How to Be Brave When You'd Rather Stay Home

Emily Morgan
August 28, 2018

First, I suppose I should introduce myself. I'm Emily, a rising junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I'm a History and Dramatic Arts double major, most likely with a German minor (but please don't try to speak to me in German--I'm very rusty and easily embarrassed!). I love sweets, coffee, and dogs and hate beets, elevators, and fish. If you like astrology, I'm a Scorpio sun, Taurus moon, and Virgo rising. If you don't like astrology, this means that I possess a very interesting mix of personality traits. I've been outside the country three times: to Germany and Austria when I was thirteen (see cover image for evidence, complete with staged "candid" pose and cringey eighth-grade side bangs), to England in 2017, and to Canada while visiting Glacier National Park over the past summer. This fall, I'll be studying at the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, Ireland. My program won't start till next Monday, but I leave on Friday to spend a weekend in Manchester with one of my dear friends, Jonny, who was an exchange student at UNC last year. It says a lot about my character that I have not yet begun to pack, have not started my laundry, am mostly unfamiliar with my flight information, and have no idea how to go through customs. While completing these tasks would undoubtedly help with my anxiety, I know myself well enough to know they will not get done until the last minute no matter how hard I try. Somehow the idea of preparing for this semester is almost as daunting as the fact that, in a week, it's actually about to start.

Getting ready to study abroad is something like waiting in line for a roller coaster. Everyone getting off the ride is ranting about how incredible it was and how badly they want to ride again, but all you can do is look at the loops and twists and ups and downs and panic. Eventually, you're going to get on the ride. And eventually you'll get off. It'll go by in the blink of an eye, and you'll have an incredible time. But not before you freak out a little bit first. Anticipation can be killer.

That's where I'm at. I came home from school in May and spent almost all of my summer in my hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, working at an Irish pub and living with my parents. The greatest excitement I've experienced here in Winston was most likely when I came home from work to find that my mother had bought me a Cookout milkshake. Delicious? Yes. Joy-inducing? Of course. Challenging? Thrilling? Something I'd never tried before? Definitely not. I didn't even get a new flavor. How can you go wrong with Oreo mint, right?

I like routines. They're safe and easy to understand. They make getting everything you need to do done a whole lot easier. I'm the kind of person who will only make a spontaneous road trip if I can a) develop an itinerary first or b) make it back in time for the inevitable three meetings, dinner date, and movie night I've had scheduled for weeks. I tend to get anxious when I can't map everything out like that. That's probably kept me from some pretty cool and unique experiences, but it's also kept me from getting too scared or out of control.

But studying abroad is about to be a whole new ball game. I don't know what to expect going into this. I'm about to fly to Dublin--a city I've never been to--and study at the Gaiety School of Acting. I don't know what training at an acting conservatory is going to be like. The closest I've come to that is probably when I took summer acting classes at a community theatre when I was nine, an experience which permanently seared the lyrics of "It's a Hard Knock Life" from Annie into my brain. Somehow I think the Gaiety school is going to be a little bit more intensive. I've read the program schedule over and over, trying to memorize dates of breaks and classes and field trips. I've studied the website, trying to get a feel for what my class schedule will be like. But ultimately, none of those documents can tell me what exactly I'm going to experience while I'm in Dublin. I'm just going to have to figure that out for myself.

And now it's a week away, and I find that the fear of the unknown is eating away at me. What if I can't figure anything out? What if I can't find friends? What if I get lost in Dublin? What if I get lost somewhere else? What if I run out of money? What if I go to the grocery store and none of the milk is refrigerated? What if everyone back in Chapel Hill forgets about me? What if someone tries to speak to me in Gaelic? "What if" is a pretty dangerous rabbit hole to go down, but here I am, starting to go down it even now as I type this. This kind of worry really just makes me want to curl up in bed with a bag of popcorn and a rom-com movie and never leave Winston-Salem ever again. Pitiful, but true. Here's the thing, though: things are always going to happen to me that I can't control. That's how life is. Not everything is going to be as structured as it is in Chapel Hill, where I fill my time with auditions, board meetings, interest meetings, weekly meetings, work, and classes. Or at least, not forever. I signed up to study abroad because I knew it was going to challenge me and make me brave. So in a week, ready or not, I'm getting on a plane and going to a new country to live for three months. I'm hopping on that roller coaster, even though it scares me, because I know that, even though there will be twists and turns that I can't plan for, I'll get off and wish I could ride again. I wish I could give you real advice for how to do the thing that scares you, but the truth is, you just have to do it. That's it. There's no secret trick or words of wisdom or cheat code. Just pack the bags. Get on the plane. Embrace the new experience. Try the new milkshake flavor. Buy the warm milk.


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