie is the little one at the bottom, center)

This meant zero contact with the outside world for eight days!

This second week would prove to be a challenge for the Gap Year Mom’s too, as we were at home worrying, and had no clue on how they were doing.  Thank goodness us Gap Year Mom’s have united and formed a chat group. This was a great idea from a mom from Columbia. She uses the app called Whats App to stay in contact with her daughter. I have used that app and Viber while traveling abroad.  They are both great apps to stay in contact with friends and family while traveling abroad, and what’s even better is that  they are FREE ( as long as you have a WiFi connection)!! We also have a private group on Facebook (created by Winterline) and all follow each other, our kids, and Winterline, on Instagram, snapchat and twitter.  The reason for us using the Whats App more is because some of us don’t have Facebook or other social media apps on our phones.  Many of us haven’t had any prior experience with social media at all. The gap year learning is extending onto the parents.  Gotta love social media! It really is a lifesaver through this!

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food prepping for their 8 day NOLS expedition

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Maddie and Michael (both from NH) all ready for their eight day backpacking expedition in the Rocky mountains

The first week for the Gap Year Mom’s was hard adjusting to our kid’s absence.  The second week was even harder, because they weren’t only gone, but we couldn’t talk to them either. It almost felt like they were in boot camp. And in a way, they were.  Each of us from our “Gap Year Mom chat group” checked in from time to time, seeing how we all were holding up. It was like a virtual lifeline for us when we started to worry. Even with our busy lives, working, doing our routine errands and the such, we always made time to pop in and check on each other.

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camping food doesn’t look half bad…who knew?

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Elise, Michael and Emily setting up camp

The Gap Year Moms had our share of ups and downs during this week. Every day was the countdown, ” eight more days”, “seven more days”, and so on…. When someone expressed a thought of worry in the group such as;

“What if they are freezing?”,

“What if they are homesick?”,

“What if they are scared?”,

“Do you think they came across wildlife?”,

“I hope they don’t get lost!”,

“What if they have a medical emergency?”,

to, you name it, (we thought of every possible scenario), the others would talk that mom down.  It’s like we took turns being the strong one, and the weak one.  Even though we couldn’t talk to our kids, to know what they were going through, it was nice to talk to other Gap Year Moms having these same concerns. Also it was nice knowing that we weren’t alone.

That eighth day came and we were all on the edge of our seats waiting to hear from the kids. We knew that they had to hike to the base camp, but didn’t know how long it would take. We were all on high alert, checking our phones in between patients, at our lunch breaks, during down time at work, or whatever else we were occupied with, each promising to immediately report when we’ve made contact with one of the adventurers.

 

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We’re on top of the world! Wind River Wilderness, Pinedale, WY (elevation 12,500 ft. )

They made it!!

Each of us got a call, some sooner than others, but we were all so relieved to hear their happy voices.  I was afraid that my daughter might be complaining about how hard it was and how much she hated it, but no, it was just the opposite! She was breathless while excitedly speaking about how amazing and life-changing her experience was.  She said it was one of the most challenging things she has ever done, but felt so accomplished for sticking it out and completing it. She spoke of the extreme mountain hiking, totaling forty miles, with elevations reaching 12,000 ft. and up, the beauty of the Rockies, the cooking shifts,  setting up camp, scaling the Continental Divide, some cold and wet nights, not showering, the bathroom situation and how exhausted and sore she was, but most importantly, having a feeling of self-satisfaction and an increase in her self confidence.

I was so happy and so impressed that my little 90 lb. daughter was a bona-fide BAD ASS!

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My little backpacker!

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The campers keeping each other warm.

The Gap Year Moms chat group was buzzing with awesome stories of their happy campers. So many of the kids shared the same sentiment, that it was so hard, but life-changing.  They were not only challenged physically but also mentally and emotionally.  Some kids even lost some weight, which they had made as a personal goal for this year.  There were tears of happiness shared by all the moms and a good night’s sleep to be had that night. Winterline is already impacting us all in so many positive ways and we are only two weeks in!

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taking in nature’s beauty

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Emily, Michael and Maddie taking it all in!

This week solidified my decision to let my daughter go on a gap year. As many of us in the Gap Year Mom group have confessed, we at times, doubted ourselves if it was a right choice.  Not because we didn’t know what an amazing, life changing experience we were giving our kids, (we all knew that) but because of the naysayers in our lives that don’t understand what a gap year can do for young adults.

I hope that by sharing these stories of my daughter’s gap year, it can help enlighten others to be open to the idea of how awesome this can be for kids transitioning from high school to college.  We aren’t saying that college isn’t important. We all agree that it is.  It’s just that, we recognize, that learning through life experience while being fully immersed in hands-on education, instead of only in a classroom setting, can be even more beneficial. To be able to first begin with a gap year traveling the world, in ten different countries, learning one hundred new skills and becoming more independent, and then going into to college the following year, we believe, it will only make them that much more prepared for college and adult life.

This journey has already proven to be reaping so many benefits in its first twenty days for our kids. Winterline has impressed me from day one and has continued to throughout this entire process, thus far. I can only imagine how transformational this will be for them in nine months! What I wasn’t aware of was the friendships and journey the Gap Year Moms are going through together is just as transformational for us.

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After 8 days without a shower. She has dreadlocks!

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They Passed! On their return from the wilderness, they all received their diploma of completion through NOLS

Next stop, Costa Rica!!…..PURA VIDA!

 

 

 

 

Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone

by Tuesday, September 6, 2016

As I lie in bed on a dark and rainy September morning, my two Boston Terriers by my side, I feel numb. Earlier today, while many moms and dads have sent their kids on the bus for their first day, back to school, the day after Labor Day, I sent mine on a plane to travel the world for nine months. Without me!

I knew this day was coming. Hell, if it wasn’t for me, I don’t think it would have ever happened? You see, I am in love with travel. This is something I passed down to my daughter.  Being able to travel the world, visiting exotic places and meeting people from foreign lands, for an extended period of time, is something that many only dream about.  Many, including me. Now, my daughter is living that dream. This is her reality and the thought of it is so surreal that it  gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

I am over the moon with excitement for her, knowing that she is able to see the world in this unique manner.  This traveling style will allow her to fully immerse in different cultures, will expose her to new people, new foods and new traditions, in such a way that is very rare for a person to achieve on a typical two-week vacation.  The program she is traveling with is called Winterline Global Skills  This program has created an extraordinary hands-on approach to learning.  Therefore, she is not just visiting 10 countries, hitting a few tourists spots and leaving. She is visiting places such as Costa Rica, Panama, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Austria, India, Cambodia,  and Thailand and while she spends time at each location, she will be learning 100 new skills as her journey progresses. The thought of how such experiences will positively impact her life in so many ways makes my heart sing.

So why am I so sad then?

After returning from the airport and driving up my driveway the first thing I see is her car with her Winterline bumper sticker proudly displayed on the back of her beat up Lexus RX300 SUV, that used to be mine, and used to be nice, but through the years it has aged, as did she, as did I. Thoughts ran through my head, “That car will no longer have Maddie coming and going in it”. “That car won’t move for months on end.” “It may even still be there when it snows and she still won’t be back!” My heart pounded and my eyes filled up again, right when they finally dried up from my drive home. “Take a deep breath Jess. She is going to be okay. You are going to be okay. She is so happy and that makes me so happy!”

But I’m going to miss her.

I proceeded to walk into the house, greeted by my fur babies, that thankfully “will never leave me”, I thought to myself,  and then saw her shoes by the doorway. I tried to ignore them looking at me, as they whispered, ” She is gone. It’s time to let her go.”  I contemplated on going in the kitchen for who knows what? I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t thirsty. I decided to instead to go upstairs and lay in my bed. I did wake up at 3:00 am to drive her, so I was really tired, but in reality, it was more a feeling of loss than fatigue that I was feeling.

I made my way up the stairs with Gabby and Bernie following close behind and in my peripheral vision I saw her clothes hanging to dry on the railing from the night before. ” I don’t know why she washed them if she wasn’t taking them?” I thought, “but if I don’t put those away in her room after they are dry, they won’t be touched or worn by her for at least three months, and by then, the shorts, crop tops and rompers won’t be in season. “

I need to get away from her stuff. At least for today anyway. I don’t dare go near her bedroom although I project images of myself laying in her bed on days I’m missing her.

My husband knows how hard this is for me, so in between his jobs he came by the house to check on me and to bring me a pumpkin spiced iced-coffee from Dunkin Donuts to cheer me up. It did temporarily. He knows that I am genuinely so excited for her, but have to transition to the empty nest stage of life. He also knows that this will be especially hard for me because she is “my person” and he isn’t even remotely jealous in that fact. He thinks we are clones, especially when we sweet talk him into things. We always eventually get our way with him, but I know he secretly loves it.  I wonder if now I won’t get my way without her added persistence? She is good. Really good, but  I digress.

He is a man a few words. He shows his love by his actions and has a hard time expressing his feelings verbally.  Before she left he wanted to add patches to her backpack of all the places she has already gone.  This is something we talk about on every trip we take.  We buy the patches, intend to put them on when we get back home, but never get around to actually doing it.  His goal was to have hers complete by her trip.

It started out rough. Some of the places we visited, we didn’t get a patch, so he ordered it from Amazon Prime. (I love Amazon Prime btw! You can get virtually anything!)  We were waiting for them to arrive and it was getting very close.  Then, the patches we thought were iron-on were actually sew-on. Trying to sew these heavy-duty stitched patches onto a nylon Northface backpack seemed nearly impossible.  It was a grueling nightly task that he would make his chore for a week or so until it was complete, finger pokes and all. This was his way of saying good luck and a send off gift, “Brice-style”, not to mention the hefty contribution to this Gap Year he made. She loved it!

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Maddie at the airport with her backpack adorned with country patches on her way to her Gap Year

It’s now the afternoon and I’m still here on my bed writing my thoughts as I hear my dog loudly snoring next to me. As I finish off the last sips of my melted down, now less sugary, pumpkin spiced iced-coffee, I allow myself a day to mourn.

Today, I am mourning the end of her childhood.  I am mourning our times chatting all night about all the drama at her school. I am mourning the unbearable wake-up calls for her before school meetings for FBLA.  I am mourning seeing her pretty face smiling at me as she walks in from wherever she was that day.  I am mourning the nights I couldn’t fall asleep until I knew she was home safe.  All these things and more, will no longer be.

However, tomorrow, I will be celebrating her journey into adulthood. I will be celebrating the amazing experiences she will have exploring the world.  I will be celebrating all of her accomplishments.  I will be celebrating the obstacles that she has overcome.

I will be celebrating HER.

As a mother, letting go is hard. So hard. But when you know that by doing so, you are giving your child wings to fly, it’s all worth it. This is what I believe that being a good parent is all about.  You can love them, nurture them, teach them, guide them, and hope you’ve done you’re best. BUT, you have to let them go. If you’ve done well, they will never forget where their nest is.

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The first group has arrived in Colorado!

 

 

 

 

GAP YEAR MOM

by Monday, June 20, 2016

EMPTY NEST STAGE:

This is that time of year when parent’s of seniors in high school start thinking about how it will be when their child goes off to college in the fall. Being a mom of a senior who is taking a different route, I’m in quite a different boat than most. I’m a gap year mom. I not only have to feel the empty nest stage that we all experience when our kids go off to college, but I have the extra unknown of where, what and how my daughter is doing while traveling the world, on a gap year.

A GAP YEAR: AN ALTERNATIVE TO COLLEGE

We have selected an amazing program through Winterline. This gap year program has the students visit ten different countries and learn 100 new skills.  The itinerary of the destinations and planned projects they will be involved in look so well thought out and over-the-top awesome! However,  there may be times, due to weak wi-fi, or her being in a remote location, or the time change being so different, that I won’t be able to hear from her on a daily basis, as I’d like to. (kidding, not kidding)thewanderlustyogi.net

We have talked about her possibly taking a gap year off and on throughout her senior year, but we couldn’t find a program that had what she was looking for.  I even wrote an article about this, mainly due to the fact that when we talked about this to others, nobody we knew had done this, and many we knew, had never even heard of such a thing, nor understood it.  I wanted to explain what a gap year was and why it offers some genuine benefits for young adults.  Australians and Europeans have already embraced opting for a gap year-long ago, and has reaped its many benefits.  (Here’s the link: the benefits of taking a Gap Year )

PLANNING STAGE:

In the fall, we did the traditional college tours and she applied to five schools. She got accepted into many, but not into her top choice.  This only made her start looking deeper into researching gap year programs.  “Maybe this was a sign and meant to be?”,  she thought.  She didn’t want to settle for a college and spend all that money on a school she wasn’t completely excited to go to, not to mention, her wanderlust was calling.  She wasn’t even sure of what program she wanted to apply? She went from thinking she wanted to do fashion, then considered business and marketing, now she is interested in global business and non-profit work.  Who knows what it will be the next week?thewanderlustyogi.net

For these reasons and more, it seemed like taking a year off to explore the world and learn new skills, might give her the time and self-awareness she needs to make these major life decisions. She just wasn’t ready yet.  Some kids know from the time they can talk what they want to do for a job.  Some kids, even adults, change their mind constantly. I’m guilty of this myself, but when you really contemplate that a seventeen year old has to decide their lifetime career choice at such a young and complicated age, its pretty crazy to think.

DECISION STAGE:

That’s when we found Winterline.  She couldn’t stop thinking about world travel and wanting to be able to do it before she has all the responsibilities of a job, bills, a car, an apartment, etc. Adulting is hard! She knew this and knew if she waited, she might not have the time or funds to do this after college.  She felt as though this experience would not only benefit her in so many ways, but it would give her a starting point to what kind of impact she wants to make in this world. This was it! After many long discussions, our family all felt it was a perfect plan for her, and knew she would thrive in this unique, alternative experience.thewanderlustyogi.net

She began the rigorous application process with Winterline.  She went through all of the steps; writing essays, Skype interviews, getting recommendations and sending her transcripts, to finally get accepted to this competitive program.  She also was awarded scholarships for video and blogging.  You can follow her travels on her YouTube channel: Maddie Meets the World

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GAP YEAR MOM:

Now that I am officially a Gap Year Mom, I don’t know what I’m feeling? I am so excited for her to be able to have all of these experiences, but also know I will worry, a lot, and will miss her profoundly.  How I choose to manage these emotions and feelings is to blog about it.  I figure this is way to get things off my chest; the good, the bad, the ugly. In addition, I think this may be a great resource for other moms/dads who are considering letting their child go on a gap year. I wish I had something like this to read right now. Although I did meet a Gap Year Mom whose son just got back in May, that gave me her card and offered for me to call anytime for advice.  We are a rare group of parents and need support, lol.

GAP YEAR MOM SERIES:

My plan is to blog about what she is doing, which from the itinerary, looks amazing! For example; she will get scuba certified, Thai massage certified, be building a house, learn to sail a boat, learn to make a Bollywood movie, study mindfulness and meditation for a month, take driving school at BMW, learn robotics, work on a farm and many other unbelievable things. I also will give you feedback of how things feel back at home in her absence and how I cope with it.  I plan to interview her dad, her brother, her friends and possibly other gap year moms and dads.  Furthermore, I have two potential planned visits with her. The first one being in Costa Rica, during her first semester, which my husband and I already had to re-visit to finish his dental work.  (Here’s the link to that story:

How I Saved $7,000 For Dental Work in Costa Rica

The second one will be during her last semester, where I plan to visit her in Spain. I’ve always wanted to go, now, what a better excuse than this? Maybe even one of her friends can join me? That’s  not for a while so I’m not sure what will exactly happen, but the plans are in the works.

I hope that my Gap Year Mom series will not only help me, but others too.  It also will be a great way to look back on this amazing life-changing journey for my daughter Maddie, but will also be a life-changing journey for me too!

She leaves in September, so watch out for updated posts to follow. If you are interested in her sending you a post card from one of the ten countries she visits, leave a comment with your address or email me privately at strikeaposeyoga@gmail.com and we will pick one randomly per country.thewanderlustyogi.net

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