Out of Our Comfort Zone…
Originally published in The West End News – February, 2021
As a travel counselor, I strive to navigate my clients on authentic experiences, safely out of their comfort zone and into an appreciation of other cultures, landscapes, traditions, food, music and people.
In the spring of 2016, I organized and traveled to Southern Africa with a small group of adventurous friends. We journeyed from Capetown to the game parks of Kruger and Karongwe.
We flew to Zimbabwe and walked along the side of Victoria Falls where the mist made its own rainbow. We cruised above “The Falls” at sunset with cocktails and crocodiles. We hurried across the bridge over “The Falls” (border of Zambia/Zimbabwe) before dark because the elephants sometimes use the same path at dusk. My friend Bruce and I ventured down the steep valley to the banks of the Mighty Zambezi River for an exhilarating rafting adventure. A few others took helicopter tours. We had experienced “The Falls” from all sides…
While experiencing “The Falls” and also tracking, photographing and being near the wild animals in the game preserves was breathtaking, it was the people we met, the schools we visited, the history, the personal stories we listened to, and friendships we made that made this trip one of my favorite all time adventures.
With my travel business on hold due to the pandemic, I have stepped safely out of my own comfort zone and found myself back in school four days a week as a “dedicated substitute” teacher at Deering High School in Portland.
Since early October, I’ve developed a keen appreciation of education, diversity, cultural, linguistic and academic differences. Deering students “speak over fifty home languages and come from more than thirty countries on five different continents. It is the only high school in the state of Maine to offer Mandarin, Arabic, French, and Spanish classes.”
While I’ve covered for the Earth Science, Art, Gym, Algebra, English, Special Education classes and the librarian, most days I am immersed as a one-on-one assistant in the English Language Learners classroom. My mornings are full of the voices, questions, languages and smiles behind the masks of teenagers from around the world. They represent Angola, Guatemala, Republic of Congo, Kenya, Honduras, Egypt, Afghanistan and The Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire).
Where does our comfort zone come from and how and why/how does it change? Are we born with a narrow or broad comfort zone? Does it develop over time with experience? I say the latter. Travel takes you away from your home and outside your “comfort zone”. quoted from Nancy’s Pecha Kucha presentation – July, 2016
I have traveled far & away from my home and out of my comfort zone many times…and always by choice.
These students I’m getting to know have traveled out of their comfort zone too, but not necessarily by choice. They have a lot to learn and share. Many of these students speak three or more languages. They have been on the move, have missed years of school and/or have started school in one country in one language and then moved along to a different country or countries, schools and languages. I am humbled. I regret I never did learn another language. I wish I could speak and understand Portuguese, Spanish or French. These kids are quick and resilient and patient with me. Google translate is our friend!
I have said this before. I have a strong sense of adventure that is accompanied by fearlessness. Not much scares me, especially strangers. My lack of fear scared my mother and it often scares my friends and family. For me though, intrigue trumps fear. I am driven to meet and immerse myself in different cultures over and over again.
The more unique and authentic the interactions, the more comfortable and engaged and at home I become. It is this intrigue that compels me and my work as a travel counselor. And now it is this same intrigue that serves me well as a dedicated substitute teacher.
I feel quite blessed to have landed in such an amazingly welcoming and diverse world of Deering High School right here in Portland, Maine.
I didn’t even need to pack a bag, get on a plane or, use my passport!