“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”
I envy, almost admire, extroverts. The ones who can walk into a room, flash a smile, become the center of attention, and win hearts, smiles or phone numbers. I admit, I might be drawing a stereotypical picture of extroversion here, but, from this side — it’s what I was taught to believe in. In a room full of people, I’ve always preferred corners. Few people venture there. And those who do, either by accident or without intention, never stay long enough. Anyone sticking around for more than 5 minutes, would probably, want to have a meaningful conversation.
“Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.”
Somehow, introversion has been perceived to be a highly infectious disease that needs immediate curing. Even if, it is never fatal. If it were, I’d have surely known. Only known causes of death, as measured on social networking sites, would be of an active social life. For as long as I remember, in school, or college; there was a strong resistance to stick to this side of the fence. Now, it does take a lot of courage for an introvert to fake being an extrovert. During my early blogging days, and probably even now, I sometimes leave the most ridiculous/weird comments. I’m not surprised, by the reactions I get in return. But, it’s not rocket science. It’s how I made my presentations in college, made friends, and won pitches during my work days. The problem is that, at some point, you will realize that it isn’t who you are. And that can be quite a problem.
On my last visit, during my two month sojourn in Seoul, I found myself being drawn out of my shell, prodded, and perhaps even poked, into meeting new people or connecting with old friends. At times, I wondered if the use of my energy would lead anywhere at all. I also knew: it’s wiser to succumb then resist. So, if you’re an introvert/closet writer/connoisseur of the arts/doer of nothing of great consequence (with/without a working spouse) in Seoul or any place other than home; here’s what you could do — without necessarily joining the expat bandwagon or country specific embassy programmes. I’d have to add, there will be no place like your work desk, a blank sheet of paper, and the right playlist. That’s if, you’re into that kind of stuff.
Get back to Social Networking
I’ve had a longstanding love and hate relationship with popular social networking sites. Probably because, I could never keep up with its pace and I always felt I was falling short of an ideal life. I don’t mope the whole day, but I don’t think I could perennially fake happiness. Or maybe, because I began to feel less content with my own life. After a long dry spell of a year, I logged in. Fortunately (eerily), they never really delete your account. I reconnected with Basil’s ex-Korean colleague and good friend, YJ and her Italian husband, Vito. To our luck, they were spending some time in Seoul and were more than happy to meet us and even help us get orientated. We hiked along the fortress wall, explored local markets, and volunteered together.
Volunteer with Local Organisations
Itaewon is a hub for tourists, expats, or anyone in Seoul — who wants to live like a foreigner. The Itaewon Global Village Centre is a pretty good place to get started. You could learn Korean, volunteer, or learn about Korean culture and traditions. The centre offers orientation programmes for expats or tourists looking to stay for an extended period. Vito and I volunteered for a conversational English class at the senior community centre. Non-native English speakers (a term I learned on my many trips to east Asia) were welcome to participate. Our co-volunteers represented Singapore, Columbia, and America.
I was assigned to an elderly man in his seventies and a rather shy, nervous woman in her sixties. I addressed them, after asking them, as Kim yuosa (Ms) and Chang seonsaengnim (teacher). We had a list of 15 odd (bordering weird and strangely inappropriate) questions on which we could speak on. But, we were also forewarned that they might want to know about our native country. Now, on most occasions, whenever I say ‘India’, I must summon some kind of pre-existent delusion of an exotic country — perpetuated by — popular tourism portals, film, or news agencies. Seonsaeng was pleasantly happy. Although, he was mildly envious that I could speak English. “At what age did you learn English?” he quizzed. Before I could reply, “Do all of you know English?”. He had visited India and that meant, I hadn’t dodged a bullet, I was directly in the range of crossfire. I started with a map, tried to explain the economic, political, physical, linguistic, and religious diversity. I drew parallels with Korea and I knew, I had won them over. Kim yuosa wanted to get back to the paper. We answered questions on are we introverts (ironic), selfish, what makes us happy and sad. Quite obviously, we spoke about travel. The three of us were well travelled. Kim yuosa said she was envious that I had visited so many countries and mildly shocked that I (unlike Basil) hadn’t visited America. One hour passed quickly enough and I must say I did have a good time.
Repeat Step 1
Jihyun, Basil’s Korean ex-colleague, was spending time in Seoul before her next international stint. Jihyun is full of life and a bundle of positive energy. I don’t think it’s possible to think of any existential issues around her. Usually, I’m not one to pose and most of my snaps are clicked when I’m lost in thought. But, Jihyun knows how to show you how to have some fun. She taught me some popular Korean photo gestures such as: the peace sign (taught by her father), I’m like a flower, and I’m caressing my cheek.
We forced a rather reluctant Basil to pose with me — making cute heart shapes. In the background, canola flowers (Hangang Seoraeseom Canola Festival) devoured the green landscape, and created a surreal setting for our carefree summer abandon.
Shelley (travel-stained) had invited me to meet her much before I visited Seoul. Here’s the thing, not only am I introverted, I’ve never met anyone through the internet. So when I did visit Seoul last year, I didn’t get in touch with her. Not to be let down easily, Shelley persisted and invited me once again. I knew I had to meet her this time. And I’m so glad I did! On a warm Friday afternoon, I travelled across the city, almost got lost changing subway lines, braved a mild panic attack, and finally made it to the designated meeting spot. A closet introvert herself, she made me feel right at home, gave me survival tips, introduced me to her sister-in-law (my long lost soul sister) Bora, adorable baby Naia, hubby Agri, parents and extended friends. I remember saying how ‘sorted’ she is. It was heartening to have someone who understands you and can give you the right advice when you’re facing teething issues with adjusting to a new place.
Do the Touristy Stuff
Seoul Global Culture Center at Myeongdong offers many cultural workshops. I was advised (mildly badgered) into meeting more people. So, I enrolled for fan painting and calligraphy class. On my second class, I met Alice, a young French law student who was visiting seoul. What do two introverts do when they meet for the first time? They make small talk on how bad their painting is. From there, Alice and I hit it off. I tried practicing my rusty / broken French and Alice was full of praise. Secretly, I think, she was homesick and was happy to have someone speak to her in French. And although, we came from very different cultures (east meets west) and countries, after the first 10 minutes, we were just two women talking about our families, travel, the men we loved, and life as an alien in a foreign country. Turns out, doesn’t really matter where you’re from, as long as you know how to make the most of the moment.
The Family and Friend Route
Turns out, almost everyone has a Korean friend. I don’t have numbers to prove this claim. You’d have to take my word for it. My brother recommended I meet a friend from his French class in Brussels. Tantricana, our crazy friend, recommended a Korean friend she met whilst studying in Australia. Woori, my Korean friend and music group mate, introduced me to an eclectic group of people (Korean and expat) last week. Virtually, I connect with Sania, my crazy art partner and soul sister, over chat. She’s shifted to Canada and is struggling between following her dream (painting) or getting back to the work force. But, if I really need to meet someone, I head to the local mandu (dumpling) shop, and practice new Korean (Talk To Me in Korean) words that I have learned so far. The couple at the counter are really sweet and have duly recognised me as one of their loyal customers.
Virtually Connect with Bloggers around the World
Culturally, we’ve been programmed, to hide our thoughts and never let the other person know what’s going in our minds. It’s perceived as a sign of weakness. And yet, when I write, it’s the only time I can be myself, get out of the box, I’ve often been shoved into, and show who I truly am. I was truly overwhelmed, by the many bloggers, who supported me and kept in touch with me remotely. Miriam (out an’ about) has been such a sweetheart, made sure she never missed a post, and took the time to always write a comment. Her comments (and blog) have been filled with positivity. Kat (Where is Kat Going?) emailed me and added me on a social networking site, to say that if I ever needed to talk to anyone, she would be there. Special mentions to Mabel, Mallee, Debbie, Sue, Divya, and Arv for being a part of the conversation. And many other bloggers who would stop by and drop in a line — THANK YOU.