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Monday, 21 January 2013

Being a shy expat

I’ve always been a rather shy person. Shy to the point where I would avoid some shops because I was 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 the same, and while often people feel that their shyness stands in the way of realizing 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 felt shy at some point in life. And 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 up- and downsides 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 of 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?

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  1. In terms of being unhappy with Zimbardo's approach to shyness, you could try the book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain. Disclaimer: I haven't actually read it, but I've heard some good things, and it takes the viewpoint that the contributions of introverts are actually undervalued.

    I don't think I've commented before, but I love your blog and I find it really interesting to read about how you're bringing up your children multilingually!

  2. Hi Nathalie,

    thanks for your kind words. I will definitely check out the book you suggested. I really don't like treating shy people as if there was something wrong with them. There isn't. Maybe the book will have a different approach to shyness? I have a few books I want to order so I'll get this one as well. Besides, very nice to meet a fellow blogger in the Netherlands! I hope you will stop by again. And watch out for that kroketten addiction...:D

  3. Oh, shyness. I'm a shy person dressed up as an extrovert. I struggle in many social situations - I suck at small talk, tend to stay talking to the same person at parties and it took me two years to work up the courage to knock on the neighbours' doors if I needed to collect a package.

    However, you wouldn't know it to look at me. Once I'm in my comfort-zone (or online, for some reason) I'm fine.

    Answering the question though, I think I've become more shy since moving to the Netherlands. But I honestly think that has more to do with language than anything. I'm much better now that I speak Dutch.

    1. Hi, Nerissa! Thanks for your comment! I'm sometimes just the same- both in the shy moments (I also usually pick one person to talk to at parties), and in my ability to not let my shyness show. And we also both hate crowds! Yes, language is a big thing when it comes to shyness...but maybe that's yet another reason to learn it?Also, some things need time, and the way changes like moving to a new country can affect people are different...


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