I always thought I knew what being uncomfortable felt like. It was that feeling I felt before I had to talk in front of a large group of people. It was that thought of what if I said the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. It was the phobia I experienced when I was in a crowded room full of other bodies and couldn’t see any open air, resulting in my lungs almost collapsing. It was those days when my hair just didn’t lie the way I wanted it to or none of my clothes hugged my body correctly. I felt it on long days when my contacts were in too long resulting in them sticking to my eyes, or the nights when I was too hot and just couldn’t sleep.
I thought I knew what being uncomfortable felt like, and then…We moved to China.
So here’s to lesson #4-
You don’t realize how comfortable you are, until you’re not.
Moving across the world showed me a whole new kind of uncomfortable. The second we stepped on our international plane, with four months worth of stuff squished into 5 suit cases, I was uncomfortable. If there was such thing as a comfort zone level between 1-10, and knowing what I know now, I would put my comfort level at a 8 on that 16 hour flight to our new home. (If you were to ask me that day, I would probably tell you a solid 3.)
Arriving in China, and realizing that this was home for the next 104 days, my comfort level dropped even more. Comfort level: 5
After our 3 hour bus ride with a Chinese stranger named “Kimmy”, we arrived at our school at 1:00am. Kimmy handed us our luggage, and in his broken English he said “room 507, fifth floor.”
I looked around and back at Derek, and sighed “no elevator??” Being jet lagged, carrying our luggage up five floors and arriving in our room to find that our bed was literally a piece of plywood, my comfort level was now at an all time low.
Comfort level: 0
Or so I thought.
The next morning, Derek and I were bright eyed, ready to take on the new day at 5:00am. We decided to walk around campus and try to figure out what time breakfast was, and what building it was in. Because on top of feeling WAY out of our comfort zone, we were starving and extremely thirsty since we didn’t have water in our room and it was against the “health code of China” to drink tap water. We never did find breakfast, so we went back up to our room.
Comfort level: 0- Still
At about 7:00am, we finally heard other English speaking voices in the hall way. We shyly snuck out and introduced ourselves as the “new, confused, and starving” people. Wynn and Jacob introduced themselves and invited us to walk to breakfast with them. They seemed nice, and food sounded great, so we followed. After meeting more volunteers, and being showed around campus by friendly faces, my comfort level grew.
Comfort level: 5
I wish I could tell you that after the first week in China, we adjusted to the strange food, culture shock, and jet lag. I wish I could tell you that my comfort level eventually grew back up to a 10, but I would be lying. The truth is, my comfort level never grew back up to a 10 for the whole 104 days we were there. It adjusted a lot and things that once were very uncomfortable and unfamiliar started to feel more comfortable. I would have rated all of these things at a 0 on my comfort zone level before I experienced them, but after learning to live with being uncomfortable for a straight 104 days, I wouldn’t even consider these things uncomfortable or unfamiliar anymore.
Walking around campus and teaching our students everyday.
Befriending 30 other uncomfortable strangers, since they were the only friends and family interaction we had.
Ordering food at a restaurant, hoping we used the translator right or pointed to the right picture, and if we didn’t…having to eat it anyways.
Walking down the streets in the dark to the night market or our favorite noodle shop.
Constantly being a center of attention for photos and laughs anytime we went out.
Having to walk and use stairs- EVERYWHERE.
Witnessing people using the streets as their toilet, cars driving down the sidewalks, and hearing car horns every time someone turned, braked, or hit their gas pedal.
Not being able to understand ANYONE’S conversations.
Getting into a car with nice English speaking locals that told us they would take us to our destination for free. -This happened more than once.
Having to wear 8 layers of clothing to go anywhere since most commercial buildings didn’t have AC or heat.
Getting completely lost and realizing that we couldn’t ask any one for directions, because they simply doesn’t understand what we’re saying.
Having to change and sleep in a hostel room with 6 strangers from all different cultures.
Making our way all over China by bus, trains, and planes without being able to read directions or tickets, or ask for help.
Having to use the restroom and finding out I only had the option of a squatter, with no toilet paper, paper towels, or soap.
Adjusting to the fact that I had to face my claustrophobia in subways, on escalators, and just walking down the street…because I was now in some of the most populated cities in the world.
Over time, all of these things started to feel more comfortable. The thing about living in a new culture is, once you think your comfort zone level is close to a 10, something else is there to make it drop again. And for 104 days straight, that low comfort zone level will change you. It will test your patience, it will laugh at everything you think you know, it will destroy your plans, it will teach you lessons, and it will make you grow.
My comfort level wasn’t completely back up to a 10 until I was in Utah, in a town that I knew like the back of my hand, with English speaking people, tap water I could drink, a soft bed, and food that I wasn’t concerned with putting into my mouth.
Adjusting to being completely comfortable again was difficult. While we were in China, we were constantly learning and growing and “making things work”. This lesson taught me that the things that used to make me feel uncomfortable aren’t even close to being at a level of 0. Next time I have a bad hair day, or am in a “uncomfortable” social situation, I am going to laugh and think back to the whole four months I survived feeling uncomfortable.
So, don’t stay in your comfort zone, things don’t grow there. Face your fears, throw yourself into those uncomfortable situations. Learn, change and grow as you do it. And when you find yourself comfortable again, be proud of the person you’ve become.
Onto the next adventure, Wren