Meet Benji Miller of Santa Monica who will be traveling with Winterline this fall. He's so excited and had a lot to say about his upcoming adventure with us.
Q: Why did you decide to enroll in a gap year program? Have you always been interested in taking a gap year?
A: Actually, as early as elementary school. Even at a very young age, I felt that school limited me. I wanted to see what was really out there in the world. I remember, we would have field trips and I would always stand by the gate and imagine what it would be like to just walk out and explore the surrounding areas. I hate to be limited or held back from opportunities, so that idea of a predetermined academic path was kind of disconcerting. I wanted to disrupt that pre-set path by taking a gap year before college.
My interest in gap year programs sparked in 11th grade when a college-bound family friend decided to take a year off to do volunteer work. I started thinking about how a year off could be benificial and help me return to school more motivated and mature.
"Plus, the idea of traveling an entire year sounded just plain awesome!"
By my senior year, my parents were on board with the idea and encouraged me to do one. While I was going through the college process, it was always on our minds. It was not until my acceptance letters were coming in that I decided it was something that I really wanted to do. My parents agreed that it would be good for me long-term.
Q: Typically students leave a gap year more prepared for college. Did you apply for college and defer? How many colleges?
A: I applied to 12 colleges and was accepted at 10. Although I applied to Boston University, Babson University and Northeastern on the east coast and got in, I ultimately wanted to stay in California. So, out of USC, Berkeley, UCLA, etc., I chose USC. I will be a proud Trojan! Frankly, deferring was easy. I did not mention that I was thinking about a gap year during my college interview, all I had to do was give them a deposit and fill out a request form with a few sentences promising to enroll the following year. I also confirmed with my Admissions Counselor. I knew that the popularity and approval was gaining every year.
Q: How many gap year programs did you research? How did you decide on Winterline?
A: I looked around the Internet and found Winterline. I researched some that were really adventure-like working on a yacht and a lot to do service work. But Winterline seemed to have a touch of everything. Some hands-on learning, some adventure... It appeared to be really well rounded.
I instantly knew that it was the right program for me. For weeks, I had been researching but I couldn’t bring myself to commit to traveling only to one region, or to only one or two cities within the country of my choice. I didn’t see myself in a classroom or even in an internship or day job. I wanted to do everything. To learn to sail, cook, to meet new friends, to practice business, to try my hand at design, etc.
I have a deep desire to learn and master as many new skills as possible. Winterline will allow me to explore every tiny facet of my identity, to discover more about who I really am. I have a passion for a long list of things, a long list: entrepreneurship, community service, societal structures, the outdoors, design, technology, architecture, creative writing. With Winterline, I will be able try every single one of these and more.
I like Robert A Heinlein’s quote that says, “Specialization is for insects.” I am made up of a multitude of passions, but at the end of the day, I am a learner, a problem solver, an adventurer, and a creator. Plus, I will truly get to work with others students in ways I never have before. Other skill-building, perfect. I need so many life lessons.
Q: You mentioned that you recently biked across the U.S.? What did you learn from this experience?
Yup, I biked 3,100 miles from coast to coast over 6 weeks as part of a group tip. My high school promoted a lot of summer and adventure programs for our breaks. We started in Charleston, biked through the southern states, and then ended in California. We camped, slept in cabins, and some hotels.
As I crossed the country on two wheels, I made connections and friendships far beyond my expectations with my biking comrades. My relationship and horizons expanded. Being with the same people twenty-four hours a day for six weeks, barely even communicating with anyone else, created the deepest kind of mutual connection and understanding that I have never experienced outside of my family. I am sure that I will also feel the same about the other students on the Winterline trip.
I also did a school trip with International community involvement. I've traveled to rural Guatemala to build a house, and have played with Orphan girls in the streets of Nepal. I also worked at an internship in LA where I helped get kids in poverty to college.
Q: What do you expect to gain from your gap year program and while traveling abroad?
What I want from Winterline is to get to know myself better. To really understand my strengths and weaknesses. To learn how to help myself when I struggle. To learn to be the best version of myself I can be, whether that means finding out what really excites me or honing my own personal life skills. I think the only way to gain this knowledge is by pushing myself and experiencing as much as possible in the time that I have.
I know that I have said this before, but I have the heart of an adventurer—an explorer. Discovering new places is what makes me happy. Driving at night, climbing to the top of a hill, seeing what’s at the end of that road, learning all that I can about the places that I am visiting. That’s me.
Q: Tell me about your business? I think a lot of students would find your story fascinating.
A: When I was biking to school at 15, I bought a mount and pasted on speakers because I couldn't hear my music. So, I invented the world’s first smartphone bike mount and speaker combination, Allo, to make biking with smartphones easier, safer, and fun. So many people bike with one hand holding their phone or with ear buds in, so dangerous.
I pitched investors, did some fundraising, PR, and crowdfunding on Kickstarter. I raised $27,000. Social media. I actually got a lot of coverage in cycling magazines that would interview me or feature my product. Around 27. TechCrunch helped me create a product video, too.
I actually made some mistakes, but learned a lot about how invention works and business. I realized through the process though that it takes a lot of money to create a product mold and market it. I also didn't make a Universal Version yet for the iPhone 6, but I will revisit it. Huffy approached me to create a low-cost version and I did apply to Sharktank. Intense show. We'll see, I need some more tech and business knowledge.
Q: What excites you most about traveling with Winterline in September? What activity or learning experience captivates you most? What country intrigues you above the others?
A: I have this classic sense of being an adventure guy, like Indiana Jones, almost. Seeing new places and gathering information about where you are. Adventurers like Louis and Clark charted new territory in the world, gathered information place to place. I love to watch the Amazing Race for that very reason!
There are so many things. First and foremost, I am excited to meet and travel with my fellow Winterliners. I think it takes a very unique kind of person to undertake a journey like this. So, I'm really intrigued by my peers and can't wait to find out what they're like. I love finding people who share my passion for life!
I am excited about sailing, being on the ocean. Funny, I want to fix an outdoor motor. Country, I'm really intrigued about India. It's developing and changing rapidly. I want to see the Industrial part of the world, Mumbai. Plus, to go to film school. All of the movies now make India look so cool.
Q: Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?
A: Study business. To continue being an entrepreneur. My ideas are pretty vague right now. I'd like to do something that's a cross between technology and social good with entrepreneurship. I'm still defining what I want to do, possibly discovering it with Winterline.
Personal Fun Facts: Sometimes during these interviews, I forget that I am meeting teens and young students who listen to Pandora and text their friends all day long. So, I thought I would add a few little fun facts so you can get to know Benji all that much more.
Favorite food: Sushi or mashed potatoes and steak depending on my mood
Favorite band/song: Right now, Matchbox 20. I like a lot of old stuff. My favorite song is Alice's Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie. It's 18 minutes long, a ballad, the story about him growing up.
Favorite place: Even though I've traveled some, I have to say, my family's place in Michigan. We go there every year, hang out. Water ski, sit by the campfire. It's peaceful in Oak Rapids.
Favorite Celebrity: Probably not what other's think of as a celebrity, but Elon Musk. He invented the Tesla, PayPal and invented SpaceX, a reusable aircract to take stuff up to the space station.
Pop Culture Actor: I have to say actor Michael J Fox; he plays Marty in Back to the Future. Hits my adventure side.
Favorite Movie: Along with Back to the Future, the kid's movie Up. The character Russell couldn't wait to explore.
Quote that applies to taking a gap year program: Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
General Quote: "That which you manifest is before you." It's from the book Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It means that however you approach your life will be what you get out of it. To take charge.
Sibling: A sister 16. She actually went to Simon's Rock College in the 10th grade. Not really typical.
What 5 adjectives would describe you best: Complex, hard working, joyful, curious, and energetic.