As a child, family members would always pick on me for being the shy one in the crowd. In birthday parties, where you’re supposed to be the most bibo among the rest, I would always find myself sitting by the corner pretending to be invisible so the host won’t have to call me to participate in the party games. So, the day I told my mom that I got accepted for a study abroad grant, she got really concerned.
She knew that studying abroad meant living independently from your family — a custom that is quite unusual from the Filipino way of life. It also meant having to make new friends — international ones. As much as I was excited to study abroad, I was also afraid that my mom could be right. I may not be able to survive my stint in the United States given that I am an ultimate introvert. Of course, no one prepares you for that.
So when I was already at my host university, I was surprised at how things went for me. The world didn’t eat me alive because I was shy. It only made me realize that I was as eligible as all the other international students despite how more outgoing they were; how I should not force myself to be the extrovert that people want me to become.
Four months of being on my own and I can really say that any introvert can find their way into the study abroad scene without having to force it. If you’re a shy person and you’re planning to study abroad, fret not. Here are ways to survive your study abroad as an introvert:
Embrace your innate love for alone time
Most people depend their experience on the company of others. Introverts believe in that too but they also believe more in the ecstasy of wandering alone. I can recall many occasions when I went for a walk around campus alone, studied in the library by myself, exercised solo, and visited a different state all by myself. They say it’s lonely. What they don’t understand is that we tend to find joy in doing things alone.
I was lucky enough that the culture in the United States recognizes this habit since they have a more individualistic culture. If you think about it, there are more opportunities for you to meet people when you’re alone. I’m a living testament of meeting people at random places.
When I went on a solo trip to New York, I was able to have conversations with people in parks and subways. Even during my walks around the college town, I would have random exchanges with passers-by. Technically, you’re not a hundred percent alone. In between moments, you still create tiny interactions with others.
Use your simple gesture of smiling as a way to say hi
We’ve all had those moments as introverts when we just smiled at someone instead of saying hi. It’s okay because it’s a language that everybody, no matter their culture and nationality, can understand.
This trick brought me to meeting great people and making lasting friendships. Somehow sending a smile to them was enough for them to realize that I was a shy one. If they understand that it’s your way of initiating a conversation, you know that they’re for keeps.
Attend events with your invisibility cloak if that makes you comfortable
Shy people are humans, too — we also have a need for gatherings and human interaction just as long as it doesn’t require a lot of our energy. Parties and other events get a little out of hand for us especially when it gets too crowded. But remember that we were born with an invisibility cloak; our favorite event accessory that works like a switch. Indeed, it’s an extraordinary skill to isolate yourself from a sea of people. So, don’t overthink about attending something. It’s an opportunity for you to go out of your shell and meet people.
In Arkansas, I would always attend events for international students and regular events as well. This was where I was able to speak with people who I relate with and who, eventually, became my friends.
Let your nature as an introvert attract an extrovert
In my experience, one of an introvert’s secrets to a long lasting friendship lies in having an extrovert for a best friend. Having an extrovert best friend uplifts your shy personality.
Meeting new faces every day could get very tiring for me. But I noticed something whenever I attended events; I always see a few familiar faces but there was this one face that gets my attention most. She had the bubbliest personality and her face would have the most genuine smile. She also happened to be half-American and half-Mexican so she was able to teach me a lot of the American culture while we relate to the quirky common cultures of Mexico and the Philippines from food and language to telenovelas and boxing. I let this extrovert adopt me and until now, we maintain our precious friendship thousands of miles apart.
So, once you find someone who appeals to be really interesting to you, don’t be afraid to approach them. You will never know how your personalities would match if you never try. The best thing is you don’t have to try too hard.Your extrovert friend will embrace the introvert in you.
Studying abroad isn’t just for the people-person and the outgoing ones. Shy people, like myself, can also survive the experience. You don’t even have to create a fake identity just to make it through your semester; your own brand is enough. Ultimately, you won’t be the same person that you are when you finish your stint abroad. So, don’t push it and just try to follow this guide and channel your shyness positively.