Studying Abroad as an Introvert

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woman reading book and lying forward on sheet on grass beside body of water during day

There is a common misconception, based on the representation of study-abroad students as adventurous, bold, and outgoing, that this is an experience reserved for extroverted people; but studying abroad is not just for extroverts. Here’s why:

  • Not all introverts are timid and shy. Some are, in fact, adventurous, bold, and outgoing. (I like to consider myself this type of introvert. My friends refuse to believe I am introverted at all.)
  • Not all study-abroad experiences look the same, so an introvert may approach the challenge differently than an extrovert, but their experience will be just as rewarding.

Tips for the Introvert Abroad:

1. Don’t feel guilty about making time for yourself

Introverts gain energy by having time to themselves, but often lose energy in overly stimulating environments. When studying abroad, it can feel as though saying no to anything may result in missing out on something fun and exciting, but if you don’t have enough energy or aren’t in a good headspace, you won’t enjoy these fun and exciting moments as much as you could. Remember that it’s okay to skip a night out with friends to recharge and reflect on your own.

2. Find a quiet place to unwind

While studying in Edinburgh, I often took refuge in a homey cafe while writing in my travel journal (a great tool for internal reflection) or revising for classes. Munching on scones, sipping tea, and watching pedestrians fly by, I still felt immersed in the city’s culture, while enjoying a quiet place to unwind.

3. Live past your comfort zone

At times living abroad pushes introverts and extroverts alike out of their comfort zones, which can actually be quite beneficial. Your comfort zone is like a young plant’s pot—you cannot grow to your full potential within its confines. Only when you push past your comfort zone will you learn and grow as a person, and you’ll discover that with time, your comfort zone will expand its boundaries: you’ll find comfort where there used to be discomfort.

Examples of living past your comfort zone may include…

  • Getting involved in something new
  • Forcing yourself to talk to someone new (e.g., the person sitting next to you in lecture, the stranger you share a table with at a café, etc.)
  • Attending social events even though it may feel more comfortable to just chill at home
  • Saying yes to spontaneous trips/activities
green leafed plant near window

4. Get involved

It can be more difficult to make new friends as an introvert (especially if you are a shy type of introvert), and meeting new people can sometimes feel stressful and, well, just not fun. But the first step to making friends is meeting people, and societies and sports are one pretty straightforward way to do so.

Some societies are even specifically tailored to introverts (For example, Edinburgh’s Harry Potter Society specifies on their Facebook page that most of their members are introverts who understand how difficult it is to put yourself out there and meet new people), and will have welcome events with activities that will ease the pressure of forcing conversations with people you’ve only just met.

Other ways to develop and foster friendships

  • Ask your flatmate, classmate, etc. what their plans are for the weekend. Though some people will just list off what they are doing, I’ve found that often they will end up inviting me along to something. Or, if they have no plans, you can suggest something to do.
  • Have a dinner night/movie night/wine and cheese night/etc. with your flatmates. Though you don’t have to be best friends with your flatmates, it doesn’t hurt. It ends up being quite convenient to have your flatmates be your friends, because you don’t even have to leave the flat to have a good time!
  • Befriend an extrovert! Becoming friends with a social butterfly, especially a benevolent social butterfly, is a sure way to make new friends.
  • Use freshers/refreshers week (the week before term starts): During this time, everyone is a bit lost and trying to find friends, so it is a perfect time to put yourself out there. If ever a time to push yourself past your comfort zone, this would probably be it. There are also tons of events and socials to attend, so take advantage!

5. Find your balance

cairn stone in Skogafoss Falls, Iceland

It may seem that some of these tips contradict each other. I am telling you both to not feel guilty about taking time for yourself and to push yourself past your comfort zone. Really, it is all about finding the right balance for you.

For example, I felt horrible missing out on anything during my time studying abroad, so I pushed myself too far out of my comfort zone and ended up both mentally and physically exhausted for most of my time here. Now that I’ve returned to Scotland, I’m gaining a better idea of how to find a balance between pushing myself socially and taking time for myself. As long as I know that I’ll have one or two nights a week to take to myself, I feel better about going out with friends and leaving my comfort zone.

It may take a bit of time to figure out the right balance for you, but I guarantee that it will be worth it when you do!

Hopefully I have convinced my fellow introverts out there, and my extroverted peers, that with the proper mindset, anyone can successfully study abroad!