The Key to Adventure: Surrender!

“Sometimes you have to surrender before you win.”

Shantaram by David Gregory Roberts


When I came upon this line in the gripping novel Shantaram, the words struck me to my core. I was a month into my semester abroad in Ghana and struggling to find my place in the new culture, a world where even basic customs were foreign to me. The concept of surrendering was the last thing on my mind when every day felt like a battle against my strange surroundings. The main character of the novel, like me, had just arrived in a new city in a foreign country with a guarded state of mind. Invitations to join acquaintances on bizarre adventures were treated with skepticism and reluctance. Much like my first month in Africa, he was hesitant and suspicious, attempting to maintain complete control over his life. As most study abroad students learn, this is a guaranteed way to miss out on the opportunities of a lifetime.

I came to Ghana fully armored, prepared to conquer the worst. It took time before I learned to surrender to the experience. I tried to be more flexible and adventurous, reminding myself to surrender to the people, the culture, the way of life… and stop fighting it. If the University had complicated and unnecessary regulations about which courses we’re allowed to take, I have to stop being angry and just accept that it’s different. If someone invited me to see some random documentary in the city, instead of opting to stay on campus I’d say, “Sure, I’ll give it a try.” This proved to be the key to stumbling upon the most amazing and meaningful experiences of my stay. While at home I may be tempted to fall back on my old habits and routines, in a new place I was free to start fresh and be up for anything. (Within the realm of safety, of course) My friends and I made a policy to say “yes” to as many invitations or opportunities at possible. Pretty soon we were sleeping on the roof of our dorm for fun, visiting a “voodoo priest” in a local village, and making laughable attempts to learn salsa on Wednesday nights at a club.

You’ll quickly find that saying “yes” to the world around you gets easier every time. It can start with a simple invitation- a new friend convinces you to stay up all night and watch the sun rise. Then you may decide to take a traditional dance class even though you dance like a drunken ostrich (this comes from experience). Before you know it you’ll be going on cross-country adventures and trying your hand at bungee jumping! (Sorry to all the mothers out there if I’m giving your children ideas)

Traveling across the world to study in a foreign country is a journey filled with adventure, wisdom, and most of all, promise. You hold the power to shape your own experience through your willingness to step out of your comfort zone and “go with the flow” of your new home. Being in a foreign place requires us to be cautious and attentive, but it doesn’t mean that we have to hold ourselves back. If there’s ever a time in your life to stop worrying and try something fantastic or maybe even scary, it’s when you’re abroad! So take a page out of Shantaram and remember to surrender: it may be the best decision you ever make!