A good friend of mine told me just before I left: "If it's scary, that's how you know it'll be a good story (or bad food poisoning, but you'll get over that)." Now, having finished this ten-week chapter of my story, I can attest to the truth of that statement—yes, even the food poisoning part. When I first arrived in Geneva, I was mildly terrified. Although I have traveled by myself around the U.S., I have never traveled to a different country on my own. To make things worse, I have never really used public transportation before because I've always been privileged enough to have a car (I grew up in the suburbs!). On top of that, I didn't know any French. And on top of all of that, when I arrived in Geneva, my suitcase was heavy, one of the wheels was broken, it was raining, and I couldn't use my phone to navigate—a Millennial's true nightmare.
Fast forward ten weeks and I can now say approximately four things in French (in fact, Duolingo, the app, tells me I'm a whopping three percent fluent!), I have navigated public transportation in five different countries like a pro, and I eventually managed to find my apartment. My suitcase is still heavy and the wheel is still broken as I lug it around the Zurich airport, but I'll take my wins where I can get them.
The rest of my summer went similarly: encounter something I've never done before, feel scared, find a way to overcome my fears, grow.
On my first day of work, I was told to write an entire manual based on Myanmar law. I panicked as I sat down at my desk, frantically trying to remember everything the WM librarians taught us about researching foreign laws. Eventually, I filled out an entire manual's worth of information on Myanmar law and became an expert on Myanmar criminal procedure, evidence law, and constitutional law.
When I left the U.S. and when I got to Geneva, I was scared I would be lonely. All of my friends were back home in Williamsburg and elsewhere in the U.S. and I was half a world away, six hours ahead of them time-wise. Not to mention, being in a city where most people speak French unless prodded to speak English can feel pretty isolating. But throughout these ten weeks at IBJ, I have made some truly amazing friends and encountered many amazing strangers along my travels. I have learned about so many different cultures and so many different countries while I've been in Switzerland. It's funny how a few familiar faces can make the world feel small again.
When I felt small at work, I met people who made me feel truly capable of changing the world because they were already doing so themselves, and they started off not so differently from me.
I met people who are dedicated and scrappy. People who are tenacious and enthusiastic. People who move mountains and people who shake things up.
This summer has been chock-full of times when I was terrified, and each time I've been scared, I have reminded myself: even if I fail, this will make a good story. Ten weeks after stumbling off the train in Geneva with my broken suitcase, I think I've written a pretty great story—one of stumbles and triumphs, growth and adventure.