“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” – Neale Donald Walsch. Many of us live our lives falsely believing that the world around us sets limits on what we are capable of and can achieve. We have a tendency of fearing what lies beyond what we already know. While confronting the unfamiliar can be intimidating, inviting the unknown into our lives often sets the stage for some of our most worthwhile experiences, and, more often than not, we find ourselves to be more capable than we think.
Studying abroad in Argentina had been in the works for me for about a year prior to my departure. Everything was planned; my semester at La Universidad Nacional de Córdoba in Córdoba, Argentina would start in March, so I would spend six weeks in January-February leading up to this excursion in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica to get certified in TEFL/TESOL and International Exam Preparation. Family gatherings became fun, because I finally had something to talk about at the Thanksgiving dinner table when people asked me what my plans were and what I was doing with my life.
But talking is easy. Fast forward to the week before my trip, when the realization that I would be traveling alone, thousands of miles away from home, was finally setting in. No longer would I be able to dwell idly in the comfort zone I had spent the last 20 years of my life constructing around myself comprised of my friends, family, and everything that I knew.
When asked whether you are interested in studying abroad or travelling to new places, I have found that very seldom will someone answer “no, I have no interest in exploring the world or broadening my perspective.” I chose to study abroad because I wanted to immerse myself in a new cultural context, to meet new people, and to seek a sense of understanding. To invite change and the unknown into my life with the hope that I would leave with new experiences and ultimately grow as a person. I went to Costa Rica and Argentina without knowing a single soul, overwhelmed by self-doubt, unpreparedness, and a general sense of loneliness. I am still shocked by how quickly those feelings melted away. I learned that it is okay not to know, in fact, sometimes better not to know what’s going on, and dive head first into the experience.
I’ve eaten many a proper Argentinean asado. I’ve tangoed. I drank mate in parks throughout the city with people from all corners of Argentina and the world. I changed a flat tire in Puerto Madryn when we were stranded 15 hours away from our final destination. I went surfing. I marched on El Dia de la Memoria for the disappeared victims of the last military dictatorship and found myself awe-inspired by how strongly a cause could unite such an otherwise diverse group of people. I taught English to classroom of ESL learners. I met an Irishman who was born on Antarctica. I drove farther south than the continent of Australia through barren fields with a carload of girls from England in search of penguins and glaciers. Most notably, I met people who have left me absolutely changed.
After driving approximately 6,000 km through this beautiful country, I realized that it’s not about the amount of territory covered, but about the feeling you get when you know you’re in the right place at the right time, doing exactly what you’re meant to be doing. It’s about the gratitude you realize for the people that helped to get you there. Moreover, it’s about acknowledging the role you played in getting yourself to where you are. Recognizing your capacity to adapt to and overcome all of the obstacles you were presented with along the way. It’s about knowing that you’re capable.
Any great experience wouldn’t be complete without its hardships. Opening yourself up to new ideas, to a new life, to creating a new world surrounded by new people with the knowledge that it is temporary. Knowing and accepting that the life you knew will continue moving forward even in your absence. Investing yourself so fully in something so fleeting; something you knew from the beginning you would say goodbye to. Above all other obstacles that I encountered during my study abroad experience, these are by far the hardest challenges to overcome. Even though the goodbyes are inevitable and difficult, you know you wouldn’t take back the experience for anything. There is nothing that could convince you to give up the people, the experiences, or the moments that you opened yourself up to.
With this sentiment in mind, I would, without question, encourage everyone to study abroad. You find comfort living in the moment and out of your comfort zone. You learn to stop searching for problems but rather to work through them as they come, and you stop dwelling on the negative. You learn to let go and to open yourself to the people around you. You dispel prejudice and ignorance and in their places cultivate understanding and self awareness. By living on your own in a completely new cultural context, you gain a new sense of what it means to be independent, to be competent. You will be left with the knowledge and conviction that you will not only overcome, but succeed and thrive. That you are, above all, capable.
Lauren Binnert, Junior majoring in Psychology and a Study Abroad Ambassador who studied abroad in Córdoba, Argentina in Spring 2016