I Traveled Out of My Comfort Zone, and it Changed My Worldview

Author: Nicole Chininis, Real Life Stories

Traveling truly does provide you with just about everything you need.

It allows you to expand your point of view, and expand your knowledge. Think of it as being completely nearsighted, and then putting on glasses for the first time in your life. You now can see not only what is in front of you, but the the things beyond what your hands can reach. Things are clearer, and you have a better understanding of what’s around you.

My time spent traveling abroad shaped who I am today because of the people I met, the food I ate, and the life that I lived. But, I felt like for a long time that I never really expanded outside of my true comfort zone. This is a big confession for a Study Abroad Advisor, but let me explain.

I’ve spent my fair share of time across Europe and some of Latin America, visiting friends who are living abroad, or living abroad myself. In Spain, I immediately felt at home, because I spoke the language, and the culture felt familiar, thanks to my Greek heritage. Of course, the cultures are different, but there was something about being in loud, friendly groups of people that made me feel at home.

Even though I felt at home in Spain, I still experienced culture shock, which mostly came from speaking Spanish as a second language. For instance, it was difficult to not be able to find the right words I wanted to use, or not fully being able to understand things my friends said. But after some time, I was able to blend in and adapt to Spanish culture and language like it was my own. 

After my time in Spain, I was then fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks in South Africa, immersing myself in local culture, as I did in Spain. It was an experience unlike any other I have ever had. It was one of the first times that I didn’t know what to expect. I knew about some the history of Apartheid, a system of government that required segregation by race, but I had no idea of the tremendous impact it still has on the day to day lives of the people who live there.

I also didn’t know what to expect in terms of food while traveling, as South African cuisine is not something that is as internationally common as other cuisines, and I really had no idea of what to expect in the townships. I was constantly out of my comfort zone, but at the same time, I felt like I was taking in so much.

Over the course of the trip, I spoke with everyone I could, and I really reflected on my preconceived notions, stereotypes, and misconceptions that I had about South Africa prior to my trip. Without any expectations for the country, I was able to truly see things with clarity and open eyes.  

My trip to South Africa provided my ability to take a step back in my own life, and reflect on experiences here within the United States. South Africa ended Apartheid a little over 20 years ago. But, I felt like so many of the conversations we were having about racism, segregation, and where they were as a country were so similar to the conversations we are having here. It challenged my perceptions of where we are, and how far we have to go, and it made me truly admire the South African people. As much as they have to go, South Africa is incredibly resilient, strong, and mindful of the work that is ahead. It was inspiring and eye-opening.

I wouldn’t have had this moving experience if I stayed in my comfort zone. It made me more aware of my experiences, no matter where I travel to, because it has given me a different point of view. I learned that I need to take myself out of what I think I know, focus on what I don’t know, and challenge myself to find out. I challenge you to do the same.

It’s Harder to Leave Than it is to Stay

Author: Danny Abriano, Real Life Stories

Before getting into the crux of this discussion about life and relationships, it first needs to be noted that I’m divorced.

This shouldn’t come with a stigma or raised eyebrows, but it sometimes does. Why? Because for most people who are in long-term relationships that are going wrong, it’s easier to stay than it is to leave. Leaving is better.

I’ve had a woman I was talking to stop answering me, and never answer again, after I told her I was divorced. That sucked. But, it’s better than being in a relationship that doesn’t make you happy.

And for most people, the process that is separation or divorce or moving out, combined with the fear of being alone for whatever period of time that transition lasts, is somehow preferred over starting anew. Starting anew is better.

The details of why I’m divorced really don’t matter. I have no ill will toward my ex, and she has none toward me. But we weren’t right for one another. And while I perhaps knew that before getting engaged, it took time to muster up the courage to leave the situation. Four years to be exact, one of which was absolutely brutal.

And in a long and winding way, that brings me to the main point, about long-term relationships — marriage included — in general.

I can literally count on one hand the amount of people in relationships I know who I believe are truly happy. And I haven’t drawn those conclusions anecdotally. I’ve drawn them from things I know to be true and posts on social media that portray two happy people, while I know one of them is dying internally.

Perfection, in relationships or elsewhere in life, isn’t possible. But happiness? That shouldn’t just be possible. It should be a requirement when you’re in a relationship with someone, let alone a marriage. And not sporadic happiness, either.

Yes, there will be fights. If you’re in a relationship and don’t fight, either one person is being dominated by the other and afraid to react, or both people are so boring that there are never any disagreements. Disagreements, within reason, are fine.

What’s not fine? Being with someone who you can very easily live without. Being with someone who doesn’t make you smile and laugh. Being with someone who doesn’t challenge you intellectually. Being with someone who you can’t wait to get away from.

And, there are far too many relationships/marriages like the above, as evidenced by the number of truly happy relationships I can count.

One such relationship involves people much older than millennials — a couple who are both around 70 years old. They realized after having kids that they should get divorced, but didn’t. Why? For the kids. They stayed in an unhappy, loveless, sexless marriage for their children, who were then raised in a house where their parents fought every day and showed no love toward one another.

The lesson?

While it can be incredibly hard and scary to leave a situation and start over, there is simply nothing worse than potentially wasting your life with someone you don’t belong with. And the sooner you get out, the sooner you can find the person you should be with. The person who will actually make you happy.

Mental Illness is Real and Frightening

Author: Elizabeth Zarb, Real Life Stories

My mental health is not at its peak.

Mental illness is something that I have struggled with for most of my life, especially as I entered adolescence. I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, depression, an unspecified personality disorder, and I have frequent bouts of dissociation. I spent two years misdiagnosed as bipolar. Yes, misdiagnosed. Casual, right?

I have been to edges that I don’t like to admit. I have felt like my brain is broken and doesn’t work “right.” I have experienced days that are just one panic attack after another. I have been frightened by the status of my mind. I have to keep a list of things that make me happy on a wall so that I don’t lose sight of them.

When my mood crashes, I can become uncharacteristically mean or distant. I have a nasty habit of isolating myself when I feel low, which can lead to extreme breakdowns. Cutting myself off leads me to make projections of my fears and anxiety. Essentially, I believe my friends are replacing me even when they aren’t. 

My panic attacks can be triggered by almost anything. A lot of times it’s caused by social situations, but not always. Each panic attack presents itself in a different way. While I can normally identify when one’s coming on, I’ve had other moments where I just genuinely thought I was having an asthma attack only for a doctor to find my lungs fine. When I panic, nothing makes sense. 

Being afraid of your own mind is something I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.

When the irrational part of my brain takes over, I lose control. In a moment that I’ve only recently become more open talking about, the irrational part of my brain led me to slice open my hand with a butcher’s knife because that part of my brain wanted me to use my blood as paint. What was terrifying in that moment was that I didn’t consciously make that decision; the knife was already making contact with my skin by the time I realized what was happening. Even by the next morning I wasn’t sure if I had dreamt the event or not.

I have come to terms with my illnesses, my hand is completely healed, and I’m taking the proper measures to control them. I share these to show how much can be going on in the human brain at one time. While there is so much going on in my brain, and anyone else’s brain who suffers from a mental illness, I have to continue to go to school, have a social life, and deal with the everyday responsibilities of being a human.

But I’m in constant fear that my mood will crash and suddenly I won’t be able to do anything, or I need to give myself a ten minute pep talk before I’m able to go ask for help in a store. I have to pretend everything is okay if I suddenly begin dissociating in class and don’t know what’s real anymore, which is really difficult to pull off convincingly.

And I am not alone. I know many people who suffer from depression, borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder, severe anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and even moments of blackouts. Mental health is a part of life in every possible way that it can be.

But, there’s still a misconception out there that our generation is making mental illness “fashionable,” or a fad — and that even celebrities are using mental illness as they would fashion accessories. This a gross and potentially harmful misunderstanding. Carrie Fisher, everyone’s favorite and much missed space princess, was very vocal about her struggle with bipolar disorder… and nothing about it was ever for publicity.

Mental illness is not a new thing. And yet, the phrase “it’s all in your head” is thrown around constantly. There is so much fundamentally wrong with this phrase.

When you tell someone that their struggle is “all in their head,” it invalidates what they’re feeling and can even cause the person to not believe that they have a problem, which will prevent them from getting help. 

There is a stigma surrounding mental illness that states that if you just “think happy thoughts” then everything will be cured. But there’s a lot more to it than that. It consumes your body. More than once I have found myself unable to move because of severe anxiety sending waves of nausea and dizziness throughout my body. I have been trapped on the couch because my depression has drained me and I lose all motivation. I can’t simply “think happy thoughts” in those situations, because my mind and body are completely overridden.

Millennials are one of the first generations to actively seek help for mental illness on a wider scale. Previously, it was often seen as something that you kept to yourself. Because we are now seeking help, it is perceived that mental illness has become a trend and is something that has been publicized in every possible way.

I am not ashamed that I go to therapy. I’m not ashamed that I am on medication. And nobody should be. Why should we be subjected to live in a society where mental health isn’t taken seriously until it is too late?

This is just one of many questions we need to be asking ourselves everyday in order to be living our best lives. Because at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about — being the best you you can be?

If you think you may be suffering from mental illness and don’t know it, I implore you to do some research on mental health facilities near you.

If you or anyone you know experiences suicidal thoughts or tendencies, whether related to a mental illness or not, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.


As You Get Older, Birthdays Become About More Than Just Gifts

Author: Emmanuel Pepis, Real Life Stories

Celebrating a birthday in your twenties and thirties is quite the different experience than it once was. I, as I’m sure many of you have, flashback sometimes to the birthday parties I used to have when I was a kid. As I’ve gotten older, each passing birthday has magnified something even more: how the best gifts truly are intangible.

I was never big on receiving gifts. When I was younger I didn’t ask for much. And on my past birthday, I didn’t receive any gift that you could put in a box. What I did get was the gift of precious time well spent.

As you celebrate a birthday in your twenties and thirties, it more often times than not includes needing to go work. This can cause us to complain, because who wants to spend their birthday at work? But I switched my perspective. The whole day was really all about the blessings that I’m thankful for each day. 

In a twist of events, I ended up not having to go into work. It should be a cause for celebration; however, the day started with taking my mother to her knee surgery. But, while I was waiting around, I got to hang with my dad. We went and ate lunch together, and just had fun. When I left to go get my mother, I was thinking about the whole day that had just transpired.

It’s true what they say: each moment with the people you love is never to be taken for granted.

Sure, it doesn’t sound like the most exciting birthday in the world. But this was special to me for reasons that can’t be seen but rather, felt in my heart. This day was special because I was blessed with intangible presents, and it’s a day I will always hold dear.

This birthday was unique just like each one before it. By the end of the day, I didn’t have any gifts that I could see or touch. That didn’t matter though. What did count was the quality time I got to enjoy, and am blessed to continue to have every day.

A birthday has been described often as “our special day.” It’s more than that though. We aren’t here without a mother, a father. We aren’t the people we are today without the guidance and support of the people in our lives whether that be a grandparent, a sister, a brother, a spouse, a best friend, or whatever the case may be.

The best gifts truly are the people who you get to share my special day and every day with. The people who have made an impact on my life. The people who have helped make me the person I am and strive to be every day. I couldn’t ever ask for more, and neither should you. 

Now don’t get me wrong. Birthday parties and celebrations are fun. However, this older birthday was another example to me of why the best things in life are those you can’t tear the wrapping paper off from. Use birthdays as a reminder to be grateful for everything you have in your life. Use birthdays as a day to spend time with your loved one. And use birthdays to put your life into a positive perspective.

When You Have to Be the Bigger Person

Adulting, Author: Mary Grace Donaldson

We’ve all been there. When you’ve been angry at someone for an extended period of time. When you’ve been hurt and not able to face the person who hurt you. When you can’t stop being angry and sad, and you’ve presumably stopped speaking to the person in question — romantic interest or through a friendship — to protect your own heart.

But then one day, you get the news that something awful is happening in that person’s life. Maybe it’s illness — their own, or a family member’s. Maybe they’re dealing with a death in their family. Maybe they just got laid off. Maybe they’re going through a breakup or a divorce. But whatever it is, you realize that you haven’t stopped caring for the person.

And it’s time for you to pull yourself together, swallow your pride, and reach out — in spite of your anger and your hurt.

It’s not going to be easy
You may feel scared. Anxious. Nervous. Any number of words for it. If you’re anything like me, you hate the feeling of having to swallow your pride and ignore your own stubborn instinct. But you know that it’s something you have to do, and that if roles were reversed, you’d expect said person to do this for you.

Try not to overthink it
Listen to your gut — as the saying goes, “that bitch knows what’s up.” Don’t waste time thinking too much about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.

Just do it
Don’t wait until you’re ready, because you’re never going to be. You have to just go for it.

Don’t bring up what made you angry or sad
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but… remember: this isn’t about you. If there’s a reason down the road to discuss what happened before, take the opportunity. But, that opportunity is not now. This is about them, not you.

Recognize that you’re doing the right thing
The right thing isn’t always easy. Heck, knowing what the right thing is isn’t always easy, forget about actually carrying it out. But once you’ve done the right thing, chances are you’ll feel it in your body. You’ll feel a sense of calming.

Don’t get your hopes up
While you may reconcile with the person in question following your reaching out and in fact doing the right thing, it’s possible that you won’t. And that’s okay. You didn’t reach out at this moment to reconcile. You reached out to be there for someone who’s going through a hard time.


No matter what the outcome is, you will be set apart from many of your peers just by being the bigger person. And that’s something that, at the end of the day, you can be proud of.