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Alumni Spotlight: Climbing Out of Your Comfort Zone

For months you plan ahead for your semester abroad – what courses to take, what to pack, where to travel. After a successful (though possibly emotional) departure from the US, you arrive at your destination. The first days are a whirlwind of excitement and new experiences but somewhere around week two, it might hit you…what now? Getting involved in campus activities is one of the best ways to fill that time between class and homework while abroad and meet new people at the same time.

Here’s how one Interstudy Alum, Andrea Fasen, from Colorado State University, got involved on the Queen’s University, Belfast campus during her Fall 2010 semester abroad. Andrea’s involvement in the Mountaineering Club shaped her time abroad and shows the importance of “climbing” out of your comfort zone in more ways then one!

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What types of clubs or societies were you involved in on campus?

I started with the Frisbee Club. I found out about the club through the “Clubs and Organizations Fair” that the University hosted. One of the friends I made in the Frisbee Club was who encouraged me to come to the climbing wall one day with the Mountaineering Club (which turned out to be my favorite). I also took Tango lessons at the Queen’s Physical Education Center with some friends I met from my hall and a few I met during orientation. Tango was great because I got to learn something completely random and it also served as a social launching pad for the rest of the night.

I gave Handball a try (for something different), which I also heard about during the “Clubs and Organizations Fair”. It was not my thing so I passed on that one after my first trial day. There was never any obligation and I always felt welcome to try different things which I took advantage of.

How did you get involved? Was it hard to sign up?

Half of what I got involved in was though the “Clubs and Organizations Fair”, the other half was due to word of mouth or trying what someone else wanted to try (it was buddy system of sorts). It was easy to sign up, and even easier to actually follow through when I had a friend who agreed to try it as well.

I went to my first few days with the Mountaineering Club (QUBMC) with a friend from my floor. The QUBMC organized a “freshers trip” in mid October where we went to the Mournes for a weekend of climbing. Again, my friend and I were hesitant to go but enough people said it was a great weekend. I wanted to see the Mournes so I figured I had nothing to loose. Best decision of the semester. I really bonded with people on that trip.

After that I did not miss a climbing wall session (3 times a week) and went on all the other weekend excursions and pub crawls after climbing. During all of this I felt more and more fond of everyone. I always had someone to talk to or something to talk about. There were a lot of fellow engineers/science majors so we also had that in common. Great banter sessions were also had which raised my awareness of local issues, nationalistic positions, and random things like the difference between jam, jelly and jello, Tayto chips from the North vs Tayto chips from the Republic of Ireland and of course my crazy yank idiosyncrasies like the pronunciation of tomato “toe-may-to”.

I never felt awkward around those people, they really made me feel welcome. Even after my hallway buddy faded out of interest I still grew closer to everyone in the QUBMC. I still talk to a bunch of them over Facebook and want nothing more than to go back and join them for another weekend in the Mournes.

IS. How do you think your involvement in clubs or societies changed your study abroad experience?

My involvement in clubs was how I really got to meet people…and not just meet people but really make great connections with people who were so much like me and have similar interests. I really got to know more of the local crowd through these clubs.

I would have still had a fantastic time abroad if I would have just stayed with the friends I made during international orientation, but I really enriched my experience by club involvement. I have great memories from everything I did at Queen’s, but some of the most cherished and priceless experiences came from the QUBMC.

The biggest message I want to try to convey to other people who will find themselves abroad looking to fit in, “It’s never easy.” you are in a different country, culture and surrounded by what seems like everyone who knows someone but you yourself knows no one. That is intimidating. And once you make some of those first good friends its easy to just sit back and say, “Hey, I am comfortable with this. I finally have something that feels easy. Why should I keep looking around, especially when that can be so hard?”

I asked myself these very same questions before I went on my first weekend QUBMC trip. Indeed, I almost considered not going because it was going to be a hassle. I didn’t know anyone that well and I knew for sure that I could be happy just spending time with people from my floor. And that first night was not magic. I got sick on the bus ride and just wanted to go to bed early (which I did). The locals seemed out of control crazy and I was worried it was going to be an awkward weekend. BUT, I woke up the next morning and said “I’m here, lets see what I can make of this” and it was the gateway weekend to dozens of beautiful people, priceless memories and the best decision I made at Queen’s. So some of my situation was luck, because I was contemplating not attending, but after that I realized how important it was to take the initiative to leave your comfort zone.

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