Since returning from my semester abroad in Salamanca, Spain I have worked frequently with study abroad through AIFS and the University of Wyoming. In that time, I have noticed that many groups are reached to help them adjust to life abroad: low-income/first generation students, students of color, students of the LGBTQA+ community, and students of underrepresented majors. However, very few people discuss how doing a study abroad program as an introvert will affect you.
I have heard several times that “you need to be an extrovert to study abroad,” “introverts would not enjoy traveling,” and “exploring the world will not be a good fit for an introvert like you.” All of the aforementioned comments are entirely false.
While adventuring, traveling, and exploring may not be everyone’s favorite pastime, they have no direct correlation with being an introvert or an extrovert.
I am a self-described introvert: I prefer staying at home with my animals than going out with strangers; I enjoy the company of my few close friends as opposed to that of many acquaintances; and I live for the little joys in life such as excellent food, conversations, books, music, and artwork. Despite these perceived limitations to my view of the world, my introverted nature unveiled a unique perspective of traveling that not many encounter. My favorite days included running errands with my host mother (whom I love dearly), enjoying café con leche with my roommate before classes, and exploring unique corners of the world on my own. While studying abroad showed me how to escape my comfort zone and participate in activities I never would have in Laramie, Wyoming, being an introvert in Salamanca helped my experience more than it hindered my experience.
I realize that the world can seem overwhelming when you are comfortable being a homebody. Thus, through the comfort of my home to yours, I present to you five tips regarding introvertedness in a field dominated by extroverts:
1. Read a book in your native language.
I brought Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with me almost everywhere I went while studying in Spain. I read it when I missed home, felt lonely, or became overwhelmed with stimuli. Harry has brought me through some of the toughest and the most memorable periods of my life; traveling with Harry was similar to retreating to the comfort of my home. Especially if living in a country where the community does not speak your native language, having the comfort of your favorite book does wonders for the introvert’s mental health.
2. Keep physical photos.
Scrolling through photos on your phone or computer is a much different experience from the nostalgia of flipping through physical prints. Each time I saw a Spaniard walking their dog was pure anguish, knowing that mine sat 4,500 miles away and that I had five months to pet them again. I knew that I would long for my animals more than anything while I was studying abroad. So, having something physical that I could hold helped me immensely. If you are attached to something at home, this will help you in unimaginable ways.
3. Find your favorite café.
When everything seems overwhelming and you simply need a break, having a go-to spot to sit and eat foods like chocolate croissants while sipping on beverages like café con leche creates a phenomenal break. There is something tranquil about sitting by yourself in a quiet spot, out of the way of chaos. Experiences like these made Salamanca my home away from home.
4. Take a stroll.
When it seems as though you have seen everything in your study abroad host city, fellow introvert, take a stroll instead of retreating to your bedroom. Walking by yourself and following your instincts will lead you to some interesting and historical places. Salamanca is painted with hidden back streets, small shops, and unique landmarks that are overlooked by grand sights for tourists. Through being familiar with their host city, the introvert will feel more at home.
5. Just go.
This one seems a little obvious, does it not? When everything feels too overwhelming, and you would rather retreat to the comfort of your bed, don’t. Challenge yourself to meet new people and plunge into new experiences. If you consider not partaking in a group activity because it would make you uncomfortable, go anyway. Some of my most memorable experiences came from last-minute adventures that I initially doubted. There are still activities I wish I would have partaken in that my introverted nature kept me from doing. Trust me when I say: looking back, you will regret more the things you did not do as opposed to those that you took a chance on.