Student reading poetry in a cafe

Confronting Fear, Finding Resilience

Shanga Labossiere CC '19

To combat the general discomfort I felt, I created and surrounded myself in physical and mental environments that I wanted to be and thrive in. Immersing my mind in positive thinking and poetry helped to greatly enhance my time abroad.

Studying abroad was something I’d been preparing for since my first year at Columbia. But even in high school, when considering the possibility of going abroad, I knew I would do it in France. Yet, when it came down to making the final decision, something was holding me back. I was excited to finally explore a place and culture I had only seen through textbook pages, but with this enthusiasm, there was the classic fear of the unknown. When I went to Paris, I was confronted with this unknown, which resulted in some discomfort. However, during my time there, I learned the importance of pushing past the uncomfortability in order to turn its power over you in your favor.

The thought of taking a class at a French university—to be a distinct outsider amongst another already established student communities—frightened me. I would not only be playing catch up in terms of the language, but with my new peers too, trying to navigate this new social situation. But, I was able to find a class that directly fit my interests: a study of performance poetry and the way it manifested globally in different societies. I learned a lot more about my craft and through assignments, I re-discovered poetry and rap’s importance to me. In attempts to further understand the material, I attended events recommended by the professor, and I learned about others’ research and got to meet other poets.

A friend of mine, Natachi Mez—a fellow peer adviser, and an amazing poet who also happened to be abroad—visited Paris and I was able to meet up with her. We went to an anglophone open mic, and I was intent on not reading anything, insisting staying a spectator throughout its entirety. But, as the night went on, I overcame that discomfort, and signed up. The feeling of catharsis that washed over me as I performed my poem and stepped off the stage was extremely empowering, ultimately pushing me to continue attending open mics and finding opportunities to perform. That experience was one of many that changed my time abroad for the better. Through the open mic community, not only did I hear great poems, but I also met some great people with whom I ended up sharing some of the best memories.

To combat the general discomfort I felt, I created and surrounded myself in physical and mental environments that I wanted to be and thrive in. Immersing my mind in positive thinking and poetry helped to greatly enhance my time abroad. To best calibrate these environments for me, I also practiced mindfulness: not only being present with my surroundings, but also being aware of how I felt in general and in the settings I was in. Most importantly, I expressed gratitude for the things that I had already, physically and mentally, and used them as foundations to build off of.

I am deeply grateful for my time abroad in Paris. Taking that step into the discomforting realm of the unknown has truly helped me become a better person and has equipped me with personal tools to help me achieve my goals. I experienced some lows and highs, but I am grateful for the lows, because they made the highs even more monumental. I learned that growth does occur in discomfort, but in order for growth to occur, one needs to be proactive in effecting that change.