To Be or Not to Be (Social): An Introvert’s Dilemma

When my flight touched down in London, I was jetlagged, agitated, and exhausted. I had gotten less than two hours of sleep on my twelve hour flight from California to Europe. And yet it was a bright new day where I knew I would soon have to meet new people. It was the last thing I wanted to do on a good day when I did not have to go through customs or had gotten more than two hours of sleep. But I had made a promise to myself to be more social and say yes to more opportunities. 

As soon as our program guide had rounded up all of the students at the airport and driven us to our hotel, everyone was holed up and hidden in their hotel rooms, most of them sleeping. Yet I sat on that creaky hotel bed, staring at my phone, hungry, and eager to get out and see London, despite the fact that my eyelids felt like they were made of lead. After nearly an hour of debating what on earth to do, I changed into some warm clothes, grabbed my purse, and set out to pursue some coffee, even if it was just from the kiosk in the hotel lobby. Thankfully fate was on my side that day because as soon as I walked out of my room, two more students from my program were leaving and I joined them for lunch at a restaurant in Kensington.

The rest of the trip went a lot more smoothly and, much to my surprise, I found that being social and saying yes to new things was a lot easier than I feared it would be. By the time we made it to Cannes, France two days later, picked our roommates, and started settling into life at the college, I actually felt socially at ease. By the end of my first week in Cannes, I was shocked to realize that I had only been there for seven days and not a whole month. I had been doing so much and been surrounded by so much stimulation, my mind was not even processing time normally. On Saturday, I laid in bed wondering how I had not realized how exhausted I was before then. That is when the dilemma set in. I had done such a good job of making friends, being social, and going out that in a moment of downtime, I realized that I needed a break. But was I supposed to just stay in for the weekend – in France?

All introverts know this feeling almost too well. How do I say yes and not end up feeling like I want to crawl under a rock? How do I say no without feeling as though I have missed out on a good time? This dilemma is especially prevalent in a new environment when you’re trying to make new friends. However since being in a new environment for a month, I think that I have found a pretty good balance. So here is my advice for people (introvert, extrovert, or in between) who are also trying to find that balance:

  1. In your first week, definitely say yes to everything (within reason, obviously). I have had to adapt to a new environment three times and the first two times, I was picky and choosy about what I would say yes to. While I definitely encourage being picky and having standards, during your first week anywhere (new school, country, city, study abroad program), you’ll probably just have a week of adjustment and very little work. So take the time to say yes to all of the opportunities that are presented to you because it will definitely help you discover and study your new local environment. My first Wednesday in France, some students had said that there was karaoke night at a local bar – did I want to join? I had made promise to myself to say yes. So I went and ended up bonding with my roommates over our embarrassing rendition of Dancing Queen by ABBA. On Friday, some students wanted to go bar hopping – did I want to go too? Why not? I ended up figuring out which bars and cafés I enjoyed sipping a cheap drink while chatting with friends, and which ones were too loud and expensive to even get one drink.
  2. Find your people. I do not mean form a clique of people you think you like best. You should really try to befriend everyone that you meet because then you will get to know a wide array of people. I am very fortunate to be part of a program where all of the students get along well, and it is safe to say that we are becoming like a family. I know the people who are go-go-goers, always organizing nights out and club/bar crawls. I know the people who are more homebodies and go out but only once a week, if that. So if you make an effort to get to know everyone, you will always have someone willing to hang out with you, whether that means going dancing with you on a Friday night or just going shopping and grabbing some coffee for a calming Saturday afternoon. Find the people who stay out all night and the ones who leave by midnight. Make friends with all of them.
  3. After your first week, definitely cut back on saying yes to everything, but try to say yes 80% of the time. Obviously even the most chatty, social person in the world cannot say yes to everything so you should certainly start to feel more liberty to say no to a of couple things that you are just not super into. For example, I said yes to a Wednesday night out at karaoke in my first week, but the next week I decided not to go because I knew that it would be far too draining. Use the times where you say no to things to do something productive, though. Try not to just sit and watch a Netflix marathon for eight hours until your roommates get back late into the night – that is when you will have serious regrets about not going out. When you say no to things, make a plan to do something else. When I say no to things, I go to the beach with my journal and my music then I write, listen to music, and watch the beautiful waves of the Côte d’Azur.

Maybe these things sound awful or plain and simple, but either way they really helped me, a socially anxious introvert, make friends and find my place in a new country.  

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