Immersive language experience offers new outlook on failure

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Graphic by Kayla Payne / The Flat Hat

Apologies in advance for another “study abroad changed me” opinions piece, but I have been in Amman, Jordan for the past month studying abroad for the spring semester and the opportunity to be here has been an incredible one. I came to Amman with the main goal of improving my Arabic, especially building my confidence with speaking. Getting to be in a place where I have to speak a language I’m not comfortable with has been an incredible growing experience.

Something that I’ve realized during my time at the College of William and Mary is that I am very afraid of failure. It can feel much easier to not to try something rather than to take a class, try a club, and not do well. That perspective, while easy to hold, has held me back from a lot of cool opportunities that I was scared to try because I knew I wouldn’t be perfect at them. I think a lot of us, coming from high school where we were often some of the most relatively successful students, have tried to maintain that experience and perspective at the College. We live in a society where success is often measured by numbers, the GPA and achievements we can put on our resume. If something doesn’t meet those qualifications, why try? And if it does, but I’m worried I won’t be good at it, I can feel the same lack of motivation.

I felt that way with Arabic. I loved it, and I felt confident in certain aspects, but I hated and felt so nervous speaking because I knew I would mess up, or not know the right vocabulary. I am so grateful to the generosity of the community here in Amman who are happy to correct me and wait for my fumbling words to come out with absolutely no malice. I have learned so much by trying and often finding myself in the scary space in between failure and success.

I’ve realized that trying or starting something will get you a lot further than not starting because you’re scared of messing up.

For example, I have always been bad at going to the gym, or exercising because I’m not that sure what I’m doing. My commitment in Amman has been to go to the gym every class day and do just 30 minutes of exercise. I might not be perfect, and by that I mean I’m definitely not perfect, but I already feel much happier and healthier.

Being in a new environment has given me a new perspective on trying things and feeling more comfortable when I do not succeed or do them perfectly. I am incredibly lucky to have this experience. While it is a little too easy to put pressure on study abroad experiences to be perfect, I am attempting to simply try my best and learn, and be okay with things missing the mark of perfect, be it in my experiences or in my Arabic.

Email Anna Boustany at
aeboustany@email.wm.edu.