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Get out of your comfort zone...and grow.

 

It is easy to get comfortable in the “bubbles” of our own little worlds. 

For me, that bubble consisted of my hometown of St. Louis and expanded two and a half years ago to include Oxford when I began the first semester of my freshman year. While everything was new and overwhelming at first, I settled in, made friends and found my stride in the cadence of daily life at Ole Miss.

Besides a few short stints in other cities -— a month of studying Spanish in Quito, Ecuador, and a summer internship in Washington, D.C. — I have never really been pushed out of my comfort zone for an extended period of time. Returning to Oxford each semester has become routine, and it is no longer a distant place. It is home.

But for the first time in my three years as an Ole Miss Rebel, I will not be coming home to Oxford this semester or even in the fall. Three weeks ago today, I boarded a plane bound for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with no plans to return until next December, not even one trip home.

To say that moving to Brazil was the hardest thing I have ever done would be the ultimate understatement. I left behind my family, my friends, my boyfriend and absolutely everything I have ever known. While I pride myself on being an independent person, the idea of completely detaching myself from the familiar and moving 5,000 miles away was a lot easier to think about than to actually do.

The first days here in Rio were by far the hardest. Having studied abroad before (albeit, only for a month), I was no stranger to culture shock. Nevertheless, the constant barrage of novelty — not to mention the language barrier — was overwhelming. I went to bed exhausted at night, only to drag myself out of bed the next morning and do it all over again.

Just as I knew they would, things started to get easier. Breaking out of my St. Louis/Oxford “bubble” was far from effortless, but in the 21 short days that I have been here, I have already learned so much about myself. As cliché as it sounds, drawing myself out of the intricate support network that I have created over the years in the United States has forced me to grow as a person.

To give an example, I have become keenly aware of how I handle stressful situations. Instead of getting flustered and freezing up, I force myself to step back, take a breath, and try again. Life is about trial and error, and whether I am in my Portuguese class, talking with my host mom, or asking for directions on the street, I know that giving up will get me nowhere. Sometimes you have to put yourself out there and make mistakes in order to grow, which is something that I have always hated. I learned just how far a little courtesy, a big smile and an easy-going attitude can get you. 

As an international studies major, I have always known that I would study abroad at some point in my collegiate career. But while I might have initially thought that the experience was a Croft graduation requirement so that students gain marketable language skills and cultural understanding, I am now beginning to understand how it is so much more than that. 

Studying abroad, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and throwing yourself into the unknown forces you to learn about yourself in a way that you could never hope to replicate while safe inside the “bubble” that is Oxford, Miss. While such a huge change was intimidating at first, I know that I will return to Ole Miss a stronger student and person because of it.

While I know that studying abroad is not for everyone, that does not mean that you cannot find something that will give you a similar experience while state-side. Take a chance and push yourself. You will not regret it.

 

Lexi Thoman is junior international studies and Spanish double-major from St. Louis, Mo.