I have a huge fear of sharks. Some might call it irrational, and honestly, I would probably agree. But somehow, despite the strong (and valid) association between Australia and sharks, I ended up studying abroad in Sydney.
You see, I absolutely loved Australia. And I absolutely loved the beach. I did not, however, absolutely love being in the ocean. In fact, I avoided it at all costs.
As you might be able to infer at this point, I did not learn how to surf. And while I spent many days at the beach, I did not spend many days swimming in the ocean. I, also, did not plan on scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef. However, sometimes plans change.
The company I did my housing with had a prize giveaway not too long after I arrived in Sydney. I did not expect to win anything. I never win anything. As I sat there listening to the prizes along with the names of those who had won, I began zoning out. All of a sudden, my housemate was gripping my arm and shaking me excitedly. Apparently, my name had been called. I had won something! I’m sure at this point you could guess what it was… Two vouchers to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef. I was instantly struck with two emotions: utter terror mixed with a hint of excitement. I mean, I knew I was going to do it. It was free. How could I not? So as I walked up to collect the vouchers, I had one reassuring thought running through my brain, “At least I didn’t win a trip to go cage diving with sharks…”
Fast forward to a couple of months later where I found myself in Cairns (a city on the east coast of Australia), standing on a dock at the break of dawn, feeling like I was going to be sick. My friend whispered reassuring words as we waited to board the boat in an attempt to quell my fears. Unfortunately, it wasn’t working.
We boarded the boat and began sailing out towards the reef. I sat through the safety presentation, as well as the scuba diving orientation, with knots in my stomach. Even the crew could sense my unease. They said I’d be fine and had nothing to be afraid of, and I believed them. But I was still nervous.
We put on our scuba gear and the crew, once again, took us though the instructions for the dive. We would start off with a test run once we got in the water to make sure we could breath okay and knew how to signal if something went wrong. Then, we would swim down to the reef.
In my first couple of minutes underwater, my heart rate skyrocketed and a slight paranoia plagued my mind. Which would probably explain why I nearly screamed (not literally of course, I was underwater) when I saw a dark, large, blurry shadow swimming my way. Turns out it was a large fish, not a shark. False alarm. But as the clock ticked on and I became more and more comfortable being underwater, my fear began to dissipate.
By the time we began our descent, I was in love. Being down in that reef was like being in another world. A world full of its own unique creatures and ecosystem. A world with a calming silence and a majestic landscape. A world which I was not ready to leave. In fact, I enjoyed my “under the sea” experience so much I’m planning on getting certified.
At the end of the day, I didn’t just gain a new hobby, I also learned a really important less about overcoming your fears and stepping out of your comfort zone. The lesson: just do it. Rarely, if ever, will you regret it. And most likely, you’ll actually gain something really wonderful from it. So yes, I am still terrified of sharks. But the difference now is that I won’t let that fear keep me from trying new things.