Would you say you’re an introvert? Would you say you’re understood? What are the biggest challenges of an introvert expat? How to address them? Can employers play a part in helping expat introverts adapt more easily?
Although introversion is not a disease, being an introvert can pose certain challenges in today’s world. These days in many situations, we see that primarily extrovert behaviours are being rewarded, such as the ability to quickly build rapport with multiple people during a networking session, expressing your emotions openly or attending many social events at work.
The ways in which introverts do all the above things is simply slightly different, not always something that is expected or considered the best way of doing things.
Below we will look into some most frequently mentioned struggles that expat introverts may face after moving to a new country, how they can try to overcome them and how employers can contribute too.
Many introverts may find frequent social events physically tiring, especially if they are bigger networking gatherings. Very often in the working environment, especially in countries like UK or the US, networking sessions which are open to anyone are something you can’t miss out on if you want to build your personal brand or business. They are also usually easier to organise than a theme-guided meetup which limits the number of people who might be interested in attending.
The same might also be true for many internal initiatives that employers launch to help their assignees feel more welcome and adapt quickly.
While it might be a great way to connect extroverts to the local community, it’s not necessarily the case for more introverted colleagues. Introverted colleagues might only go to one or two of those big events. If the expectation is to meet many people in a quick period of time, they might potentially fail.
Why is that?
One of the characteristics of introversion is that too frequent social events are simply tiring and introverts might require a proportionate amount of time to recharge their batteries afterwards. That applies even if they spend time with a group of friends and in a voluntary situation. When it comes to professional connectivity events, this might pose more pressure to be at your best, and will require some more time to recharge. One might therefore notice that introverts can be picky about the events they are attending. And they should not be penalised for that.
Tips for introverts: Although it is something that requires a significant of energy from you, it might not be wise to avoid those events at the beginning. Seize opportunities to establish yourself in the local community. Equally though, if you reeeeally feel like you have had enough and your energy levels are not as high as you would usually expect them to be – take your time to recharge. To avoid getting stuck, it might be a good idea to set yourself an estimate time that will be required for recharge after a big networking event. Thanks to this, you will avoid getting into the situation where you just keep refusing to attend everything under the sabotaging argument of ‘not having the mental energy’ to go.
Tips for employers: Acknowledge that big, generic networking events might not be the best way for some people to connect and build relationships. You will find that introverts have a tendency to speak to people for longer during such events, rather than schmooze and quickly change conversation partners to speak to as many people as possible. This likely doesn’t mean that they are unsociable. You might try to create smaller interest groups or themed events instead. They might enable those who want to attend them building slightly deeper connections.
Dealing with logistics and asking for help
Especially one type of introversion, the anxious type, might struggle with asking others for help in managing their moving logistics. As we all know, moving to another country requires a lot of paperwork, setting yourself up legally in a given country, opening a local bank account, finding a place to live, finding your affordable grocery store, hairdresser etc.
Of course, one can do it all by themselves, but realistically it will take so much time to research every single one of those things and try them all out to pick the best one. One of the most widely quoted benefits of moving abroad is the opportunity to go out of your comfort zone. Well, it can be twice as hard for someone who is a bit more anxious.
Tips for introverts: It is true that it might be less stressful and interactive to just spend hours on the Internet and try to figure things out for yourself. But think about it that way – instead of sitting by your laptop all day for the first week, you might be killing two birds on one stone through solving your problems together with other people. It’s a great time to make connections, ask people about their favourite places. You can learn more about them and see what they like during such a conversation. The topic for the conversation is already there! And another advantage is that you don’t have to do this in a big group, but can reach out to people individually.
Tips for employers: You might encounter at least two different types of employees who will be relocating from abroad. One would take things as they are, rely on others’ opinions and recommendations as well as their advice, would probably integrate quickly and start a conversation with whoever is by their side at the moment. The other one might need some more guidance, especially if they don’t have any friends in the new location. To help them out, you can create some sort of internal website or presentation which would outline the key things they need to think about when arriving to this new country. You could also include various recommendations for restaurants nearby, good deals and contacts to people who can help them with different questions. That way you spare them the time they would need to spend to look for those relevant colleagues to speak to, and you are also reducing the anxiety related to the move.
Opening up about your feelings
The fact that introverts have the tendency to show less feelings to the outside world, does not mean that they don’t have them. In fact, because of the general preference for directing emotions and thoughts inwards, their emotional life can actually be quite rich and the self-awareness may be higher.
It’s worth noting that in some countries, this kind of behaviour may be more valued. That would be in cultures which are generally classed as Neutral or Non-Expressive, such as some countries of Confucian Asia or Nordic Europe, where the emphasis is on a more non-emotional communication and not sharing feelings that openly.
In others which are more expressive, introverts might need to adjust their behaviour slightly to enable a successful adaptation. Practice makes perfect! In regions such as US or Latin America, you can expect the tendency to be more expressive and share your emotions more openly, including with your colleagues at work.
Tips for introverts: Try to observe how open people generally are about their emotions. There is a thin line in some places between sharing and oversharing. By observing what personal topics or struggles people discuss at work, you will be very quickly able to see what you could start sharing as well to start building positive relationships with others. I know that sometimes there might be a blocker in a form of “I don’t want to overload them with my problems”. In reality, being honest about what’s going on in your head and any personal struggles that may affect your work, can help your team members react to your situation adequately. If you are struggling – you should ask for help.
Tips for employers: Be aware that people who work with you might have different levels of emotional expressiveness. That awareness will be a great first step to help you be more vigilant and notice if there is anything worrying happening with the employee which you should address. Don’t over interpret either, but observe regularly.
What other struggles do you think are particularly characteristic for introverts? How would you deal with them?
This article was originally published on Project Abroad blog.
About the author:
Marta is a psychologist by education, HR professional by employment and an expat by choice, currently based in London, UK. She is combining her psychological, business and intercultural experiences to offer advice on successful living and working across cultures. You can read more about how to grow your cultural intelligence and build a successful international career, mind and life on her blog Project Abroad.
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