When we decide to study abroad, we repeatedly hear the phrase “comfort zone,” most likely in the context of pushing ourselves to try new things and find new experiences. Arriving in London this semester, I certainly discovered an unfamiliar culture and developed a routine unlike the structured schedule at CMC. Suddenly, I was only in class two hours a day, expected to do most my studying on my own. I was navigating a bustling city, learning the tube and bus systems. I was cooking my own meals in my flat instead of swiping into Collins. Still, none of these changes exactly forced me to leave my so-called comfort zone. Surprisingly, it was a hike in the Lake District of England during an “Adventure Weekend” organized by my program that provided me with the greatest shock.
“Adventure Weekend” presented countless opportunities, from a literary tour to mine explorations. But I chose the “full day hike,” thinking back fondly to wandering through the woods of Baldy and exploring the winding trails of Malibu’s Topanga Canyon. But this was no sun-drenched Southern California hike.
By lunchtime, I found myself wading through a foot of snow, my feet soaked as I trekked up the mountain, wind and icy flakes whipping in my face. My close friend Sanjana Sankaran ’17 was by my side the entire way, the two of us joking about calling an Uber helicopter. (Don’t worry, there was no service in the mountains of the English countryside, so our bank accounts are safe). When we finally reached what I assumed was the destination of our journey, our guides informed us that this point served as our “first peak.”
The second peak brought six more inches of snow and an uncomfortably steep ascent that made my calves burn as I followed the group, panting harder than I ever had during track season 400-meter sprints. Just when I thought I was going to collapse of exhaustion, our guides informed us that we only had “fifteen more minutes of incline.” What?
Every step felt like a struggle, but I focused on breathing steadily, pumping my arms, and lifting my hiking boots in and out of mounds of snow as I moved forwards at the most glacial pace for what felt like hours. Finally, we reached the top, where we were rewarded with a blur of fog and ice—apparently there’s a nice view in the summer.
We couldn’t remain disappointed with the view for too long because descending the mountain brought its own challenges. As the snow melted, we faced ice, slush, and slick mossy rocks. I couldn’t help but laugh when I stumbled for the fourth time and landed in a giant puddle, soaking my fluffy gloves. Somehow, the whole experience had become comical as Sanj and I shivered through Mile 15 (the second to last).
Looking back, I realize that if I’d been told the “full day hike” was a 16-mile journey through snow and ice, I never would have chosen it. Still, I think that is what makes studying abroad meaningful. Things don’t always go as planned. Embrace the unexpected, fall in a puddle or two, and it will all be okay.