For the majority of my life, my diet was simple, noodles with butter and chicken nuggets. My taste buds desired nothing else and I found comfort in the crispness of a perfectly golden nugget. I would soon find that this regular comfort would be considered a rarity in a lot of different parts of the world. Upon my arrival in the Dominican Republic for my first Verto semester, I found myself begging our cohort leaders for chicken nuggets…daily.
Jade, with one of her favorite instructors, Beth, in Fiji.
Unfamiliar food wasn’t the only change I would have to learn to adapt to. I had seriously underestimated the whirlwind of emotions I would face in my first semester. Not only was I jumping into my first year of college but I was also doing so in a foreign country with a language I did not understand and a culture that was completely new to me. As this exciting but scary reality hit me, I started to question whether or not I could handle three months abroad. I brought this concern to my teacher Tyler and his advice was to sleep on it. He told me he would respect whatever decision I made but would be saddened to see me leave.
The next morning one of our program leaders asked me to take a walk with her. Desperate for some fresh air I agreed. As we were walking I noticed Tyler standing at the end of the street and I could tell he was hiding something. Suspiciously Tyler asked me how I was doing and I told him that I still wasn’t in a great place. Tyler then reached into his backpack and pulled out a folded over McDonald’s bag. Knowing what was in the bag, I automatically started to tear up. It turned out that Tyler had taken an hour trip to the nearest McDonald’s to get me chicken nuggets (with fries) and every sauce I could imagine. To most this may seem silly or trivial, but I can honestly say it is one of the most caring things anyone has ever done for me.
After a day of city tours and shopping led by local Verto ground staff member, Villi, students got to enjoy a nice family dinner out in the capital city of Fiji, Suva.
Throughout those three months, I would come to consider Tyler not only as my rock throughout the semester but also as one of the best teachers and mentors I’ve ever had. Tyler understood that a student can only get something out of a class if they are in the right mindset. I had lost my excitement for learning throughout high school and doubted that I would ever get it back. However, seeing Tyler’s passion for not only the material he was teaching us but also for the growth of his students reminded me why I loved learning. Not only did Tyler challenge me as a student but he challenged me as a human. Before my Verto semester began I had felt for a very long time that my voice didn’t matter. Tyler was one of the first people to not only tell me that what I had to say mattered but also show me that more people are willing to listen than I thought. Because of this mentorship, I have gained so much more self-confidence both in and out of the classroom. I have set new standards for myself because I now know that I am capable of so much more than what I had allowed myself to believe previously.
(Annie, Billy, Jade, and Lauren on the first day of their second semester with Verto. The four of them spent the first semester in Latin America together and their second semester in the South Pacific!)
The best part is that all Verto semesters are designed so that every student can experience the benefits of mentorship like I did. Most critically, I could see that Verto chooses professors with the utmost commitment to student success. My professors were always willing to stay after class to answer questions and made it clear that they were accessible to us 24/7. They not only taught passionately about their subject but were also deeply committed to helping us discover how our learning connected to the real world. The low student to teacher ratio meant that our teachers were able to adapt the material to our unique interests and thoughtfully cater to our individual learning styles. For example, my professors noticed how much I gained from my interactions with the locals so they encouraged me to incorporate these meaningful and candid conversations into my assignments and presentations. Because we met every day, our teachers also got to know us deeply as people in addition to learners. Through weekly reflection workshops, they helped us gain clarity on our passions, develop tools for success, and plan for life after Verto.
Joined by their program leaders and some expert guides, students strike a “warrior pose” while rafting in New Zealand (see Jade second from the right)
All of my Verto teachers showed up to class everyday just as curious as we were, and even though they were there to teach us, they were always eager to learn from us as well. Through their example and mentorship, I remembered my love of learning. Regaining my curiosity and excitement for the world is something for which I cannot thank the Verto staff enough. I am excited to watch a whole new generation of learners grow along with Verto.