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  • Writer's pictureAutumn Lamb

Week 5: Anxious Bravery

How is it already week 5 of my study abroad program, and the beginning of February? I knew the time would go faster than I had hoped, but this week seems to emphasize the reality with an exclamation point. It’s the messy middle of the project stage – I don’t feel like I’ve done enough, there are a limited number of weekends left to explore the country, and preparation for final projects is beginning for each of my classes. There is a lot to do over the remaining 6 weeks in Italy.


This past week I read stories that shared two different refugee experiences and their journey from hometown to camps and attempts at freedom through asylum in a foreign country. I enjoyed a surprisingly elevated dinner right at the end of my street that would rival five-star restaurants in the states (and for half the cost). I went to a jazz club walking distance from my apartment and listened to a great jazz guitarist from New York, as he played with amazing Italian jazz players. I toured the Ostia Antica, the ancient city that was the original port of Rome. I danced with my class in an outdoor Roman theatre. I juggled work responsibilities. I battled anxiety and massive inferiority complex. I went to my field placement in an after-school (Ludoteca) program with 3–5-year-olds and read stories, helped put together puzzles, and supervised painting, all with very limited Italian. I met refugees practicing for a play that shares one individual refugee’s story. I laughed. I cried. And this all happened in Rome.


Each week encompasses the full range (or nearly full) range of human emotions and is difficult to sum up. Isn’t that life, though? Joy and sorrow, and everything in between. And the really fun discovery (one that I already knew, but has surfaced again) is that no matter where you go in the world, you can’t run away from yourself. So, if you are driven, you’ll be driven anywhere in the world. If you struggle with self-esteem issues, you’ll struggle with them anywhere in the world. If you make friends easily or struggle to connect, that will follow you no matter where you go. That is not all to say that these things are inherently problematic. They are simply reality. Traveling in and of itself doesn’t solve an internal problem just because you traveled. That requires intention, effort, and daily decisions.


For me, I struggle with anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, and connecting with others on a long-term basis. This leaves me very guarded. None of this has changed simply by spending extended time in Italy. One thing I have told my kids numerous times is that I am not going to let fear stop me from having the adventure. If anything, my life is a testament to the fact that you can show up fearful, with knees knocking, and still have amazing experiences.


Case in point: I had the opportunity to connect with a film director who works with refugees and is the one who leads the group I mentioned above that is practicing a show telling a refugee story.

We had a date, time, and location to meet, and I was familiar with the area becuase I've been there before. What I didn't know what the specific room to meet. I missed the first bus because I second guessed myself if I was remembering the correct connection. This put me behind schedule. When I arrived at the building, I messaged my connection, but my phone wouldn’t connect to service. Unsure of whether I was in the correct spot or not, I walked to the second spot I had met her before, thinking she might be there (this was a ¼ mile walk). I arrived at the front of the building, and there were two people at the front to greet people as they entered. Neither spoke English, and one was speaking a language other than Italian. I said the name of who I was looking for, yet they didn’t know where she was. I waited for a moment and thought one was trying to reach her. She was not. I started to question whether I should just go back home, having completely missed the time and location of where I was supposed to meet, and I had no cell service to use translation assistance, or call/text my connection. Finally, I pushed past my insecurity and asked again if they could call her. The gentleman did, and I got her on phone! She told me where she was, so I walked back to the original meeting point, now with a location inside the building. Upon arrival, I now had to find the theater!


First door – music is coming from the inside, and I open it up and peek inside. A woman looks at me, dancing while walking towards me and tells me NO! She didn’t even ask what I was there for, and I didn’t see who I was looking for. I went to the second door (which is where the after-school program I volunteer at is located). There is one of the workers I know, so I ask her for assistance. She confirms that the first door I went to is the theater. I tell her what happened, and she calls my connection. I go out the second door, peek over to the first door, and there she is, my connection – the film director – waving me to join the group. Not wanting to be any more of a disturbance, I take a seat and watch what is happening, observing the practice in place. Multiple languages are spoken, and through their gestures, actions, and periodic words of recognition, I gather a bit of the portion of the story they are working on.


At the end I was asked to share a briefly why I am in Rome, why I was there, and was told that next week when I come, sitting in the chair is not allowed – they expect participation.


So, this woman who navigates this world in a mixture of anxiety and brave adventure, overcame a serious sequence of self-doubt that had me concerned how intense my body reactions would become. And not only did I get to experience this brief practice, but I was also asked to participate next week. I’ll share about that next week, so you can watch ridiculous anxiety be brave and uncomfortable again!


All of these experiences – anxiety, uncertainty, lack of language skills, not understanding systems – these were felt on a small scale by me this week but serve as a continual reminder that these same feelings and realities are part of the fabric of the refugee experience worldwide. Without the safety net of being able to travel back to the country of origin and familiarity.


If, after reading today’s post, you feel in any way that you can’t take action to make a difference in some small capacity or take steps to learn more about challenges that you don’t understand, then I don’t think you read it right. Anxious people can do brave things. Limited language skills can still fumble their way through the world. Uncertainty can be overcome. All it takes is five seconds of bravery and a decision to not let your fears stand in the way of doing something new or difficult.


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