The idea of studying abroad can be jarring and scary for an introvert. Meeting new people, getting used to a new city, maybe learning a new language — it can be a lot. All of this makes studying abroad seem like an extrovert’s paradise and an introvert’s nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be.
Here are some tips for making the most of studying abroad as an introvert.
1) Plan ahead.
Extroverts tend to cope well with spontaneity. It’s okay if that isn’t your style as an introvert. Plan trips, dinners and outings ahead of time and give yourself time to recharge in between. If you provide yourself with some structure while studying abroad, a last-minute text about dinner with friends may not seem quite as unsettling.
2) Watch from a distance.
Wherever you go, there will likely be cultural holidays and festivals in your host city or a new place you’re exploring. Those types of experiences can be a once in a lifetime, so you don’t want to miss them, but if the thought of crowds and so much activity can be intimidating and exhausting, then give yourself some space. Maybe watch a parade from a restaurant or rooftop restaurant nearby instead of being in the thick of the crowds. In Barcelona, I took a cable car up to Montjuic, a hill and castle nearby, to watch the lights of the city during La Mercé. It was a great way to see all the excitement without overwhelming myself.
3) Stay local.
It may seem like everyone has big plans to go into the heart of the city or even travel outside the city or country. If your social battery is running low, stay local and get in touch with the neighborhood where you live. Find some small, quiet restaurants or coffee shops near you. Get in touch with the locals in a low-pressure environment. You might get some good advice about the city from your waiter!
4) If you don’t speak the language, practice.
Something that can make an introvert back away from being social while studying abroad is a language barrier. Take some time to work on the language, especially if you’re living in a place where English isn’t widely spoken. It’s a lot easier to go out and interact when you feel more confident in your speaking skills. Even if it’s not perfect, they’ll appreciate the effort.
5) Don’t push yourself.
In your first week or two, it may seem like everyone on your study abroad program has boundless energy. Your friends may be at restaurants and out on the town during the first night in your new city while you’re still struggling with jet lag and trying to take everything in. It’s easy to feel like you’re missing out or not taking full advantage of what your new home has to offer, but remember, just leaving home to study abroad was a huge step outside of your comfort zone and you’ll need time to recharge. Take time to get adjusted, build up your energy and make plans for later. And even better, your friends will have already tried a bunch of places and should have recommendations for you.