I came in on the first cohort day freaking out because I only sort of knew one person. I got to Temple Israel extra early. There were just a few other people in the room, so I took a seat by myself at a table in the back. Slowly, people started to trickle in, and a few ended up sitting at the same table as me. The first thing we did that day was split up in small groups and I was shaking with nerves. The activity was supposed to help us slowly get to know each other but that didn’t ease any of my anxieties. I had to say something, but what if I said something stupid? What if I tried to make a joke and nobody laughed? That fear vanished almost as soon as I plopped down on the floor with the rest of my group members. Early on in the conversation, I realized that we were all in the same boat: this was the first professional work experience for many of us and we were all anxious about meeting new people. Not long after that, other connections between us started to form, as well. I mentioned that I’m the only Jewish person in my friend group, not to mention one of the few in my entire school, and, much to my surprise, two of the other girls in the group said they were in the same situation.
Over the next six weeks, I was able to talk and bond with every single person in the internship. Rachel made us sit next to new people every cohort day and it soon got to the point where it felt like we had known each other for ages. The sense of community we built was strong. In most settings, there’s that one person who makes the experience not as fun for everyone else, but that didn’t happen here. Everyone wanted to be there, everyone was excited to be there, and everyone was engaged. For our last field trip (and also probably my favorite one) we went to the Mystic River where we pulled water chestnuts out of the water and there was a prize for whoever pulled out the most. I admit I’m not a very competitive person—a fact that has been shouted at me many times during gym class—but this time, it was different. I was excited to do something that would directly help the environment. My partner, Zoe, and I pulled out twenty-seven buckets of invasive water chestnuts, singing Taylor Swift and Into the Thick of It by The Backyardigans (thanks Rachel) and ended up in second place. You see, Teen JUST-US brought out a side of me I didn’t know I had. It made me excited to go out of my comfort zone and have new experiences with new people.
This is the first situation I’ve been in where I’ve been surrounded by a group of people who are the same ethnicity as me, are the same age as me, and care about the same issues I do. It’s a really powerful feeling to realize that you’re not alone in more ways than one.