Traveling Abroad: Fear & Failure

Traveling and living abroad are not always walks in the park– you will have to confront fear!

I recall the weeks before my trip, where I’d stay up nights just imagining what it would be like. I watched the movie, Into the Wild, whose protagonist embarks on an epic journey only to die as a result several years later. My mind, trying to compute all of the unknowns rattling in my head, fixed on the idea.

A part of me thought that I’d die abroad during my trip.

The reality is such that had I not confronted fear, I wouldn’t have made it to Hanoi. In fact, I would never have purchased a one-way ticket in the first place.

All cities have their unique set of challenges.

In Hanoi, the road and traffic were causes for concern, the pollution, who’s Air Quality Index (AQI) was higher than Beijing at times, the uncertainty of finding a job and be taken seriously as an expat teacher, learning Vietnamese–and using it while knowing that you fucked up your tones!

Many of you have likely experienced situations in which you sabotage yourself.

I’ve noticed that I sabotage myself when I am not confident about what I’m doing. Depending on the situation, the sabotage can come in a variety of forms. The simplest of them is the one where I constantly make excuses to not do something, or not be somewhere. I saw this a lot with interviews in which I didn’t feel qualified. More often than not, if I had just shown up, I’d probably walk away with a job. Simply put, I was afraid to fail.

Still, my biggest act of self-sabotage came during my last year at UCLA, during a graduate-level course examining Contemporary Russian Literature.

For an undergraduate student, the amount of intellect and knowledge about Russia in that room was staggering. Think of 10 people who literally specialize on Russia literature and sit in a room with them to dialogue about your opinions, views, and thoughts on Russia. Personally, I knew nothing about current events, relying on contexts provided by Russian classics that I’d read previously. In lieu of a final exam, we were asked to pick some writings examined during the class, break them down, form a coherent analysis based on factual information as well as personal opinions, and present to the class.

For hours, days, and eventually weeks, I worked to select the appropriate texts, do research, and develop a strong presentation.

I’d practice my presentation in my room, anxious about my golden moment which, in reality, felt more like I was being led to the slaughter, the dreaded guillotine. When the time came, I was shaking just walking to class. I knew, when I walked in that room, that he would ask me if I was ready and my response was supposed to be yes.

But, something happened. I lied.

I told my professor that I had accidentally left my flash-drive at home despite sitting with a fully finished and polished presentation with me in the very moment that I lied to his face. Since class met only once per week, I had another week to perfect it.

I walked into class a week later, shaking again. I did something I’d never forgive myself for: I told the truth.

My confidence was severely shaken as I admitted defeat that day and explained myself. I don’t know if he sympathized or was just caught off-guard, baffled, but I was offered the option of writing a fifteen-page research paper instead. I accepted. Besides wasting time laboring over something I never presented, I then had to buck up and write the paper. Thankfully, I got an A on the paper, which was the only graded assignment in the class, and walked away happy yet unsettled. I felt like a cheater, like I had failed.

Months later, I’d come to find that this experience served a purpose and that perhaps it’s best to have learned my lesson on self-sabotage and fear early on as opposed to later in life, when it would likely be less forgiving and more problematic. 

If you are thinking of traveling alone, I invite you to embrace fear. Do something that scares you, something wrapped in uncertainty. Chances are, you will overcome it and be a better person for it.