Written by Leah Carlin
As a hospital social worker, I was quite accustomed to experiencing uncomfortable situations. Whether it was sitting with someone as a doctor tells them they have a rare disease or sitting with a teenage girl while she tells her mother she is pregnant. While I was trained to facilitate and assist in these uncomfortable situations, I never truly felt uneasy myself because I was never the one in the “hot seat.” 9 months ago when I arrived in the Netherlands from America, I was thrust into the hot seat and about to experience a whole mess of uncomfortable, uneasy, awkward and difficult situations.
If you are an international living in a country that is not your home country, you might relate to the feelings I have just described above. Whether you have lived abroad for a few months like myself or for several years, you are constantly challenged with new situations, meeting new people and feeling different. While it can be great to start something new, like a new activity or friendship, let’s face it, the beginning of these new endeavors aren’t always easy. It can feel daunting to show up to an event, where you don’t know anyone and have to introduce yourself to a bunch of people. You might have questions about your new town and not know who to ask or worry that your question is a stupid one.
When I first arrived to the Netherlands I was quite hesitant. I worried about what people thought of me, a foreigner. As a result, I was reluctant to do something as simple as ask a question in the grocery store. I thought, “What will this Dutch person think of me if I am asking where I can find cottage cheese?” Silly, I know, but this is truly how I felt when I first arrived. But then something amazing happened. Little by little, I would force myself to get through these situations even if I felt a little bit uncomfortable in the moment. Each time I was able to tackle something I previously was too shy to accomplish. I felt myself feeling more empowered and more like a local in my new town.
As I started feeling more confident, I also decided to just say “yes” to new opportunities that were offered to me. This helped me meet new people and build my network here in Eindhoven. I got involved with Expat Spouses Initiative (ESI), took Dutch language classes, joined Dutch conversation groups, the North American Women’s Club (NAWC), International Women’s Club (IWCE), and even joined a Dutch running group.
No, the uncomfortable and at times, awkward feelings never went away completely, but I started to welcome these feelings. To me, they were signs of my progress and my continued growth as a person. If I had stayed in my comfort zone, I would have likely remained isolated and would have deprived myself of wonderful opportunities, experiences and people that I have encountered along my journey so far.
Since it is a new year and in January, we at IPSN are focusing on Positive Emotion, I chose to focus on some negative feelings that actually turned out to be positive for me. I chose to welcome the negative feelings (uncomfortable, uneasy, awkward, frustrating, difficult) and each time I allowed myself to experience these things, I also found that after the initial awkward stage, I was left feeling more confident, self-assured and motivated. We’ve come to see stress as a dirty word — and for good reason — but a little bit of healthy stress can actually act as a catalyst for growth and provide a powerful motivation to act.
Do yourself a favor, and make it a goal to step outside of your comfort zone this year. Here are some suggestions:
- Attend 1 new event in Eindhoven within the next few months (examples: ISPN Connect 25 January, TGIF! It’s Friday at The Hub!)
- Ask someone you recently met to join you for a coffee or tea. (We at IPSN would love to meet you for a coffee!)
- Strike up a conversation (in English or Dutch!) with a neighbor.
- Explore a nearby town or city.
- Try a new food or cuisine.
Sometimes teaming up with someone can help. Ask your partner or someone else that’s new to Eindhoven to join you. Need a buddy to get you started? Send us an email and we’ll pair you with someone who is also interested in trying something new!
Cheers – Leah for ISPN
More Articles on Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone: