I am wheezing and panting along a dirt path in Cinque Terre in 90-degree weather. My mind as I’m hiking from one town to another is on the crisp ocean I’m about to cliff jump into. I never thought I would be this challenged, physical and mentally, so quickly into my AIFS abroad experience.
I am studying abroad this fall in the beautiful city of Firenze in Italia. I came into the program knowing no one else; experiencing the same pit in my stomach about traveling to a strange place and meeting new people. Five minutes before I boarded my flight from Boston to London, I had the fleeting thought of it’s not too late to turn back. I don’t know if I can do this.
I am here to tell you that everyone was thinking the same thing as I was. It is completely normal to have that fear. We are being pushed way out of our comfort zone. We are consciously throwing ourselves into a situation that will test our boundaries and leave us vulnerable. But that’s the beauty of this experience.
I finished the hike, completely covered in sweat and wearing only a bathing suit top and workout shorts. It looked as though I had already jumped in the ocean. I was with six other girlfriends just as exhausted as I was, all looking at each other thinking, I cannot believe we did this! We trekked a three-mile hike that we thought we never would. Later we jumped off a thirty-foot high cliff into the Ligurian Sea. All of this we had tackled together, constantly supporting one another and learning more about who we were. Each of us was expressing our desire to come home with a new appreciation for others, the world, and ourselves. The connection we formed was one of many that occur during a study abroad experience, and it felt amazing. I had never felt so alive, scared, vulnerable, and strong as I did that day in Cinque Terre.
By the time we made it back on the bus to go home, we kept repeating, “I can’t believe we did that… PERSONAL GROWTH!!!” From that day forth it became our motto. Whenever someone in our program would do something they would normally never do, or try food they have never tried before we would yell “PERSONAL GROWTH!” It’s our motto and our inspiration.
Nothing ever grows within your comfort zone. It is a phrase I was taught growing up and one to constantly keep in the back of your mind. To get outside of your comfort zone is to meet people you never thought you would connect with, to eat strange and unusual things, and experience adventures you never thought you would bring your body to do. It’s a beautiful thing to watch your mind, and your body, grow as you go through this abroad experience. So my first words of wisdom to those about to go through this abroad adventure, would be to keep your mind and your heart open to anything that may be thrown at it. You would be amazed at what you learn and who you become.