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Getting Used to Embarrassment

YES Abroad student Gaby with 12 classmates in Jordan

By Gaby M., YES Abroad 2021-2022, Jordan

Embarrassment is an emotion I've always struggled with, ever since I was a kid, and I always have a strong, defensive reaction when I start to feel it. I have the instinctual urge to deny, backtrack, get defensive, and essentially shut down whenever I feel embarrassed.

Here in Jordan, though, I can't exactly hole myself up and shut down whenever I'm embarrassed, because it happens. All. The. Time. 

I don't really enjoy drinking tea or coffee, so whenever my host mom asks if I want some, I politely tell her "la shukran", which means "no, thank you" in Arabic, and then I ask for just water. Upon telling her this, the entire family burst into loud laughter, as if what I said was the best joke they had ever heard when I never even knew the punchline, and they repeated back "just water" while laughing. 

I came to realize that, while shame and embarrassment colored my cheeks red, they weren't really making fun of me, they just didn't know people who preferred water over other drinks. I experienced embarrassment time and time again afterwards, from not knowing how to comfort my younger host siblings to ordering the wrong food in Arabic, to even walking into the wrong classroom at school.

I still haven't been able to stop myself from feeling embarrassed, and my cheeks and ears still go red every time I feel it, but I've learned one crucial lesson, and that is to laugh it off. Laughing off the embarrassment is so important, even when you feel like you want to bury yourself in a hole and cry. 

Gaby eating marshmallows with three friends

Laughing not only stops me from breaking down or shutting off, but it also makes me feel better, even when I don't necessarily feel like laughing. Every time I feel the guilty shame bubble up in my gut, I turn it into laughter, and the situation dissolves more easily than it ever has before. 

Don't be afraid to make mistakes, but also, don't feel guilty when you get embarrassed. Everyone has that feeling, even if some people don't show it, and laughing is the best way to ease the tightness in your gut and the burning in your cheeks. 

After all, once everything is over and done, I bet I'll look back on those embarrassing moments and smile, reminiscing the best times of my life.