How to Study Abroad: An introvert’s guide

I know, there’s probably a number of you going “What? Ally, you’re not an introvert, you never shut up.” Well, I’m here to dispel the rumor that introverts are all shy and hate talking to people.

The key difference between introverts and extroverts is where they draw their energy from, not what situations they enjoy. Extroverts love being the center of attention with tons of people around and are energized by this. Introverts like being with a very few, close friends, having deep conversations, and taking time to contemplate things on their own.

I am a Myers-Briggs INFJ (Introversion, iNtuition, Feeling, Judging) and here is everything you could ever possibly want to know about it.

With this all in mind, it might become clear that studying abroad may not be immediately the most exciting situation for me. If you read this blog before I got here, you may remember my nervous post before I left.

This is kind of how I feel on a daily basis, and the anxiety can be overwhelming. Being thrown completely out of one’s comfort zone can be very distressing, but I’m here to give any introverts reading this a few tips on how to cope, and tell anyone who’s interested how I’ve managed to survive.

1. Know Your Comfort Level

Trying new things is great, but know where your boundaries are. If you know that you hate groups of more than 5 new-ish people, don’t go out with groups of more than that. If you want to stretch your boundaries a bit, go for it, but know when you need to go home. If you’re anything like me, you probably get irritable and tired after a long time with lots of people. That won’t help make friends quickly.

2. Go exploring– alone.

It’s okay to go it alone. Yes, your parents would probably rather you went with someone. But how many people do you know that love to read every plaque in the museum and get at least 2 pictures of every animal at the zoo? The only bummer about this one is you have no one to take pictures of you doing the cool things. But, if you’re like me, you’re in it for the experience and it’s more for you than those trying to live vicariously through you.

3. Try not to over-explain why you don’t want to hang out

A lot of people don’t even know what introvert means. Let alone that it doesn’t mean you’re just making excuses. People might call you anti-social. They might give you shit for not drinking around a million strangers. They might say to you “Come on, quit being lame and just do it.” These people do not realize what you’re like when you are forced into these social situations and how much you may hold it against them later. Do your best to ignore them.

4. Join a club

You don’t have to partake in everything that club does, but it will help make a few acquaintances and good friends that will invite you to things regardless of whether or not you decline 50 times. Clubs do not get tired of rejection. You can pick and choose what you go to and you will most likely have fun, because they will be short bursts of memory-making.


This is key, but the most difficult. Introverts do not wear t-shirts that say “F*ck Off, I’m doing my own thing #introvert” though that would be remarkably convenient, because then they could all just silently gather and read, or listen to music with one headphone in or intimately discuss the poignant difference between democrats and libertarians or evolution and adaptation. You might just stumble across them in class, try to add them on Facebook and (accidentally fail to do so) worry they denied the request and hate you (while they worry you faked them out), and then find their blog and realize they’re perfect and wonder why you didn’t become friends much sooner *breath*.

6. Don’t worry too much if you talk to people back home a lot

And also don’t worry if your friends are busy. They still love you, and are either reading your blog or are just happy to know you’re enjoying yourself, even if they don’t hear every detail. Your mom(s) and grandparents can fill that niche quite well. They want to know how you’re doing with the conversions and what the weather was today(tonight). Don’t be afraid to ask for a care package if you find that there are things you simply cannot live without (trail mix, kool-aid and Hershey’s syrup?).

7. Have a creative outlet

Whether it be a blog, art, learning to play the piano (all of these) or even something like yoga or exercise (haha), having an outlet for what you’re feeling and thinking is important to your sanity. Spending hours on the internet and not in the sunlight has its repercussions. So do something productive while you’re at it.


Basically just make your own fun. You don’t have to live up to other people’s standards. Travel where you want to travel– if you find people you like enough to do it with you, great — if not, you can do it anyway, and still make a huge impression on yourself. Be okay with transient friends and try to do uncomfortable things in tiny bits. You don’t have to change your personality by becoming a crazy spicy-food-eating, skydiving, lipstick-wearing partier overnight. Try not to overthink when it comes to what other people expect of you. The important thing is that you learn, pass your classes, and enjoy yourself. Making everyone else happy probably won’t ensure that.


7 thoughts on “How to Study Abroad: An introvert’s guide

  1. The best article I’ve read on the subject. 🙂 I’m leaving in two weeks for 5 months in London and I was definitely concerned about not worry about the people living vicariously through me, haha. Definitely a reassuring read!

  2. Great read as someone who cannot decide whether to study in Sweden for a term.

    I’m highly shy, almost pathetically so; so much so I have left a pan of water boiling (for pasta) for an hour, until they were gone, as my flatmates had people over in the kitchen (and I’m fairly energy conscious and a foodie!)

    I suppose uncomfortably may be an annoying consequence of pushing yourself, like with studying abroad, but perhaps embracing our introversion and not letting it define us is ‘how to deal with it’ and therefore not getting in the way of such opportunities!

    • I also have avoided the kitchen when people are in it just to not feel their uncomfortable stares or have to do small talk. It’s a challenge, but the experience of getting to travel outweighed it in the end. I’m really glad I went, but I’ve relished more in the things I decided to actually DO travel-wise than the people I was with or the school part of it.

      • Exactly that; and how they all knew each other and it would seem uncomfortable to be the only one not to know if that’s makes sense

        Good point.

        Also starting to think that I could just travel in my own time (like I am this summer). Do you feel there are many more advantages of studying abroad, rather than travelling solo anyway?

      • I think the actual study part of studying abroad is important just because it gives you an in point into the culture. While the study experience I had wasn’t the greatest, I did learn to appreciate my home institution 10x more because of it, and also really picked up on my learning style.

        That said, just traveling on your own is totally worthwhile, too. With my study program I was able to snag a really cool and memorable job as well as an internship later on that served me well.

  3. Pingback: February 12 | 365 days in the A [m] M

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