Monday, November 17, 2014

Extrovert vs. Introvert expat experience

Lately I've been longing for all things back home.  It's going to be Christmas and I miss my family.  I miss my friends.  I miss America.  This feeling of homesickness has been so strong that a couple of times I found myself fighting tears while sitting in lectures.  It's weird.  Why now?  I'm well into my eighth year as an expat.  I'm not even sure I remember what living in America is like.  

Someone posted an article about introverts on Facebook and I realized my expat experience is different from other people's because I am an introvert.  I don't like parties, crowds or lots of noise and activity.  You'd find me happier doing solo activities like reading or running or walking my dog.  I really like people, don't get me wrong. I find them interesting and amazing but I have a finite amount of social energy.  If I don't know someone well then being around them is draining and a little anxiety inducing.  My family and people that I've known for years have the opposite affect.  Being with them is relaxing and fun.  I start to get stressed out and worn down if I'm always expending social energy and never recharging it.

My problem is that my social energy doesn't get a proper recharge in Germany.  Expats are always moving and we're always moving.  I haven't gotten the chance to build the kind of strong friendships I have back home.  There are a handful of people in Germany who I can say really got to know me but of course they moved or I moved so those people aren't in my life except via social media.  The longest I've ever been friends with anyone is four years but it's usually much less than that.

By the time I got to Berlin I'd probably cycled through at least six times of making all new friends for various reasons and I was socially exhausted.  I put myself through the motions but my heart wasn't in it anymore.  I didn't feel like telling people I buzzed my hair in high school (that ended up being a traumatic social experiment) or that I like dogs.  What was the point when we'd be moving in a couple years anyway?  I was tired of the the whole thing.  All of my social energy was being expended dealing with the neighbors, hanging out with my inlaws and taking on toddler tantrums.  I have nothing left over to put forth building the friendships that will give me energy instead of take it. 

An extroverted person would probably fare much better being an expat.  Extroverts thrives on being around people and are happy to constantly make new friends.  They like to be where the excitement is, a face in the crowd.  A lot of my expat friends are extroverts.  They're easy to talk to, easy to get along with and they have a social calender that makes me tired just thinking about it.  These kinds of people who are charismatic and sociable.  They form friendship groups and always go places together.  If you are an extrovert expat I envy you.  It sounds super fun.

Right now I'm craving stability.  I don't want temporary homes, temporary friends or temporary circumstances.  I am even starting to hate my IKEA furniture.  I look at it and think that at this point I'd like something permanent, something that I truly like and not it's just-for-now.  I want to be in a place where I can put down roots, finally take a deep breath and relax without thinking about how moving again is going to factor into my five year plan. 

I've been lucky to work in Germany and now to be able to go to school.  I'm grateful I've gotten the chance to carve out a life and not just be a trailing spouse.  There hasn't ever been a time when I wasn't able to pursue one goal or another.  But living in Germany at all costs has never been my dream.  I love this country but there are other things I want more than to live here.  I was professional success in my chosen field and I want to be a part of effecting social changes in the US.  It's something I've always felt strongly about and it's impossible to do while I live in Germany.  My identity is strongly wrapped up in the work I do and without that my life would feel diminished.

My theory professor was giving a lecture on Parsons yesterday and he talked about how individuals leave their parents and friends to go into the world and make their own lives.  The theory says that when we leave those people we retain the abstract values that they have given us.  This is very true for me.  I lost a lot of people but I kept the value, the truths that they taught me.  I can't stay in Germany and ignore my convictions.  If I'm ever going to effect any kind of social change I have to go back to my own country.  In addition I'm really really tired of the only constant in my life being change.


P.S. 16 year old me with no hair, I thought I was so hardcore with my inverted rosary (maybe now would be a good time to apologize to Catholics?)  Sorry for defacing your religious artifact to seem cool, guys.


  1. Interesting post. Whenever I do those intervert/extervert quizzes I normally get introvert but it's always really close. So I guess I'm introverted but not extremely! I am very social and enjoy meeting people and doing stuff but I also need time to just recharge by batteries afterwards. I think being an introvert hasn't been good for learning German as I often just stay quiet when I don't know the right German words/phrase whereas an extraverted person would just say it anyway.

    Being an expat does mean people constantly coming in and out of your life and I also find it exhausting and just want to get past the small talk phase and get to the stage where you know each other really well and can just be yourself.

    1. So true! Probably a lot of personality factors play into it but I have been noticing the introvert/extrovert more the longer I live in Germany.

  2. I've never technically been an expat. Spending a year and a half as a missionary in Canada doesn't qualify me, I don't think. But I definitely understand what you're saying and can relate, even here at home. Being around new people IS exhausting. People are great and wonderful and I love them, but it really is just so trying.

  3. The 'temporary life' of being an expat was what finally got me to give it up. As much as I loved living in Europe, I needed to feel grounded somewhere, have solid ground under my feet for a change. So I've been back in the States for eight months and I'm still waiting for the stability! ;) x

  4. Introvert? Sara, you are a highly sensitive person (HSP) par excellence.
    Welcome to the club!