Getting out there―Being Socially Awkward while Abroad
People don’t believe me when I say that I am shy or that it is really hard for me to go out and meet new people. I take a long time to make new friends (I know, you don’t really believe me), and there are days where I would rather just be at home, alone, reading a book than out on an adventure. However, I am good (really good apparently) at faking it. Although I personally feel as though I am always on one end of the spectrum between word-vomiting or just watching other people interact, I somehow manage to convince people that I am a social butterfly.
When I am more comfortable with people, I am happy to partake in crazy adventures or picnic lunches (in my living room), but I am naturally socially awkward*, especially around new people. If you are in a similar situation, you are probably wondering how I ended up living in three different countries (five different cities) in the last eight years. I cannot really tell how it happened, but considering the amount of ‘new friends making’ I have had to do, I have discovered a few tricks.
1.) Figure out YOUR needs: I know this might sound obvious, but there are people who want to be surrounded by a million people all of the time and other people who don’t. Regardless of the type of person you are, be true to yourself. That means that if you want to focus on making one or two friends during your time abroad, that is great, and if you want to go out every night of the week meeting people, that is awesome too. Don’t let other people’s experiences and expectations define yours.
2.) Be patient with yourself: Before going to my first group intercambio I had to work up a lot [a lot!] of nerve. It took me thinking about what I wanted before I was able to convince myself that intercambios were a good way to meet people (specifically that Couchsurfing intercambios fit my desire to get to know people with similar interests in travel). I could have gone sooner, more often, less often, etc., but being patient with myself made me value the experiences more. To this day, if I don’t feel like an uncomfortable-to-me situation is worth it, I’ll pass.
3.) Don’t be afraid to be afraid: I don’t know what I am afraid of, but I can be in situations where my hands sweat and I feel lightheaded (from giving presentations to talking to work colleagues). In the end, these interactions aren’t that big of a deal and when it is all over, I can’t remember what the problem was. Being afraid isn’t something you can just turn off with the flip of a switch, but you can accept that you are slightly socially awkward and that it is not the end of the world. Trust me, everyone else probably thinks you are super outgoing (true story, just ask Dani about the day we met).
4.) Get out there: Obviously do it in a way that works for you, but meeting people is one of the most beautiful experiences you have while abroad. There is something so different about people that you meet from other cultures, and I have to say I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the influence of people who I had to ‘put myself out there' to meet. Sometimes you have to work really hard before you find someone you get along with and sometimes a super cool person just seems to fall into your lap (hello recent Blablacar experience).
I won’t promise you that it will be easy, but it does get easier to fake it the more you practice (I don’t know if I ever will make it as a social butterfly, but let’s keep that between us seeing as though everyone else seems to think I am one). Somewhere along the line you will thank the person you were yesterday for getting you to where you are today.
*I have yet to find a good translation for socially awkward in Spanish, so I tend to say that I am socially clumsy or socialmente torpe.