I just finished reading the very thoughtful book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.
Surprised to find this book more self-help than expected, I learned to better understand the qualities and experiences introverts have in social and professional settings. And as such, appreciate my most natural preference: being introverted.
But what does introverted mean when you are an expatriate? Living abroad, working abroad, starting ‘over’ and needing to create a new social network, professionally and personally are some of the ‘things’ you need to do for successful expatriation. Or so everyone says. Such a list of ‘things’ screams extrovert for me.
Often, I’ve had the conversation with other expatriates about the need to have an outgoing and extroverted personality in order to be a successful expatriate. To be honest, I never related very well to this. I have found that although it is most certainly helpful, taking the time to be alone, to process the experience, to reflect and question your surroundings are just as insightful and necessary for successful adaptation in a new cultural setting.
One of the suggestions for successful cultural adjustment is being involved and creating a routine in your new country. I agree with this, but also respect that some will see being involved as something exciting and energizing, while for others this can be overwhelming and exhausting.
What Susan Cain reminded me of, is that not everyone wants to go to a new social event every day nor does going to said social events provide them with more energy during an already tiring and stressful transition (most likely the opposite happens – they can be drained of all of their energy and need time alone to recharge their batteries).
When we first moved to Germany, and even now, I need to listen to what I need the most and limit the amount of social events I go to. This is what has actually lead to successful expatriation for me. Doing the other, pushing myself too far, would actually lead me to probably be an unsuccessful expatriate and an unhappy person.
If you are an introverted expatriate, here are some tips to help you be comfortable in your new home and work space:
- Take your time and be involved as much as makes sense for YOU and not what makes sense for everyone else.
- ‘Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.’ Cain includes this as part of her manifesto. Expatriation includes numerous personal and professional transitions. Taking the time to be alone to figure out the next step and what you want from this experience can be very inspirational.
- “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Gandhi. How do you want to shake up the world while living and working abroad, in your own gentle way?
The world can be a very loud place. Introverts can help add to the quiet we all need.