The Right Mindset for Introverts
Studying abroad is also just studying, but somewhere else. Therefore, you will face the same personal issues as at home, both on and off-campus. Likewise, plenty of other people like you worldwide have similar problems, no matter where you go: Going abroad doesn’t mean that you are entering a new world where you have to be someone else. So if you are interested in a specific country, culture, language, or any particular hobbies, I highly encourage you to go abroad anyway. If you are not seeing many people back home, that’s fine. Nobody forces you to do just that abroad. Also, if you are a shy person by nature, that’s fine, too. Nobody forces you to be outgoing once you hop of an airplane in a foreign country. Relax. Don’t let anything stop you from going abroad.
Goals & Motivation
Suppose you want to study abroad by yourself and aren’t keen to make new friends. In that case, you should start by thinking about your main goals and motivation. Why do you want to study abroad? This is important to make the most out of your journey and don’t end up with regret.
Was it always your dream to live in Manhattan for a while? Do you want to go city hopping in Europe during the summer? Want to live with kangaroos down under? Or do you want to do research at a highly renowned university in your academic field? This article might help you with the brainstorming process.
In short: If you focus on your primary motivation to go abroad, you don’t end up feeling like you “missed out” on a lot of other things. Based on my experience, I can assure you that you simply don’t have the time and resources to do everything, all the time, and in very much depth. This includes: making new friends, going out at night, exploring your city during the day, traveling to neighboring cities and countries, really diving into new cultures, exploring the food scene, getting high grades, enjoying campus life, staying in touch with your friends and family back home, doing sports and working out, following your personal interests and hobbies, living on a budget, going to sports and music events, and so on. Choose the most relevant to you. The rest is optional and nice to have. But focus on the main thing that you came for. Don’t care about others and their opinions too much.
Housing Options for Introverts
The next thing you want to consider is your housing option. There are many different options to choose from, both on and off-campus. As an introvert or someone who is not really interested in meeting new people, your best bet is to go for single apartments. Many universities offer single apartments on and off-campus. However, if you are looking for the “real” experience, try to find a single apartment from a private landlord. This way, you avoid all the hustle and bustle on campus and live more like a local. It is also easier to focus on what you came for. Just keep in mind that single apartments are usually amongst the most expensive housing options (privacy vs. cost).
One might think participating in all the events during the first week of the semester is the only way of not getting lost on campus. Fortunately, that’s not true at all. Joining these events can be really fun and a great way to get to know new people. However, if that’s something you are not interested in, there are other ways to get familiar with your new surroundings. For example, search for campus maps online, read experience reports from former exchange students at your international office back home, try to find the classrooms by yourself a couple of days before the first lecture, or seek help and information from the international coordinator abroad.
There are always ways of getting all the information you need without surrounding yourself with many people. Especially the international coordinator (or any other contact person for international students) is usually the best “resource” for you. Their job is literally to help you and coordinate things.
Course Selection for Introverted Students
Assuming you want to be your own boss and don’t like being with other people too much, group projects are most likely not amongst your favorite activities. In that case, before signing up for any classes, check the course catalog for the grading policy and items of work. Are there any group projects or presentations? If so, try to find a course with similar topics but with more individual work instead. On the other hand, if your absolute dream course requires you to do some group work, you could consider biting the bullet and getting out of your comfort zone. At least to some extent. It is a great way to grow and improve your social skills.
Probably the reason why you are considering going abroad in the first place: all the fun stuff you can do both inside and outside school. This could be anything from hiking to the top of Mount Fuji in Japan, scuba diving in Australia, or working in research at your favorite university in the USA. No matter where you go, there are thousands and thousands of ideas of how to spend your time abroad and have fun by yourself. So it is totally legit to be an introvert but still being interested in foreign countries. Remember, studying abroad is also just studying.
You could think that not participating in social events around campus or the like might put a bad light on you. I can assure you that nobody actually cares whether or not you are participating in campus tours or pub crawls at all. There are hundreds of new international students coming in, and you are just one of them. If anything, others might think you are just a regular, full-time local student there. You are not walking around with a sign saying: “I’m an introverted, international student, don’t judge me!”. People literally couldn’t care less. Also, the professors wouldn’t know, so they are not biased or anything. Once you decide to go abroad, you get a “fresh start” at a new university in a foreign country. Be who you want to be. Enjoy it.
Letter of Motivation
The only “burden” you might face is the letter of motivation for your study abroad program. As I explained in previous posts, experiencing the culture and participating in cultural exchange is somewhat expected by universities (Application Support). As per usual, your university sees something like an ambassador in you since you’re representing your home university abroad! Therefore, you have two options here:
First, you can be honest and point out your strong interests and why you really want to go to that particular university or country. This could be anything from research to personal interests. In that case, you should really focus on your motivation and goals.
Second, you could lie about it (which I don’t recommend) and explain how much you’d love to get in touch with other students, make friends from all around the world, and participate in cultural exchange. However, by not being honest, there’s a high chance you don’t sound authentic or genuine enough, which in turn raises the risks of being rejected in the first place. If you decide to follow this path and apply to a large university, I can assure you that nobody will ever find out how you spend your spare time in the end. However, this might differ for smaller universities or programs with minimal capacities.
What to Prepare for
For most parts of the world, especially Europe with its ERASMUS program, going abroad is a “mass-market product”. This means that there are usually hundreds of international students around campus and that it can get pretty loud and hectic during the beginning of the semester. Also, many parties are going on, and people are trying to have a good time. For some students, going abroad is just an extended party vacation. Prepare yourself for that, and don’t feel left alone or ignored. Remember what you came for and enjoy your time abroad. You will remember it forever.