Living Abroad: What Is It Like When You’re An Introvert Or HSP?

Posted on 26. Oct, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration

Random question that recently crossed my mind: what is it like to live abroad when you’re an introvert or a HSP (highly sensitive person)?

Consider, for a moment, three top items on your average expat’s to-do list: making new friends, building new networks from zero and practicing your language skills on unsuspecting locals.

These prospects can strike fear in the hearts of even reasonably extroverted folks. So what must it feel like when you‚Äôre an introvert and ‚Äúputting yourself out there‚ÄĚ is not, shall we say, your favourite pastime? Talk about uncomfortable!

On the flip side, do introverts, being more inward-oriented, cope better with the loneliness of the first few months? Is it welcomed as ‚Äúme-time‚ÄĚ and a needed respite from the whole meeting-new-people thing, or is it still hard and, well, lonely?

So many questions!

White wall and silence...

And then there is high sensitivity. As we can all attest, your senses work overtime when you live in a foreign country. Expatriation is a jolt for the senses, what with all the unfamiliar sensations that surround you everywhere you go.

But what do you do if your senses are triggered more easily and more intensely than those of your average person? What happens when, say, you’re very sensitive to noise, and your company sends you to a Mediterranean country where drivers honk non-stop, and talking loudly is the norm?

Do the HSPs among us walk around in a quasi-constant state of sensory overwhelm?

Having said that, I can also see how HSPs are uniquely positioned to fully experience the world that surrounds us. When your senses are this finely-tuned, you can pick up on nuances that the less perceptive (or more jaded) among us would just miss.

You get glimpses of insight into the true spirit of the place. Little moments of grace, here and there. Ultimately, I believe that high sensitivity allows you to connect with your new country on a very deep level.


If you are an introvert or a HSP living overseas, I would love to hear your thoughts. Not so much because I am looking for answers to my own questions, but because I am sure that others who are in the same situation would greatly value your input and your suggestions.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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Images by Charlyn W (top) and DCvision2006 (bottom), both via Flickr Creative Commons


  1. For¬†three¬†years,¬†I¬†was¬†an¬†expat¬†living¬†in¬†Brussels,¬†and¬†I¬†loved¬†it.¬†At¬†first¬†it’s¬†overwhelming,¬†moving¬†to¬†a¬†city¬†and¬†a¬†culture¬†that¬†is¬†unknown.¬†But¬†I¬†think¬†it’s¬†as¬†perfect¬†a¬†city¬†as¬†you’ll¬†find¬†for¬†introverts–you¬†can¬†wander¬†the¬†city¬†safely,¬†pop¬†into¬†a¬†cafe¬†and¬†sit¬†alone¬†with¬†a¬†book¬†or¬†your¬†thoughts.¬†The¬†language¬†barrier¬†wasn’t¬†much¬†of¬†a¬†problem,¬†either–shopkeepers¬†switched¬†to¬†English¬†after¬†hearing¬†my¬†awful¬†French. You do meet some interesting and intriguing people from all over ¬†there, and that makes the experience worthwhile.¬†


    Comment by chehaw — October 27, 2009 @ 7:50 am

  2. […] still musing on the subject of expatriation and introversion, I happened upon this quote by Lawrence Durrell: ‚ÄúTravel can be one of the most rewarding forms […]

    Pingback by The Introspective Expat | Winning Away Expat Tips & Resources — October 28, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

  3. Hi chehaw, thanks for your comment!

    I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed your three years in Belgium! I have family roots there, and I used to love spending time in Brussels back when I was still living in France.

    Many people call Brussels boring, but I beg to differ – I find it a fascinating, truly cosmopolitan and charming city. Sure, it may be less flashy than other capital cities… and I for one like its understated charms.

    Introverts may well have a special talent for uncovering the beauty of more low-key destinations, where you get to roam the city at your own pace until it feels as comfortable as a favourite sweater…

    Comment by Emmanuelle Archer — October 29, 2009 @ 5:07 pm

  4. I’ve been an expat in Taiwan and Switzerland. I think living overseas, particularly in a country where you don’t speak the language, is very comfortable for introverts–at least, if you’re not moving there permanently and don’t feel the need to put down roots. As soon as people realize you can’t really speak to them, you’re of the hook and don’t have to worry about communicating. That sounds selfish and I guess it is…but then you can focus on your own family or your experience of the place and not worry about being perceived as unfriendly. I love going to places where I can be truly anonymous. I wouldn’t want to live my whole life that way, but every now and then it’s a relief for a change.

    The people who continue trying to talk to you regardless are usually kind and friendly sorts that even an introvert will enjoy talking to. Additionally, if you get involved in the expat community you typically make friends fast. This jumpstart is very helpful for an introvert.

    Comment by Annelise — November 2, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

  5. Hi Annelise,

    Thank you for this very interesting perspective!

    I really love what you said about being able to focus on your experience and not worry about coming across as unfriendly or having to communicate with native speakers. That sounds so liberating, and I don’t see it as particularly selfish – rather, it’s a specific set of circumstances that happens to work well for introverts, so you might as well enjoy it!

    Have a great evening,

    Comment by Emmanuelle Archer — November 2, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

  6. […] may remember that last year I was wondering about expatriation and […]

    Pingback by Being an introvert abroad | Winning Away Expat Tips & Resources — June 28, 2010 @ 5:55 am

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