How I Overcame Fear and Found My Love of Teaching, Travel and Chopsticks


“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” – Les Brown

A few years ago I received a terrifying email.

“We are pleased to inform you that you have been awarded a Fulbright scholarship to South Korea…”

Perhaps I should back up a bit. I was in my senior year in college, and had no idea what I wanted to pursue after graduation.

I did know that I wanted to think big. I wanted to see the world, to do exciting things, to have a life worth sharing.

It was a new concept among my circle of influence. Most of the people I knew at that time were either settling into regular jobs or about to get married. Very few individuals from the town I grew up in had ever even left the state. No one I knew had been to Asia.

“College is the best time of your life,” the adults in my life told me over and over again. “Take advantage of your freedom while you still have it.”

So I did.

I applied, mostly on a whim, to the Fulbright scholarship in South Korea.

I had never been to Asia and wanted to study an Asian language, and Korean was less intimidating than Chinese or Japanese or Khmer, the language of Cambodia. That was about the extent of the thought process that went into my decision as to where I would apply.

I never thought I’d be accepted, though.

And when I was, I was so scared, I almost didn’t go.

In the end, though, I finally decided that Fulbright was just too good an opportunity to pass up, no matter how scared I was.

My year in South Korea was hands down the hardest year of my life. It was also my most rewarding year. I made friendships to last a lifetime. I found an internal strength I never knew existed. I developed a vastly different view of the world than I had had before I left.

Sometimes I imagine how different my life would be if I hadn’t applied to Fulbright – or worse, if I had been awarded a spot, but had turned it down out of fear of the unknown.

I would never have found my love of teaching, or eating with chopsticks, or Korean fried chicken, or patbingsu, a korean dessert made mostly of red bean paste and shaved ice. I would never have met the precious students whose eager attitudes and sweet spirits made my job such a joy to wake up to every morning. I would never have seen fabulous cultural exhibitions like the lantern, mask dance or ice festivals. I would never have become confident in my ability to handle solo traveling by touring all over southeast Asia during my winter break. I would never have experienced the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, the Golden Palace in Japan, or the DMZ border between North and South Korea.

My life would be so different if I had let myself be governed by my fear. Graduate, get a job, get married, settle down. The classic American story. There is nothing wrong with this story, mind you. But there is also no requirement that we all follow this pattern.

One of the top regrets of the dying is “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Korea taught me that, if there is something you want to attempt, you should do everything you can to go for it.

Korea taught me that you should do things that scare you.

The challenges you are imagining are probably not as insurmountable as you may think they are, and the rewards are likely far more numerous than you could ever dream.

Life is not about doing everything perfectly. It’s not about living the life that people expect of you.

Life is about living to the fullest degree that you can.

Don’t let fear – of the unknown, of your own abilities, of what people will think – be the deciding factor of your life.

What scary decisions have you been considering lately? What can you do today to take a step toward pushing through your fear?

22 thoughts on “How I Overcame Fear and Found My Love of Teaching, Travel and Chopsticks”

  1. What an inspirational post! It’s amazing how that one decision to apply for the Fulbright and that one decision to study in a foreign country really changed your whole perspective and the course of your life.

    I guess the scariest decision of my life was attending acting school as an adult. As someone who has never done any acting or theater as a kid, and someone who is very analytical and left-brained, it pushed my limits and helped me grow as a person.

    1. I can imagine how scary that must have been, Norman! I really admire people who go back to school later in life, especially for a topic that they have no background in. What made you decide to pursue acting?

      1. It was actually really random. I found a Groupon deal for a beginner’s class and was hooked from the beginning. Although I’m not a professional actor, I feel that it’s helped me tremendously in both my personal and professional life.

  2. Great article, Lauren!

    As you describe, Korea seems like such a wonderful place to visit. I hope that one day I will have the courage to travel there like you.

    I think it’s very important for us to be ready to step our of our comfort zone, as scary as that may be. It’s how we grow :)

    Thanks for sharing your story!


  3. This may be different from your theme but the mention of Korea made me so grateful. My daughter was fixated with everything Korea. She was into the Korean wave. K pop, K drama. We, as parents were critical. She was in college and we wanted her to focus on her studies, score and get a good job. She did. Through her interest in everything Korean, she picked up the language. She applied for a job dealing with Korean customers with a multinational. She was quickly offered one while most of her classmates are still at internship. Thank you Koreana.

  4. Wow. This is so inspiring, Lauren. I haven’t travelled much, except spending a year in London when I was in college, and even though I’d love to live in a foreign country for some time, I just haven’t been able to make up my mind. A part of me thinks I don’t have the money required to live in a different country, another part of me thinks I wouldn’t be able to make it all alone, given that I am not well-travelled, and then there’s the nagging thought that I have to leave my mom alone. I guess I am too afraid to take chances? I’m just 24, still pretty young, so all I got to do is some careful planning and then muster up the courage. I know it isn’t as simple as it sounds but life is what we make of it, right? Thanks for sharing, again, and I’m from India, so it’s great to know you visited my country :) Hugs!

    1. I hope you are able to figure out where you’d like to live and make it happen. Living in a foreign country is hands-down both the most challenging and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever experienced :). Best of luck!!

  5. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, I’ve been longing to hear these words for quite sometime now and you nailed it, “Life is not about doing everything perfectly. It’s not about living the life that people expect of you.
    Life is about living to the fullest degree that you can”. Really great!

  6. Thank you for sharing your story, Lauren.

    I love seeing other’s people perspective of life and when I stumble upon a bright person like you it always makes me so happy and determined to become a better me and grow myself as a person.

    Thank you :)

  7. Thanks Lauren Meeks! Inspiration, commitment, helping others, self believe are the words here described. However the interconnection of these words made self achievement and goal.

  8. Awesome, and congratulations on taking the step you were so fearful off.

    Sometimes it seems that your mind knows what’s important to you, and it gives you a hint by making you afraid of it. If it weren’t important to you, you probably wouldn’t worry about it, or think another second about it.

    You would just let it slide of your back and never think about it again.

    But when it’s important to you, it can hunt you for months on end.

    Keep up the good work!


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