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The Benefits of Breaking Free from Your Comfort Zone

When I first arrived in Aix-en-Provence, I thought the semester would last ages and I would never become truly accustomed to life abroad. I was wrong, these four short months in France flew by even faster than I had anticipated. In just the first few weeks, I became close friends with people in the CEA program and others in my classes. The landscape of Aix quickly became familiar, and I grew to know the streets like the back of my hand.
 My favorite fountain in Aix

Back in the US, I attend University of South Carolina, which is far away from my hometown Trumbull, Connecticut. Still, life in South Carolina became a home away from home where I was comfortable and secure in well-established relationships and roles within the community. While I know I have to push my limits to see what I'm really capable of, I often found myself holding back or second-guessing myself. I didn’t have the guts to put myself out there. France was an entirely different story. It was a fresh start, a blank page, a great big adventure. Above all, it was an environment outside of my comfort zone. English is a rare thing to hear on the streets, unless you pass a crowd of American students or wayward tourists. Even with my limited French, I stepped up to the challenge and spoke to locals every day. I jumped right into the semester eager to travel, meet new people, and try exciting things.
 A quick selfie after exploring the woods of Southern France

Throughout the semester, I traveled to other European cities like Barcelona, Paris, London, Rome, and Amsterdam, not to mention countless small towns within the south of France. As cliché as it sounds, as I explored Europe, I discovered aspects of myself I hadn’t let develop in the US.
 Hanging out with my favorite author, Oscar Wilde, in London

I’m a planner. As a self-proclaimed master procrastinator— the type who can whip off a project the night before— this came as a complete shock. But I feel better when a schedule is in place, especially when traveling. It puts my mind at ease to know which bus to take, when tours start, and how to get from A to B.
 Bikes are the easiest way to "get from A to B" in Amsterdam

I’m sentimental. I’ve always hoarded ticket stubs and the like, but as I’ve documented my time abroad through this blog, my creative writing class, and my photography class, I found that I enjoy personally recording my experiences. There’s more meaning to the raggedy plane tickets and crumpled tour guides when I have a photo or snippet of writing attached to physical memory.
 Taking photos with CEA on our excursion to les Gorges

I’m far more talkative than I once thought. When I was younger, I was considered to be “shy,” but I’ve realized that my quietness came from a lack of confidence. I always had a lot to say, but not the loudest voice. This semester, many of the people I met were eager to hear my perspective and experiences. I was encouraged to speak up, especially when I have something meaningful to say. This gave me the confidence to put myself out there and not be afraid to speak my mind. My advise to anyone planning on studying abroad is to step out of your comfort zone. Take advantage of experiences you won’t have in the US. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone you don’t know, even if you may not speak the same language, or even if you’re afraid of making a fool out of yourself. Travel and explore the area around you. Learn from everyone you can, whether it’s how to cook seared duck or how to proper greet someone in French. No matter what the immediate result is, you’ll grow from every step you take abroad.
 Melinda, Laura, and I in Rome's famous Coliseum

Madeleine C. is the Fall 2016 CEA MOJO in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is currently a junior studying English at University of South Carolina. 

Madeleine Collins is the Fall 2016 CEA MOJO Blogger in Aix-en-Provence, France, and is currently studying at University of South Carolina.
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