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Exiting Your Comfort Zone
By Ruth, YES Abroad 2022-2023, India
I always thought of myself as the kind of person who always “stepped out of their comfort zone” whenever an opportunity arose. I had never thought of myself as someone who would struggle to make friends, but as I entered my new host school in India, I did just that.
As a gesture of welcome and kindness, my teachers invited me to take the elevator up the seven flights of stairs at school, instead of walking like all students were required to do. During these first few weeks, I always took the elevator, leaving my classmates behind to walk the seven flights of stairs. After the first few weeks, recognizing that I wanted to be a peer to the other students, I started exclusively taking the stairs with my classmates. It was during these moments that I built valuable friendships with my classmates!
I needed to step out of my comfort zone during lunch as well. In India, we eat out of tiffins (lunch boxes) during the lunch period. Unlike in America however, students are used to eating out of one another’s tiffins. Initially, I kept my food to myself and avoided the food-sharing practice I was witnessing among everyone else. Unfortunately, this led me to eat a lot of lunch alone. Over time I got more comfortable with making conversation with my classmates. My protectiveness over my tiffin lasted until quite recently when I allowed my classmates to dive right in and eat from it. Although I had less to eat that day, the company and friendship made me feel more full than any lonely tiffin ever could.
During one school day I was completely exhausted and, not wanting my classmates to see me looking drained and uncharacteristically tired, I took a quick nap in the library. To my surprise, when I got back to my class my classroom my classmates were weary as well, with most having their heads down. From that experience, I quickly learned that my classmates want a friend who sticks with them through the high and low moments, not just the highs. Realizing and accepting this, I changed my mindset and school became much more comfortable. Class felt much more engaging and I got to learn so much more about my classmates, the social group dynamics in school, and their personalities.
I will never fit in completely in India --I will always be the easiest person to spot out in the crowd and some people say that I am so pale, I am practically glowing. My accent is “so American” that my classmates know if I am talking without even looking at me. However, it is the traits of my identity that I cannot change that I am proudest of. I am proud of my American heritage and always look forward to sharing certain aspects of it with my host community and classmates in India. I have learned that to truly thrive in a new environment, where I cannot stay comfortable. Fitting in with a completely new and different place is not easy but it is not always best to stand out, even if it is harder to fit in. If I have learned one thing from my exchange, it is that I would rather be exhausted, hungry, and vulnerable with my friends than comfortable at my own convenience but alone.