Sophomores: you have ten days to make the most wonderful decision of your life. Until February 15, you have the chance to apply to The Mountain School (TMS), a semester program in Vermont centered around a farm and the question, “What does it mean to know a place?” About a year ago, give or take two weeks, I was submitting my own application to TMS, convinced that I probably would not get in and sure that if I did, I would decline the offer. I could not get the idea out of my mind, though, since I knew I would always question what could have happened if I did not apply. Only when I did get into TMS did I begin to picture myself spending the fall semester of my junior year living on a farm in rural Vermont.

Despite telling myself that I would not go—I have had a good experience at CA until this point, taking memorable classes and meeting some of my closest friends—I knew I would end up there when I told my dad: “I just don’t want to be in the library studying for a math test and wishing I was at The Mountain School.” With three semesters left at CA and at least four years of school after that, I accepted the offer, still not entirely committed to the idea.

I spent last August packing everything into duffle bags, still unable to grasp the fact of my leaving. I was not nervous about homesickness. However, driving up on a labyrinth of back roads on the morning of move-in day, I was filled with nothing but regret. I did not know why I was leaving my friends that I love, the comfort of my own room, and the comfort and assurance I felt at CA. Everyone I knew who had gone to The Mountain School had described their experience as nothing short of incredible, and yet I prematurely and pessimistically believed I would be unable to find my place, my people, and myself.

The beginning of my semester there was wrapped in anxiety. But with each day spent in Vermont, the feeling started peeling away, like the potatoes I processed Tuesday afternoons in the harvest kitchen. I felt a little more at home in this foreign space when my roommate walked into our room on the first day, and the first thing she did was give me a hug. This feeling of being at home grew with every night before check-in. My friends and I would go up to the hill outside our house, singing and dancing and lying on the grass, pointing out the Big Dipper or just admiring the myriad of stars in peaceful silence. I found home in chasing chickens and cooking feasts with my friend and our favorite chef. I went cross-country skiing every day and thoughtfully picked out my coffee mug from the dining hall’s eclectic collection each morning.

This sense of home, which had seemed so elusive to me before, followed me to Farm Day, where I spent the morning pulling thousands of pounds of carrots from the dirt and burying myself under the discarded tops. It followed me to the Environmental Studies class where I learned to identify every species of tree around me, to the brook that I journaled by to pass the 72 hours spent alone in the woods on my solo until I looked around and thought, this was home.

I learned more than I have at The Mountain School than anywhere else, not only about my classes but also about myself, the world, how I interact with it, and how to pronounce “Vershire” (like “for sure”), the 750-person town where we were located. I have never been so excited to learn, so eager to spend every waking moment outside, desperate for more time surrounded by 48 of the most kind-hearted, down-to-earth people I will ever know. I found my place nestled in the hills of Vermont, and my time at TMS has changed me in every way possible, all for the better.