Studying Abroad Alone as an Introvert: Making Friends in a New Country

Studying abroad alone may be terrifying to introverts leading to breathing into a bag

Broad City / Giphy

The idea of studying abroad alone terrifies you plenty, but something about traveling with a group of strangers is even scarier. Truth is, you’re an introvert. Maybe you’ve been a wallflower your whole life. Maybe you really just have no idea how to adult without help from your friends. And it doesn’t help that your parents have already created a packing checklist for you.

No, mom. I’m not bringing my electric toothbrush or Mr. Snuggles with me when I travel.

To make matters worse, there’s always that one friend—let’s call her Patricia—who keeps bringing up the movie Taken and doesn’t help you feel like you run the world either.

Come on, Patricia. I’m trying to muffle my fears and go on an epic adventure!

It can be hard to figure out how to make friends during study abroad as shown by a character hiding at the top of a staircase

Hey Arnold / Giphy

Even shy, nervous scholars like you desire to close the books and fly across the ocean. You want to see the world! You just simultaneously want to bring your mom and best friends as buffers in social situations. Meeting new people is not your forte. Well, not yet at least.

Ugh. Maybe Patricia had a point.

Don’t forget that study abroad is a life changer for an introvert. This is your chance to discover who you really are and perfect your people skills in the process. Believe it or not, the best way to improve your social skills is to meet strangers. Real strangers. No-mutual-friends strangers. You have no buffer. It seems scary now, but once you adjust, you’ll find that it can be a good thing.

See mom, I don’t need you to introduce me anymore.

As an introvert, you can definitely study abroad and make a ton of friends. But the nature of most wallflowers is to feel exhausted after spending a lot of time with other people. That’s okay. You’re allowed to relax and recharge on your own. Take a walk, go to a café alone, go for a run, listen to music, or Skype with mom and Mr. Snuggles. In fact, these activities (minus the last one) provide you with great conversation starters to engage other students in your program. Tell them about the cool spot you found near the river or the quidditch game you saw being played in the park.

Goodbye awkward bubble!

While you don’t want to be the foolish traveler revealing all of your plans and security info, you do want to get over your fear of making friends. Have any ideas for weekend excursions? Ask potential pals if they’d like to join. You’ll be surprised by how quickly you can make friends this way.

The scene from Step Brothers where the characters become best friends

Step Brothers / Giphy

And when you do make friends, don’t forget Patricia. Send her a postcard.

Travelers have their own secret language. It brings everyone together. When there’s a plane to catch or a mountain to climb, there’s no time for feeling awkward. Even the most deep-rooted of all introverts will get tired of silence on an 11-hour train ride from Paris to Rome.

And the best conversations are, of course, the ones in foreign accents.

There are going to be people that surprise you, scare you, make you feel like you should fake a stomach ache and head back to the hostel. But there are those others who will stick in your brain forever with the lessons they teach you, the memories you make together—and some will have foreign accents. Being nervous is natural, but don’t let it stop you from studying abroad.

This is nice.

The characters in Adventure Time looking up with misty eyes

Adventure Time / Giphy

Experiencing the Louvre for the first time, mimicking the Beatles’ Abbey Road cover, posing for pictures by the Leaning Tower of Pisa—these are memories you’ll never forget. When you’re with new people, it won’t matter how well you do or do not know them. Travel experiences bring individuals together into one wide-eyed tourist group.

Adventure time. Come on. Grab your friends. We’re going to very distant lands.

When you get home, your mom and Mr. Snuggles will still be there. Patricia will high five you for not getting abducted like Liam Neeson’s daughter. You’ll be a few adventures wiser, one introvert-shell lighter, and glad you took the leap.

About Katelyn Brush

Katelyn likes learning, good health, traveling, and pizza on Fridays. Her mixed education, composed of SUNY the College at Brockport, a semester at a community college, and one abroad at the University of Oxford, helped her earn a bachelor’s degree in English. College also gave her a few lessons in Taekwondo and sleeping in a hostel dorm with total strangers. She’s a yoga teacher, author and illustrator of the children’s book, “Signing Together: A Guide to American Sign Language for Everyone.” As a Student Caffé writer, she hopes to help you through the highs and lows of college with a laugh ... or 20.

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