On being an introverted expat

Some people just seem like the type that would travel the world or move to a foreign country. I never thought that would be me, and I still don’t think that I exude that type of personality, because I see myself as an introvert.

Maybe some of you wouldn’t think of me as an introvert. That’s because once I get to know someone, I tend to get more comfortable around them, talk more, and open up. But there is no doubt in my mind that I am an introvert. Being around groups of people wears me out, and I need alone time to recharge. I do not like being the center of attention. Large crowds stress me out. Meeting new people makes me nervous. And I would rather cuddle up with Mitzy and a good book than go out to a crazy party.

My personality is full of paradoxes. Somehow, I am an adventurous introvert. One who loves to travel, yet is terrified of flying. Learning new things excites me, and I love teaching others about what I’m passionate about, but public speaking is scary. I want to learn and practice speaking Spanish, but I feel embarrassed and afraid of making mistakes when I talk to others. Despite the challenges, I am here, and for that I should be proud.

Yet sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I put myself down, doubt myself, or give myself a hard time for things that I shouldn’t. There is always something that I could be doing better. Although that is definitely true, where is the line between self-improvement and unrealistic expectations? What limits do we place on continually getting better, making more money, doing more things, learning more, pleasing more people, taking more chances? Of course, we shouldn’t just settle for something less than our best, nor should we be okay with living a mediocre life. But sometimes I feel like our society places too much pressure on being better. I have learned here that the word “ambitious” is seen as negative. In Spanish, ambition is when you aren’t happy with what you have, and are motivated by money and material things. In Spain, the focus is placed on slowing down, appreciating what you have, spending time with family, and enjoying life. And I’m trying to adapt more to that way of life because I think there’s something beautiful about it.

One of the pressures I’m continually putting on myself is how I’m learning Spanish. For example, I’ll get really frustrated when I don’t understand a song in Spanish. But then I have to remind myself that there are a ton of songs in English that I don’t understand at all. Sometimes I get frustrated because it feels like everyone speaks better Spanish than me. So I have to tell myself, okay, you’re in Spain! Of course Spaniards are going to speak better Spanish. Today I was thinking about how I wish I spoke Spanish as a first language, then I quickly realized that learning English is also difficult. And how many people here are trying to learn a language that I speak fluently? A lot! English is actually seen as “cool” here. Stores put random signs and tags in English to sell more, and it’s very popular to wear t-shirts with English words or phrases. I get a little chuckle every time I see a shirt that says something extremely vulgar or something that doesn’t make sense in English. It reminds me of that time in the 90’s in the US when it was super popular to get tattoos in Chinese and a lot of people got tattoos that didn’t exactly say what they thought it did.

Some of my best days here have been days where I pushed myself to do something I didn’t think I would like, or to push myself out of my comfort zone. When I give myself that push, even if it doesn’t go perfectly, I end up being proud of myself and glad that I took the risk. This is going to sound really stupid, but one of my proudest moments was when I ordered pizza over the phone. The first time I ordered delivery pizza, I was able to do it online and avoid my fear of messing up speaking what I wanted over the phone. But the second time I wanted to try a different restaurant and they didn’t have an option to order online. So I decided what I wanted, and mustered up a bunch of courage before dialing the number with the nervousness of a young girl calling her crush. Diego was not here to help me if the person taking my order didn’t understand me. But it went totally fine. I understood him, he understood me, and he didn’t laugh at me like my crazy brain wanted me to think. The pizza arrived just as I ordered and I ate it with so much satisfaction. Ha!

Recently, I took Mitzy to the vet because I suspected she had a UTI. Diego couldn’t come with me, so I mentally prepared and took her myself. I walked in, asked for an appointment, and the vet saw us right away. I was able to describe all of the symptoms Mitzy was having and talk to the vet about treatment and understood everything she said. Another very satisfying and rewarding moment here.

Of course there are times when I get weird looks, laughs, or a “huh?”.And you know what, it’s okay if people laugh at what you say. There are going to be miscommunications and mispronunciations. If something comes out the wrong way, just breathe and try again. I’m glad when people correct me, because it helps me to learn.

The difference between being an introvert that survives an international move and one that doesn’t is your attitude. You definitely have to have a sense of humor, some patience, and a willingness to push yourself. I have to remember that I’m here because I want to be here. This is a once in a lifetime adventure and experience for me. It’s not going to be perfect. I’m going to make mistakes. It’s definitely challenging, and it’s definitely worth it. And hey, sometimes you need to cut yourself a break, take some time alone, or get a way for a while. Appreciate how far you have come, wherever you are. As one of my favorite Post Secrets says, “all you are, right now, in this very moment, is enough.”


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Belen says:

    You are doing pretty well!! Don’t be shy in speaking, your Spanish is much better than you think.I wish we were able to speak English as you speak Spanish! As you said, attitude is key for getting to know new cultures just relax and enjoy. Big hug


  2. Robyn Shiely says:

    OMG Heidi You were reading my thoughts today. I had a similar conversation with myself wondering if I will ever believe I am enough just as I am. What does it mean to be successful anyway?…Why do I limit my belief that to measure success I use productivity, status, and money? Does that ambition come from growing up as an American? Does our culture promote competition within ourselves and with each other, creating stress and inadequate feelings, instead of acceptance and celebration of who we are as human beings? You brought up some very thought provoking points. Thank you for sharing.


    1. Thanks Robyn. You are an amazing person just the way you are! I do believe that as Americans we have too much pressure to be “successful” and we compare ourselves to others too much. Everyone is different.


  3. Mark says:

    Slowing down in life and appreciating the right now. You got that right. Thanks for the reminder.


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