The Secret to Helping Your Students Find Themselves


* This post was edited from one originally posted on The Student Affairs Hub.

I wasn't the most adventurous person when I was growing up. I only ever really went to the places I knew and ate the foods I knew I liked. While this tendency will always be a part of who I am, I've started to make intentional attempts to travel more, try more, and just get out of my comfort zone more.

You know that line about where the magic happens? Yeah, that's what I'm talking about here.

I have gone to more cities in our great country, started blogging, and have put myself out into the professional world meeting colleagues and forming connections, which as a proud introvert, is hard for me at times. I might mumble and grumble going against my nature, but afterwards, I'm always glad I made the effort to get out of my shell. I'm even planning my first trip outside of the country with my partner! I never would have thought I'd want to do a lot of these things or even have the opportunity to do them. I'm grateful for the growth these different opportunities in my life have given me and I know that students have the potential to experience the same learning.

As a student at college (or someone who works with them), there are ample opportunities to find ways to get out and experience more new things. That could be because someone is just in a new area while you're at college, it could be joining a new club or organization, applying for a job (on-campus or off), it could mean going on an alternative break trip to do service, or going away to study for a semester abroad. All of these hold value for engaging in an experience that, even if it is not exactly what was hoped for, students will get out of their comfort zone and learning new things about themselves, and the world around them.

So, making someone take risks, face fears, and embrace discomfort is easier said than done but the importance and value of the experience far outweigh whatever reticence a student might have. What we have to do as student affairs professionals is nudge our students to the zone of proximal development as it applies here, or in other words, where challenge and support are primed for growth and learning for students. They don't feel too safe or too challenged, but the discomfort is enough to allow for them to learn something new. For example, a student could learn a lot by traveling to a new city in the US with a group of fellow students, but it could be too much for them at once to perhaps travel alone to a new country.

Students will also simply listen to their trusted mentors on taking risks and finding their identity outside of their comfort zones. Our faith in them and our knowledge of the benefits of the aforementioned experiences help urge a student to go for it. I know when I was an undergraduate student, I never would have thought to apply to be an RA (which was far out of my comfort zone) but a few recommendations to do so from professional staff members helped send me other the edge and give it a shot. Five years later, here I am having found a career I love and I owe it all to the encouragement of others.

I urge you to urge your students to get out and experience new things. I'm sure they'll thank you for it.

Thanks for stopping by!