As summer approaches, so are the priority and final deadlines for study abroad programs for next Spring, Winter, and Calendar Year terms (June 15th and September 15th respectively). If you’re contemplating leaving home but are unsure of leaving the things you know and are familiar with (friends, family, university life) read John’s article on why he decided to seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and leave his comfort zone for seven months at a time.
Guest Article: John Buysse, Opinions Columnist for the Daily Illini
Going outside of your comfort zone is a lot like leaving a luxurious warm bed in the morning to begin a day of stress-filled activities and commitments. With both, getting out of bed is rarely one’s own choice because, well, who wouldn’t choose warmth and comfort over the harsh realities of the outside world?
In the case of a warm bed in the morning, there is typically some urgency: a series of alarms, some glaring sunlight or the innate need to get things done to force you out of bed. For some, the realities of the day ahead can be prolonged even more with a warm shower and, if you’re lucky, some breakfast (and maybe a cup of coffee) to give you the boost to get things going.
The boundaries of a comfort zone are much less defined than a bed. A comfort zone can mean many things: being surrounded by family, the same best friends or even staying with the same job for years and years to avoid the stress of making a major life change.
However, unlike a bed, comfort zones don’t usually have incessant alarms or an equivalent force that pushes the need to leave. In fact, some people successfully avoid leaving their comfort zones forever.
Until recently, I was starting to become one of those people.
Coming to college and leaving my family, friends and hometown was challenging, I was able to experience a new feeling of comfort fairly quickly with the help of some familiar faces and new ones, too. Since that time, though, I have continued to push myself further and further into this new comfort zone with little challenge to the status quo in sight. I have grown increasingly close with my college friends. I have gained more experience within each of my student organizations and risen to leadership roles within those clubs. Overall, I have created a life here for myself that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’m happy.
Recently, something changed. Something was missing, and I needed to change that.
I am spending the next 7 months literally and metaphorically outside of my comfort zone.
First, I will be spending the summer in Austin, Texas. A few weeks ago, I was presented with the opportunity to spend the summer working at a dream internship with an iconic ad agency in Austin. While this sounds ideal (and pretty much is), it is somewhat nerve-racking. I have never been to Austin, I don’t know a soul there and I have no idea where I will be living yet. I have never been someone who has such uncertainty ahead.
However, I have decided to follow up my summer in Texas with a semester abroad in Leuven, Belgium. This may not sound extraordinary, but I have spent the last three years living with the internal assumption that studying abroad was not an option. I had become too involved, too committed and too attached to the advertising club I dedicated much of my time and passion to. This club typically requires year-long commitments in order to take on major leadership roles such as the ones I had been involved with over the last two years.
Within those years, it was not a question as to whether or not I would take the opportunities offered to me. However, I recently realized that the chance to study or spend an extended period of time abroad really only happens in college.
So, with those changes I am shifting my life completely and leaving the comfort that currently surrounds me.
I am not doing it for anyone else.
I am not doing it because I have to.
I am doing it because, sometimes, in order to grow and become better, we must leave the things we know make us happy. In both of my upcoming adventures, the fact that I do not know a soul is just an opportunity to meet many new friends. The unfamiliar cultures are sure to change my perspective on the world, as well.
Though the results of such changes are totally unknown, the rewards can be astounding and the act of trying in itself is an accomplishment.
So, if you’re a freshman too nervous to join an intimidating club — do it. If you’re a sophomore deciding to study abroad, but are holding back — go for it. If you’re a junior wanting to change majors because you realize something else makes you happy — change it. Lastly, if you’re a senior who is apprehensive about accepting a job in a different state — take it.
Like a bed, if things don’t work out once you leave your comfort zone, you can always go back and start again.
John is a junior in Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBuysse.