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My exchange taught me it’s good to be outside your comfort zone

Rosie Millard OBE

Journalist and former Chair of Hull City of Culture

A picture of Rosie Millard OBE and former chair of Hull city of culture wearing her medals, smiling with arms akimbo and standing in front of a little bush.

Being out of your comfort zone

Journalist, novelist, former chair of Hull City of Culture, public speaker and marathon runner, Rosie Millard OBE knows a thing or two about being out of your comfort zone. ‘I’m a big believer in that,’ she says. ‘I do a lot of things that put me out of my comfort zone – on purpose – because I think it’s good for my stamina and it’s good for my confidence.’

Rosie’s first introduction to being out of her comfort zone was perhaps the year she spent at Cushing Academy, Massachusetts, on an English-Speaking Union Secondary School Exchange. ‘I remember going skating on Boston Common and thinking, ‘oh this is going to be easy because I’d been skating at home’,’ she says. ‘But skating on a lake in the middle of Boston is not the same as Streatham Ice Rink. There is no barrier, there is no hand rail and it was absolutely terrifying. I was suddenly completely stricken with homesickness,’ she says. ‘It ambushed me from nowhere.’

Happily for Rosie, she was cast as the lead in the school play shortly afterwards, and all fears soon evaporated. ‘It’s the same old thing isn’t it; as soon as you get involved in something, you become part of a team, and you stop worrying about home and missing everyone. From that moment on, I just loved it.’

She describes her year there as ‘an all-singing, all-dancing American experience.’ ‘It was like walking into the set of Glee,’ she says. ‘There were cheerleaders, ice hockey, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I couldn’t believe how all-American it was. It was just so exciting and different and thrilling.’

A group of debate academy students (male and female) gathered outside the building.
An image of softball inside the catcher's glove on the ground

Like all SSE students, Rosie had already taken her A levels, so she was free to take whatever classes she was interested in. ‘I did American literature, French, Russian history (which was fascinating seen from an American viewpoint), and American history – our teacher had actually fought in Vietnam. Hearing from someone who had been there and knew the fear made a very big impact on me.’ And despite never having played sport competitively in her life, Cushing Academy’s expectation that everybody participate found her on the softball team. ‘I was by no means the star but nevertheless I was included,’ she says. ‘I think that spirit of inclusion is something that British schools didn’t have when I was young and I think they should have.’

The exchange was really important to my life and career. I felt much more experienced when I got back because I had lived alone and I had travelled on my own. I felt much more confident about organising my time, and about taking things on and succeeding with them.

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Our speech and debate programmes and cultural exchanges improve young people’s attainment, self-esteem and social skills, helping them to thrive personally and professionally, in whichever field they choose.

Image of two primary kids reading their debate notes

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