The truth about describing yourself is that you cannot truly describe who you are until you have faced or passed certain obstacles or challenges. Most time we feel we’ve had or seen it all until circumstances hit you. Then you realize that things are not usually the way it seems.

I have always wanted to have an international experience in my professional field. Getting the opportunity to be an Atlas Corps Fellow was a dream come true. Little did I know that in all that excitement, I had to prepare mentally and physically for the trip.

The week I left my country, was the most stressful week after law school experience. Since I was leaving for the program, I was involved with different activities at the same time in order to set everything in place. I was at work virtually daily handling over my official responsibilities to the person who will take over my role. My supervisor at the postgraduate school insisted that I must round up my research work before leaving the country.

As a result of the last-minute assignments, packing for the trip was done a night before my departure. At this time, I was already stressed and worn out. I couldn’t get enough sleep before my departure – that was the beginning of my nightmare. This affected my overall being – both mentally and physically especially my appearance. I flew a direct flight to the US, woke up at a point during the flight shivering, confused, and restless. It took the cabin crew some effort to calm me down. 

The excitement of getting to the US vanished when it dawned on me that I was far from home; leaving families, friends, acquaintances, and job. During the Orientation week, I felt the information was too much for my already “tired” body. How can one learn with the recent state of mind? Although I was present in the room during the orientation discussing, chatting and smiling with new friends, I could not fully comprehend what was going around me. At the end of the orientation week, I began to search for a counselor to speak to. I concluded that every other fellow was doing fine except me. As such, I needed help because I was losing my mind. The truth is that I was lost!

My worst nightmares were during the night at the hostel. At a point, I started praying for the night not to come. During the daytime, all I wanted to do was sleep. However, when everyone is sleeping at night, I am either up moving from one floor to another or moving in and out of the building to get fresh air. I felt I was been caged that my movement was being restricted. At a point, all I wanted to do was go back to my country that this was not a place for me. I was told later that I was suffering from culture shock and jet lag. There is no way I could truly describe the struggle I went through!

There were other experiences or issues that were remarkable. Coming from a country that consumes spicy dishes, food became a struggle. I skipped most of the food served because they were not spicy enough for my taste bud. There were also times I tried to figure out the right route around metro stations. I cannot remember the many times that I have gotten lost. And the weather? I am still trying to adjust to the cold weather.

However, I was more settled during the Global Leadership Immersion. The discussions about adapting to the new environment, meeting other fellows and the realization that what I was going through was a normal experience made a difference for me. Moving to Atlas Corps housing with other fellows was also helpful. I can cook with the spices that I want – I cannot describe the joy that filled my heart the first day I cooked. My sleeping pattern has also started adjusting.

So, what have I learned from this experience? I have come to realize that sometimes growth occurs only when you passed through certain obstacles or challenges. The way you handle these challenges is what really matters. In addition, the way people adapt to a new environment or react to challenges differs, find out what works for you and stick to it.