The Comfort Zone

Maddie Drake is a student at UMass Amherst and an official API Student Blogger. Maddie is studying abroad this fall with API in  Grenoble, France.

I guess you could say that so far, this trip for me has been all about getting out of my comfort zone. Monday will mark the end of my first week in France, and I can confidently say that everything in my life has been turned upside down.

My program started in Paris, where myself and six other students explored the city with our guide and director, Marie. We saw the classic sights- the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, the Seine- and of course tasted as many traditional French dishes as possible. Our waistbands may have suffered but our hearts and minds certainly did not; Paris is truly one of the most invigorating places I could have conceived.

Four days later, I found myself sitting on the TGV with the other students, wondering what Grenoble would bring me. I was happy, for sure, but also very uncomfortable; what if I didn’t like the town? What if my dorm was secluded, too small, or surrounded by unfriendly neighbors? What if my classes were too hard? What if, what if, what if.

Moving into my dorm was effortless, compared to the American experience of signing hundreds of papers, lugging around boxes and lamps and rugs, and just generally bumbling around until you stumble upon the right room. Here in France, I signed a few papers and then went right up to my room (one of the many French simplicities that I could really get into!). My first night was quiet, and I spent some time reflecting on the beautiful rustic town that is my home for the next 3 months. I don’t know about you, but my hometown in the States doesn’t have cobblestones, trams, fountains, or hundreds of little eateries up and down the streets. And I haven’t even mentioned how stunning the Alps are to wake up to every morning!

My comfort bubble was officially broken when I had to take the bus into town and find my way around the city the next day. As someone with incredibly poor French, I can’t say I had the utmost confidence in my ability to not end up in, say, the opposite end of France (hey, who knows where these buses go to?). But somehow I navigated my way into the center of town, and even had time to buy a croissant and watch the sun break through the clouds around the Alps. I watched all the people strolling to work, and even though I was in a foreign country and hadn’t heard a word of English or seen a single familiar face all day, I found that I did not need the comfort of home to be happy.

I’m sure a lot of intimidating moments face me, but I expect that- you have to when you’re abroad. Dealing with embarrassment becomes second nature, and I’m only a week in! As Anna, one of my directors said during our first tour of Grenoble, “there are no problems, only solutions”. Every uncomfortable moment will teach me more about Grenoble, and myself.

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