As I tried my best to enjoy what was most likely my last stress free summer at home waiting out the days until the start of my adventures in England, I was feeling particularly optimistic, excited, impatient, and rather scared. My excitement and impatience came from my yearning to explore and experience the world. I became enamoured with the thought of building new friendships, of learning about the world in such an immersive way, and of the many transformative experiences that were sure to come with this journey. Along with the thrill of adventure however, came an irrepressible sense of fear and panic, as taking on such a bold endeavor stirred up a kind of anxiety about being on my own in an unfamiliar place that has burdened me since I was a child. This uncontrollable angst has, in the past, prevented me from undertaking opportunities such as this and limited my personal growth significantly. The fears flooded my mind as the trip drew near, and inevitably, I was taken back to the time I left home in Peru to start a new life in the US.
Being a relatively shy but optimistic nine year old girl, I was ecstatic about this opportunity to live the “American dream”. I was eager to become part of the American culture, which little girls in Peru only fantasize about. But despite being fascinated by the extreme difference between Peruvian and American lifestyles, I was nonetheless terrified to my core of having to adapt to an entirely unfamiliar place. I was afraid of having to go to a new school, far from home, where my peers not only spoke a different language, but looked different, learned differently, and behaved differently. Upon my arrival to the US, the words constantly spoken AT me, which at the time sounded like gibberish, accompanied by the laughter at my confusion, confirmed just how difficult my new life was going to be, at least for a while. When the time came to start school, I was scared not just of the possibility of not fitting in, but precisely of the inevitability of standing out. I knew that adjusting to this new environment would be difficult for me, and it was.
The fears I had as a kid and the subsequent struggle I experienced when being forced to assimilate to a new culture on my own has followed me into my adult life and made me question whether study abroad was something I really wanted to do. I felt uncomfortable, I felt alone for a while, and that was something I never wanted to feel again. I had thought about participating in study abroad from the time I was in high school and had been captivated by the supposed “life changing” study abroad experiences of several students during my college visits. I knew I was certainly not ready for that, but that I surely would be as soon as I got to college. With this mentality, I had looked into applying for summer study abroad programs during my first year. Upon realizing I would have to go alone however, I backed out immediately. I was shaken with fear at the thought of getting lost in an unfamiliar place, of the possibility of not making any friends, and of not just being alone but feeling alone and moreover, far from home. I too dreaded the possibility of feeling rejected, of standing out, of feeling that I was “too different”. The “what if’s” and the worries took over and I thought to myself, “I’m still not ready, but surely next year”. The following year, I met some friends who were planning on pursuing independent study abroad programs that spring and I remember thinking “How can they just go to a different country all on their own?”. My fear took over me once again and I thought to myself, “I am still not ready”. I continued to tell myself that eventually I would travel and that maybe “next year” I would finally be ready. Watching my friends depart on their journeys and hearing about the thrilling experiences they had, made me realize that I would never be ready. I would never be prepared because my fear would always get in the way. I realized that unless I took action and faced these fears head on, that I would live a sheltered life full of regret and full of “what if’s”. I realized that the thoughts of being on my own, of getting lost, of being different, of struggling, were incomparable to the thoughts of missed opportunity, of not ever getting the chance to spread my wings, of “what if I HAD gone”. I realized that the moment to face my fear, the moment to take a chance, the moment to live, to grow, to thrive, is not tomorrow or the next day, it is not next week, or next month, or next year, it is now. This epiphany, propelled me to apply that very semester in spite of my still present anxiety. I stopped fixating on the fear I had as a child and the difficulty of adjusting, and focused on what came after. Adapting to American culture was indeed painful, but I recall that after enduring numerous ESL (English Second Language) sessions, infuriating American educational cartoons, and the countless instances of “How do you say this in Spanish?”, I was finally able to embrace my new life and accept the beauty that accompanied the journey. Before I knew it, I had a growing, diverse group of friends who not only gave me the opportunity to learn from them, but who were eager to learn from me. I was surrounded by people who, in time, showed me that being different is okay and that meeting people from different cultures is something of great value.
Despite my childhood experience being the source of my anxiety, I have come to realize that it has also strengthened me significantly and prepared me to be able to take part in something like study abroad. What I choose to take form it is my courage, resilience and ability to adapt no matter the circumstance.
Still, as my summer drew to an end and the time to embark on my study abroad journey approached, I was terrified. However, I reminded myself of the reason I decided to apply in the first place and the good that was sure to come from it. Although my fears still lingered, I knew that, in time, I would adjust to my new environment and thrive like I did before. I knew that adapting would be difficult, and it was. But based on my previous experience, I also knew that the struggle would only be temporary, and that my study abroad experience in general would be metamorphic and refreshing. I knew that being part of a different culture would have its rewards. I knew that I would meet people that were different just like me, and I knew that they would give me the opportunity to learn from them and that they would too learn from me. I knew that studying abroad would be life changing, I knew that it would be beautiful, and it was.
Studying abroad has completely changed the way that I think. It has assured me that living life in fear is not really living. It has helped me figure out who I am, and what I want. Study abroad has transformed me into a more independent, self-assured woman, and has taught me to never let fear get in the way of my goals. It has taught me that life is too valuable to let it be governed by fear, too short to tell yourself “I’ll do it tomorrow”, and too beautiful to not see what it has to offer.