The European Mama: Being a shy expat
Olga writes from personal experience about the challenges and benefits of moving abroad and making new friends with a shy personality.
I've always been a rather shy person. Shy to the point where I would avoid some shops because I am afraid they would laugh at me. I've read articles and books on shyness (including Zimbardo's famous work). He mentions that shy people have fewer friends, are socially awkward, or just don't like themselves. He seems to be treating shyness like an illness to be cured. The stereotypes about shy people are pretty much the same, and while people often feel that their shyness stands in the way of realising their dreams and passions, for many of us, these stereotypes are neither true nor fair.
I found that being shy can have many positive sides. First, it is a very normal thing. In fact, almost everybody has felt shy at some point in life. I kept asking myself: Is it the shyness itself that causes the problem, or maybe societal pressures to behave a certain way and not being at ease with shyness? Also, shy people take more time to think about their decisions and are more likely to have deep meaningful relationships.
So maybe you are shy, too. And with all the ups and downs of being shy, you are moving abroad. You are getting out of your comfort zone and into a unknown, strange world. What are you to do?
–You may find to your surprise that you will thrive in the new environment. This has definitely happened to me. When I came here, I made new friends, started a blog, and never have I felt so creative and full of ideas. I think it was partially the fact that I had to do it in order to survive, but also moving abroad gave me the opportunity of a fresh start.
–Remember that even though you have to reach out a lot and meet new people, you will not turn into a party animal. I go to a lot of events and parties, but mostly prefer one-on-one meetings. That is fine for me. It works, and it doesn't exhaust me in a way public events do. So I don't go to all events and prefer to be picky. Expats have a lot of events happening, and I can't make it to all of them. But also remember not to get too isolated.
–The way you deal with shyness could be a cultural thing. For example, I have just read this article where Finns see themselves as socially shy because they weren't making small talk with other people. Guess what? They weren't shy. They just didn't talk so much. Instead, they observed the conversations around them and listened rather than talked. Also, some cultures tend to be shyer than others, with kibbutz-raised Jews being generally not shy and Asians being on the other part of the spectrum.
–Don't be afraid to ask for help! This may mean telling friends: "I am shy, can you help me with this?", or it could mean asking for professional help if you feel that your shyness is really getting in the way of normal life.
–Find the time for activities that are fun. After all, in your country you had hobbies and interests and passions, and you also had things you liked doing to relax and take your mind off being shy. With luck, you can do them in your new country! Do whatever works for you - read, relax, or have a coffee...whatever makes you happy! Have fun! Who said shy people can't have fun? In some cases, you'll have so much fun that you'll forget all about your shyness...
This has been my experience. How about yours? If you're shy, how did moving abroad affect your shyness?
Olga moved to the Netherlands in 2009 with a 6-week-old baby to be with her German husband. She is now mum to two trilingual daughters and expecting her third child very soon. She is a translator, and trainer in intercultural communication. She blogs about her experiences on The European Mama, which focuses on expat life and raising trilingual children. It won the Expat Blog Award in 2012 and continues to gain readership from all over the world. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo credit: Ollie Crafoord (photo)
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