Thrive on Campus//

An Unexpected Love Affair

Change can only happen when you leave your comfort zone.

Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute(please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

Fear of the unknown engulfed my entire being as I realized my comfortable and easy life was changing, I was going abroad for the spring semester and nothing had ever felt scarier.

My light crying quickly snowballed into a hysterical sob as my Dad drove my family and me to what they called “my last dinner”. I was heaving and shaking as reality hit me; my friends and family were staying in Florida, and I was not.

Though I actively made the decision to study abroad in Valencia, Spain, up until that night, it had all been a romantic daydream. 

The months leading up to my departure I pictured a risqué love affair with travel. I saw myself dancing around Barcelona, skipping through the fields lining the Eiffel Tower, drinking beer and eating pretzels in Germany. These fantasies subjugated my fears.  

Photo by: Sammi Sontag Location: Valencia, Spain

The morning after the “last dinner,” my family took me to the airport. I hugged my parents and told my sister’s I’d miss them and slowly walked toward security. My heart was racing, and my anxiety was building. I took a deep breath, pulled my shoulders back and repeated under my breath, “my adventure is beginning”. This became my mantra

For anyone experiencing a shift in his or her life, whether it’s changing jobs or moving to a new apartment, city, even country, it’s okay to be nervous. In fact, it’d be abnormal if you weren’t. While second-guessing every reason you gave for making this change is also part of the process. Everyone’s uneasy about change no matter how well they externalize their confidence. 

The truth is, change, though initially uncomfortable and scary as hell, is the only way to grow.

Spending six months studying in a foreign country with a group of students from universities across America was terrifying. My brain constantly played tricks on me. It told me I wouldn’t make friends, that I’d lose my luggage at the airport and that my roommate would be crazy — none of which was true at any point.

But it most dominantly told me that my fear of change was singular. I felt nervous and alone. 

Jetlag hit me like a sack of potatoes as I gazed out the plane’s window. I impatiently waited for Valencia to come into focus. And when it finally did my fear strangely subsided. Something clicked and in that moment I knew, “my adventure was beginning”.

I quickly collected my bags and in my less-than-confident Spanish asked my cab driver to drop me off at Calle Sueca 65.  

Photo by: Sammi Sontag Location: Valencia, Spain

I couldn’t tell you the exact moment I realized my fear of the future and change was gone. Instead, I remember how quickly the weeks melted into months and months turned into a semester. 

Being that uncomfortable for that long opened my eyes to the world. I realized the importance of cultural immersion, and the value of empathy. 

In the end, Valencia did feel like home. I could get myself anywhere and everywhere in the city and even offer directions to people on the street. I would respond to locals in Spanish and order my café con leche sin azucar like a boss. My confidence had never been so high, and my self-love was unparalleled. 

Traveling back to America I began to reflect. I saw the ways I had changed so much in such a short amount of time, and I owed it all to the challenges I conquered. 

Every day I was speaking both English and Spanish, finding a new bus route or discovering a path in the park I’d never seen before. I was planning trips to other countries and navigating foreign airports and train stations. And between meeting new people and dropping my ego, I realized each of these tasks though sometimes terrifying, were doubly as rewarding. 

My experience with change taught me flexibility, compassion, patience and self-confidence. These are the qualities that you cannot learn in your comfort zone. Growth and change inevitably happen when you take a risk. 

You have the power to embrace change everyday. So make that move, study abroad, quit your job, do what makes you happy at any and all costs, because this your one beautiful and wild life. Do not waste it in your comfort zone.  

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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