From one shy kid to another, living abroad isn’t just for the talkative, bold, and outgoing. Us bashful people have an adventurous streak too. And although sometimes I feel like my reserved, anxious personality is hampering me, more often than not I’m proud of myself for taking the leap. So how do shy travelers do it when moving abroad requires meeting new people and trying new things on a daily basis? Here are 10 survival tips for living overseas if you’re a shy guy or gal.
1. Try to remember coworkers’ or classmates’ names from the very beginning.
I’ve noticed that just by learning people’s names, I feel better and more confident in a new environment. This might seem like a weird tip, but it’s a lot easier to approach people in your class or at work if you know their name. I’ve noticed that myself, and a lot of shy people that I know, have a hard time remembering new names, so I keep notes on my phone that say things like, “Donna: glasses, owns a Chihuahua,” until I learn them by heart. Trust me. It sounds crazy, but it helps.
2. Invite people to do things with you. It’s surprisingly easy while abroad.
If you’re hanging out with expats while abroad, then odds are your coworkers or classmates are looking for buddies just like you. Unlike back home where people have lived in the same town for decades and only hang out with their college or high school friend group on the weekends, expats are looking for new friends. Invite people over for a movie night or to go see a new museum. You’ll be surprised how many people jump at the chance to explore a new city with a new friend.
This goes for locals as well. Locals love showing their town off, so ask a coworker or classmate what the best local dish is and go out for lunch. Most people love showing off their culture.
3. And if that doesn’t work, go on your own. Being an introvert has some pretty stellar advantages.
Shy people tend to be introverts. And that can be awesome. If nobody wants to go to that new museum or try that local dish with you, that’s okay. If you’re an introvert, then you know you can enjoy it on your own. Go. Have a good time.
4. Carve out time for yourself, even if you think you don’t need it.
Expats tend to stick together, so you’ll often find a ready-made buddy system in your new country, which can be amazing. But if you find yourself going out every night and spending every waking moment in the company of your new acquaintances, take some time off. Introverts need alone time to recharge.
It’s hard for me to turn down an invite because I feel like I might miss out, but I know if I never have time to chill, read a book, watch a movie, or write on my own, then I’m going to go crazy. I’ve learned to know my limits and respect them.
5. Don’t beat yourself up over the screw ups.
Being shy and anxious, I tend to really give myself a hard time for social faux paus. And if you’re shy, you might know the feeling. For example, did you embarrass yourself by confusing a waitress or getting in the wrong line at the post office? Do you feel miserable now? Or worse, were you actually told off by a local? I got told off by so many old Czech people in Prague for doing various things “wrong,” and it never failed to make me sweat and turn bright red.
Well, don’t beat yourself up, if you can help it. Even “not-shy” people embarrass themselves constantly in a new country. I know you might be the only foreign person in your town and you might feel pressure to set a perfect example or whatever, but cut yourself some slack. Locals don’t expect you to be perfect, so you shouldn’t either.
6. If you’re lonely…
Join a club or take a class. I know this is the same stupid, substandard advice that you’ll see for making friends back home as well, but overseas, it’s easier. Why? Well, frankly because the standards are lower. If you join a dance class at home, chances are you’re joining a bit of a clique—good friends and good dancers who’ve known each other for ages. Overseas? If you’re joining an expat dance club, then the only requirement is that you speak English or Spanish or whatever the language; you can suck at dancing. If you’re joining a local dance club, then chances are you’ll be given a lot of leniency being the only foreigner. Everyone will be impressed that you joined and not care so much if you suck, so go for it.
Language classes are also GREAT if you can find one. They’re good for making buddies and learning about the culture of a place.
7. Occasionally give into the homesickness.
Now I’m not saying go full-homesick-hog and spend every night on Skype crying to your mother, but if you’re having a rough day (or week, or month) then watch a familiar TV show, order some familiar food, and recoup a bit before exposing yourself to more foreign culture. My personal recoup nights involve watching a vlog from the States (The Shaytards are a personal feel-good go-to) and drinking a Sprite or beer, but to each his or her own. Find your own way to recoup.
8. Don’t call home too often.
This advice may sound callous, but I’ve noticed that I always feel the most homesick after Skyping my family or friends back home. I still call regularly (every two to three weeks), but if you’re calling home every night, then you’re not giving yourself the chance to make new friends and explore your new home. Try to find a good balance between keeping up-to-date on life at home, while still giving yourself the freedom to enjoy life abroad.
9. Keep busy.
Everyone who moves abroad will eventually go through a rough patch, but I think shy people feel this culture shock/ homesick/lonely emotion even worse than outgoing people. For example in the Czech Republic, I sometimes had bad weekends where nobody could hang out and I would spend all Saturday sniffling and texting my family back home. In Hanoi, I had even more adjusting to do because of the significant cultural differences. There was at least a month during the winter in Hanoi where some serious blues took hold and it was all I could do to go about my day. So what can you do about these emotions?
My only cure has been to keep busy. If you’ve got no one to hang out with, then go on mini-trips. These have done wonders for me. Take a weekend to see a new city or an afternoon to check out a new park. You can also start a blog, try running, watch a movie, or throw yourself into work. Find something, anything, to do.
10. If you’re still nervous about being shy while abroad, that’s fine.
At this point in my life I’ve moved to three countries and seen countless more, and guess what? I’m still shy. I’m anxious around new people. I have a hard time making new friends and trying new things. When I embarrass myself I feel awful. Occasionally I’m lonely and sometimes I’m depressed, but so what? These are all legitimate emotions for someone living abroad, so I don’t feel guilty about them anymore. You should know that you don’t have to be anything that you’re not in order to travel.
You are who you are, and if you’re both shy and a traveler, then own it. You’re in good company.
Are you shy and a traveler? Let me know how it suits you in the comments below and how you’ve adapted to the overseas life. And if you’re thinking about moving abroad or recently have, then I hope you can put these tips to good use.