I knew that I would want to study abroad at least once during my time here at UGA because of the amazing opportunities it would unlock for me. Not only would I be able to travel to a place I had never been before to learn at a place other than UGA (no hate, we’re obviously the best school in the world), but I would be able to meet new friends that I will be traveling back with. I applied to this particular study abroad (CAES- Food Security and Sustainability in Cuba) because I am half Cuban and wanting to go into the food industry after I graduate. I found the perfect program for me! That being said, all of my other friends wanted to study abroad in different countries or different amounts of time or different programs. So I went to the first meeting completely alone, not knowing anyone. Being an “introverted-extrovert” I was terrified walking into the first pre-departure meeting knowing I wasn’t going to see any familiar faces. I realized going up the elevator that me being nervous to meet everyone wasn’t going to change the fact that I would be spending 2 weeks of my summer with these people. I would be starting new, and this would be my opportunity to show them my personality with no preconceived notions of me. I think that was extremely helpful for me to realize that there was really nothing holding me back besides my own anxiety. My biggest piece of advice would be to set the tone early, meaning at the very first meeting to walk in with confidence. Yes, it’s nerve wracking, but only in your brain, I promise nobody else can tell. Once I got off the elevator, and rounded the corner to go into the set classroom, I walked in like I already belonged. There were about 5 people in the room, but it was pretty quiet. I would say saying something, anything, even just a quick hello would set the tone for everyone in the room to be more comfortable. I asked, “ Hey, is this the right place for the Cuba study abroad?” (even though I knew it was) and immediately everyone started talking amongst themselves. It was awesome! That little question made me and everyone else feel so much more comfortable, and we all clicked instantly. I ended up best friends with everyone on the trip, to the point where we all hung out the very next week we got back to America.

I really do think going in blind not really knowing anybody is the best way to study abroad, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way! I think that if I would have gone with my besties, I would’ve stayed in my comfort zone, and wouldn’t have branched out to meet new people or experience new things. Even though it was scary to meet all of these new people at first, it would have been 20 times scarier if I went in acting scared and nervous. The girls who I sat beside and introduced myself to at the first meeting ended up being my very best friends on the trip, because it turns out we had a lot in common, including not knowing anyone. Sometimes I get so invested in my own feelings and me being nervous, that I forget that other people are nervous too. It was so comforting to instantly have a community of people that I never would have gotten until the very last minute, unless I opened up. Another really cool thing about not knowing anyone going on the particular study abroad is the so many different people going on the trip with different interests, clubs, majors, and styles. However, everyone is naturally bonded by the desire to study in this particular country to learn about that particular thing. I met so many different people that I would have never gotten the opportunity to meet if it wouldn’t have been for this experience. Branching out of your typical friend group was the best thing to ever happen to me, and I gained so much perspective not only from my trip, but from my new friendships. I am so thankful to CAES for making this study abroad possible, and I’m looking forward to seeing my new friends in the lobby this coming fall.