Fresh Eyes on Friends

I never knew how much coming here from Costa Rica would change my life.

Tatiana Vargas, Contributor

I never knew how much coming to Friends School would change my life. As a student at Monteverde Friends School in Costa Rica, I decided to take a risk and apply for an exchange program in the United States.

I proposed the idea to my school’s director, Sue Gabrielson, and she started communicating with Friends School of Baltimore. Many people applied with me, all of us with good grades. It was a hard choice for our teachers.

Three days before the end of school, I couldn’t wait any longer. I walked into the director’s office and said: “Sue, I really want to know if you have chosen someone.” She laughed at my impatience – then told me the good news.

I needed money to be able to pay for the trip. So I started working three different jobs: as a waitress, in a craft store, and as a receptionist (my favorite for sure).

I earned enough to pay my $200 student Visa, and for other costs. But the Visa process was difficult and tedious. It ate me up, waiting to know if I would get approved. Finally I did.

When I arrived in the US, everything was so different and strange. The weather was cloudy and kind of cold. I stayed in Philadelphia for a week. Then, I finally arrived in Baltimore. Oh, dear Baltimore.

Everything about Baltimore was insane to me. I had so many activities during those three days before school.

Then came the first day of school. When I first saw Friends, I was so nervous. I had no idea what to expect. I was afraid I was going to spend the first week by myself. But that wasn’t what happened. Everyone was so nice. Seniors were especially willing to help new people out.

Everyone had their group of friends. As a new student, it was a little weird to try and fit into one group. Thankfully, a group of amazing people started talking to me and hanging out with me.

The cultural differences were insane. The food, the people, the classes. We have stereotypes of Americans, and some seemed pretty true to me when I arrived. The food, for example. Wow, so much fast food. Good though.

And people are so much more liberal here than in Costa Rica. It’s a Christian country, where people tend to be more reserved. But that’s exactly why I came to the United States in the first place.

Yes, I did experience some uncomfortable questions, like: “Do you have electricity in Costa Rica?” But I’m happy to help people learn. Hopefully, by informing them, I’ll get them excited to do an exchange with the Monteverde Friends School in Costa Rica.

The classes have been okay. A lot more homework, for sure, but besides that everything has been so nice.

And I’ve done so much while I’ve been here. Everything is so close: the stores, restaurants, and places for entertainment. To me all of this is amazing.

I do wish more people here realized what opportunities and privileges they have. The cafeteria, for example: they sell food here, they provide you with food. Probably not the best, but you have the option.

The amount of help people get with college here is amazing too. Being able to have such amazing buildings, computers, and more provided to you. Sports after school – and even a gym! All of this was new to me.

At home, our schools are way more simple. Some places won’t have the ability to provide wifi to the students, or books.

(This doesn’t mean that Costa Rica is a bad country. In fact, Costa Rica has a very high level of education. We just don’t have all of these options.)

It’s so amazing, so incredible.

I really recommend going on an exchange. I’ve loved my experience so far; it’s been so fun, and there’s so much to do. Friends School of Baltimore is such a beautiful place.