For many months into my freshman year at the University of Rochester, I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I had left my home, family and friends – a perfectly happy life. Without necessarily realizing it, I had left my comfort zone and entered my courage zone. I was stressed.
Coincidentally, 13 years later, I find myself coaching the men’s and women’s squash teams at Harvard University. Every day, we immerse our student-athletes in stress. We don’t leave them there. We guide them as they are bouncing between their comfort and courage zones in practice, in matches, and of course, in the classroom. After each stress cycle followed by recovery, they become better versions of themselves.
At the same time, we help them develop a strong foundation from which to build their confidence and stress tolerance. We work on their ability to put things into perspective. We teach them to embrace the challenge. And to be grateful for where they are and who they are becoming both on and off the court.
Without realizing, I used many of the same techniques during my transition to the U.S. My way to add perspective was telling myself that “I can always return home” – something many people in this world can’t say or do. That gradually resulted in gratitude for having the opportunity to study abroad and it allowed me to start enjoying the experience in a more meaningful way.
"You can get out of your comfort zone wherever you live but moving abroad certainly accelerates your growth."
I started valuing what I had and things I had grown up with. But more importantly, I became excited about the next version of myself; this future self I didn’t know yet but who I knew was starting to form inside of me. I didn’t necessarily have an end goal but I knew I was on the right path.
You can get out of your comfort zone wherever you live but moving abroad certainly accelerates your growth. Coming from a place like Finland, it is likely that you have a strong foundation to build from and to fall back on. Furthermore, if you have a supportive network like the Fulbright Finland Foundation guiding you through the stressful transition, you are not alone in the process, and much more likely to have a fulfilling experience.
If you feel like you’ve already won the lottery by being born in Finland, you may ask why you should leave? No matter what, experiences away from home will make you become more grateful for what you have. They will also show you new ways to experience life. And who knows, you might eventually return home and help Finland become the next version of itself.
What do you have to lose?
You can always return home.