Guest Post: Discomfort Zone
I have been asked to write a guest post for Liza about my experiences as an international student in the UK. My name is Wesz, I’m 23 years old and from the Netherlands, and this is my proclamation.
For me, studying abroad is all about stepping out of my comfort zone. I have learned that, no matter what happens in life, everything will always turn out okay – something that I secretly despise, because it’s so incredibly cliché. Nonetheless, I have started university with this state of mind. Joining a society for international students to broaden your cultural horizons? Sure! Deciding to sit next to a stranger instead of relishing in the safety of sitting alone? Why not. Going out, acting like a total alcoholic and getting uncharacteristically wasted? Me last night. Taking free stuff during the Fresher’s Fair while feeling like a hobo? Sounds about right. Putting on a ridiculous ski-outfit, complete with a blond mullet, and letting a stranger take my picture, just to win free sunglasses? That’s so me. Leaving my email address with the military society even though I need to be hooked up to an oxygen tank after going up one flight of stairs? Fair enough.
Now, in all honesty, I did not join the military society – just because it’s better for both my and their safety. But the point is, I did give it a chance. The only thing I had to do was write down my email address, which, let’s face it, is an incredible simple task. Sure, I was certain I wouldn’t pursue it, but hey, what if I actually found the information they sent me appealing? Then I would’ve ended up gaining personal experience in the whole Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell extravaganza, a.k.a. life experience. Experience I might benefit from in the future. It would have made me more confident; maybe a little less terrified of doing presentations. I would have gained a unique skillset, and maybe my chances of survival during an apocalypse would have increased. I would have gained all that, just by simply leaving my email address with this impressive looking stranger.
But in all seriousness, let me give you an example of something that actually happened to me. I did sign up for the Global Buddy program. Basically, you’re thrown into a group with six or so other international students and one main buddy from the UK. There are a lot of groups. I saw the pitch about the program before I moved and instantly I was excited, yet terrified. What if someone in my group had a problem with me? Sure, I’m a nice guy, but I’m gay, and also fairly sure that still might be an issue in some countries. Or what if my cultural heritage isn’t interesting enough? Dutch people are exhaustingly boring – oh, come on, yes, we are. And what if this was going to be my new label? Oh my God, it was going to be my new label. I was going to be ‘the international one’, instead of ‘the funny one’ or ‘the sweet one’. I’ve never been the foreigner in a group, how do I know what to wear with it? No. No, I wasn’t doing this. In a month, I was just going to move to the UK and pretend I was English. Simple as that. I could be unfaithful to my new state of mind. It had lasted for a good five days. It’s like New Year’s resolutions, no one keeps those. They’re bound to be broken.
No. No, I’m not joining that group. I’ll just stay close-minded and maybe even a little racist, that’s fine.
So I sign up.
A week later I receive an email from Global Buddies, telling me who my main buddy is, along with a link to a Facebook Group. My fingers are trembling as I follow the link and request to join. It only takes a couple of seconds before I get accepted, and there I am, officially a buddy. I notice others have been just as excited as me, because there are already multiple introduction posts. I read them all, impressed by everyone’s backgrounds and stories and by their sometimes very contradicting traits and hobbies. Naturally, I debate writing an introduction myself, but I feel unsure as to what to write. What really matters about me? I don’t want to come out again, it’s not that important that I have a boyfriend. Then again, it is, because we’re moving in together. Should I say I’ve been an assistant manager in a restaurant for two years? I don’t want to sound too cocky. Or arrogant. Or unfriendly, that’s even worse. Maybe I shouldn’t write an introduction at all. It’s probably going to be better if they meet me in person in a couple of weeks. Besides, it’s not like I’m good at writing introductions. I suck at writing – I hate it.
So, an hour later, I click ‘post’ and my introduction is online.
I even receive a couple of responses. Not as many as I had secretly hoped for, but at least some. I also go on a mission to figure out who exactly is in my group, which is fun. I come across similarities and hobbies that I might be interested in too. This Polish girl, Anna, has mentioned writing in her introduction as well. We message each other that we’re in the same group and instantly admit we’re willing to help each other out, may we need to. It’s a little silly, because neither of us know anything about university life, yet it feels nice, because I’ll be seeing at least one friendly face. It makes the whole studying-in-a-different-
country-thing a little less daunting.
Stepping out of my comfort zone is the hardest thing I‘ve ever had to do. If you’ve read my own blog post on first day anxiety, which while a little exaggerated was still true, you can imagine the extent to which I freak out in such situations. I always turned away from things I was intimidated by. Now, I remind myself to turn back around and say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’. Sure, sometimes it doesn’t work. But then again, lots of things don’t always work – like the Tumblr app – and I’m not going to focus on those things. I’m going to be a naïve, blond idiot and assume it always does work, because I gain way more from that.
Moving abroad to study is a new start, something I think everyone should take advantage of. Sure, I could give you hundreds of tips about staying true to yourself, about finding what you like in a new culture instead of comparing everything to your own and therefore disliking everything, and about not isolating yourself, and about making friends, and about doing your best. But I’m not going to do that, because you’re not an idiot and you’ve heard all that before. No, instead, I decide to preach to you about stepping out of your comfort zone. And I’m going to finalise this rant with one simple line, one that will hopefully cause goosebumps to crawl across your skin and which will hopefully make you smile, because, damn it, it’s that last bit of info that you need to be really convinced.
As I was completely drunk off my ass last night and probably unable to make it safely by myself, Anna walked me home.