Cultural Integration

Being a shy expat

The stereotypes of the expat lifestyle usually involve plenty of after-work social activities, but the reality is that many expats are introverts. Being shy doesn’t have to limit your lifestyle while living abroad.

Being shy

By Carol Moore

Updated 29-2-2024

If you’re a shy expat, you tend to get labelled a lot: socially awkward, socially inept, lacking in confidence, uncomfortable around people, or having a negative vibe. Any introverted person knows these aren’t fair; there is so much more to the human psyche than what initially meets the eye. What are some of the ways in which you can thrive on being shy in a different country?

What being a shy expat really means

This can be difficult to clearly define. When you’re an expat living in a different country, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel out of place; it’s natural to feel like meeting new people and making new friends is a bit of a challenge. Expats are more globally mobile compared to those living in one place, so the social nomad feeling is inevitable. Friends come and go because the expat lifestyle, while exciting, is transient.

Shy woman

What’s important is recognizing that reaching out to new people and trying new things is a perfectly normal process to go through as an expat. If you’re looking inwardly and feeling shy, remind yourself that you’ve already stepped well out of your comfort zone by venturing out into the world; if you’ve already taken that leap, you can do just about anything.

Move away from the shy label

Some of the main challenges of being a shy expat revolve round getting friendships going and increasing your social network. We’re not all cut out for a pole dancing class in front of a group of strangers or meeting up for expat drinks in an unfamiliar setting. However, once you bite the bullet and find some Dutch courage, you’ll be surprised to learn how many people out there feel the same way as you, even the ones who appear super confident. One simple technique that can help overcome your initial anxiety around someone new is giving them a compliment; it signals that you’re attentive to details but also open for friendship. Understand that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all expat; people take different approaches in making decisions while developing meaningful relationships.

The positives of being shy

There are many positive attributes to being shy. It’s way more common than you think and can also be an advantage in your quest to make new friends. Shy expats don’t have the over-confident, arrogant manner that a louder, more extroverted person can display. In turn, that makes you more approachable and socially accessible; a win-win situation! Variety is the spice of life and this is certainly true when you are making new friends outside your own social circle and comfort zone.

If you’ve chosen to move to a new country alone, you’ll have a more open attitude for different cultures and beliefs. Embrace this and hold your head high, even if your spirits can sometimes feel low. If your shyness is really getting in the way of living your new life, seek professional help.

Value your own time

These days, it seems perfectly acceptable to be glued to your mobile phone and checking your social media throughout the day. We are constantly being bombarded with advertising, clever and addictive product marketing, and the apparent necessity for non-stop social interaction. This can be overwhelming if you’re someone with a shyer disposition. Don’t assume that the person in the picture sipping champagne has a perfect life; this can lead to feelings of inadequacy and shying away even more from social settings. Instead, embrace your alone time, switch off your phone (or at least your notifications) and pick up a good book, go to the movies, or go for a walk. Managing your time on social media can give you a renewed sense of freedom and enthusiasm for pursuing social activities with people in real-life.

How shy people make friends

It’s easy to assume that shy people don’t have friends. They won’t shout from the rooftops if they just went on a great date or hung out at the hottest club. As an introvert, you know how to enjoy your own company and be self-sufficient, while realizing that once you make a new friend, that’s enough for you. The world is full of like-minded shy people; being shy can make you an easier person to connect with.

Colleagues at a café

Find a group activity or area of interest where you’ll meet similar people with common interests. Focus on the person you’re talking to; you may share common ground and a mutual understanding of what it feels like to start from scratch. Remember to get out of your comfort zone regularly and try to visualize a positive outcome.

Embrace your introvert tendencies

The first step to success for a true introvert is to make peace with being an introvert. Don’t look at extroverts with envy as they seemingly flit about making new friends and exuding social vibes. You may find that your new country of residence will actually be complementary to being shy. Start a blog and document your thoughts or use a social media account like Instagram to capture things that are interesting to you. As an introvert, you’re less likely to make a social faux pas when faced with complex greeting customs. Be conscious of negative thoughts; shy people tend to have more of this than most. Work on shifting these in a positive direction. Try to look back upon a time when you felt uncomfortable and it ended up being an overwhelming success!