Week 1: Exiting My Comfort Zone

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It has officially been one week since I stepped into England. If I am going to be honest, this week has been challenging, hard, and a one mishap after the other kind of week. I have fluctuated between feeling like studying abroad was the biggest mistake I have ever made to thinking it was the best thing that ever happened to me- from feeling like I can conquer the world to feeling completely insecure, afraid, and incompetent. I have flipped-flopped between these opposites too many times to count. I came into this study abroad with every intention of escaping my comfort zone. Surpassing my comfort zone was easy for me to dream about for the last two years, but as I was finally able to take my first steps beyond it, I realized how truly terrifying and gut-wrenching that is. And I won’t lie the moment I stepped out of my comfort zone, I was furiously knocking on the door to get back in. But you cannot simply just step back in when your comfort zone is an 11-hour plane ride away. I realized in that moment it was now easier for me to move forward rather than to move back. So forward I went.

When I arrived at my dorm I had no toilet paper, no food, no towels, no bedding, no necessities. After realizing I needed these things, it dawned on me I had no idea how to get them. I spent the day walking back and forth between the stores and campus. The walk to the stores varied from a mile to a couple of miles. I was told that I couldn’t use the bus as I had yet to attain my school ID (later on I was told I could still have used the bus; I just wouldn’t get the discount.) I also could not get an Uber or a taxi because I didn’t know my British phone number, which was required to access those services. While I had so much worry of the unknown, I tried really hard to enjoy my walks to the store and to appreciate my new town, the quaintness of England, and how incredible it was to actually be experiencing what lies beyond my comfort zone-how amazing it was to be living what I once imagined, dreamed of, and worked so hard for. Walking back to campus was a whole other story as I had to haul bedding, towels, food, toilet paper and other essentials back to my dorm. I was way more negative in those moments. It took me all day to get the basics. Yet by the time it got dark I still didn’t have any silverware, so I resorted to drinking cereal out of a cup I found at one of the shops. I went from the glorious idea that studying abroad meant exploring England and Europe, meeting new people, experiencing culture, to the grand reality of drinking cereal alone in my dorm room understanding the weight of living in I a place I didn’t know. Newness in adventure most certainly doesn’t always feel safe, natural, enjoyable, and carefree. Which was just not as fun as the romanticized idea I started with.

I spent the rest of the week sorting out registration mishaps as I was registered in the business program instead of the psychology program, learning how to use the bus system, and being told I came into the UK illegally and I would have to exit the country for a month. By the end of the week, my spirits were crushed, and I discovered a whole new level of aloneness, fear, and uncertainty.

On Friday I met with the research professor overseeing the UK portion of my research. He felt horrible about my struggles, helped me get registered in the right program, showed me the psychology building, and then invited me over for dinner with his family that night. It was my first hot meal since I arrived. I tried to take the bus to his town and ended up lost at a random stop the bus driver left me at. They then came and picked me up. Their kindness and understanding of my jump into another culture really helped me to feel some relief and have some faith maybe things would work themselves out. No matter where you go in the world, others’ kindness still feels as comforting as it does at home and still makes all the difference.

Now at the end of the week, I have everything I need to live, I know my way around campus, I know how to use the bus system, I got to enjoy English ice cream, I am in the right program, I have someone willing to help me work out the hard parts about being abroad, and I didn’t end up being deported by immigration. Although it has been hard, I am proud of myself for what I was able to accomplish on my own. I’m proud that I was brave enough to seek out this experience even if I didn’t completely know everything it entailed. I am realizing just because things feel like a catastrophe doesn’t mean they actually are. It’s okay to make mistakes and even though I may have looked stupid crying because I was lost on the bus or didn’t know how to get toilet paper, I didn’t let that fear of not knowing how to overcome those problems in the moment stop me from working through them. I would have normally criticized myself, as I am usually very hard on myself, but this week I was surprised with the amount of compassion I had towards myself as I had worked through this huge new learning curve. I think my mind realized that for the first time in my life I needed a bit of self-compassion to survive. I learned that problems arise, and you have to just readjust your focus, and move forward on your new path. The faster you accept it, the faster you get out of it. Everything in time will sort itself out. Sometimes we must be patient with ourselves and the process. I have heard all that my whole life, so it’s really nothing new or profound to anyone but me right now, because I actually finally believe it. Life lessons really hit different when you figure them out for yourself. So even though my surface level was a mess this week, I knew deep down I was okay. If anything I have come to the conclusion it is not so much about starting out as the person you need to be, it’s more about growing into her as I go.