Tips for Navigating Study Abroad as an Introvert
When I told people I was planning on studying abroad, one of the things I heard most often was, “You’re going to have an amazing time! You’ll make friends for life!” Although it was nice to hear people say this, I also found myself feeling stressed out about the prospect of making “friends for life” in the short span of four months. My whole life I’ve been an introvert. I don’t mean that I’m shy—people actually tend to perceive me as quite outgoing. However, I sometimes struggle to find energy to have the same amount of social interactions as my peers. I need a lot of alone time to “recharge” and would often rather spend time by myself than in a big group of people I don’t know. Because of this, it usually takes me a long time to make close friends. Before going abroad, I worried that my introversion would prevent me from having the quintessential study abroad experience. What if I didn’t find a friend group? What if I only made acquaintances? What if I didn’t make any friends at all? If you’re an introvert, you might be wondering the same things, but don’t worry. Here is some advice on how to have an amazing semester while studying abroad as an introvert:
Push yourself out of your comfort zone.
The first few weeks of study abroad can be exhausting. You’ll be meeting a lot of new people, and you might feel so overwhelmed by social interactions that you just want to curl up in your bed with a book. Try to push your limits these first few weeks. Even though it’s hard, making the effort now will pay off later. I tried to set little goals for myself, like committing to going to a certain number of events each week, or making an effort to introduce myself to at least one new person a day. I also spent time looking through Melbourne events on Facebook, and if I saw someone else had responded that they were interested, I would reach out to them and ask if they wanted to go together. It was scary to make that jump, but with a little effort I ended up going to various music and arts events and making new friends. You’ll be surprised what you’re capable of!
Join clubs or teams.
You’ve heard it a million times before, but it’s true: joining clubs and teams is a great way to make friends while abroad. You already have some level of shared interests, which makes getting to know each other a lot easier.
Halfway through my semester abroad, I realized I hadn’t joined any university clubs. I thought I’d missed my opportunity, but I quickly learned that it’s never too late to join clubs and meet new people. I started volunteering at the University of Melbourne student-run food co-op, an amazing collaborative space where we all could cook meals together and bond over shared tastes in food, music, and politics. Some of my closest friends are people I met through this club a few months into the semester.
Enjoy time by yourself.
This is huge. There tends to be a lot of stigma around doing things alone, but there doesn’t have to be! I’ve gone to restaurants, movies, museums, and concerts by myself and loved every minute of it. The most adventurous thing I did alone was take a trip to the Whitsunday Islands in Queensland for a few days. I wanted to see the islands and the famous beaches, but the timing didn’t work with my friends’ schedules. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed just soaking up the sun by myself and having a vacation where I could do what I wanted to do on my own schedule. I’ve also taken trips and explored Melbourne with other people and had a great time too. If you want to explore your host city or country, you don’t have to wait for other people to join you. Just make sure you are exploring on your own safely.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
There’s no “right” way to study abroad. You might have a tight-knit friend group. You might have friends in a variety of groups. You might surprise yourself and go out every weekend, or you might stay in some nights even though everyone else is socializing. The only person who knows your limits for socializing is you—so listen to yourself, and try not to have any set expectations about what your social life will look like abroad.
Melbourne is an amazing place with so much to offer. Before I went abroad, I was worried I would be too introverted to make friends and fully experience the city. However, I ended up having an amazing semester, and I never felt like I was missing out on anything. Never let being an introvert prevent you from studying abroad or making the most of your experience!
Schuyler Mitchell is an English and Media Studies major at Pomona College. She studied abroad with IFSA at The University of Melbourne in Australia in Fall 2018.