The Introverted Expat

by Sheryll on October 29, 2012

I sort of hate people.

Not really.

But sort of.

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always been drawn towards being by myself. I don’t like group work. I don’t like big crowds. I don’t like making plans or having parties for tons of people. I like going places by myself because I never have to worry about time constraints or what someone does/doesn’t want to do. I need alone time to function. Being around large groups/parties/crowds is exhausting. Draining. It’s part of the reason why I feel like, as much as I’d want to go, I’ll never be able to go to a travel blogging conference. I definitely want to meet all of the lovely people I interact with on a daily basis, but the thought of having to talk to so many people makes my brain want to explode.

This goes without saying that if I am in a large group dinner, meetup, or at a party, that I am not sitting in the corner, sulking and counting down the minutes until I can leave. I am social. I’m not rude, aloof, or shy. I know how to have an engaging conversation. But after a big day or night out, it sometimes takes me all day to recover. And not just from your typical, alcohol induced, hangover.

In college, I partied like the rest of them. Clubs. Bars. Non-stop from Thursday to Sunday. But it was always me and my 3 or 4 closest friends. And soon after college, I traded the clubs for quiet nights in lounge bars, or just buying a bottle and inviting friends over for an intimate gathering. And even more so, I’d buy a bottle of wine for myself, sit on the couch and watch movies or read books.

That’s what I consider the perfect day/night. Hanging out with close friends (no more than 4). Dinner. Wine. A conversation that doesn’t involve yelling over loud dubstep while a guy tries to grab your ass and a drunk girl spilling her pomegranate martini on you.

With Johnny gone to the gym and/or MMA class most of the week, I spend a lot of time alone. I live in the middle of nowhere. Getting up and going out involves a lot of time.  I’m not complaining in the slightest, as 94.3% of the time I’d much rather be by myself…

But what happens when your an expat and you want to see things? Do things? See and do things that possibly involve tons of people that you don’t know or want to talk to?

Well, for me, I start to feel guilty. I start to think that maybe I’m missing out on something. That I’m a weirdo for wanting to stay in with a book than go out and socialize.

“…maybe I should go out, just this once…”
“It can’t be that bad…can it?”
“…but my bed is so comfortable. And I have tea here. Good tea. Orange, chocolate, cream tea.”
“I’m a shitty friend. I should make plans to hang out with my friends.”
“And everyone lives so far…”
“Well, I just downloaded Magic Mike….”

Of course, there are PLENTY of things for us introverted expats to do in Korea: cafes, shopping, movies, art museums and galleries, exploring. I’ve personally been hanging out in Jukjeon cafe street almost everyday, eating macarons, drinking tea, reading or working on my online classes. But there are those times when I wonder what it would be like to be part of the crowd. Wonder what it would be like to not be so mentally exhausted by large group dinners. Wonder what it would be like to go to Gangnam, Hongdae, or Itaewon (or Seoul in general), on the weekends and not be completely overwhelmed and immediately want to go back to my house.

Are you an introvert? Are you an expat/traveling introvert? I’d love to hear what you think!

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandy Matias October 29, 2012 at 9:38 pm

I am exactly the same way. I actually ventured to Seoul this past weekend by myself. I loved it. I got to do what I wanted without having to be concerned with other people wants or needs. I do however feel left out sometimes and sometimes I do feel alone. But I do try and make a point to meet new people, whether they become close friends or just passerby’s in life I’m glad I stick myself out there every now and then. But my solitude has and always been important to me. From one introvert to another. :)

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Sheryll November 2, 2012 at 10:59 am

YAY Sandy! It’s so nice to not feel alone. I definitely have plenty of friends, but it’s just all the effort of actually meeting them, since I live a million years outside of Seoul. I gotta make a better effort, especially before it gets cold!

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April D. Thompson October 29, 2012 at 10:26 pm

I can totally relate. Was just having a conversation about this very topic with a friend in Kingston who didn’t understand why I would pass on the big group party nights… Never have problems meeting people or going out, but I’d just rather keep it low key, one on one or a very small group. Keep doing you.

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Sheryll November 2, 2012 at 11:01 am

Thanks April! Big parties = no. Small dinners/intimate parties = yes!

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Kim October 29, 2012 at 10:50 pm

I used to think I was an extrovert and I’m not sure if that changes as you get older or what, but the more I read about what it means to be an introvert, the more certain I am one. I have a lot of good friends and love to get together maybe once a week to hang out, but i like to spend my weekends relaxing and being by myself too.

when i travel it becomes exhausting bc my fear of missing something forces me to go-go-go and then when i get home i need to recover ! lol!

i think it’s good just to know yourself well enough to know that you need time to yourself to unwind but also to make sure that you are doing all the things you want to do while in Korea!

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Sheryll November 2, 2012 at 11:04 am

That’s definitely how I feel sometimes. Since I work, my work weeks are go go go go go, and sometimes I do something after work. By the time the weekend comes, I want to rest, but then it’s my only time to do anything. It’s constantly a tug of war!

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Jackie October 30, 2012 at 12:23 am

I agree with Kim! I always thought I was an extravert, but the older I get, the more I realize that is not true! I have to have ample time by myself to recharge after being with people.

However, I am back in America now, and one thing I do regret is not making more of an effort to make native (Korean) friends–and going and exploring more!

Hopefully I’ll be able to go back in the near future and try for a better balance this time!

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Sheryll November 2, 2012 at 11:05 am

That is the one thing I want to do…make Korean friends. As of now, I haven’t made an effort…and I also haven’t made an effort to learn Korean. Winter is coming up, and I’ll have plenty of time to hang in my apartment and learn, so when spring comes around, I’ll be prepared! (…sort of)

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Scarlett October 30, 2012 at 1:12 am

I’m similar – I love just doing my own thing. The problem with travelling is that you beat yourself if you’re not doing all of the ‘travelly’ things you feel that are expected of you. I did that so much dring my trip to Paris… I actually felt guilty for going to the adorable italian that I fell in love with down a side-street rather than a fancy Frech restaurant outside the Eiffel tower…. but at the end of the day you have to do the things that make you happy! Fab post!! xxx

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Sheryll November 2, 2012 at 11:07 am

EXACTLY!!!!!!! I know exactly how you feel. Being in Korea, there are SO many places I haven’t gone. I’ve only gone outside of Seoul once, and it was for a few hours. But, I love discovering cute eateries and cafes right near my house. But it really hard to not feel like I’m missing out.

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Alison October 30, 2012 at 1:19 am

I’m a total introvert and find it exhausting being around lots of people. That said, even if there was some exciting party to go to, Channing Tatum is a good enough reason for a cosy night in ;-)

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Sheryll November 2, 2012 at 11:10 am

Magic Mike is always the answer.

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Lauren October 30, 2012 at 2:39 am

This really struck a chord with me, especially after this morning – I’m in Sucre, Bolivia, and just got overwhelmed by people. It’s not an overcrowded city, but there just seemed to be people all up in my face everywhere I went, and I couldn’t handle it. You can definitely be an introverted traveler/expat and make it work, but the key is to make space for your alone time! Hence why I’m now at the hostel on my computer…and I’m totally okay with that.

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Sheryll November 5, 2012 at 10:38 am

I totally know how you feel. It’s part of the reason I don’t travel to Seoul too often. I can’t deal with the masses of people, especially in Gangnam or Hongdae. Give me Bundang anytime!

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Amy CT October 30, 2012 at 6:34 am

This was exactly how I felt when I studied abroad last year. I am a theatre person, and that is how I get my “big” socialising done – but when I don’t have rehearsal or a show (or even a cast party!), I don’t really like doing big, group things. I was the only exchange student I have ever known who travelled Australia for three months totally alone.

But it was the best thing I ever did. I love the peace and quiet and how it allows me to do what I want. Sure, I sometimes feel guilty, but I would never exchange the year I had for the years that most other exchange students had.

I got over my depression, I saw exactly which bits of the country I wanted to, I climbed Ayers Rock, I made some amazing friends, I discovered what I want to do with my life and I fell in love with someone wonderful.

After a year like that, why would I ever want to rethink my choices?

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Sheryll November 5, 2012 at 11:50 am

I love this. Thank you so much!!

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Amanda @ Farsickness October 30, 2012 at 10:37 am

This is exactly me. I like to go out. But with a group of, like you said, about 4 people and sit at a table and drink with them. I can deal with large crowds, surprisingly. But I hate feeling like other people’s happiness depend on my decisions and after a long day of small talk I feel exhausted.

I think the best thing, though, is to realize this (which you obviously already have). I’ve become a much, much happier person ever since I stopped forcing myself into situations that I didn’t like just because I thought I had to.

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Sheryll November 5, 2012 at 11:51 am

Oh girl. We are kindred spirits.

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Devan October 30, 2012 at 10:46 pm

I just stopped walking home and stood in the sidewalk to finish reading this post on my phone. Love it! I try to balance a mix of social fun and me time during the week. I love your writing voice, keep the great posts coming. And ‘I just downloaded MAGIC MIKE’ is always a perfect excuse to stay in. Do it.

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Sheryll November 5, 2012 at 11:51 am

Thank you Devan!

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Steve Whitty October 31, 2012 at 6:06 am

I too consider myself to be a introvert. However, I do enjoy people’s company when travelling usually in a social context. When I am exploring I like to be on my own.

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Sheryll November 5, 2012 at 11:52 am

Totally. I like the control of being able to stop when I want, take pictures however long I want, eat when I want. I hate having to rely on other people!

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Staci November 3, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Sheryll,

Thank you thank you thank you for writing this post. Five years ago I spent a semester abroad in Mexico City and still feel guilty about not going out and partying more. But that’s not me! I wouldn’t call myself an introvert, but I certainly enjoy my me time. This post is especially fitting, since there isn’t too much out there in the blogosphere about not-so-extroverted people traveling the world. Thanks again and happy travels!

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Jasetyn November 4, 2012 at 11:17 am

I really understand your thoughts! I think that I also feel doubly guilt-ridden because I am part of a strong couple. My husband and I do things together, we’re best friends, we love each others company. We’ve been together since I was 14 years old, but any form of relationship takes work! I feel like this extrovert-type “work” that I put into our coupledom takes away from the energy I could be spending with large groups. Therefore, since I always choose “us” I find it difficult to do big groups, hyped events etc because I only have so much extro juice and it’s already been drained! It is a constant balancing-act for all of us to thoughtfully include others in our world, I think. :) Great post!

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Sheryll November 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Jasetyn, you really hit the nail on the head! My partner and I have been dating for almost 7 years, and I definitely enjoy his company probably more than anyone else I know. He really is my best friend. That being said, I definitely know what you mean, because I normally would choose a quiet night at home or at the movies with him. Not to say that we don’t like to go out in groups, or hang out with other people, but it’s just a lot of effort. I totally, totally, know what you mean!

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Jenny November 6, 2012 at 8:29 pm

You’re so adorable! I love reading your blog :)
I’m glad I found it hehe

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Ceri November 9, 2012 at 4:29 am

I love this, hun. I think my problem is that I’m a very friendly happy-to-be-sociable person but I absolutely love “me” time. I’m so friggin’ amazing that I love spending time with myself. ;-) haha. As a result, when I have free time, I’m not going out there, exploring the city and visiting museums. I love staying indoors, listening to my favourite music, reading books, watching films, etc.

That and I’m also quite shy when I first meet someone. It takes me a while to come out of my shell which a lot of people don’t realise. I’m quite loud and impulsive when you know me properly but I really do become so quiet and timid when meeting people. I feel uncomfortable in large gatherings made up of mostly people I don’t know.

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K.J. November 14, 2012 at 8:50 am

First of all Sheryll, I just today stumbled across your blog and I love it. I feel like I’m reading my own thoughts most of the time, actually! xD I’m actually back in the States for a little bit, but I’m trying to remember whether or not I was an introvert expat… Usually I’m just like how you’ve described yourself, but in Korea I was a lot more outgoing (however, I was in Seoul, so I had more opportunities to go out I think). So, hmmm… I wanted to go out and meet more people but then once I met them I think I went back to being an introvert… I met my boyfriend over there and at first we went out to clubs, but later we liked staying at home more. One thing I’ll never get tired of going out for though – KOREAN baseball. I haven’t seen yet whether you’re a fan…?

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Kayla November 15, 2012 at 12:08 am

I am the same way. Prior to studying abroad I was so worried that my introverted nature was going to stop me from doing things and have a great time, but actually it wasn’t that way at all. I had an amazing time even though I wasn’t out partying as much as the other students. I still found things to do and traveled a lot. I found that I was able to discover more without a whole group of people around. I am happy you posted this because I always wonder how it would be as an introvert teaching abroad. I see that you’ve managed quite nicely. Don’t feel guilty- as long as you’re happy that’s what matters. I’ve learned that I don’t have to do something while abroad 24/7. Sometimes just being alive and somewhere new is worthwhile enough. :)

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ejorpin November 23, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I am a total expat introvert. And so is my husband. So while others are doing the rounds of the charity balls, and signing up for all kinds of group classes, and hanging out at expat bars talking (GASP) to people they don’t even know, we are at home with our hounds playing cards, watching DVDs, cooking up all kinds of feasts and drinking (probably too much wine). Luckily we are happy with each others company, so it’s pretty awesome, but sometimes like you I do feel a bit of a twinge, a bit of a ‘what if…’

(However, unlike you, I live right in the heart of Seoul and I love it. I love big cities and being surrounded by strangers, it actually makes me feel more incognito, more free to be ‘alone’ in a crowd!)

ps. Just found your blog through a long and random-ish series of clicks through Twitter, really love the way you write :)

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Sheryll November 27, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Thank you so so so much! I’m so glad that I’m not alone in the introverted expat community. My boyfriend and I stay at home 90% of the time, watching movies, cooking, and drinking wine too! Wine is a must!

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Madison November 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm

I just found this blog and I’m loving it! I really relate to a lot of things you write about being a introvert (and also your cosmetics/beauty related reviews–I’m obsessed too!) I’m in Suji, teach in Jukjeon, and most of the time my husband and I prefer to stay home together watching movies/shows too! Glad to know there are others like me here! :)

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Sheryll December 8, 2012 at 6:12 pm

YAY! Thank you so much for your comment. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one that feels this way. And you live so close to me! Do you live near Dankook Uni or near Cafe street? Somewhere in between? We should totally meet up for coffee/hot chocolate one day!

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Madison January 8, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Oh I’m so sorry I missed your reply! I’m not sure where Dankook Uni is, but my school in Jukjeon is pretty close to Cafe street. :) I just caught up with your blog and we definitely have so much in common! Coffee/hot chocolate would be fun! My facebook is Madison Reynolds (Fagan) if you want to friend me!

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Sheryll January 12, 2013 at 3:32 pm

I just sent a friend request :) :)

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Rosie December 9, 2012 at 5:29 pm

I just stumbled upon your blog! I am also in Korea, I live in Pyeongtaek, and I am the same way! I always make plans and then I think, ugh I wish I didn’t because it’s cold out and I’d rather read, etc etc.

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Sheryll December 10, 2012 at 1:29 pm

girl girl girllll I am the SAME WAY. Especially now that it’s cold. People will be lucky if they see me this winter. April will be my official unhibernating period lol!

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Rachel December 26, 2012 at 4:23 pm

I just stumbled upon this blog and it’s so nice to see that there are semi introverted people like me living abroad! I really need my alone time to recharge my battery. Sometimes I feel guilty or antisocial when I can see that so expats people are going out in these large groups and having big dinners and parties together. I see this where I live in Daegu. Sometimes, I even feel left out–but then I remember that I much prefer my time in small intimate group settings.

I can totally relate with the feeling that as I get older, I become more of an introvert as well. In college I was always out with lots of people at parties and bars. As I have gotten older I just don’t have the mental or physical energy to be around people all the time. Also I think it makes a difference that my boyfriend and I are the same way–we like to stay in and enjoy wine and movies–or go to a local cafe and have a quiet drink together, or play cribbage.

Haha sometimes I think I am a 27 year old with the spirit of a 65 year old woman! And, I don’t mind one bit!

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Rebecca January 11, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Me Me Me!!! I’m living and teaching in Thailand. I’ve always enjoyed being alone but fortunately when I came to Thailand, I took a course in Bangkok where I met a lot of people. I no longer am living in Bangkok but whenever I’m feeling like doing something other than sitting in my room reading, writing, watching movies I downloaded, I always have a way out. Recently, I’ve been thinking I’m not taking advantage of the city I live in one bit. But I prefer to shop, dine and walk alone. There’s no pressure to hurry and everything is being done on my time. 95% of the time, I don’t feel lonely leading this type of life.

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Angela May 19, 2013 at 10:45 pm

I’m another introverted expat! Like you, I love spending time with small groups of friends but I’m not into being around tons of people. It’s draining and I also prefer having quiet time with the boyfriend.

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Monzi May 24, 2013 at 6:12 am

I know exactly how you feel. Although I’m not an expat yet…I enjoy doing things by myself. Its only those moments when I see something cute or hilarious that I miss having someone there to share it with and do feel sad. Otherwise, I try and make the best of that time. I even look at doing things alone as ‘Spending Time with Christ’ and thinking about things, my life ect. ^_^

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Sheryll May 28, 2013 at 12:51 pm

That’s the thing! I really enjoy being alone, but like you said, there are definitely moments I wish I had someone to talk to when I see/do/hear/ something new. Thankfully, Johnny is here, but I definitely would like some more girl friends.

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