Alumni Spotlight: Maria Jurado Giraldo

Maria is joining Leiden University in The Hague, Netherlands this fall. She plans to major in Political Science with an emphasis in Development, Governance and Economics. She was born and raised in Cali, Colombia, or what she often calls "paradise." She loves photography, dancing, and writing.

Volunteering with Winterline Global Skills Program

Why did you pick this program?

Winterline came to me as a stroke of luck. Before my senior year of high school, I never imagined I would be taking a gap year. Back home people look at gap year students as laggers and lazy, hence my confusion with what a gap year was actually for. However, one day after several all-nighters that were needed in order meet multiple deadlines for assignments, presentations, and essays, I realized I was exhausted. I wanted to quit.

I have always been a very curious person; I love learning new things, and it is something I have never seen as a burden. However, that day I did. That day made me feel like I didn't want to learn anything else. I was bored. I was tired. It was then when I realized that it wasn't that I didn't want to learn anything else. I did, I've always have, but not in the way I was learning at that point in time. I realized that there was something amiss with the way education was being passed on.

I then grew a desire to discover the world instead of being confined to the four walls of a classroom. I didn't know what exactly I wanted to do, but as soon as I saw Winterline, I realized that that was it. Winterline was going to give me the opportunity to explore a big part of the world. To explore contrasts and to quickly change my mindset from one point to another. Change, adaptation, and flexibility are just some of the words that come to mind when I think about my gap year experience.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?


Unless it is not your cup of tea, then do what feels comfortable. However, I do feel the need to express the impact that going abroad has had on me. Going away is not easy; you will have your very highs, and you will have your very, very lows. You will not have a sense of familiarity to comfort you on those bad days, and it will suck sometimes. Nevertheless, you will grow out of these situations.

You will realize that the thing you thought you "couldn't survive without" is not that important and you will discover new shades of yourself. You will meet people, and you will fall in love with places. You will feel a new need to fill the void that is being caused by discovering beyond. A good void. You are going to grow dissatisfied because you will learn never to conform.

I will say: if you want to meet a new version of yourself, or a deeper one, go abroad. Go outside of your comfort zone and see what happens next.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

"Be like a sponge" - that is something I use to hear a lot from the adults in my family. Back then, I don't think I could fully comprehend what they were trying to tell me, however, a couple of experiences later I fully resonate with their words: absorb everything.

There is always a situation, person or opportunity we can learn from: good or bad. Learning means growing and growing shapes us into better individuals in order to form better communities.

Learn from everything and everyone. Don't judge. Be open-minded.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

I was one of the few non-American people in my group. That lent itself to a lot of mixed opinions and perspectives. At first, it was unsettling being part of a group of people, whom I thought, had similar ideologies to one another, but which I thought differed hugely from mine. That, however, was just a misconception that was rooted in my fear of being part of a new group of people.

As I opened myself to learn about these people and where they came from, I realized that even though they shared a nationality, their standpoints were very opposing. It was very refreshing to see that the people I got along with the best, were basically my complete opposites. In that way, with their help, I realized that it doesn't matter what your opinion is, you should always be open to hearing different and new ideas.

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions and future path?

The way this trip impacted me the most was by discovering more about myself and in that way realizing what my role is in this world. Of course, I don't have my whole life planned, but I have a better idea of what kind of impact I want to create in the future.

Witnessing how people interact in their communities and how that differs from the ways I interact in my community. Seeing how much I can learn from places and individuals. Realizing how much more of the world there is to see. Understanding how meaningful a single and small change, even in perception, can be. All of these were things that I learned throughout my gap year, and that helped me understand better how this world truly works.

By understanding my essence, I was able to realize that I should seek to understand the essence of others. Because at the end of the day our essence plays a role in our interactions with individuals, and ultimately as a society.