The wild adventuress. Thrill-seeking. “Big” personality. Individuals that match those qualities are the ones expected to have the confidence to leave their friends and family for a semester to study abroad in a foreign country. Quiet at first and slow to open up, I speak for myself when I say shyness is often misinterpreted as fear of adventure; fear of being a leader; fear of speaking up. In my opinion, being shy can actually give you an advantage in life and especially during a study abroad experience. I have found in my two months abroad that the observation and listening skills that come with being shy enhance learning about another country’s culture.
With that in mind, here are four pieces of advice from a shy girl for confidently reaching your full potential while studying abroad.
1. Take Advantage of Planned Excursions
During the first few weeks of study abroad, I feared my natural shyness would hold me back from planning trips or going on excursions. One of the wonderful parts of AIFS Study Abroad programs is the inclusion of planned excursions and cultural activities in your city. The transportation, hotel and tour details of each excursion are taken care of for you. With your only responsibility to show up at each destination on time, you are free to take advantage of the stress-free trip as an opportunity to branch out. I used the free time during these planned excursions to find others with similar travel goals and get to know them while we explored the new city. Sitting at Café Landtmann in Vienna and wandering around Camden Market in London are just a few moments that provided the perfect opportunity to socialize while checking my travel nerves and shyness at the hotel door.
2. Push Yourself
Personally, I fall into a common introvert trap: thinking I have all the time in the world to go on adventures while extroverts think they need to be out living 24/7. I call this the introvert “trap” because it monopolizes on shy and introverted personalities’ inclination towards staying at home while also preventing you from fulfilling your full potential. If you too are guilty of falling into this trap, push yourself to break out and make the most of your time abroad. Some days it takes embracing the “I’ll sleep on the plane ride home” attitude, grabbing your jacket and walking out the door to whatever adventure the day holds.
When I feel myself falling into the introvert trap and letting my shyness dictate the day, I think about what I will regret not doing in my four months abroad. Will I regret not taking the cable car up the mountain, or missing out on dinner with friends? Striking a balance between pushing yourself and allowing time to recharge is just as important though in making the most of study abroad, which leads to piece of advice number three.
3. Plan Time to Recharge
Planning “me time” to recharge and relax is essential during a grand study abroad adventure. After a particularly hectic week of non-stop excursions and classes, I realized I was burning the candle at both ends and needed to learn how to schedule “me time” amidst the hustle bustle. I learned especially to take “schedule” at face value and actually include time to recharge into my weekly routine. Reading by the Salzach river, sipping an Americano in a comfy coffee shop, and taking a walk through Salzburg Old Town are just a few moments of “me time” I’ve learned to include on my to do list. Be sure to consistently prioritize whatever moments or activities you choose so that you’re re-energized to jump back into the nonstop adventure of studying abroad.
4. Write It Out
One lesson I still carry with me from high school is the advice given by my English teacher towards the end of our Senior Year to “just keep writing” as we entered the next chapter of our lives. Study abroad presents so many challenges and rewards, both of which you get to relive and re-learn from by writing about them. Keep a journal, type away until midnight, or maybe post-it notes are more your style — just keep writing. Because while a photograph may be worth a thousand words, thousands and thousands of words are waiting inside you to be spilled onto the page full of your own feelings, thoughts, fears and joy about the adventure you’re on. Writing empowers me to be aware of my own feelings, and realize the confidence within me to chase any adventure I choose. Once all my stories and thoughts are down on paper, I’m pushed to answer the question, “What’s next?” — a question personalities “big” and shy can answer with style.
This post was contributed by Erin Murphy, who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Salzburg, Austria.