Life as an introverted expat

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Surviving expat life when you’re an introvert

“Introvert: a shy person; a person characterised by concern primarily with his or her own thoughts and feelings”

I wonder how many introverts are offended by that rather blasé definition? In fact, being an introvert has little to do with being shy, nothing to do with being self-centred, and everything to do with being overwhelmed by the stimulation of everyday life. True, many introverts are unlikely to initiate small talk and will almost certainly process information through later introspection – but that doesn’t mean they are primarily concerned with their own thoughts and feelings.

Introverts are often naturally self-reliant; they are happy in their own skin without needing validation from others. This is a vital trait when living overseas, and friends move on regularly, and family are far away. Again, a generalisation, but something to bear in mind.

Generalisations are often cruel but if we’re going to make one then let’s stick to facts – most introverts are sensitive, quiet, thoughtful, friendly… and easily drained, both emotionally and physically, by overtly social or stressful situations. So, given the upheaval caused by leaving your familiar lifestyle and starting again in a different country, surely life as an introverted expat is never going to be easy?

The challenge

Moving overseas requires a great deal of social interaction, from the planning stages when you’re negotiating flights, storage facilities, new jobs and a place to live, to the move itself when you must connect with new colleagues, new neighbours and a different culture.

Introverts typically find social interaction exhausting and whilst they can train themselves to do it (often very successfully), they find it quickly depletes their emotional resources and leaves them with a desperate need for periods of solitude.

This leads many people to the assumption that all expats must be extroverts and that all introverts should stay at home where they’re comfortable. Thankfully, there are countless resources online – blogs, articles and forums – that disagree and put it out there that actually, being an introvert can work to your advantage. Just don’t try to be something you’re not.

A mobile comfort zone

Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you have a comfort zone; it’s just that extroverts’ zones tend to appear bigger and allow more room for adventure and risk.

As an introvert, the natural assumption may be that your comfort zone comprises of home, family and close friends but in essence, for many introverts this isn’t true. Yes, you do feel comfortable in those surroundings, but the reason you feel that comfort is because you have built opportunities for solitude into your everyday life.

An introvert’s true comfort zone lies in self-containment and ‘time out’ and this can be achieved anywhere in the world. As an introverted expat you are not leaving your comfort zone – you have the unique opportunity to take it with you!

The introvert way

The first step to expat success for a true introvert, is to make your peace with being an introvert. Don’t look at extroverts with envy as they flit about the place making new friends and exuding social vibes – you wouldn’t be doing that if you’d stayed at home, so why would you feel the need to do it on your travels?

Extroverts need interaction. Left on their own they quickly become lonely, depressed and unhappy so as expats, they need to build connections make new friends and accrue a new social circle as quickly as possible. As an introvert, you thrive in your own company and you can be truly self-sufficient in a world that offers an abundance of beautiful and inspiring opportunities for quiet introspection, so embrace your inner peace, get out there and enjoy it!

Find your tribe

No, I’m not going against everything I’ve said so far and suggesting you approach everyone and anyone to see if they fit your criteria for friendship. That would be silly. What I’m saying is that the world is full of similarly introverted people and they’re not all sitting at home watching the world pass them by – some of them are travelling, just like you.

Whether you find them online in social media groups, or by people watching at the airport and spotting the other travellers who have headphones in and are avoiding crowds, you may find that other introverts are among the easiest people to connect with. You will have similar needs for quiet, silences will be comfortable and there will be minimal pressure to engage in stereotypical social activities.

Having a natural inclination for solitude doesn’t mean that you want to be alone all of the time, so seek out your tribe in whatever way best suits your needs and lean on them for support when you start to find things overwhelming.

Don’t be defined by a label

“Introverts can’t socialise. Introverts hate parties. Introverts just want to be left alone. Introverts can’t connect with people…” see where I’m going with this?

Meeting one introvert just means that you have met one person. One unique person, with likes, dislikes, passions and fears that go way beyond any label society cares to stick on them.

Just as the dictionary definition of ‘introvert’ is probably offensive to you because it’s wildly inaccurate, many of the preconceived assumptions are also offensive and incorrect.

Maybe you love your own company but enjoy the odd party… dislike crowds but want to seek out new friendships… enjoy the hustle of an airport… are a natural born leader who just needs the occasional respite to recharge? The variations are as endless as the stars in the sky, so my advice is this – don’t let ‘being an introvert’ make you believe that you ‘can’t do’ anything.

Do it – but do it in your own unique way.

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  1. I enjoy having Korean neighbors who don’t speak English. I can speak English at work and enjoy a quiet weekend. My neighbors never have loud parties like my neighbors in the States.

  2. I can’t call myself 100% introverted, but I’m incredibly shy. So it’s really hard for me to interact with people. And in another country, I think I’m being treated with prejudice and that’s why the fear is only increasing.
    Thank you, it was important for me to read that. It made me feel better to have your support.

  3. Finally i read something that makes sense.
    Yes i am definately an introvert by choice.
    I love my little village life but also love a market, beach and live music.

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