From Camphill to Medical School: Nicolo Betoni’s Gap Year

A Gap Year at Camphill Helped Nicolo Stand Out to Interviewers

Just a year ago, Camphill alum Nicolo Betoni was interviewing for medical school from a house beside Camphill Village Minnesota’s chicken coop. Today, he’s nearing the end of his first year at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) where he’s a part of a track called Health Education to Advance Leaders in Integrative Medicine (HEAL-IM).

Though his scenery has changed, Nicolo has found that his gap year at Camphill was the perfect preparation for medical school. “Camphill has made reappearances in my time here at med school,” he says “even down to making cheese.”

Nicolo and two friends smile for the camera while sitting on a pile of hay. Behind them are many trees and a body of water.
Nicolo and friends enjoy time together on the Camphill Village Minnesota farm.

Nicolo has been interested in medicine since he was a kid. “I grew up living with my aunt who has Down syndrome, seeing all that she is and all that she has to offer the world and at the same time wondering [how I could] help and care for this population because there are so many facets of society where I felt she appeared invisible or people didn’t acknowledge her,” Nicolo says. “Medicine was really interesting to me in terms of being able to see people and help them.”

Camphill provided me with the scaffolding to find my authentic self. I didn’t enter Camphill that way, but I found myself along the way.

As he neared the end of his career as a Neuroscience student at the University of Southern California, Nicolo’s pre-health advisor suggested that he spend his gap year doing clinical work in a hospital. He remembers thinking “that sounds so not like what I want to do.”

Photograph of Nae Nae by Nicolo. Nae Nae is smiling and holding a pie fresh out of the oven.
Nae Nae smiles with a pie that she made with Nicolo.
Nicolo sits between two friends at a table, all three are smiling, and Nicolos arms are around the friends. In front of them are five plates of food.
Nicolo and friends smile together at a meal.
Nicolo smiles for the camera while holding a large metal bowl full of spaghetti. He is wearing an apron that reads "rad dad" and he is standing in a kitchen with many pots hanging from the ceiling above him.
Nicolo loved his time in the Camphill kitchen!

While scrolling through the fifth page of a gap year website, Nicolo discovered Camphill Village Minnesota. “I remember watching this intro video that they have on their website, and I couldn’t stop smiling,” Nicolo says. “It just seemed so utopic, and I felt like it was a calling for me. I’m glad I disregarded what my pre-health advisor was telling me to do and went this route.”

Nicolo smiles while a doctor helps him put his white coat on at his white coat ceremony.
Nicolo smiles at his white coat ceremony.

``A lot of interviewers said ‘this is the most unique gap year experience I’ve ever seen.' I think it made me stand out ... and showed that I’m not just doing things to check boxes.

Despite his advisor’s concerns, Nicolo’s Camphill experience proved quite helpful in his interviewing process for medical school. “A lot of interviewers [said] ‘this is the most unique gap year experience I’ve ever seen’” Nicolo shares. “I think it made me stand out. It humanized me and showed that I’m not just doing things to check boxes. [Camphill] taught me skills outside of just following the norm, and I had interviewers who were so interested in my Camphill experience.”

Now that he’s at UCI, Nicolo’s Camphill skills continue to influence his experience. “Communication and understanding were the two biggest things that I learned from Camphill that have been able to translate into medical school. Medical school is so collaborative [in terms of] working with classmates and interprofessionally, and Camphill was so similar.”

Practical skills from Camphill have carried with Nicolo to medical school as well. “The interviewer for the [HEAL-IM] track was interested in my Camphill experience because I learned a lot of the things that the track focuses on in Camphill: cooking, acupuncture, herbal medicines. So many of the skills that I learned at Camphill were able to help me funnel into this track currently, and I’m very appreciative of that.”

Most recently, Nicolo’s skills from the Camphill kitchen (where he regularly cooked for his household of ten and for the entire village of over forty people) made an appearance in his Culinary Medicine course. “The chef asked if anyone had ever made paneer, and nobody else said they did, but I made paneer because of all the milk we had on the farm at Camphill. We ended up making this wonderful cheese out of it.”

Having committed to a gap year at Camphill Village Minnesota before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Nicolo was preparing himself to feel a bit left out of life back in Los Angeles. “But I think the irony is,” Nicolo says “I was probably the most connected out of [everyone I knew] that year. COVID hit, and I moved, and all my friends in LA had to quarantine on their own. Meanwhile, the family of fifty [at Camphill] was in a little bubble and were able to have connections. It was definitely meant to be.”

One of Nicolo’s favorite memories from inside that little bubble was creating an original musical alongside another first-year coworker and six residents. Over the course of the winter, the group met once a week and worked together to write seven songs, and by March they performed their musical, “Jimmy’s Journey,” for the whole Camphill Village Minnesota community. “It was such a big moment to see all of them performing something that we had all created together,” Nicolo says.  “It was a collaborative, momentous moment that I look back on. Especially because we were both younger coworkers who had just started [at Camphill], creat[ing] something that the entire community enjoyed and talked about for a long time afterward was really rewarding.”

Looking back on his time at Camphill, Nicolo reflects that “the musical was where I feel [my] impact was the most tangible because it was able to pull residents and coworkers from different houses and show how much they’re able to offer. We used that as a catalyst to create this wonderful, beautiful thing and leave our mark on the community.” Nicolo recalls being especially grateful that he got to take on this challenge as a first-year coworker, saying “what I appreciated about Camphill is that they try to value everyone and what each person brings to the table. (Watch “Jimmy’s Journey” above or here.)

Just as Nicolo left his impact on Camphill Village Minnesota, he continues to feel the village’s impact on him. “A big thing I learned from the adults with disabilities” Nicolo says, “is that they couldn’t care less about… whether you own a Tesla or have an expensive house. At the end of the day, what they care about is what it truly means to be a human. [Their perspective was] ‘if you give me a hug and you care for me, that’s what I’m going to be invested in.’”

Nicolo gearing up for the Minnesota winter

This lesson in mind, Nicolo found that “Camphill forced me to focus on balanc[ing] everything out. It was the first time in my life where I was truly able to focus on parts of my life outside of school, and it gave me a wake up call. My wellness routine got a lot better, and I’m very grateful for what Camphill gave me.”

“Right before going into Camphill I sort of loosely came out as queer,”  Nicolo continues, “When I came into Camphill it was such a safe and welcoming community that I fully came out as gay while there. Camphill provided me with the scaffolding to find my authentic self. I’m grateful because medical school is the first chapter that I’m entering as my authentic self. I didn’t enter Camphill that way, but I found myself along the way.”