Doing a placement abroad gives us the opportunity to meet and socialise with people from all over the world in a completely new setting - an exciting prospect for some, but also quite daunting for those of us who are more introverted.

The year abroad pushes everyone out of their comfort zone - that's the aim after all! - but for us shy folks it's like pushing us out of our comfort zone and into our own special idea of hell.

Not only do we have to introduce ourselves to new people and socialise on a regular basis, we will also most likely have to do it in a different language, which is a whole new kettle of fish. Introducing yourself in a different language is an intimidating task for anyone, but when you're a shy person it's basically like taking your biggest fear and making it ten times worse. Unfortunately, however, communicating is a pretty essential part of most placements and so we need to find a way to overcome the  crippling fear of misusing the subjunctive and having to hide behind our desks for the rest of the working week.

If you find yourself avoiding talking to new people because of the language barrier and fears about making a mistake, just remember that most of the people you meet will have been in the exact same position before. And if you do say something wrong, it's not the end of the world! Just laugh it off, and, if it makes you feel better, know that I once asked for 'acqua del gabinetto' (toilet water) instead of 'acqua del rubinetto' (tap water), and it can't really get more embarrassing than that...

Another task that we will undoubtedly face during the year abroad is that of making new friends - yep, that old chestnut - which has always been a weakness of mine. Even once I've plucked up the courage to introduce myself to someone, I always get that annoying fear that they don't actually want to spend time with me and then descend into the usual spiral of sweaty palms and self-doubt.

In reality, there are bound to be plenty of people in the same position as you - in a new city, surrounded by new faces and absolutely terrified - and they might even be a bit shy too. You don't need an army of new best friends to prove that you're doing the year abroad right, even just having a few people you can meet up with for coffee or a bit of sightseeing can make the experience just that bit more enjoyable.

And if you're anything like me, you'll hate going out to a coffee shop or a restaurant by yourself. I always feel so self-conscious, as though everyone is looking at me and thinking how much of a loner I must be coming out for dinner by myself. It's ridiculous, I know, but that's just how our minds work, unfortunately.

If there's a new restaurant you want to try or a museum you want to visit, but you'd rather stay at home writing your special study than go by yourself (an exaggeration I know), in most cities there are international student pages on Facebook which can be a great way to find people to meet up with. I actually met up with some other students whilst au pairing in Madrid last summer and we all went to a museum and had lunch together, which was so much better than wandering around by myself and much less nerve-wracking than asking someone face to face.

The truth about introverts is that we're not always just too shy to go out and socialise, sometimes we just enjoy spending some time to ourselves, which is 100% okay (and sometimes necessary!) But socialising is a really important part of the year abroad, and it's the best way to improve your language  skills and also just to learn more about the culture and the people. You never know, you might discover some really cool places and sights that you'd never have known about otherwise, and you might even be lucky enough to make some really great friends.

At the same time, however, don't feel like you need to force yourself to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. It's easy to look at all those Instagram photos of people out partying with all their new friends and feel like a bit of a loner, or like that's what you should be doing. But if that's not your thing, why push yourself to do something you really don't enjoy just because that's what everyone else does?

Your year abroad is exactly that: yours. If one evening you're out for an aperitivo with some colleagues and the next you're at home watching Netflix with a takeaway pizza (yes I have done both), that's absolutely fine as long as that's what makes you happy. Just make sure that you don't limit yourself or your experience - it's good to push yourself out of your comfort zone every once in a while, and it doesn't have to be anything extreme. Plus, you can always treat yourself to a Netflix session afterwards...


Posted in: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Overseas opportunities - study or exchange, Placements


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