Over the next ten months I would be challenged and repeatedly forced out of my comfort zone, there were many times when I told myself that my only option was to give up and come home early. The most severe of these incidences was in July 2016, my foreign friends from the previous semester had left Korea and I began to feel extremely lonely. I was also unable to continue living on campus due to an administrative error so had to find myself an off-campus apartment in a city where none of the real-estate agents offered an English language service. Thanks to a number of supporters, including my parents, I forced myself to stay in Korea until my program ended in September. Upon returning to Melbourne to start my PhD, I could not have been more satisfied with my decision to stay in Korea and complete my internship.
Overcoming the negative expectations I place on myself due to anxiety is an ongoing issue for me. The challenges and self-doubt I faced while I was in Korea caused me to question my ability to achieve my ambitions. It certainly did not help that when I left I was going through some major changes in my personal life. However, I learnt a lot about myself while I was overseas, it really was the experience itself that has taught me some key lessons about myself and how to trust my network to overcome my anxieties.
Firstly, I learnt the value of trusting the experiences of your friends and your family, even when this means you have to step outside of your comfort zone. Some of the greatest experiences I had overseas were the result of taking the advice of the friends I met on exchange and doing things that I thought were ridiculous or simply beyond my ability, from regular Karaoke nights to literally climbing mountains.
Living in Korea also exposed me to a variety of different cultures and even taught me a new language to express myself in. I did not realise the extent to which living immersed in another culture had made me more outwardly confident until a friend pointed it out to me last month. This experience has also served as a touchstone for me in the present, when I feel anxious I think back to my experiences in Korea.
I cannot say that I have completely conquered that anxious voice inside me that tells me ‘I can’t’, as proven by my sudden exit from the academic seminar earlier this year. But I have become much better at dealing with my social anxiety. The overall message I learned from my time in Korea is that that my anxiety can be overcome through determination, the support of my personal network and – and I cannot stress this enough – by continuing to challenge myself by doing things that make that voice go nuts.
There is no other organisation that is more suited to enabling young people in our community to overcome negative assumptions than the I CAN Network. By placing the lived experience of mentors who are on the Autism Spectrum at the centre of everything we do, the I CAN Network has the legitimacy to connect with participants and make them feel safely understood.
I cannot overstate the impact for young people on the Spectrum of meeting accomplished older mentors who are just like them. I CAN Mentors have walked the Spectrum journey and are proud of the contribution their Autism makes to their community. At the end of the day, I CAN Network is a group of passionate individuals with a lived experience of the Spectrum that facilitates a forum for our community to finally take the centre stage in their own success.
To me you cannot separate Autism from the individual and that is why I enjoy my job at the I CAN Network. I get to meet new young people on the Spectrum at every mentoring session, every staff meeting and every camp that I attend. Each new person adds something to my understanding of this ever-changing community of undiscovered talent.
Austin is creating a better world for people on the Autism Spectrum. We need your help. Join us by donating or giving monthly. Together, we can create employment opportunities for people on the Autism Spectrum, and can support schools and workplaces to celebrate their individual strengths.