Studying Abroad as an Introvert: How to Succeed and Not Go Crazy

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Studying abroad is a very full-on experience, especially if you’re studying abroad as an introvert.

Not only are you in a country where you know no one and dealing with culture shock, but you basically relive your freshman year and are expected to make friends from scratch and be SUPER SOCIAL and ALWAYS FUN and LIFE OF THE PARTY and LETS GO TRAVEL 24/7 TOGETHER AND NEVER GET TIRED OF IT.

Fortunately for about 50% of the population, this sounds great.

For the rest of us, this is also great, up until the point when we just want to be alone for 5 minutes and not have to talk to anyone and WHY ARE YOU BEING SO ENTHUSIASTIC, JUST LET ME WATCH NETFLIX AND EAT THIS BOX OF POPTARTS.

I exaggerate, of course (or am I?) but sometimes being an introvert on a study abroad program can be overwhelming.

Here are some tips I’ve learned on study abroad as an introvert based on someone’s who has done it and survived without being known as the program pariah (I hope).

Tips on Studying Abroad as an Introvert

1. Find your own spot

Find a park. Find a coffee shop. Find a library. Find a museum.

Find some place that is entirely ‘yours’ and you can go to just hang out with your laptop or camera or a book and spend some alone time away from your roommates when you need to.

I preferred to choose somewhere out in the city that gave me almost 0% chance of stumbling into people I knew.

Some of my most relaxing moments were sitting on a bench in my spot (Hyde Park) and watching the world go by.

On the vast majority of study abroad programs, you’re either living with roommates or at least living in dorms with lots of people around and making noise at all time.

Your spot will save you from introvert overload.

2. Don’t be afraid to do things on your own

There are so many experiences that are better shared, but that doesn’t mean you need to do everything with someone else.

There were quite a few times when my roommates were busy in classes or were tired from a night out when I wanted to go and see something, and I decided to just go and do it.

I got to spend my time how I wanted, take time with the pictures I was taking, and soak it in a lot better than if I were chatting to someone while also trying to enjoy the Tower of London.

This also helps you become more confident in your surroundings and ability to navigate your new area.

I found that I was more able to come back to London and live here because I had taken the time to spend time alone and get to know where I was going rather than just relying on traveling in a group of people to get me there.

Studying abroad as an introvert gives you the chance to start to see the city from your own eyes, and that’s a beautiful thing.

3. Say ‘yes’ to things in the beginning

I know, I know.

Every introvert’s dream is to turn down as many invitations to get out of the house as possible.

I suffer from this affliction myself, but I made it a point to say yes to as many invitations I could in the beginning of the semester or program as that’s the best way to make friends as an expat.

The beginning of study abroad is one of the most important times to say ‘yes’ when everyone is first making friends.

You don’t want to be left out when you are immediately spotted as the person who says ‘no’ to things and then you stop being invited by the third day in.

Obviously you don’t have to say ‘yes’ to every invitation if you genuinely have other plans, but try to go along to the majority of events.

As you get further into the semester, people will find their friend groups and program-planned excursions will be further apart.

Once you cement your friendships and people know you’re an introvert, you can still be friends without accepting lots of invitations.

4. Initiate the invitation 

I always struggle with large group events.

Being in a room with a ton of people is my actual nightmare.

Add loud music and I am so far out the door before it’s even started.

I made up for this by inviting people to do things with me that were a bit smaller and easier to handle.

So I may have said “No, thank you” PLEASE DEAR GOD DO NOT MAKE ME GO to the massive Friday night out at the biggest club in London, but the next day I would invite some of my study abroad friends or roommates to go to a restaurant or to a museum or a market with me.

This allows you to plan events on your terms, which is especially important if you suffer from anxiety while living abroad.

And can I let you in on a secret?

People LOVE to be invited to things.

It makes them feel special, even more so if they’re the only person you invited to do something with them.

5. Find ‘your’ people

As you get to know people on the program better, you’ll find that you’re not alone in (sometimes) wanting to be alone.

The more people you meet in the beginning, the easier it will be to find the ones you click with and feel comfortable around.

Some of my best friends were my roommates or friends while studying abroad and there’s nothing like a friendship born from months of traveling Europe, getting lost in London, and being perpetually late in Paris (shout out, Christina).

So just be yourself, be friendly, do the things you enjoy doing, and you’ll be just fine.

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