Nantucket is an island thirty miles out to sea off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The island has a year-round population of roughly twelve thousand people. I was born on this little island and have spent my entire life growing up in this incredibly welcoming and wholesome community. Due to the size of the town and school, I spent all twelve grades with the same 120 students. These students became family, and once it was time to say goodbye, I realized how hard it would be to make new friends.

Deciding to do a semester abroad with Verto has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. However, before arriving in Costa Rica, I had severe doubts and didn’t know if I’d be able to go through with it. Meeting new people and making friends is scary, but necessary. There is an overlying pressure to click with these people you have to spend up to three months with. The thought of that is scary and I personally struggled with this thought for months before the program even started. 

I am here to say that making friends is actually really not that scary, especially when everyone in the group appear as strangers. My main piece of advice would be to stay true to yourself. It is easy to show yourself off as something you are not. If you introduce yourself as someone you are not, later on down the line it’s going to be hard on you to keep that character and show your true personality. Staying true to yourself should also include being open-minded and stepping out of your comfort zone. Without an open mind, you will be unapproachable and others might be intimidated to talk to you. Also, step outside your comfort zone. A really good way to make concrete friendships is to go crazy and express your true form, and what better way to do that than jumping off a zip-lining landing with no fear! 

Not only was I nervous about meeting and getting along with my fellow peers, but also those who’d be guiding me through the entire experience. Another big tip I would recommend is to befriend those who are leading you. Essentially there are four individuals whom are responsible for your overall safety and reassurance. Coming into this country not having met those people is scary, that is just a fact. However, you have to find trust from within that everything will be okay. I got really lucky in terms of group leaders. I absolutely love my leaders and get along with them really well. There are, of course, my favorites and least favorites. However, when you live with people for three straight months, you tend to find the perks in everyone you’re placed with. Build a strong friendship with them so you feel more comfortable reaching out to them in any time of need. With that being said, they should still act as your mentor; remain respectful and let them be your leader/guide.

No matter what, in any group, there is bound to be some sort of bad chemistry between people. Whether it’s between leaders or students, it is important to stay true to yourself and not let those who bother you get you down. At the same time, don’t be a bystander. If you see a member of the group bullying or acting out in a harmful manner, say something without crossing the line of being rude. Address the matter from others’ perspectives and explain how those whom are acting disrespectful, are affecting the group dynamic as a whole. If you find that you don’t mesh well with another student, don’t go out of your way to make that person feel out of place or down. Everyone on these trips came for a reason, and they should be able to have a place within the group no matter the circumstance. From the beginning, I knew who I could and couldn’t mesh well with based on certain people’s personalities. I have kept these opinions to myself and simply been respectful and kind to those who I don’t necessarily mesh well with. There is never a time where someone or a group of people should be left out. No matter what your opinion is of someone, there is no time for disrespect and unkindness. Overall, treat others with the respect you would want to receive.

Another important tip is to look after your health. This is important for both your physical and mental health. It is important to express how you are feeling to your mentor and leaders. The leaders are here for a reason and want to help, no matter what you’re going through. The leaders are here to support you and help you through the entire journey. It is extremely normal to come in an adventure like this feeling overly anxious. I am not going to come out and say that it’s all sunshine and rainbows as soon as you get to your final destination because it’s not.

Lastly, making new friends and living with sixteen new strangers means there is a lot to learn. There is a lot to learn about everyones’ personalities, but also their boundaries and your own boundaries. With these types of programs, you are going to be with these same people 24/7. It is very important not to cross lines and step on others’ toes. Not only should you respect others’ boundaries, but respect your own as well. If you are feeling stressed or annoyed, take a little time to yourself to distract yourself from your current situation. Personally, I look through my photos from earlier on in the trip to remind myself how amazing the country is and the people I am surrounded by. There are many bumps in the road along the way, however, those bumps are what makes the journey fun and worthwhile.  I have made outstanding bonds, and amazing memories on this trip so far and I cannot wait to see what Verto has in store for our future weeks to come.