A Shy Girl’s Guide to Studying Abroad
Surprising ways in which being an introvert can enhance your study abroad experience
What if I told you that my dreams of traveling the world began from being a “semi-loner?” I was that shy, nerdy girl in school that had her nose buried in a book. Nothing screams nerd more than being able to name more book titles than actual friends. Yeah, I was just that cool. It was during those years in high school when my travel dreams began to take shape in my lunch hangout, the school library. Books became my sanctuary from what at the time seemed like a world of senseless gossip and cliques. Stories from far away places filled my young, impressionable mind. I yearned to transport myself to balmy India, heart-pounding safaris in Africa, and the mystical, sea of green fields in Ireland. Little did I know those years would begin my wanderlust and convince me to study abroad during college.
While studying abroad it always surprised people when I told them I was naturally a very shy person. First of all, the lines between extroverts and introverts often blur and so you’ll often find you are both. But more than likely you sway towards one party. And I’m most definitely an introvert at heart. There’s no doubt about it that being an extrovert on studying abroad has its advantages, having the innate ability of making friends on a whim. Chatting up locals to find out where the underground parties are makes for a more exciting Friday night. A new language is a lot easier to learn if you abandon self-consciousness. There seems to be this assumption that you need to an extrovert to have a positive study abroad experience. I’d say the advantages of being extroverted while traveling are pretty obvious and perhaps for some, even a prerequisite to having fun. Well, I’m here to say otherwise. In hindsight, after studying abroad in Seville, Spain for four months I think that introverts who study abroad have the most to gain. Fear that your shyness will inhibit your study abroad experience is complete rubbish! So here are a few reasons why introverts actually benefit the most from a study abroad experience:
1) Your not afraid to wander away from the crowd, which makes for unique and memorable experiences- Introverts are more comfortable being alone and so are more likely to embark on solo adventures. Many study abroad students never give exploring alone a try. You don’t have to travel alone, but why not visit a museum by yourself? Some of my favorite memories are from times when I strayed from crowd. I got wonderfully lost in the Barrio de Santa Cruz in Sevilla, watched the most breathtaking sunset from a sand dune in the Sahara desert, and was chased by a herd of cows while exploring the Aran Islands (at least the local farmer had a laugh over it). You’ll find magical places that are “off the beaten path.”
2) Your more approachable when you not in a huge crowd- Making international friends can be a challenge especially if there is language barrier. But it’s even harder when you’re stuck in the “American group.” My international friends said that approaching a huge group of American students was intimidating. Introverts tend to prefer to hang out in small groups and this make you much more approachable. It’s easy to cling to your American friends but I really recommend getting out of your comfort zone when trying to make local friends. If I hadn’t made these friends I would have never sang terribly in Spanish at a local karaoke bar. My singing in Spanish may have burst a few eardrums, but hey, at least I tried! Befriending local friends from around the world was one of the things that made my study abroad so special.
3) Your keen observation makes for good storytelling- Introverts are naturally more observant because we tend to observe before we act or speak. I love people watching and seeing all the little quirks that makes us unique. And for me, a quiet moment can be just as inspiring and exciting as a bar bustling with people. You probably have some pretty awesome, detail rich stories to tell so remember to write in a travel journal or write a travel blog.
4) Traveling WILL change you- Whether your extroverted or introverted, traveling will change you, but for introverts the benefits of traveling tend to be more pronounced. You may not notice it at first but all those days spent struggling with a new language, trying to understand a foreign culture and people, and constantly teetering into the unknown will transform you. For introverts the changes can be very profound. The changes can be very noticeable to people back at home. For me, I came back feeling much more confident and more “at ease” when it came to approaching new people. Striking up a conversation with someone no longer seems like climbing Mount Everest.
The point of all this is that no matter what kind of person you are, you can flourish abroad. Having a good experience on a study abroad is all about your perspective. Don’t let anybody hold you back, especially if that person is yourself.