Introverted and Studying Abroad: Keeping Old Friends Is Difficult

“Don’t you feel lonely?” and “I am worried about you!” are two of the most common sentences my family and my friends utter when I visit home for the weekend.

I have been studying in the Netherlands for two and a half years now, but I am originally from Germany. My University is only one and a half hours away from my hometown, yet I have decided to move to the city to spare myself the commute and the cost of commute. Living in a different city from just about everybody you know is already difficult, although I’ve never had problems making friends no matter where I was. That does not mean, however, that I am very social.

I am an introvert. That means I don’t get energy from being around people, but rather I get energy from being alone.

I like being alone, but that does not mean I am lonely. I am not big on parties and I am not big on going out with people in general. I like studying and reading and sitting at home watching TV shows or movies. The only times I do go out are some weekends when I visit home.

My friends in Germany are more extroverted. They love being around people, going out and being social. It energizes them. It exhausts me. This situation has made some things difficult for us before, but never as much as it has since I have moved away. My friends have always considered me to be a little weird or simply odd, but that has never affected their love for me, or my love for them. Sometimes I do wish I were more sociable like they are, but mostly I have accepted that that is just not who I am.

Being introverted, for me, also means that I have weeks (or even months) during which I can only take very little social contact. Again, I am never lonely. If I ever do get lonely, I go home to Germany and meet up with my girls. I really don’t need anyone else. However these anti-social times, for me, also mean I am not up for texting or asking people about their lives, because holding a conversation quickly becomes exhaustive. It sounds egoistic and rude, and maybe in some way it is, but I cannot change it. I always feel bad later but I do try to make up for it – at least I like to think so.

I have had many weekends on which I’ve come home after being away for a month or longer just to find out that two of my friends have new boyfriends and all of them have met a bunch of new people. They have new inside jokes that I don’t understand and stories that are just “too long to explain right now.” It gets frustrating. It hurts.

I have had times where I felt like my friends were at fault, because they wouldn’t just text me with news. Then I remembered how bad I am at answering. I stay in the Netherlands on weekends I could spend in Germany just because I cannot take social gatherings that weekend, so I miss out on things.

I wish I could give you tips or a solution for this situation.

I am sure I am not the only one who feels like this and I am also sure I haven’t explained it properly, because sometimes it is really difficult to put into words what being introverted feels like. Few people understand it. Being sociable and seeking out others seems to be the “normal” thing. But haven’t we long established that there is no such thing as “normal”?

For now, I’ll stay the “weird” one, the other. I am going to keep making an effort to be more responsive, more reachable for those that matter to me, when I can. I am going to continue to take care of myself and not throw myself into too many situations that exhaust me or give me anxiety. It’s important to take care of yourself, and when I explain to my friends that I just need some time to take care of me, they understand.

I am lucky. I have friends who accept me.

They worry, but they accept me. Slowly, I am coming to terms with not having fun at parties, with feeling anxious in large groups of people, and with needing to stay away from people for prolonged periods of times after social gatherings. I haven’t told my friends that I am an introvert, maybe that’s important to mention. They accept me the way they are, because they have gotten used to it. I have told them that it isn’t their fault, that it is nothing personal. That is something you need to remember if you have an introverted friend: It has nothing to do with you or with how much they love and value you and your friendship!

However, the most important thing is to talk to your friends. If you are an introvert, talk to your friends and explain your feelings to them. They may not immediately understand it and maybe it will take a couple of fights to get to the point where they do understand and accept you, but sometimes that’s worth it.

I feel like nowadays we are so quick to call people out as snakes or bad friends, when the real problem is that we are not willing to put in the work.

Understanding and acceptance of people who are different needs work, especially because still too often people believe being an introvert is a choice, something you can just turn off. Trust me, if it were, I’d have long turned it off. I have tried! If you are an introvert and your friends cannot understand what that means immediately, have patience and trust in your friendship. They will come around. If you have a friend who is introverted, listen to them and believe their feelings.

My friends don’t call me anymore, because they know I don’t pick up. They text me instead, which I prefer. When they ask me to go out, but I am not up for it, we find the compromise of pre-drinks. I join them for those and then maybe even drive them to the club before I go home.

I have two friends, best friends, that don’t care how much I text or call or visit, they are always going to be there, because we’ve known each other since before birth. We will always stay together, no matter how much I screw up sometimes. But I have also lost many friends due to my inability to stay in contact and my inability to set up meetings. I’m not always the best at expressing my needs to others.

Being introverted makes it difficult to keep a large group of friends, especially when they all belong to different groups.

It gets even more difficult when you live in different cities, countries, or even continents. Don’t punish yourself, though, and don’t punish them. Be open and honest, and put in an effort whenever you can. As cheesy as it sounds: Those that matter will always stay around. Also: Don’t curse those that don’t, you haven’t stuck around either.

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Nuria Hammen

Nuria is a 22-year-old international student from Germany, currently attending school in the Netherlands. She spent a semester studying in Laredo, Texas during high school, and in January 2017, she’ll return to America to study for a semester in Pensacola, Florida. She’s a passionate world traveler with a committed desire to learning about different cultures, languages, and all of the countries that make up our world.

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