I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m a major introvert. Nothing causes me more stress than the idea of a party where I only know a few people, being the first person to arrive at an event, or just generally interacting with other humans. So it was obviously a great idea when I decided to move to Madrid.
No, really, that wasn’t sarcasm. It honestly was a great idea. Nothing fixes a problem like charging headfirst into it. Like a goat… or a bull, since we’re in Spain. I spent the year before I moved abroad spending valuable time with my cat, one or two people I wasn’t completely terrified of, and my Netflix account. And now, yeah, I’m still no social butterfly. I never will be. But I’m not ashamed of the fact I’d rather read a book with a cup of tea than stand in some crowded bar not hearing what anyone is saying. I’d do it a hundred times over. But I’m still a lot better than I was, and this is how I did it.
1. Make The First Move: The first thing I did in Madrid was my TEFL course, but I arrived a few days before that. There was Facebook group for the class I was in that had existed for about a month, that was sitting gathering metaphorical Internet dust because no one was using it. On my 2nd day in Madrid, stressed at having a broken door and developing a small case of cabin fever over being in a new city and not being able to explore it, I cracked. I went on that Facebook page and I wrote a self depreciating, but slightly humorous, post about how I was trapped in my apartment and needed rescuing. It got people talking, friend requests flowing, and in the following three days I met up with three people for exploring and tapas and my first (and very well deserved) alcoholic beverage of Spain. Writing a Facebook post may not seem like a big deal to some people, but to an introvert, the idea of no one replying or people not caring that you reached out to them is terrifying. I’m very thankful I wrote that post, as I’m sure my TEFL course experience, and even my time in Spain, would have been very different if I’d stayed the quiet person at the back of the room.
2. Say Yes to Saying Yes: Ignore the fact you don’t have any money, or that you have lesson plans to write, or that you’re just plain exhausted from the stress of picking up your life and packing it into a suitcase: say yes. I hate crowds. Nothing causes me more stress than a crowded room. So imagine my utter horror when during my first few weeks in Madrid, there was some weird street festival going on every single night. But I was asked to go. And I said yes. Twice. Twice I stood in that crowd, not hearing anything anyone was saying, clutching my bag so I didn’t get pickpocketed, and forking out like 10€ for a watered down mojito. Literally my idea of hell. Put putting up with it for those two nights built the bridges to doing things I actually enjoyed: going out for a late Spanish dinner, days in the park drinking tinto, trips to galleries and museums. I firmly believe that if I had kept saying no those first few times I was invited to things that I didn’t usually like to do, people would have just presumed I didn’t like to do anything. Sometimes people don’t -get- introverts. It’s not their fault, our brains are wired differently, but it’s all about give and take. You show them you can try new things and see their point of view (in this case, that getting beer spilled on you all night and almost getting stuck in a portaloo is somehow fun), and eventually you’ll find something you can enjoy together. It’s all about not writing the other person off for some slight differences.
3. Routine, Routine, Routine: If, like me, you’re prone to binge watching BTVS and sleeping until 12:00 because you know you have to get the Metro at 14:30, make scheduled plans. For instance, I have one British friend in Madrid. We have a Weekly British Breakfast where we wander around, discovering new cafés, and exploring our city in the process. Sometimes we end up shopping for skincare products, sometimes we go food shopping and and get excited over porridge. But it’s at least one exciting excursion that is better than six episodes of The Office, even if I wouldn’t admit it if you asked me somewhere between episodes three and four.
4. Tindernational Relations: I could have called this one ‘get out of your comfort zone’, but it’s more specific than that. For me, getting out of my comfort zone was Tinder, and I really think it’s a must for all introverted expats. Never in a million years would I have been brave enough to use Tinder back home. I don’t even think it was the normal worries about not getting matched with anyone, it was more to do with the fact I’d resigned myself to not meeting people. Romantically or otherwise. So upon moving to a new country and countless googles of ‘how to meet expats’ later, I’d resigned myself to getting Tinder. And although at first I just wanted to talk to other English speakers and maybe have something to do on the Metro, I ended up getting a pretty great boyfriend out of it. Something that as an introvert, I’d already assumed was impossible. But you know what they say about assuming.
5. Think Outside The Box: I’m a big lover of the Internet. Duh. But after I’d decided that pretty much every Internet suggestion of ‘join an interest group!’ and ‘say hi to strangers!’ was stupid, I used the Internet in a different way. Join and stalk active Facebook groups, hashtag your scenic Instagrams with where you live, creep the tag on Tumblr. There’s other people out there, blogging about their time abroad. Probably going through the same things you are. And usually you can stalk the rest of their Internet presence to get a good feel of them before you make contact. You can’t do that to strangers on the street. You may find it creepy, but we are in a digital age, and we’re expats who left our entire life behind us. We’re allowed to be creepy.
It may not be the most groundbreaking pieces of advice, but as someone who (rather pathetically, if you think about it) has trailed the Internet for the last six months trying to find ~*~the answers~*~, I think it’s a pretty good contribution to the usually rather repetitive discussion.
Hi, I’m Zanna Parrish. I’m an expat, I’m an introvert, and I’m doing okay.