Studying abroad is a great way to expand your horizons and understanding of different parts of the world. It’s also a great way to get to know people similar to you, whether they’re new people from your home university or meeting locals while you’re abroad.
As appealing as all the benefits sound, studying abroad can be an introvert’s worst nightmare. But what happens if you’re an introvert that still wants the adventure? Here’s how to get the most out of your trip without losing too much of yourself and your social energy.
Before you pack your bags, do some thorough research about the programs available to you. Start with your own college and be open to considering things like an external exchange programs. Take note of cities, areas of study and the faculty leading each trip that interest you as you search. It’s easy to feel extra isolated from those around you if you’re not passionate about some aspect of the program.
Picking something you have a personal connection to will help keep you focused and engaged among the hard transitions that come with studying abroad. Being able to talk in detail about why you chose your study abroad program is also an easy conversation-starter. If it’s been your lifelong dream to visit a specific country or your major has a program dedicated to classes within your area of study, you’ll probably already have something in common with your future classmates.
2. Reach Out Pre-Trip
Once you’ve picked a program and have been accepted, get to know your future classmates as soon as you can. A lot of the time you’ll be added to some kind of group communication channel ahead of time to discuss trip logistics, but you don’t have to stop there. Start a Facebook group or group text with your new classmates to chat about things beyond your trip. If you already go to the same school or live close by to some of them, plan meetups and fun activities to get to know everyone before you leave.
Having at least one familiar face before your departure will help immensely instead of scrambling to make friends on top of the stress of traveling and beginning your program. For some introverts, starting up a conversation or initiating a friendship is the hardest part. If you’ve already done the work beforehand, usually the friendship comes naturally once you’re spending more time with your classmates abroad.
3. Be Sure to Take Breaks
With all the new friendships you’ll hopefully be making, don’t feel guilty about needing to be alone to recharge, especially if you’re on a long-term trip. Being away from all the comforts of your home country is a lot to handle even if you’re not an introvert. Hopefully, your new friends will understand if you take an hour or even a whole day to “shut off.”
That’s not to say locking yourself in your room for weeks at a time and not leaving is the answer. Of course, you’ll want to see and do the fun things your new home has to offer, but remember that it’s okay to take some time to yourself every now and then. Doing things like journaling, drawing or reading alone in a local coffee shop can be good ways to make sure you’re still immersing yourself in your new city while also making time to take care of yourself.
Taking care of yourself also means not being afraid to stray from the herd occasionally. Everyone on your trip has different goals for their study abroad experience. You shouldn’t feel the need to follow the crowd if you have strong desires to do something else.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share experiences with your new friends, which itself is valuable to your time abroad, but learn that it’s okay to do your own thing. Your time abroad is entirely yours — when else will you have the chance to do all of these cool and exciting things? In the end, everyone will be happier when they get to do things they’re interested in.
4. Be As Open As You Can
Be open to trying all the new and fun things your new city has to offer, both abroad and in life in general, but trust your gut. Depending on where you study, sometimes the customs and social cues can differ immensely. Lots of introverts consider themselves thoughtful people, which can come in handy if you encounter something abroad you’re not sure about. Situations that seem familiar to you in your home country might give you a different feeling abroad, and it’s important to trust your intuition.
If you need to, remove yourself from situations you feel uncomfortable in. But don’t confuse that with just being too shy and getting in the way of experiencing something new and exciting. More times than not, you’ll be able to tell the difference. Even if you think you won’t enjoy something because you’re too nervous, just trying it normally won’t hurt.
5. Remember: You’re Not on Your Own
As cliché as it is to say, you have to remember that you’re not alone if you’re having trouble adjusting or making friends. It can be difficult to feel like you’re the only one on your entire trip who’s having a hard time, but the chances of that being true are very slim. Talk to someone you trust, whether it’s another classmate or a program leader. They’ll typically have good outsider insight and be able to help you, even if it’s just being a listening ear.
On long-term programs especially, it’s important to be honest with yourself and others about how you feel. It’s natural to have trouble adjusting to change, and studying abroad can be a huge adjustment for young adults. Being an introvert can heighten these feelings, and you have to remember that they’re valid but not impossible to work through.
For introverts, extroverts and everyone in between, studying abroad is something everyone should do if they have the chance. Fully immersing yourself in a new culture is a once in a lifetime opportunity for some people, and your personality shouldn’t dictate whether or not you get to experience it if your heart is already set on it.