Column: Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can get comfortably lost

Lindsly Penny
Oxford Stories

Last summer, I studied abroad with the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media for a month in Dublin, Ireland.

I had always wanted to study abroad, but had never been able to fit my busy schedule into a semester-long excursion. The summer program seemed perfect.

I spent months planning. Summer seemed like it would never come. Finally, things started happening, and I attended a meeting in Farley with everyone else signed up for the program.

The majority of people going on the trip were traveling with groups of friends. I was not. This made me nervous. 

“Will people like me?” 

“Will I make friends?”

“Will the classes be hard?”

I asked myself these and many other questions during the time before embarking on my trip. During this point in my life, I was constantly concerned with the opinions of others and often felt social anxiety in settings without many familiar faces. I had no idea what was in store.

According to St. Augustine, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel only read one page.” The idea of studying abroad often places too heavy of an emphasis on the “studying” and not enough on the “abroad” and all of the experiences that come with it.

While I did learn a lot in the classroom during my time in Dublin about multicultural marketing and internet and mobile media, the lessons I will remember most cannot be read in a textbook or taught during a presentation. If the world is a book, I read a great deal of it through my experiences last summer.

One of the things that stood out to me most during class-time was one of our guest lecturers and his charge for us to think of six words or less to describe ourselves. One phrase he used that really stuck in my mind was “comfortably lost.” This is a good way to describe how I felt during my time in Ireland.

I was in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people doing unfamiliar things. I was lost, but I still felt strangely comfortable, completely opposite of what I was used to.

Henry David Thoreau said, “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves,” and Ray Bradbury said, “Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness.”

In Western culture, most people operate on a strict time schedule and spend most of their lives doing the same things daily. This is how I felt during the school year before traveling abroad.

I woke up at the same time every day, went to the same classes, hung out with the same people, and did the same things. I was stuck in a rut that I thought I would never get out of until I learned about the UM Journalism and New Media Ireland trip.

I’m generally an adventurous person. I love to travel, and I knew I would enjoy spending a month abroad, but I had never gone on a trip so far away without friends or family. I had absolutely no idea how much I would actually take away from my experience and learn about myself.

The best part of this program and spending time in different countries was the feeling of uncertainty and spontaneity each day. Every morning, when I woke up, I had no idea what the day would hold. I didn’t know who I would eat lunch with, what things I would see, or what I would learn.

Since my return, I have had a new outlook on life. I am much more unapologetically myself and find myself more comfortable in the unknown and in situations that would have been previously uncomfortable for me.

One of my character flaws is that I love to be in control. However, through my experiences on this trip, I realized you cannot control your situation, but you can control your response. If you miss your train or your flight is delayed, the only thing you can change is your attitude about the situation.

I tried my best to never turn down an opportunity and was pleasantly surprised with how rewarding it was. 

I jumped into a peat bog. I laughed until my stomach hurt while I almost got thrown off the side of a boat into the Atlantic Ocean. I played Gaelic football like an aggressive man. I went to a museum about the history of prostitution. I visited four different countries, I ate some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, and I got to know some of the most unique people I’ve ever met.

I was outside of my comfort zone, but I was comfortably lost, and it was fantastic.

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