Updated: Sep 1, 2019
We've heard so much about it, but what does this mean for Us & Study Abroad.
“If you are a first generation college student, preparing for study abroad is probably driving you away from your comfort zone.”
It's 3 weeks before my 6:00 AM takeoff to Accra, Ghana, Africa, and I am realizing my comfort zone.
We are fed the misconception that it is bad to rest in Our comfort zone. It's an Okay thought, to think, but what does it REALLY mean for the underrepresented community in institutions that are not made for Us and yet are trying to teach us using their ways?
In the Us, you find everyone that has a past of oppression or lack of representation. For Us, it is okay, especially before and during our study abroad experience, to realize our Comfort Zone and to sit with it for a little bit.
Think of your Comfort Zone as a process, not a place or fixed mind-set. It does not mean you are opposed to experiencing new things. It means that you mentally rest with the realization of your discomfort.
This is Okay because all good things take time. Give yourself time to become comfortable with experiencing something so big as Studying Abroad.
For me, that has meant exploring mental pathways that I was not used to.
Some of my worst thoughts, before realizing my Comfort Zone, were the following:
Not knowing how the world at home was going to function or continue without me
Not understanding that it is okay to tell people that you are other things than excited, like: fearful, nervous, uncertain, even scared
Not prioritizing talking with my family about the trip
Preparing for study abroad is mentally demanding, and you shouldn't expect it to be anything less. This is a once in a life-time opportunity. When are you going to have the opportunity to ever again be abroad for 5 months? ALONE for 5 months? Be at the molding of a new culture for 5 months?
It's overwhelming, but less so when you realize your Comfort Zone.
So, if you are anything like me, it will do you good to keep some things in mind:
Don't emotionally armor up: you are free to feel as you please. Explore your emotions instead of neglecting them. Talk to someone you trust or a study abroad physiologist who can help you reach your own conclusions about Why you feel the way you are feeling.
Treat your mental well-being, and the mental well-being of your family, with the same prioritizing you would treat getting a VISA or airplane ticket ready. If you are first generation it is likely that the study abroad experience is just as new to your family as it is for you. If so, you might need to step it up and give them information that will set their mind at ease. It might be as simple as setting a clear communication system while you are abroad.
Find people that look like you and that understand where you are coming from, and ask those people to be in your corner, especially if you are coming from a predominately white institution. If you are having an experience like I did, you are only talking to study abroad counselors of lighter-skinned complexions and you are taking mandatory classes about the "International Experience" that talk about your culture for the white people in the class, as if white people have lived under rocks their whole lives. If this is the case, it will do you good to talk to people you are comfortable with that have been abroad, that will tell you things like, "If a person's skin, of dark-complexioned skin, doesn't look ashy after they wash their hands--given that they did not apply lotion to their skin--they did not wash their hands!"
We don't realize how detrimental it can be to not spend time on your mental well-being.
And, if you are going to Ghana, throwing medication on top of that is even worse. Keep in mind that it is important to learn about the side effects of any medication you take and how your body might react to it, and later realizing how your body is reacting to it.
Realize your Comfort Zone.