As the trees bloom and the spring months dwindle, each day brings me closer to a momentous event in my life — one where I am afraid to mix navy blues with blacks and struggle to try a new flavor of ice cream.

This fall, I will be going abroad with Semester at Sea, where I will spend 106 days visiting 11 countries and crossing four continents. And to think, getting a haircut last month pushed me out of my comfort zone.

I have a myriad of feelings about leaving the country, going on a hiatus from life at Elon and bidding farewell to consistent land under my feet for some time, as my home base abroad will be a massive ship known as the MV World Odyssey. I will not be able to sit in grass whenever I please or go on a long walk from things whenever I’m stressed, as I will be on a boat with 600 other college students, living, learning and — you guessed it — stepping out of our comfort zones.

But regardless of the limited space and cramped cabin, I will most importantly be thrown into a handful of other cultures around the world that I likely wouldn’t have gotten the chance to experience otherwise. Between endless piles of paperwork, booking flight itineraries, researching cuisine in Eastern Asia and filling out scholarship applications, I barely have the time to think about just how much this trip will change me.

I’m generally not a thankless person, I’m not usually the kind of person who takes my experiences and opportunities for granted, but I’ve noticed myself getting more used to how lucky and fortunate I am during this past semester. I’m ready to renew my sense of wonderment and awe in this world.

Despite how jittery I feel, this will not be my first experience venturing beyond the bounds of the land of the free, obese and politically distressed, as I went on an Elon-sponsored trip this fall to Iceland.

Looking back at the time before my departure, I was in no way prepared to be forced into a new culture, cuisine and way of life. If I’m being perfectly honest, it was a choppy and strange transition.

I showered in water that reeked of toxic waste due to the country’s high concentration of sulfur. I asked workers in every store to compute the prices of a foreign currency. And I found myself eating broiled horse on an exotic food tour of Reykjavik. I was confused and often uncomfortable.

But the important takeaway here is that, regardless of all this, I survived. And even better, I am so glad that I did it.

There’s something to be said about stepping out of your comfort zone. It’s something I wish all college students had the opportunity to do, because it changes you in a way that no dietary regimen, allegiance to an organization or course material can. It changes people by forcing them to accept a new norm, to adapt to the irregularities of another type of people’s daily lives and to experience something they haven’t gotten the chance to before.

A study done by the Institute of International Education in 2013 found that 290,000 U.S. college students had studied abroad that year for credit, a record high, and that number has increased since. It’s becoming a norm in the United States, and young people should take advantage of these opportunities because of the changes they force on our lives and because they cause us to discover things about ourselves.

And yes, I’m excited to go abroad so that I can walk the Great Wall in China, dip my toes in the Indian Ocean from Vietnam, swim with sharks in South Africa and reenact scenes from Cheetah Girls in Barcelona, but I see my semester out of the country as so much more than that. It’s about pushing myself out of that comfort zone and really experiencing the world before I have to go out and work in it.

And I challenge you to do the same. I have a feeling you’ll come back better than you were when you left.


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