Daniela Mallarino - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I've always loved traveling, meeting new people and experimenting with new cultures. I decided to go abroad to understand better the responsibility I have as an individual and my place in the world. I wanted to learn more about our evolving and changing society, and have the opportunity to work and team up with different people that share opposite and similar perspectives.

Which city was your favorite among all the locations you visited?

My group and I were moving constantly from place to place, so I got to see a lot of different countries, cultures and lifestyles. It's hard for me to choose a favorite place, but some of the best were Bangkok in Thailand, Prague in Czech Republic and Italy in general.

View from a tent of Wind River Range, Wyoming
Wind River Range, Wyoming [NOLS]

Why did you choose Winterline?

Although it seems quite impossible, the program I chose had everything I was looking for. It offered traveling, experiential learning, new experiences, and community.

It was one of the greatest adventures of my life.

What made your experience abroad unique?

Everyday we did something new and unexpected, and I think this is where the uniqueness of my experience fits. Although they were better days of course, everyday was unique and wonderful. Another component that definitely contributed to the experience being so special was the group and the feeling of adventure, adaptability, and challenge that's behind it.

What surprised you most about the countries you visited?

I had a lot of thoughts and surprises during the year. There's no lie when I say that each country was very different and they all have their own traits that make them unique and amazing. But, although they all have different ecosystems, political orientations, histories, and religions, I was impressed by how similar we all live as humans. How simple or complicated life can be. It surprised me how everything is connected and related, and yet, we see the world based on differences instead of similarities. It was also interesting to see different lifestyles and ideas of success; it can change drastically from one place to another.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff that helped us was great. They were all really professional and hard working people; each of them taught us something new and great.

Hiker in Monteverde, Costa Rica
Studying Bird Migration in Monteverde, Costa Rica

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wouldn't change anything from my experience, because that's what it is! An experience.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

This is what's great: we didn't have typical days! We didn't have set routines. We just had to wake up, eat, and be prepared for something awesome, unexpected, boring, great, amazing, challenging, or immersive to happen! Every week we did something new, something different, and something worth learning.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

Wander around, find hidden cozy little cafés, read a book, sleep, or have nice conversations with my friends.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

We had all sorts of accommodations, from camping tents to hotels to overnight trains and buses. What I liked the most was the adaptability we had to have in order to feel at home everywhere we went.

Do you have any advice for future participants of your program?

It's challenging and difficult, but also really rewarding. You have to be very open minded, flexible, positive, and adaptable. You will do something different everyday and, of course, you won't love everything, but this is part of the adventure and the whole learning experience.

What was the hardest part about spending a year abroad?

At first, I was scared of living permanently with people that share a different nationality from mine. I thought it was going to be really hard to integrate and share my views. I felt a little nervous and uncertain, but these questions and fears went away really quickly when I met the group. Although most of them shared a nationality and a language, they were very different and special. I realized I could adapt very easily to what was coming next.

Winterline Volunteer in Costa Rica
Making sauce and learning product making at Earth University, Costa Rica

What is one thing you wish you would have known before spending a gap year abroad?

Before leaving home, based on the education you received and the environment you grew up in, you accumulate certain ideas, views, principles, and goals. You put a sense of belonging to each of these, and you find examples or situations to justify them and to relate to them. When you think of going abroad, you picture yourself in certain scenarios based on those ideas you have and you create a plan. It's obvious that if you leave, you're eventually going to create more experiences and memories, and you'll face more challenges.

When you encounter these new situations, those ideas that you had before WILL change. You will share some, change many, and destroy several. Learn to do that and be aware of those changes, but let them be accordingly. I wish I knew this is how you grow, change, and learn.

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to multiple countries with different climates during their trip abroad?

It's really hard to pack for different climates and different cultural dress codes. Find yourself a backpack that allows you to separate clothing and stay organized; it helps with packing and unpacking everywhere you go and helps you lose less things along the way. Although, if you want to be really fashionable and change your clothes constantly, you can probably just buy what you need everywhere you go and donate or recycle/up-cycle your old clothes.

Oh also, the fact that you're going to different climates doesn't necessarily mean you need two or more full, new wardrobes. You can wear a t-shirt everywhere you go, just make sure you're carrying a jacket for cold weather. Last, but not least, regardless of the weather, don't forget a journal, pen, book, and a camera; those are my essentials.

Girls on a dock by a lake
Graduation day, Boston

What do you feel the biggest benefit of going on a gap year abroad is?

You gain so much when you leave and discover things by yourself. When you're in different environments, situations. When you have to eat different food and use different means of transportation. Everyone finds their own words to label those benefits and specific situations to prove that. Personally, it gave me more clarity, certitude and a perspective that I wouldn't trade for anything. I met incredible people, lived in wonderful places and created fantastic and memorable moments that, somehow, make me who I am today. Is there anything more beneficial than that?

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

I view things differently knowing how people live all over the world. Knowing that my people and my environment is not the only one I should care for. I still have no words to describe how I've changed exactly, but I know I have and I know I'll keep changing for the next 10 years or more.

Would you recommend your program to others? Why?

Depends on who asks me, of course, but yes! I'd definitely recommend it because it is the best thing that has happened to me. It has changed my life in so many ways I can't even explain it.

If you could go abroad again, where would you go?

Hard to choose when you have around 200 destinations. Although I can't lie, I've always been interested in Uganda, Kenya, and Myanmar, but Perú, Bolivia, and Argentina too. Oh, forgot the Philippines, Vietnam, and Australia!