Alumni Spotlight: Savannah Grace Pallazola

Savannah is a nineteen-year-old from Massachusetts who just recently graduated from Winterline Global Skills Gap Year program and was previously a Culinary Arts student at a trade school. She is a rock climber, a swimmer, and a musician; and she just so happens to also be a bilateral AK (above-the-knee) amputee since the age of two years old.

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Why did you choose this program?

I chose Winterline because I had never traveled before, but was aching to see the world. It was certainly presumptuous of me to believe that I would be mentally, emotionally, and physically okay with traveling to a new location every week. Though it was a risk, I had this image in my mind of what it was going to be like: laughs and wild adventures with amazing new friends and rainbows and waterfalls and epic-ness never before experienced on such a level. I couldn’t pass up my opportunity to have that. I should mention that what I gained from the nine months I spent abroad was so much more meaningful than the utopia I pictured off the bat.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The program staff gave us a packing list and our itinerary. Winterline is an all-inclusive program. We were responsible for our bags, food was either provided every day or we were given per diem money, and we didn’t have to worry about flights while on the program. However, we were responsible for our flight to where the program began (the first was the Denver airport) and our flight home (from Houston, TX)- then our flight after winter break (to LAX) and our flight home after graduation (from Boston, MA).

I’d like to add that students are allowed to sign off program if they wish (and are typically encouraged to). Say you’re in Austria and you’d like to travel to a different country on your rest day; take Slovakia for example. You are required to sign off program to do so. You’re responsible for yourself for your time away. This makes it so you can even spend a night somewhere (like if programming is in Venice, Italy, you may be able to go to Florence for a night). Another thing to note is our Independent Student Project (ISP). This is something we work up to from trimester one, all the way to tri 3. It is one week of solo travel that each student has to go through with. We’re given $1000 and we are to plan, budget, and carry-out a week of learning a new skill in a country of our choosing (in Europe). This is just something I think one should keep in mind.

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

I would advise anyone taking a Winterline gap year to give every little, tiny, minuscule thing your absolute ALL. The more you put into this program, the more intentional and open you are, the more you will gain. You are building confidence every step of the way and if you think for one second it’s just going to appear on graduation day, you’re wrong. That said, just jump in. Be kind, too. People are what make a place special and if you aren’t respectful, you’ll really just end up hurting your own experience and you'll really miss out on some really unique human connections.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

There are three types of days one could have on Winterline: a rest day, a core day (ISP prep, paperwork, even interviews sometimes), and a partner day. Partners are what makes Winterlines. These are the people or associations that teach us skills. Robotics, Scuba Diving, mask making, farm work, etc. A prime example of this is our first independent project that took place in trimester three in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Each student stayed with a homestay family. Out of many choices, I worked on a coffee farm. I woke up every day at 7 to have breakfast with my host family, grab my taxi to the farm at 7:45 to be there by 8. Typically, you’d be with the group waking up and eating breakfast together and leaving together, led by your field advisers (holding your hand through it). This time, I was responsible. Each day, I learned a new element in the process of producing coffee. Each partner is unique and interesting, trust me.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear abroad was my big, solo travel extravaganza. I was terrified to wake up and catch that train to the airport in Munich. Terrified of checking my bag and terrified of going through security, and finding my gate, and boarding the plane, and landing, and getting my bag, and getting a taxi to the women I was staying within Seville, Spain. I was scared of the classes I was taking and exploring alone and eating alone and looking alone and feeling alone.

Then just as I imagined it, I did it. But instead of my hands shaking the whole time, they were still. I haven’t been able to explain it up to this point. The fear just went away, after achieving each step of the way. After getting off the train in Munich. I was just okay after that. Then, suddenly, I was on my flight to Prague to meet back up with my group and it was over. But I did it. And I’ll do it again.

Can you tell us your overall experience going to this program?

From scuba diving in the Caribbean and working on farms in the rainforest, to traveling by train in Mumbai and walking the notoriously hectic streets of Bangkok and Phnom Penh, I have done so many things as an amputee and a “child” and a female- things people wrote off for me before I got the chance to consider them as options myself, but things I did nonetheless. I transferred the things people didn’t think I should do to my bucket list.

I’d like to mention that I had never traveled before. I felt like I had something to prove, which is a mentality that left me frustrated when I fell down or when I needed help up a railing-less staircase. I felt like I had to be everything at once, 100% of the time, and that just isn’t possible. Traveling is important; it liberates a person and it reconditions how they view the world. But everyone has their days, and you can’t expect the entire journey to be a straightforward path to glory and epic-ness. However, you can choose, every morning you wake up and wherever that may be, to thrive.