*Columns are the opinions of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wichitan as an organization.*
College is the time to push yourself and try things you wouldn’t normally have the opportunity for, and MSU’s study abroad program is no exception. This summer I studied French in France through MSU, and it changed me in the best of ways. I felt immersed in the culture and language, conquered quite a few fears and even ended up adding a French minor to my degree plan because I loved it so much. Now that I’m back on the MSU campus, I feel the need to tell everyone to take any opportunity they have to travel. Traveling is not only fun and freeing, but it also gives the traveler the chance to feel culturally enriched and to get out of their comfort zone. With these thoughts in mind, I set my sights on studying abroad in France and, as a result, discovered how natural it was to conquer my fears.
Upon arriving in France, I noticed immediately how different the food is. Food is a difficult journey for a lot of folks, including myself, but on this trip, I decided that I would push myself to try everything, even if it scared me. For me, adventurous foods range anywhere from whole tomatoes to obscure seafood, and I had the opportunity to eat something from every part of that spectrum. By the end of the trip, I didn’t think twice about eating adventurous foods. I ate a mussel off the beach, cheese with layers of blue, and, yes, whole tomatoes. Even more than conquering my fear of new foods, I had the opportunity to learn even more about the culture of France through their food. Looking back at the trip, I am so glad that I took that opportunity and allowed myself to immerse myself in the beauty of French food.
A large part of the study abroad program is living with a host family. My house had a French-only rule. For a while, I was so nervous I would mess up or embarrass myself at the dinner table, and to be honest, I did embarrass myself a couple of times. I began the trip being silent out of fear of failure, but at one point my mindset switched. I realized the standards I was setting for my language capability were too high and ultimately setting me up to feel unaccomplished. Once I stopped holding myself to the standard of immediately being fluent, I really started excelling. I could understand more and I had more of a drive to learn. I began reading and writing French in my off-time. I started speaking up more in class. I could navigate the villes without fear of saying the wrong thing, and if I didn’t understand something I was unafraid to ask for an explanation. All it took was allowing myself to make mistakes, be corrected, and learn.
Finally, I also stepped out of my comfort zone by going on excursions in France. I’m not a very athletic person, and so hikes put a bit of fear in me. The most intense hiking experience was at Mont St. Michel, where we climbed over 900 steps to see the most beautiful view I have ever seen. It looked like it was painted. I was self-conscious about not being able to keep up with the group, but when I got there I didn’t fall behind. I kept up a positive mental process and forced myself to be confident, even though I definitely was not. At this point in the trip, I had realized that all of the times I was afraid to leave my comfort zone, the consequences of leaving were not as big of a deal as I thought. It was simply a mind game I was playing with myself, and I’m glad to have been forced out of it. My “failure is not an option” mindset was not setting me up for success. It was holding me back, and being in a different place with a different culture and language is what it took to break me out of that.
There’s so much more I could say about studying abroad, but this is what I will end with: if you want to do something, don’t let fear be the thing that holds you back. If I had let fear hold me back, I wouldn’t have known that I can eat intimidating foods, speak a foreign language or speed climb 900 steps. I got out of my comfort zone and faked my confidence until that confidence was real. Each of the things I was afraid of when it came to France ended up being conquerable. For these reasons, I would rate my study abroad experience a 10 out of 10, and beyond that, I would recommend the experience to any and all students. Get out of your comfort zone. Study abroad.