February 26, 2018

How to Exceed Your Comfort Zone – And Be Okay with It

As I reflect upon my college experience thus far, I realize the last three years since I started attending the University of Washington have been the most challenging, transforming, and defining years of my life. Attending the University of Washington in Seattle was a giant leap out of my comfort zone, but this university has changed the course of my future and inspired me in ways I could have never imagined.

Sydney at a Peruvian kindergarten school festivity

Sydney at a Peruvian kindergarten school festivity

My first defining moment at the University of Washington occurred during my freshman Spring quarter. Before attending the UW, I was inspired to explore my personal spirituality and faith. By Spring quarter, I discovered the Inn, a college ministry a few blocks from campus and immediately felt as though I had a community here at UW, something I had previously lacked. Inspired by the ministry, I decided to attend a spring break mission trip to Lima, Peru. As my first international travel experience, I was thrown into a foreign world of unfamiliar language and culture. The mission trip occurred in one of the poorest districts in Lima and was centered around evangelically sharing our faith. Our days were spent at a local elementary school, equipping the faculty, staff, and students with ways to build their new church and share their beliefs. This mission trip was a defining moment in my personal faith, for I became a leader of others on their spiritual journeys and learned how to communicate heavy topics such as my faith in a simple, enjoyable way.

Two years later I found myself back in Peru studying environmental science and resource management through an advanced biology course. I took advantage of the unique opportunity to earn academic credit while living deep in the Amazon Rainforest and learn how to survive solely on biodegradable products while conducting research on terrestrial mammalian populations. I walked through colonial spider nests, saw insects larger than my hands, and experienced anxiety from heat stroke and elevation changes for the first time. It was the most physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting trip I have ever experienced, but I would not change a single aspect of it. This experience showed me what true adventure was: immersing myself in a culture and environment so different than my own, forcing me to adapt and survive, creating a resilience within me. In a very short period of time, I gained a refreshing sense of independence, resulting in a period of immense personal reflection and growth.

Sydney visiting Machu Picchu

Sydney visiting Machu Picchu

Both of my experiences in Peru were for very different purposes, but both taught me just how rewarding it is to explore the world, appreciate cultures different than my own, and the beauty of diversity. Returning to the United States after witnessing the disparities in Peru shifted my perspective of the world and inspired me to explore the field of Global Health through academic coursework. I immediately enrolled in Global Health 101 and a new spark was ignited in me.

I was so happy to find a topic I was passionate about and immediately switched my major from microbiology to public health, which is one of the best decisions I have made. The moment I was accepted into the Bachelor of Science option in the School of Public Health, I started taking advantage of every opportunity presented to me. In particular, joining the Timothy A. DeRouen Center for Global Oral Health as an intern this year has allowed me to explore my interests in global health while having a sense of purpose as a member of the core team that keeps the center running. I am excited to see how this organization grows in the next couple of years and witness the many lives that will be changed because of the projects we have in countries all across the world.

As my senior year of college comes to a close, I am ready for whatever future curveballs life throws at me. The last few years have taught me the importance of stepping out of my comfort zone and how to bounce back from failure, and I owe a tribute to the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and the DeRouen Center for instilling that confidence and security within me. The atmosphere of college can be intimidating, especially at a school as large as UW, but going out of your comfort zone and trying as many new things as possible can ignite a sense of purpose in your life, which is exactly what happened to me when I discovered the field of public health.