Hello, my name is Sarah, and I am your classic introvert. I like to be alone more than in a group. I prefer the company of those I know to that of strangers. And I like to be home, with my family, more than anywhere else.
Pushing Those Comfort Zones
If you haven’t noticed, my comfort zones are completely juxtaposed to everything a study abroad experience would bring to the table. I am easily overstimulated by new environments, experiences, and challenges. This over-stimulation drains my energy, negatively impacts my mood, and creates frustration in basic day-to-day activities. I knew things would be stressful so I also knew that taking care of myself would be the “make it or break it” aspect of the experience. In this blog post I share a things I did that helped me manage myself through the experience as best I could.
Also, it’s important to disclose…I wasn’t always successful at managing myself. I had a few situations where I lost my patience with a situation, my tone of voice with a peer, or complete tolerance for an activity at hand. But every student in the group seemed to have a tipping point here or there, so I didn’t sweat it too much. Whirlwind activity (like knocking out 6 honors college credits in 4 weeks in Italy) can stir up a lot of anxiety and unease! On top of all the requirements for classes, adjusting to a new country, new language, and new everything, there are roommates, classmates, and teachers to deal with and the dynamics of a large group can wear me down.
Introvert Study Abroad Survival Tips
So how did I manage to make it through four weeks of Italian Life & Culture with twenty students, a very extroverted Professoressa, and various teachers, directors, and tour guides to deal with? Basically I gave myself permission to opt out of many activities that were not mandatory. In Florence, we had a few days where there was nothing planned. On those days, students would take off on extra excursions and I was usually invited but I always declined. This meant I missed getting to see Cinque Terre, but it also meant I had the ENTIRE apartment completely to myself ALL DAY LONG! I slept late, walked to the corner cafe for an espresso & pastries, visited a little antique shop I had been eyeing, and then I holed up in the apartment for the rest of the day and did nothing except watch Netflix, wash my laundry, and order pizza for dinner delivery. It. was. amazing.
One of my favorite things to do was to get up early before everyone else and get out the door so I could do some exploring of whatever city we were in, on my own. By 10:00 am, Italy was hot and humid and miserable until around 6:00 pm when the evening breeze would kick in. Getting out to see the sights before the heat of the day kicked in was always a treat for myself. Likewise, when ever I could squeeze in some alone time during the class days via breaks in between classes and required excursions, I would just walk around and explore the area on my own.
When we were in Sorrento, a bunch of the students went to the local Discoteca and not surprisingly, I declined. A loud, crowded, hot, dance floor with a disco ball and stroke-inducing lights sounded just absolutely awful. (Remember, I’m 41. I’ve already done all that!) Instead, I grabbed a bite from a local deli and took a quiet solitary stroll along the Mediterranean sea at sunset. It was just what I needed after a long day of service-learning at a local home for differently-abled adults.
Tips for Self Care While Studying Abroad
In short, carving out alone time was really important for me -as it is for most introverts. Don’t be afraid to take the time for yourself. As an introvert, you need it! The benefits of taking care of your introverted self when studying abroad are too many to detail out in this blog but in short you will:
- Be able to manage your energy and mood while abroad.
- Be able to function in your new environment.
- Be able to succeed in your academic responsibilities.
- Be able to enjoy your ex[erience abroad.
I knew that spending a summer studying abroad in Italy would completely turn my daily life on its heels. But I also knew that the experience would be worth every challenge that came with it. Going into the program with an open mind, willingly accepting the challenges to come, and knowing that I would need to be my own caretaker, truly helped me get the most out of my program. In closing, take care of yourself while abroad to maintain your sanity and your sense of balance during what will be an overwhelming and challenging time in your life. But, if you are proactive in self-care, you will get the most out of your program. And as a bonus – if you take some solitary walks when you’re abroad, you will discover some really cool places in the city you are studying!