Learn Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Adapted from my Welcome Party speech  for our summer program, Mizzou International Experiences (MIE)


Dr. KFW encourages students at MIE to learn outside of their comfort zone.

My advice to you is this: learn outside of your comfort zone.

Through this program, you will have a multitude of planned educational experiences to stretch yourself and learn new things. Take them all in, including the ones that you think are not for you. You never know what might light a spark inside your imagination or take you in a new direction. Be open to learning.

However, just as importantly, or maybe even more importantly, I want you to learn outside of your comfort zone in the informal exchanges that make life rich. Look around you. There are so many people to get to know. It’s easy in a new situation to just talk to the people from your immediate school, the folks you already know. Don’t do that. Go up to people you don’t know yet and introduce yourself.  As you get to know people this week and next, listen intently. Their stories are a gift. Relationships are a gift.

Let me tell you a little story about learning outside of your comfort zone. Last December, I visited Vitória. As we were preparing for our visit, we talked to Cristiano, a school coordinator.

He told me, “Well if you are going to be in Vitória, you will have to go stand up paddle boarding.”

There are a few things that come naturally to me, however, I was reasonably certain that stand up paddle boarding was not one of these.

Here’s the thing though, I am an educational researcher. I know, that learning just outside of your comfort zone, is well, a bit uncomfortable. I also know that when you feel that discomfort, the sensation that you are occupying a slightly larger space, a new space, or an old space in a new way, that that is precisely when learning and growth happen. No one gets smarter, braver, or stronger, playing it safe. And so I told Cristiano, “Of course!” 

When we arrived to the beach, someone mentioned that there was a short paddle boarding class before we took off. Great, I know how to do well in class. The class, which was less than five minutes, was in…Portuguese. Perhaps, some of you can empathize with the beautiful challenge of learning brand new skills in another language. Nonetheless, I listened as our teacher instructed to pull your oars down low and bend your knees slightly. We got the green light to take off.

And off went our team. Oh, did they look marvelous! Meanwhile, I stood up on my board, slightly bent knees, pulled my oars deep below the water, and noticed–I wasn’t moving. I took a deep breath. I closed my eyes and located myself on the globe. That’s me, I thought, there in a bay, in a place where rivers meet the sea, in a country where I have never been. And bit by slow bit, I inched forward.

Eventually I caught up to Ms. Walter, our Instructional Coordinator. We floated along together, trying to figure this paddle boarding thing out, this skill that seemed to come so naturally to others in our group. Later in the day, Ms. Walter and I got separated from our team and Cristiano had to come and rescue us. It’s okay to need rescuing. Dare greatly and if you make a mistake, find that compassionate teacher who will patiently show you one more time how to row yourself to safety.

While I still wouldn’t call myself a paddle board pro, I am grateful to have that empowering memory to draw on as I tackle more challenges ahead.

I want that same sense of courage and adventure for all of you. I want you to find strength in learning new things and meeting new people.

Dare greatly. Learn outside of your comfort zone. Listen critically. And through your own modeling, encourage others to do the same.


View all photos from our welcome party here.