Expat Life for Introverts: The Best Way to Thrive Abroad

First things first: When we’re talking introverts, we are not talking about shy, awkward, or antisocial people. Some introverts are shy and deeply dislike such situations as speaking before a large audience or being the life of the party, but by no means all.

Most introverts have perfectly fine social skills — even great ones. A few may have simply lacked the opportunity to develop them since they have always tended to avoid too much social interaction.

This preference to withdraw into themselves is not a sign that introverts suffer from anti-social tendencies and don’t like other people. An introvert is simply a person who often finds being around other people exhausting rather than stimulating and who values their alone time highly.

Are All Expats Extroverts?

What’s the definition of introvert got to go with expat life? Actually, quite a lot. Living abroad — especially the moving process and settling in period — is like an overdose of social overstimulation.

You have to introduce yourself to new neighbors, meet new colleagues, and rebuild your business and personal network from scratch. To get the move done, you also have to interact with complete strangers all the time.

Moreover, quite a few introverts appreciate a sense of structure or are happy to describe themselves as a bit of a homebody. Becoming an expat, however, means embracing upheaval and venturing out into the world.

Therefore, it’s easy to imagine all expatriates as classic extroverts — spontaneous, action-oriented, and outgoing: in short, the type of person who’ll keep a whole crowd entertained with their jokes and travel anecdotes at the nearest pub on a Friday night.

Are introverts thus doomed to “fail” at life abroad? Of course not. Some things might even come more naturally to them. For example, since they are frequently very focused on their tasks and don’t take decision-making lightly, they probably consider planning and organizing an international relocation an intriguing challenge.

But what about the rest?

Don’t Forget about Enough Me Time

Above all else, introvert expats should make sure to set aside enough me time for regularly recharging their batteries. This applies particularly to those moving to a culture where group-oriented interaction is highly valued or to one where there is a different concept of personal space: even standing or sitting too far away from another person might be interpreted as aloof or rude.

Obviously, you can’t try to change your host country’s culture — that would be like fighting windmills anyway. Introverts have to grit their teeth and bear it until they become a little more used to an unfamiliar environment.

This makes it necessary to look for even more occasions than usual to unwind on their own: exploring a residential neighborhood in your new city or going for a quiet walk in a local park will do the trick just well as staying at home with your yoga mat or movie collection.

Go for Structured Activities in Small Groups

As said above, introverts do most emphatically not dislike other people. They just prefer certain forms of socializing to others. If you look for structured activities in small groups (or with only one other person) that have a fixed end date, you will find it easier to build new professional and private networks.

At work, get to know your new colleagues on a one-on-one basis or in a smaller setting. Perhaps you could schedule several individual business lunches, so you won’t be overwhelmed by interacting with a large, new-to-you group at your first team event.

A workshop or seminar from your field of expertise is also another suitable way of networking within or outside the company. It caters to introverts’ powers of observation and concentration. Huge meet-and-greet mixers or speed networking are no-goes, though: too many people, too much superficial small talk. That’s not the kind of setting to make introverts feel comfortable or let them shine.

Similarly, it helps to find a smaller group of people that organizes activities around a shared hobby. While this might not immediately lead to the deep, meaningful conversations introverts love best, at least you’ll soon get to have in-depth conversations about your favorite interests. Just leave the somewhat tiresome small-talk phase behind!

Let Your True Strengths Shine

Last but not least, play to your strengths: introverts are usually good listeners, as well as loyal employees, reliable co-workers and business contacts, and steadfast friends. Since it takes them lots of energy to cultivate interpersonal relationships, they tend to focus on those they consider “worth it”, valuing quality over quantity.

There’s a distinct advantage to this trait in expat life: international colleagues may quit; friendships within the expat community can sometimes be fleeting. While it’s easy to overlook the quiet, withdrawn, or absent-minded introvert at first, in the ever-changing expat world, they may end up becoming a highly appreciated steadying presence.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

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