I strongly believe you don’t grow as a person when you’re comfortable. And before studying abroad, that’s exactly what I was: comfortable. I had a set routine of going to classes, getting a workout in, and going to work. I worked two part-time jobs at the same time, so I stayed pretty busy. Days were flying by, yet I didn’t feel like I had any personal growth or life experiences to show for it. Yes, I had a steady income and was able to pay for college and expenses, but at the age of 20, that wasn’t necessarily what I wanted. What I wanted more than anything was an adventure of a lifetime, something that would challenge me in every way possible. I needed out of my comfort zone and to see what I was capable of.
So, that’s exactly what I did. I decided the biggest challenge for me would be to study abroad in a different country. I have always prided myself on taking and succeeding in challenging courses at the University of Iowa, but I wanted to continue to challenge myself academically while in a completely new environment and surrounded by new people and cultures. I decided on Griffith University in Gold Coast, Australia, where I am now. I figured there was no bigger challenge than to take college classes and try new life experiences 8,600 miles away from everything and everyone I knew, as I came to Australia completely alone.
I’ve been here 11 weeks now and have put myself outside of my comfort zone in so many different ways. At home, I depend on my mom a lot for help or advice. With the geographical and 15-hour time difference, I can’t just call my mom anytime I want and ask for help, and even then, her help is limited from 8,600 miles away. That being said, I’ve grown a lot as a person and more into an adult than I thought possible. I’m cooking all my meals, managing my budget and finances, and making my own decisions based on my own values and morals. I rely on my friends and family at home for support, but when I arrived here I was challenged to make new friends and form a new support system. I’m so thankful for the challenge of coming here alone, because I’ve made such great friends from so many different parts of the world, which wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone. Best of all, I’ve done all of that while enjoying a completely different learning environment and style of teaching. I’ve learned about what works in my own learning and what doesn’t, and how to ask for help when I need it. Also, the different viewpoints of topics covered in classes has broadened my views and helped me to see the bigger picture.
Perhaps the most extreme sense of getting out of my comfort zone has been the life experiences I’ve been able to have here. I’m afraid of heights, yet I’ve gone skydiving and climbed up the outside of the tallest building in Gold Coast. I’m not the best swimmer, yet I’ve snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef and learned to surf in the ocean. I hate bugs, yet I’ve seen some of the biggest spiders in the world up close. I’ve gone hiking in the rainforests, held a koala, fed a kangaroo, traveled throughout Australia, and have immersed myself in different cultural events while abroad. None of that would have happened if I stayed in my comfort zone.
In each circumstance, I had to give myself a pep talk and remind myself I would grow as a person because of it. And I’m so glad I did. I’ve had the time of my life here and have had so much fun with these experiences. When I look back on my college career later in life, I know I can reflect on my study abroad trip as a truly life-changing time period filled with extreme personal growth. I’ve learned so much about who I am, what I am passionate about, and how to care for myself. I’m thankful for the support the Honors Program has provided me, and that they include experiential learning in the curriculum. You’ll never know what you’re capable of until you challenge yourself enough to find out, whether that be through research, an internship, or a study abroad trip.
Written by: Paige Howard, Honors Student and Ambassador