The Feeling of Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

By Alma Hinojosa, Fellow Class of 2014
University of Colorado at Boulder

As I wrap up my second year of college, I think of the person I was when I first started my studies at CU Boulder.  It is empowering to see how much I have matured and the knowledge I have gained in these last two years.  I realized this change in myself when I set the goal to step out of my comfort zone by joining various organizations on campus and studying abroad in Tel Aviv, Israel. 

A few weeks into my second year, I met with one of my mentors, Azucena. We talked about different organizations that focused on things that interested me.  We agreed that I would go to an “interest meeting.”  I was happy I did, because I became a member of MEChA (Moviemento Estudiantil Chican@s de Aztlan).  I also became part of Oyàte, a Native American Student Organization.  Within these two communities, I started to feel like I belonged.  This was an important step, not only for my collegiate involvement and academics, but also, because I reconnected with a part of my identity that for some time seemed lost.  I no longer felt the need to escape to my dorm room or go back home to my parents.  I thank my mentor for helping me step out of my comfort zone and for her support.  I do not think I would have done it if it were not for her guidance because it was our conversations that helped me see the possibilities on campus. 

Roberto Ramirez, whom I consider a great mentor of LAW SCHOOL…. Si Se Puede, helped me make my decision regarding where I would spend my semester abroad.  He challenged me to step outside the traditional study abroad destinations and identify countries I would like to study and, most importantly, WHY I would like to study that country.  Before Roberto’s challenge, I had no idea where I would study abroad nor had I thought much about the reasons I would want to study in that setting.

Because the Fall semester of my second year seemed like a time of change for me, I decided to go to a country that would force me out of my comfort zone and help me develop personally, as well as academically. There were multiple viable options but at the end of my research, I decided on Israel.  I decided to study abroad in Israel for the following reasons: 1) I wanted to have the opportunity to experience a different style of education. This would allow me to immerse myself in understanding the people, traditions, and culture. 2) I wanted to know how local students are able to learn and succeed in the middle of a political hotbed. 3) Tel Aviv is an ancient city that holds so much history and I was interested to see if the city has shown progress in civilization compared to other cities of similar age. 

I found powerful reasons for why I wanted to study in Israel. When people asked me what brought me to Israel, they were intrigued by my explanation because it was not the common response of “Oh, this country is beautiful.”  As I wrapped up my semester in Israel, I was thankful for Roberto’s guidance, because my study abroad experience was so much more meaningful and powerful, than if I had just gone with the flow.   Stepping out of my comfort zone, made me realize that I am deeply intrigued with “people” and my conversations with the Israeli people helped me understand better the answers to the three reasons I chose to study in Israel. 

My goal was not to take pictures in front of every ancient structure, or sit on the balcony reading up on the culture, but simply to interact with the people, whether it was talking to someone in the street, or at a café made up of a varied spectrum of religions and ethnic identities, or picking up as much of the native language as possible, or playing soccer with the Tel Aviv University Women’s Soccer team, or visiting Palestine and trying to make sense of the everyday tension that goes on in this country.  My semester abroad was a world-changing experience for me. The knowledge and experiences I have gained go far beyond the borders of this small and fascinating country.  I have gained a deeper understanding of the world around me, and my role in it.  I do not miss my comfort zone.