…I had the most amazing experience of my life and realized that fear and challenges can be incredible motivators. Going abroad showed me the benefits that come from taking risks, big and small. I learned so much about myself and what I was capable of in just a few months and a few short steps, and the view from the other side was well worth the struggle.
For International Education Week, we asked our alumni how their study abroad experience impacted them. This is Joanna’s story:
I’ve always been the “play it safe” type of person. Not one for risk taking, I typically stick to what I know I can handle without pushing my limits. Needless to say, studying abroad was way beyond my normal limits. Everybody says that going abroad is about stepping out of your comfort zone, but what does that look like in practice?
For me, the benefit of study abroad was that it allowed me to challenge myself, to push myself past my limits and find out what I was truly capable of. So what does stepping out of your comfort zone look like in real life? For me, it was the simple act of walking across a bridge.
Let me back up. It wasn’t just any little bridge. It was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. As I was planning for my semester abroad in Ireland, I came across a photo of this bridge on Pinterest as a must-see sight in Ireland. I was amazed by the beauty of the photo, but it instantly tapped into my overwhelming fear of heights and really any situation that could be considered dangerous. The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a tiny rope bridge that stretches from the mainland of Ireland to a small island off the coast. The bridge itself is 66 feet long, about 3 feet wide, and – here’s the kicker – hangs approximately 100 feet above the ocean. At first glance, it looks mildly terrifying. The longer I looked at it, the more terrifying it became. Along with my growing fear, I also had a growing determination to walk across that death-defying (as I saw it) bridge, and I promised myself that I would set foot on that tiny island off the coast before I left Ireland.
In terms of pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, my semester abroad was full of little victories. I challenged myself to talk to other students in my classes, take the bus into the city by myself, learn to read maps, navigate foreign cities, and essentially do something each day that would normally scare me or make me a little nervous. All of these little steps led up to my trip to Northern Ireland during my second to last week in the country, where I finally faced the harrowing journey across the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
We arrived at the bridge on a typical cool, cloudy Irish morning and made the scenic walk from the parking lot to the actual site of the bridge. As we walked, hail started to fall and it looked like we wouldn’t be able to cross due to the weather. But by the time we got to the bridge, the sky cleared and looking out all we could see was a picture perfect view of Scotland across the ocean with a clear blue sky overhead. It was a perfect day to face my fears, and now that the weather was clear, I had no legitimate excuse to back out.
It was time. My friends were chatting excitedly, planning the logistics of taking photos, and waiting to cross. I was excited, but also working hard to calm my racing heartbeat and the out of control shaking of my hands. Before I knew it, it was my turn. With my friends cheering from the other side, I took a deep breath, looked straight ahead, and stepped onto the bridge.
It was surprisingly sturdy, and took my breath away in a way that was not connected to my paralyzing fear. I learned after crossing that the rope is actually reinforced by steel. The more I walked, the more calm I became and the more I enjoyed the view around me. It was exhilarating, and really summed up how much I had learned and grown during my semester abroad. Up until that point, I often let my fears control me. When I was finally able to let go and do something that terrified me to my core, I had the most amazing experience of my life and realized that fear and challenges can be incredible motivators. Going abroad showed me the benefits that come from taking risks, big and small. I learned so much about myself and what I was capable of in just a few months and a few short steps, and the view from the other side was well worth the struggle.