Going abroad is a great opportunity to learn a foreign language, try working in a new environment, meet new people, grow as a person in general. It seems like a perfect thing for extroverts – lots of new things, lots of new people, lots of uncertainty, and lots of energy that you need to put in to make yourself feel at home. But what’s it like when you’re an introvert?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that extroverts don’t face culture shock or adaptation issues at all. I would just like to focus on some extra challenges that introverts face compared to extroverts.
Meeting new people
That can be a real pain when you first leave your home country. Everything is new and in addition you don’t even have any friends near you! Well, it’s not like you’ve lost your friends – not at all (see below), but it means you need to put some extra effort in making some connections in the new place. One of the main tips nowadays is to make use of the expat communities meet ups. And this is a completely valid and good tip. Not sure if for introverts though.
These meetings are usually packed with people, free networking events and you have to have a little bit of courage to start talking to a group of new people or to a group of peers who have met on these types of events before already. Not an ideal situation for someone rather shy and needing slightly more time to make a connection with people. Another point around it is that it’s usually loud – either just a packed room or a bar/club situation where you have troubles following a conversation. Another stressor added especially if your language fluency is not yet that perfect. You can lose a lot of energy trying to deal with all these challenges and instead of going out of the meeting hyped up, you will leave absolutely exhausted.
So what can you do instead if you’re an introvert?
Well, I’m sorry to say, but in order to meet people you would still need to attend some events or start some activities to actually be around people – which includes the awkward ‘Hi, what’s your name, what do you do’ moments 🙂 But there are some alternatives to all these packed club-style events. The meet up pages all over the world offer various types of events. Instead of generic international meetings pick the themed meet ups. So, say, if you’re interested in arts, crafts and DIY, look up a meet up where people get together to try and learn some new lettering techniques etc. I’m sure that you will better and faster connect with people with similar interests – that’s a rule applicable to all cultures around the world I believe.
What is better about such a meeting is that it won’t necessarily only be expats attending. This therefore gives you a chance to broaden your network and start learning more about the local customs instead of living in an expat bubble. Additionally you will have a new activity that you can take up and add to your routines when arriving in the new place. Being in a smaller group will allow you to have a proper conversation and will definitely be less stressful.
I do like people, you know?
A very common misconception about introverts is that they are just loners who don’t like people and don’t like to go out, can’t build good relationships. Well this is very wrong. Introverts do like to be around people, you know? It’s probably true that most of them prefer smaller social gatherings, maybe in slightly smaller amounts. Why is that? Simply because being around people is usually not what charges their energy batteries. It is fun to go out, but equally, to get some rest and unwind it’s better to read a book, watch a movie, take a bath, listen to some music with closed eyes.
The pressures, very often external, makes you try and go out as much as possible, go to all the social gatherings at work or outside of it – just because everyone told you how important getting new friends abroad is. And it’s true, it is very helpful to have someone you can talk to in your new home. But when you’re an introvert please do not force yourself to do things that are way out of your comfort zone. Yes, you need to push yourself a little bit to go out and meet some strangers. But if you feel drained, don’t feel forced to stay until the end of each party or go out and party every weekend. If you need to recharge – do it your way.
A little note for extroverts, I guess for many of you being around people is recharging your energy, makes you feel better and relaxes you. If you’re stressed or tired you probably don’t think of going home, sitting on a couch and reading a book, but going out for drinks with your friends. Equally, if introverts are stressed and tired, going out and socialising is probably the last thing they think of. My personal pitch here is therefore to accept this. This doesn’t mean that they don’t like you if they don’t go out with you if they’re tired. It’s not another excuse. It’s just how introverts are and they need to sometimes be in their own world to recharge. It doesn’t mean that the next day when they get some rest, they will not go out with you – they do like people! 🙂
I don’t have any friends here…
Yes, you might not have friends h e r e. But it’s not like all your friends disappeared!! They are still there back at home! They still want to be your friends and stay in touch! There’s a separate bit about keeping your long-distance relationships going in previous posts. You can still schedule some time with them over Skype or use the all-present Facebook messengers, Whatsapps etc to stay in touch with them. Of course it’s not the same as actually meeting with them, but it’s not like you’ve lost them forever. It’s important to remember this and make an effort to stay in touch, especially if you feel a bit lonely at the beginning. One of the readers, Kasia from KanadaSieNada [blog in Polish, about living and working in Canada], suggested that what she does is she actually schedules the times when she knows she’d like to contact her family and friends. I think that as weird as it might sound, it’s actually a very very good idea to get into the habit of staying in touch when you’re busy with everyday work and excited by all the new things that await you in the new location. Especially if you’re in distant time zones where scheduling becomes quite a challenge. It’s almost like agreeing on going for a beer every Thursday (as you’ve always done when you were back home), but remotely. Check and see if it works – what have you got to lose? 😉
In case you’re wondering – yes, I would class myself more as an introvert. I do need some alone time once in a while and I need to switch off from the world to relax and unwind and I do function better in smaller groups of people rather than on big networking events. But at the same time I do have a very relationship-based job, which I like very much and I do go out with my friends here as well. It’s absolutely possible to combine these two things, but it probably means that sometimes as an introvert you’ve got to work on some of the skills that will let you be more effective in this very sociable world of today.
What are some other challenges that you face as an introvert? Extroverts, how do you feel about working with introverts, what challenges you’re facing?
I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic – let’s help each other figure out the best way to cooperate and adapt abroad.