Before joining the Winterline team as one of two Field Advisors who will be traveling with our students for 9 months, Nick was a former teacher, award-winning photographer, filmmaker, firefighter, cattle rancher, and extensive world traveler. It was such a pleasure getting to know him more and I think you will feel the same! He brings a lot of personal depth and experience to the program for sure.
Q: What is your role as a Field Advisor?
NM: My role as a Field Advisor is to facilitate the group through the experience of being a nomadic community, which has many levels to it. Think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if you will. There are the basics that we as Field Advisors must maintain with a high standard – that of making sure students are healthy, safe, and that there is flow and excellence through the partnered experiences we at Winterline have created. Beyond those basic essential pieces, however, lies a much more nuanced, yet equally important role that Field Advisors play. We are assisting individuals entering into the process of what Paulo Freire would call an “engaged pedagogy” that gets at the process of self-actualization from an inter and intra personal perspective. I see us as mentors, guides if you will, to the experience of entering adulthood that a gap-year provides. (You can read more of Nick's perspective in his former post, Weaving it all Together, too.)
Q: What are you most looking forward to this year as a Field Advisor for Winterline?
NM: That is a tough one! Honestly, it is deeply related to my answer above. The experiential skills and the travel are going to be incredibly fun and rewarding. However, it is in watching the students change and bond that has always been the most rewarding piece of working with young people for me. Working with students as individuals and within a group, as they become the incredible people they want to be in the world, is both very powerful and deeply inspiring. Getting to know each of them and helping to facilitate their growth is what I look forward to the most.
Q: Describe your favorite travel experience.
NM: It would take pages to answer this question fully. Often we think of travel as something that must be International, and yet adventure and spontaneity – two key pieces of travel – can happen every time we walk out the door. Recently though, I spent June of this summer on a 1,200 mile bike ride with a dear friend. Our goal was to connect the four sacred peaks of the Navajo Tribe in the Southwest of the U.S., which are in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. That is my home, and yet I felt drawn back there to do this gigantic circle by human power, that I have dreamed of since I was 18 (I’m now 31). Even though we had these goals of mileage, route, and destination every day, each moment of the trip was a surprise.
On one day that comes to mind, we had just left the second sacred mountain, Mt. Taylor in northern New Mexico, and were working our way across some backroads through El Malpais Conservation Area, the Morro Valley, and onward to the Zuni Pueblo. It was a rough day with 10 - 15 mph head winds (gusts of 25 mph), high temperatures, narrow shoulders, and a mid-trip energy lull. We pedaled and pedaled all morning, barely saying a word to each other until about 1 p.m. when the most randomly inviting looking café appeared. We stopped and had, what was by all definitions, the best green chile cheeseburger in the state of New Mexico. No small thing if you’ve been to that area. We ended up having lunch with a young local who had moved there from rural Michigan to be part of a radical back to the land gay community. It was great food, with a great person, with really engaging and thoughtful conversation.
We left the café feeling replenished and rode off into the afternoon headwinds. Which by the way, if you’ve ever spent day after day riding into headwinds, at some point you must ask yourself, “Why not go the other way?” Anyway, we rode and rode, and rode some more, going nowhere very fast but getting somewhere indeed. About 5:45 pm (the time is very relevant) we finally hit the outskirts of Zuni, New Mexico, one of the pueblo tribes of the southwest. We were exhausted, hungry, and thirsty. I asked a local where we could find dinner and he mentioned to something about half a mile down the road. We sauntered down the road, pulled our bikes up, and slowly made the transition from dusty road rider to restaurant ready. As we were doing so, a waitress stuck her head out the door and said, “Y’all have about 10 minutes before the entire town shuts down.”
Apparently we were there right at the beginning of the 6 day Zuni solstice celebration ceremony and one of the stipulations is no money can change hands and no business transactions can occur for all 6 days. This was our last civilization stop for 24 hours so we scrambled inside, ordered what food they had (pizza and subs, water), and were offered blessings of peace by the Zuni man back in the kitchen. It is moments like these that make travel interesting and unforgettable. The pizza was delicious and the 24” turkey sub bathed in mayonnaise juice made a horrible 6 a.m. breakfast. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers and we survived with a good story!
Q: What countries have you visited?
NM: Well, I’m writing this from southern Sonora, Mexico to start with. Beyond that, most of Central America, Europe, and some of Asia (India and Bangladesh). I spent some of last winter up in British Columbia, Canada while finishing a Masters and spent the remainder of the winter in New Mexico, which I personally consider another country.
Q: What have you learned traveling abroad, and how have you applied it to your life?
NM: I have learned a lot, too much to articulate with any certainty. From this summer’s travel, I've learned to trust the world around me. To lean in, and recognize that no matter what, things will work out and be rewarding in some way. Travel has taught me to see the good in people and situations. It has also taught me to walk through life looking for a connection with everyone I encounter, rather than divides or compartmentalization.
Travel makes you vulnerable and that vulnerability has a way of opening one up to authenticity that we sometimes lose in our routine, day-to-day lives. I’ve also learned that when a sign in southern Sonora says “tacos de cabeza,” it really does mean head tacos – cow head meat, your choice – and that the most simple, obvious, and literal explanation is probably correct.
Q: What’s next on your travel bucket list? Anywhere you really want to travel?
NM: Iran! I had a one-way ticket to Istanbul to visit some friends in education this winter and had an ambitious plan to ride my bike to Mumbai. The trip would have taken me through Iran, a place I’m fascinated with. I opted to stay and finish my Masters, which was a very adult decision that proved to be an equally rewarding experience. As it stands, Iran still waits.
Q: Did you take a gap year? In your experience, what are the benefits?
NM: A gap year… certainly, although I didn’t know at the time that it was called a gap year. I have always been profoundly interested in the application of knowledge and academic discourse in the everyday lives of people. To specialize in a subject and become an expert is a rewarding experience, yet in order for it to be of benefit to others, and ourselves it must be rooted in action and experience.
After high school I moved to the Northwest to work search and rescue for Olympic National Park and work at Mt. Hood during the winter. It ended up taking me six years to finish college (Political Science) due to a love for the world (travel) and a job as a wildland firefighter that had me traveling and working all summer. I would sit in a classroom and soak up interesting knowledge and new ways of thinking, but there would always be a point where I’d hit a wall and want to learn more willingly outside the classroom, the kind that only getting your hands dirty can provide.
Q: What do you hope Winterline students will gain after traveling for 9 months?
NM: That’s an intricate question that I hesitate to push out as a laundry list. There are obviously the skills the students will learn and take away, and then there are the moments of growth and self-accountability that will occur. From my perspective, I hope Winterline students find themselves better connected with who they are as individuals and how that person relates to the larger, complex world they live in. I want them to grow further into the empowered, productive, brilliant, and loving people that they inherently already are.
My most recent research project was in helping the U.S. branch of the United World College movement of schools think through how to do social/emotional learning with their students. Things like teamwork, empathy, resilience, communication, etc. The contemporary realization within education is that academics and cognitive skills are doing well in schools, yet there are a whole host of other human qualities and attributes that make people successful in their lives. What I want Winterline students to find is the courage to live the lives they want through the direct exploration and application of their best selves. The traveling and experiential education will help them find some of these pieces that will help them make that big step from being a child to fulfilled adult.Q: Do you have a motto you live by?
NM: Don’t forget to keep your feet on the ground! Kidding, but it’s a good one! I don’t suppose I have just one motto that drives my life. Instead, there are a robust set of values that drive me forward: leave places and people better than you found them, offer unconditional love and kindness to everyone and everything you meet, and live your life with integrity – be who you are.
Q: What do you miss most when you’re not in your home country?
NM: As my mom would say, I started traveling when I was 17 and haven’t stopped since. Home country, and more importantly home itself, is a relative phenomenon in my life. I am nomadic by nature, but do appreciate continuity within the movement. I’m a sucker for good coffee, so there’s always a search for decent caffeinated beverages when I’m on the move, and then there’s my people and landscapes that I miss the most. My friends and family are what keeps me tethered to something concrete when I travel so much, and I love the random bits of communication with them that technology affords.
As far as landscape, there are places in the Southwest – mountain ranges, rivers, and desert formations that hold the story of who I am and my childhood, so that whenever I see them I feel at once relaxed and held at the same time. Whenever I go somewhere new, I inevitably head out on foot to establish a mental and visceral map of place. Home is the intersection of people and places I love. Yet I know, everywhere I go I usually end up with new family and new memories, so the exercise of cartography inevitably expands the map.
To view Nick Manning's complete bio and to learn more about the rest of the Winterline team, click here