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By Matteo Travers, Community Manager

Featuring Tessa Yutzy (Online Fall 2020, Costa Rica Spring 2021, Costa Rica Fall 2021)

Today we interviewed Tessa Yutzy! Tessa participated in our virtual semester and then spent 1 year with Verto in Costa Rica. She now studies at Macquarie University, one of Verto’s Partner Colleges, in her last year.

Matteo: Tell me a little bit about your path to Verto. Why did you choose to start college with Verto? Where did you study when you were with Verto? And then what were some of the highlights of your experience?

Tessa: I actually saw an ad for Verto on Instagram, and at the time it didn’t seem real. I looked into it, and then I was like, oh, this seems pretty real. I canceled my admission for the University I was signed up for and deposited for Verto. I did a fall semester in 2020 online because we couldn’t travel at that time (pandemic). Then I went to Costa Rica in February 2021, and that was really good. I ended up doing a second sophomore semester in Fall 2021*. So I did two semesters in Costa Rica.

Some highlights definitely were all of the excursions we got to do. I always remember one where we went whitewater rafting to this cabin that was on the side of the river, and we stayed in these bunk beds, and it was really cool being off the grid. The next day, we had to pack up all of our stuff and raft home. So that was a really cool experience. And we met a lot of cool instructors there, and they were super nice as well with the rafting. 

*Verto no longer offers a sophomore semester.

Matteo: Thinking back on your experience with Verto, what did you learn about yourself? 

Tessa: I definitely think when I started, I thought that I was a pretty independent person. I thought when going into it, that I was going to just kind of be okay with leaving home. But then I think I kind of realized that I am going to miss people, maybe get a little sad, a little homesick. And I think I learned that it’s okay to have to rely on others as well because we had a pretty good support system for us when we were there. 

We would have little open forum discussions about how we were feeling. Once I saw other people talking about how they were sad and missing their family, I was like, oh, I’m kind of in that same boat as well. So I learned to open myself up more to those emotions and feelings rather than boxing myself off and being like, no, you can just do this on your own.

Matteo: How did your experience at Verto shape your post-Verto plans? 

Tessa: My initial plan for after Verto was to transfer to a school near my hometown, but after speaking with Maddie, my roommate in Costa Rica (and my current roommate in Australia), about all the different partner schools Verto has, she  told me about Macquarie University in Australia.

It was Maddie’s dream to study in Australia, and I had also always wanted to come to Australia. And so I looked into Macquarie and ultimately decided to go with Macquarie so that I could go with Maddie and be roommates. 

Matteo: It sounds like the very specific experience of rooming with Maddie during your semester with Verto changed the trajectory of your life. Like, you found out about a university you hadn’t known about and you applied together.

Tessa: Yes, we talk about it all the time. We’re like, it’s so crazy- we only knew each other for three months and then just decided to travel across the world together. Now we’ve known each other for almost three years and we’re really good friends, but at the time it was still just like a very new friendship and we just put so much trust into each other to travel around with each other.

Matteo: Thinking back on your experience, what do you most remember about the Verto community? 

Tessa: I think definitely when I was in Costa Rica in the first semester, our house there’s only about 25 of us and then we had three program leaders, so it was a pretty small group of us and we all kind of got along fairly well. And I remember it was like the first few weeks we had to quarantine at our house and we all just got super close in that time, all kind of got to know each other because we couldn’t really do anything. We really got to know our housemates and stuff, the people we were rooming with and then everybody else that was there as well. 

And so I think that that kind of set us up really well for being there for each other before we said about the community talks and stuff because we kind of all created that foundation ourselves and then we were open to talking to each other about more difficult things or just casual things as well. We felt comfortable talking to each other about things like going to our program leaders if we were having issues or we needed advice and stuff. 

I still take some of those ideas into when I’m making friendships now, that we should talk and actually get to know each other and not just be like, oh, we’re friends. Really getting to know somebody was a huge part of why we all got so close so fast. 


Matteo: Considering that you went from Costa Rica to Australia, did anything emerge for you around culture shock?

Tessa: Yeah, I think it definitely was kind of like a double culture shock because I did just get back from Costa Rica and then two months later I headed out to Australia. Australia is different from Costa Rica. And we always say Australia is kind of like a parallel universe to the US. Because things look very similar and are the same, but then there’s just some things that are different and you’re like, this is just what it would be like if we were living in a parallel universe, because I think definitely the classroom settings when I was in Verto were very small. You got a lot of one on one interaction with the teacher. And now I’m in a university with like 40,000 other students. 

Even so, I’m still really close with most of my professors, because  once I got more into my specialization and my major you have the same teachers, so you get to know them fairly well. But definitely my first semester at Macquarie was intimidating, it was like if you wanted to ask a question, you either had to go at the end of class or try and raise your hand in front of 300 people.

Matteo: Putting us into the present, what are you studying now? Did your time at Verto impact your study or your career ambitions? 

Tessa: I’m currently working on my Bachelor of Science in Chemistry with a minor in Environmental Sciences. I always knew that I wanted to go into chemistry since high school, and we had an environmental science class when we were in Costa Rica with a really great instructor named Edgardo. When I was choosing my minor, I had initially done biology and then ended up not really liking those units. So I changed, and I thought about Edgardo’s class and then I was like, oh, environmental science. I actually really liked environmental science, so I did that! I’m doing my last unit of that now. And then my minor is done. So, yeah, that definitely played a part in choosing my units here.


Matteo: So you’re graduating in a year, and what’s next? What is your post-Verto plan? What’s on deck for you? 

Tessa: I don’t have any plans set in stone yet. I’m thinking of trying to go into a few different things; I was thinking of using chemistry and going into water and waste treatment. And there’s a few good graduate programs here in Australia at some universities that do that. And then recently I went and saw a guest lecturer that owns a startup and helps with mental health. So I went to one of his talks, and that was super cool.

I also have an internship that I need to do as part of my course. So I’m thinking of either trying to get an internship in one of those fields to kind of see maybe which one I like more, or if I get started in one, maybe stay with that for a little bit of time. I think ultimately I will end up coming back maybe for postgrad or just finding work. 

Matteo: Cool. So you’ve found your footing there in Australia and you want to stay there for a while. 

Tessa: Yeah, I think definitely. I definitely still want to travel more. I really want to get back to Costa Rica at some point. We’re always thinking of planning a trip, but we really need to. Maybe we’ll do that as our graduation present. We’ll go back. 

Matteo: Anything else that you wanted to mention as part of your Where Are You Now spotlight? 

Tessa: I think maybe just like I am living in opposite area of the world where I’m from so I think always taking the time to still talk to family and connect with them as well as I still keep up with my other people from my Verto semester is always super cool because everybody there is always so supportive of what everybody’s doing. We’re always hyping each other up about where we are, and what’s going on, and I think that’s just something that I really love, that we still all talk to each other and send each other updates, pictures, and what we’re doing. I think that’s probably one of the things that I think is the best thing that’s come out of the semester was that we all still kind of check in with each other every once in a while.  I know if I were to send them a message or call them, they would most likely pick up, and be like, hey, what’s going on? So, yeah, I think it’s definitely one of the best things. 

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