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Take The Risk – Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone!
June 30th, 2010 by Liza Wiemer

STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

Some Risks Are Worth It!

By Jeremy West, Age 19

 

Jeremy West

 

When I was sixteen, I learned the value of stepping out of my comfort zone.  I had spent the majority of my life in Anderson, SC going to school, hanging with friends, playing soccer.  So when a teacher at my high school presented the opportunity to travel to China as a foreign exchange student, I wanted the adventure, and so did my friends.  We had seven months to prepare.

But there were obstacles.  Money was one – the trip would cost $2300 for two weeks.  That would have been a big enough reason not to go, especially when you don’t have parents handing over the cash.  If only it were that simple.  The greater challenge was mental.  The teacher had told us that traveling to China would not be easy.  He told us that the food would be unlike anything we had ever tasted, that we would see extreme poverty, and that we would walk most places, so being in top physical shape was crucial. In other words, it was not going to be a vacation.  This was going to be a hardcore trip.

I started fundraising for the trip, working at school to pay for the plane ticket.  Family and family friends also helped out, which I deeply appreciated.  Unfortunately, every one of my friends decided not to go.  Sure, there were other kids from my school who committed to the program, but without my closest friends, I knew the experience would be harder.

The idea of leaving America was unsettling.  I had never left the country let alone faced an eighteen-hour flight around the globe, which was how long it took to reach Beijing, China. To say I was stepping outside of my comfort zone is a super understatement!

Upon arriving in China, I immediately became the minority surrounded by millions of people who spoke only Mandarin, not English. That was one of the scariest parts of the experience – not speaking or understanding the language.  The people stared at me as I walked down the street. They took pictures of me, and with me. Beijing was a nice city in comparison to the majority of cities in China, though it still had smog, litter, disease, and crime.

It wasn’t until I went inside the heart of the country that I truly realized that I had stepped into a whole different world, one of extreme poverty. I went from the grandeur of the Great Wall to the dirty rice fields of inner China. These people had nothing! I felt true compassion for the first time in my life. I had left my comfort zone so far away, and I didn’t even miss it. Sure, I missed a home cooked meal, but my eyes and taste buds were exposed to something completely out of my comfort zone, and I soaked it up.

At one point we traveled by mamu (a taxi cab, which is a motorbike with a cart) to a middle school – grades 7-9.  We had printed cards with the address of our destination so that the driver knew where to take us.  Some students from our group got lost and ended up arriving at our destination much later than expected, a frightening experience to say the least (some were even in tears). The school we visited was different from anything I have heard of or experience in America.  It was a boarding school with thirty-five hundred students.  There was no air conditioning, we were told not to even step into the bathrooms because they were revolting, and the English class we attended was crammed with fifty or sixty kids in a room way too small for that number of students.  They attended school from eight in the morning until seven at night with a two-hour mid-afternoon break for naptime.  Each day, from 7:30 until 8:00 A.M., the students were outside on their school field doing tai chi.

Food was definitely an issue.  Some kids hardly ate anything during the trip, but I am one to try new things, including fish heads, scorpion, squid,octopus, and even snake.  We stayed in a real nasty hotel – there wasn’t a vacuum cleaner in the entire place, we always walked with our shoes on, and bugs were crawling everywhere, even the beds.

If I had the choice to take that trip again, I would pack my bags and go immediately. Life is all about experiences. We learn through making decisions.  From those decisions come experiences, and from experiences we can learn how to step outside our comfort zone. The comfort zone constrains us, while leaving that place of comfort defines us.  My trip to China was definitely one of the most defining moments of my life, and I hope it inspires others to step out of their comfort zones.

While at first I was constrained by fears of all these things I had heard about China, ultimately I wanted to experience it for myself to know the truth. The experience changed me, changed my perspective on the world.  I had never seen so much poverty in a nation, except for on TV, and experiencing it touched me in a much more personal way than seeing it on TV.

Renowned video game developer Steven Coallier once said, “Attack life, it’s going to kill you anyway.” He couldn’t be more right! Life is about experiencing all that you can, but if you are held back by your fears then you will stay stuck inside of your comfort zone forever. It takes true courage to take that leap, but once you do you’ll never look back and miss it.

Before I left for China, I was perfectly content  staying where I was.  There was no reason for me to go on that trip other than the desire to leave my comfort zone and experience all the differences that China had to offer. I ate some of the grossest (and best) food I’ve ever tasted. I made friendships that will last forever. And most of all, I kicked my comfort zone to the curb, and now try to live every moment as if it were my last. I am more willing to help others, more up for personal challenges and try new things.

All of life’s experiences, whether good or bad, define who you are. Challenge yourself – completely revolutionize your future. It doesn’t have to be by traveling to China, though I recommend it!  You could challenge yourself by taking a harder course in school or not smoking dope when everyone else is doing it.  Desire to have more, do more, and see yourself as someone who can be different by stepping out of your comfort zone.  If I had passed up this opportunity to go to China, I don’t know if it would ever have come up again.  One thing is for sure, my life would not be the same.

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” – Paulo Coelho, Brazilian novelist and lyricist

About Jeremy West: Jeremy is a student at Full Sail University in Orlando, FL studying film.  He’s a photographer, writer, designer, and Apple computer lover.  His blog, NOVEL THOUGHTS, is another way he shares his creative side with the world – reviewing YA novels, interviewing authors, and providing cool opportunities to win awesome giveaways.  Find Jeremy through his blog at  www.novelthoughtsblog.com


5 Responses  
Betsy writes:
July 1st, 2010 at 6:03 am

Wow Jeremy, you’ve truly unfolded into an adventurer! What an inspiring experience to share. Your area of study lends itself to more story telling through your own personal growth and others. Looking forward to seeing your name on films/photos and written work in the future! You can help transform the world…..

LSneyd writes:
July 1st, 2010 at 6:55 pm

This is a wonderful story to share, Jeremy. It’s amazing how stepping into a foreign culture changes your perspective on life. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience a life that differs from their own. This doesn’t necessarily mean going to a country that requires you get a passport. Sometimes those experiences can be had in our own cities, where many cultures abound. Way to go!

Kevin McGill writes:
July 5th, 2010 at 9:27 am

Way to push yourself and experience life Jeremy. I took a similar trip to Israel when I was 19. It was brilliant. We can’t pass up opportunities like this.

Kevin

Jeremy West writes:
July 5th, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Thanks for the comments, guys! It’s been encouraging! I really do believe that everyone should have/take the opportunity to do something like this. I truly stand behind and believe what I said earlier: “Our comfort zone constrains us while leaving that place of comfort defines us.” It’s the experiences of life that lead us to where we will end up ten years from now. Thanks for reading. Continue spreading the word, I really appreciate it!

Katarina Spajic writes:
July 5th, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Jeremy what a blessing to have no fear! To make it happen on your own is just a sample of your character as a young man.
We all know China is no paradise and not the hottest vacation spot!

Your example of courage for an experience out of your comfort zone should be an example to us all. I hope that others will take this message and want to make the same life long friendships you did next time they are thinking of a vacation spot, I sure will!
Many thanks for sharing!

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