Do a quick image search on the word “adventure” or “study abroad,” and you’ll see everything from cliff divers to white water rafters in a wide array of perfectly tumblr-esque pictures. Stunning images of people who are propelled by adrenaline and seemingly devoid of fear show off how they treat the world as one giant playground.
Insert me. I’ve always been lost, timid, anxious. There’s doubt in my chest, fear in the slope of my shoulders, and I constantly question how much I should trust myself. I am, by no stretch of the imagination, the tumblr-esque picture of adventure. I don’t take risks much at all. Or ever.
But here I find myself landing in a foreign country I know very little about, about to embark on a four month experience living in Lima, Peru and studying with local students at la Universidad del Pacífico.
There are a million thoughts zooming through my head as the plane lands, but mostly I’m focused on a random phrase that pops into my head–“comfort makes for complicity.” To me it means that the only way to grow is by challenging yourself, broadening your horizons, and being ready for whatever life throws at you.
Grateful to stretch out my legs after hours of sitting, I’m enjoying the buzzy mix of adrenaline and elation bubbling in my bloodstream as I land. A flurry of Chinese, Italian, French, Spanish, and English greets me, and I fumble my way through the airport.
Before I meet the woman I’ll call my home stay mom for the next four months, I flatten my hair nervously as if that will somehow make it look like I haven’t been traveling for the better part of the past 20 hours. My brain is clouded by a need to sleep, but adrenaline seems to have wired my eyes open. She speaks to me in a whirlwind of Spanish, and I’m left in a new bed, a new apartment, a new city, and a new country.
The next morning, my home stay mom speaks to me again in rapid fire Spanish, and I suddenly feel my throat tighten. My eyes suddenly sting, and I’m left floundering. She asked if I wanted my eggs scrambled or fried, right? I find myself frustrated. The switch in my brain between English and Spanish is refusing to budge and I find myself just nodding my head, much to her confusion.
Accepting comfort is starting to sound good to me. Simply walking to the ISA office turned into a monumental task when my roommate and I took a wrong turn and literally got lost on our own block. To an outsider, everything–from the sprawling city’s traffic patterns to the bus system–is particularly confusing.
My first few days here in Lima have been overwhelming at times, but I remind myself that it’s natural to face language barriers. It’s normal to get lost in a city you’re not familiar with. It’s part of the experience to face challenges and cultural differences.
The moment comes when you have to decide if you’re going to embrace challenges abroad for what they are, or if you’re going to stubbornly hold on to your comfort zone. I chose the former, and it has made me a much more flexible and empathetic person.
I can already feel myself changing. I can’t help but feel at home here, even if it’s a vastly different world from the one I’ve grown up in. I’m starting to prefer the sound of Spanish to English, I’m starting to get around the city more comfortably, and I can affirm the cliché with some pride that study abroad really has helped me to grow as a person and expand my comfort zone.
My best advice for starting your adventure abroad is to embrace the unknown. Comfort is overrated. Try to do the things that scare you as often as you can. The best way to learn about yourself and your host culture is to test your own limits.
Want to read more about Peru? Check out “Give it a Shot: Service-Learning in Cusco, Peru”