The day I embarked on a plane to China, I was terribly afraid. It was the first time ever that I would be travelling completely alone, and I did not know a soul in Beijing, where I was going to spend a whole year. In fact, fear and insecurity had driven me for most of my life. And therefore I already imagined myself ending up completely lost in this vast city of millions, my life ending tragically somewhere on the streets, because of an unlucky series of events.
Whenever I am telling people what I have done in my life up to now, they might think I am a really courageous woman. But what they do not know is that fear and doubt are my second self and that I am in a constant battle with both of them. That all since my childhood I have been fighting to get rid of this chain of fear restraining me from living my dreams. I missed out on so many opportunities…and simply because I was afraid of failure. Therefore I from a certain point on had simply decided to do things even though I felt like dying at the mere thought of what might happen if I dared to do them.
So I boarded that airplane shivering and with tears flowing down my cheeks. Would I ever see my family again? Would the plane land in Beijing safely? Would I somehow find the way to the university? Would I be able to understand a word in Chinese? My mind already painted the worst case scenario.
And my plane did land safely at its destination. And of course it need not be said that the taxi driver bringing me to the university ripped me off and I didn’t know how to argue in Chinese. I ended up paying the double price, and as soon as the money had changed owners my backpack lay in a puddle of rain, one of the guards looking at me worried he might have to jump in and help. This occurance had clearly just disrupted his morning peace. And of course it also need not be said that I didn’t understand a word he said when explaining me the way to the dormitory I had chosen. I arrived there drenched and completely exhausted.
The first day was a nightmare. I had consciously chosen the cheapest dormitory in the hope that only Asian people would live there, as this meant that I would definitely have to communicate in Chinese. And so it was. With noone I knew around, I felt completely lost and lonely and banged on the door of my Thai neighbour in the hope of making my first contact. I didn’t understand a word even though she desperately tried to make herself understood. So we gave it up after a while, both of us frustrated…and I felt like I’d never be able to fight my way through this huge communication barrier.
Having pity with me, my Japanese roommate took me out together with her Japanese friends. And I soon noticed that besides not understanding most of what they said in Chinese, I did not know anything about Japanese customs. The feeling of walking through a minefield, each one of them being a behaviour I was supposed to show but did not know of, was quite intense. Knowing intercultural communication in theory doesn’t mean you don’t have to go through all the experiences everyone else does when “colliding” with other cultures.
That, in short, is what happened to me the first day. I felt horrible and thought I would never be able to live there for a whole year!
But…and that’s the cool thing about human nature…I soon found out how adaptable I actually am. After 1 week I was able to more or less follow conversations in Chinese. And as everyone experienced the exact same problems as I, we soon found ourselves sitting in a circle in our neighbours room, each of us holding their dictionary. We had many good laughs about the crazyness of that scene! And thus something which seemed very difficult and complicated to me ended in some funny evenings.
That’s only one of the first things which made me see that there’s absolutely no need to ever be afraid of major changes. And I think back to situations like these whenever fear is lingering around me again. Only that, contrary to before, I would never miss the opportunity to see what life brings to me by chosing to do something my heart tells me to do even though I am completely afraid of it.
And now with another change ahead I often have to think back of how well everything else I have done up to now turned out. Is not everything worth a try? Even if it could possibly turn out as a failure? And could a failure not be an important learning experience as well? Is not everything in life based on try & error? Would my life end if I failed?
The answer to the last question definitely is a “no”.
And maybe it is more important to ask different questions. What if I never tried? What if thus missed out on an awesome learning experience? What if I never met all those people I am going to meet by doing something? What if I never took that risk just to erase another “what if” and turn it into an “I know now”.
I rather feel like erasing all those last “what ifs”. “Oh yes, I tried. It was an awesome learning experience for me and I met many cool people, some of them even turned into good friends. I mean not everything can be gold and glittery, but I am so happy to have dived deeper into this and seen what comes of it!”
So let’s go ahead. San Francisco, I am coming!