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How Studying Abroad Helped Me Conquer My Biggest Fear

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I have always loved music and singing. One of my earliest memories as a child is belting out the lyrics to Whitney Houston’s ‘I wanna dance with somebody’ thinking, “oh my God I sound just like her!” …I didn’t! And my family and friends never hesitated to let me know that. I sang on my way to school, I sang in the grocery store and on nights when the lights went out, I sang to the flickering flame of the candlelight waiting for the electricity to come back. It wasn’t long before the people around me grew tired of my singing, and urged me to “Just stop singing!”

I soon developed a fear of singing. I was painfully aware of the fact that I was no good at it and I thought the desire to sing would eventually leave me. Years went by and my love of singing faded but it never completely disappeared, so I found other outlets for my musical interests like singing in the school choir and joining a Marimba band (a marimba is an African instrument that looks a lot like a xylophone). None of these musical activities ever captivated me the way singing did, so in my freshman year of college I went out on a limb and auditioned for an a cappella group. I remember my heart thudding in my chest, my palms sweating, and my knees trembling as I waited in the snaking line to audition for one of the best a cappella groups on campus. I wish I could say I walked through those doors and sang the song I had prepared with all the confidence in the world, but the truth is I was intimidated by the people around me: the people who could read sheet music, the people who had such beautiful voices they could bring you to tears with a rendition of a nursery rhyme. When I turned my back on that audition, I thought that was the end of my singing days as I was completely put off singing.

I was satisfied with this decision until I travelled to Sydney, Australia in my junior year of college where I happened upon a club called Jamming Society at the student club fair. The club was made up of a group of students who had not necessarily studied music or had a wealth of formal knowledge on music, they simply had a passion for music that needed to be expressed. This club offered me the sweetest relief from my frustrations about wanting to enjoy live music with others but not having an outlet to do so. Their opening event was a jam session one Friday night. I came with every intention of observing the events of the night, a role I had learned to love, but one of my close friends DeVante asked me to go on stage and perform with him. I’m not sure if it was just how comfortable and welcomed I felt in this club or if it was the free wine I had been sipping on that night, but I went on stage and sang with him. I wouldn’t say I was pitch perfect but the best part of that night was that I enjoyed it! I wasn’t burdened with the ghost of all the voices that had ever told me to stop singing, or the memory of every failed attempt to sing, I just sang and I enjoyed it.
I developed a close friendship with DeVante, who was taking a class at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney‘s downtown area. I wanted to have more singing experiences like the one I’d had at the jamming session so I enrolled in a class called ‘the contemporary singer’. I’ll admit this class was confronting, I have never sung solo before so it was daunting to discover my voice in front of people who have been singing for years. There were many moments where I stopped and asked myself, why did I sign up for this? Why do I continue to come to class week after week? And sometimes I couldn’t answer that question. But somewhere in the midst of all the frustration at not being able to sing as well as my peers, I realized that I’m no longer afraid to sing solo out loud. This completely changed my approach to the final performance. I stopped focusing on how I could not reach the falsetto register in my voice like others could and started celebrating the fact that I had a working knowledge of what the falsetto register was! I stopped concentrating on the fact that I could not read sheet music like others could and started celebrating that I could sing out loud for the first time in years.

Studying abroad helped me develop the confidence to sing aloud, something I thought I would never be able to do. I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity to get to know myself in a different context. I was unbound by others’ expectations of me and the roles that they have cast me in and I could finally just be the most authentic version of myself. Even though I don’t plan on making a habit of performing, I’m glad that my time in Sydney helped me tie some loose ends and address those nagging ‘what if’ questions I have always had concerning my love of music, and to finally make peace with my fear of singing. Even though I know beyond a shadow of doubt that singing is not in my future, I still hope to incorporate music in my future endeavors. I recently applied for an internship at a music recording company, and who knows, maybe I will get to embrace my love of music in this way.
Until next time,

Sindi Mafico is a student at Skidmore College and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia in 2017.