‘Let’s go down and make some new friends,’ SB said, pulling on a cute, light-weight sweater and walking towards the ladder in our floor.
‘I have enough friends. You go ahead,’ I replied, pulling out my book, snuggling under the covers, and praying there were no cockroaches in the ceiling.
That conversation pretty much sums up my life as an expat and an introvert. It happened in Semuc Champay, my first year in Guatemala. SB had come for a visit. Our landlord, Vladimir the Guatemalan (?) told us of these beautiful waterfalls, ‘about two hours away. Okay, maybe three. Yes, three or four hours away. You should leave really early in the morning to avoid the banana trucks.’
It was eight hours, Vlad. Five hours up a mountain, behind a banana truck because we had to stop for water shoes at the Guatemalan version of Wal-Mart, and three hours back down the mountain on a dirt road barely wider than my car, with a rock wall on one side and death on the other. We arrived at El Ritero just in time for dinner. I was exhausted from the drive and honestly, from the catching up as we drove. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED catching up with SB. I was so glad she was there. But being social, even in a two-person setting, exhausts me. So while SB, a pretty classic example of an extrovert, wanted to go back down and make some new backpacker friends, I was perfectly content to stay in our crawl-space of a room and read and sleep.
I wanted to want to go with her. My childhood friend had flown to Guatemala to visit me. She was only there for a couple-of-three days. I wanted to go be social and hang out and meet new people from wherever they were from.
But I couldn’t. I physically couldn’t.
People are usually surprised to find out that I classify myself as an introvert, especially when they know that I am not only a world-traveling teacher, but a drama teacher at that. I am absolutely alive in my classroom- I am funny and entertaining and expressive and the life of the middle school party. Put me at an actual party, though, and I am quiet and reserved, and usually counting the moments until I can ghost.
That literally could be me.
A drama-teaching-world-traveling-expat-introvert. How do you do it, you might be asking yourself? How do you make all of those things work together?
Well first, take the drama-teaching part out. That’s what I do. It exhausts me, mentally and physically but I love it. It’s like acting for me- I become DRAMA TEACHER.
DRAMA TEACHER (enters SR, x DSC; vibrant, enthusiastic, mesmerizing): Today, my lovers of all things Broadway, we’re going to design a set! I know, I know, I can’t wait either! Prepare your minds for learning and your fingers for creating!
Or something like that. Anyway, it’s a performance- it starts about 8:00am and ends around 3:30ish. And like many actors, when the performance is over, I’m ready to go home, have a cup of tea, and just be quiet.
The drama teacher part is my job. It’s what allows me to live the life I’m living. That’s the easy part.
The rest- the moving, the making new friends, the traveling and discovering, the socializing… that’s the harder part of being an expat/introvert. So how do I do it? Like this:
- I take my time making friends. I have accepted that I make friends slowly and that people generally don’t like me when they first meet me. Case in point BNDNE (Best Next Door Neighbor Ever) just told me that when she met me at the beginning of this year, her initial thought was, ‘I’d better be careful, that bi%ch could cut me.’ Hmm. Not what you want from a first impression. But the more frustrating thing is that she’s not the first person who’s told me that. I don’t come across warm and friendly on first meetings. It’s not intentional, and in my mind I’m being as absolutely outgoing and friendly as I can… but it doesn’t work. I’ve recognized this in myself so I’ve stopped trying to force it. I let the Rugby Star take the lead, suss out new people and decide who we might want to socialize with. Or I just sit back and wait for small group activities where I can spend some time with a few people in a low-pressure (for me) situation. By the time I leave a country, I’ve usually made 1-3 friends who are FRIENDS and I will actively keep in touch with in the future. And that is more than enough.
- I’ve gotten over my FOMO (fear of missing out)… sometimes. I say no to most invitations, especially if they involve me wearing something other than active wear or pajamas and if they involve me leaving my house. But I still like to be invited. However, I understand that people don’t want to hear ‘no thanks’ all the time so they often stop asking me to do stuff. And then I feel like I’ve missed out on something. So I’ve had to work on that. I remind myself that even though whatever I missed looks fun, it’s not something I would’ve had fun doing. Maybe there were too many people, or the music was too loud, or everyone was going to be drunk. Whatever the reasons, I probably wouldn’t have had a good time, so it’s okay that I stayed home.
- I say yes sometimes, even when I don’t want to. I make myself do things that I would not normally want to do, and they usually turn out okay… within limits. I only go to brunch occasionally, and if I find out that there are more than 10 people going, I’ll stay home. I am trying to be a more active sight-seer, because I should. What’s the point of traveling the world if I’m not seeing any of it… even though I would rather stay home and read a book. I force myself to go out and do things that may not be as horrible as other things, because you do need friends and you do need to leave your house sometimes.
- When I’m feeling pressured to do something that I really don’t want to do, I use my kids as an excuse to stay home. They are the grown-up version of ‘my mom said I can’t go.’ No one can argue with wanting to spend time with your kids.
- The best way I deal with being an introvert, expat or otherwise, is to accept that it’s just who I am. I used to feel bad about not wanting to go out or missing fun parties or adventures, but I don’t anymore. It’s me and I’m okay with it. I am a good friend… once you get to know me… and I am a fun person… in the right setting… and when I find the people who can deal with that, well, that’s just a blessing for me.