The Reluctant Extrovert

“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.” 

Susan Cain

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.”

Susan Cain
Marley and Me- Ward's Lake, Shillong.

Marley and Me – Ward’s Lake, Shillong.

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

Views of Spring – Bugaksan Fortress Wall

Exploring Old Markets – Gwangjang Market

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

Signboard – Itaewon

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.

A Picture of Calm

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.

Trying to be Cute. Failing badly, without matching outfits.

5

Behind the Drama

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.

Meet Bloggers 

If ever, a state should be named after Basil, Basilur it would be.

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

Traditional Korean Fan Painting

11

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.

40 responses to “The Reluctant Extrovert

  1. What a lovely reflective post Cheryl. And I was so surprised to find my name at the end, thanks for the mention and your kind words. Your travels and your writing have always drawn me here and I’m so grateful. From one introvert (who tries to come out but is still fundamentally a quiet soul) to another, happy blogging and keep enjoying. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Miriam. I had written this post two months back. But, I’ve been so busy with the move and getting adjusted to my new laptop that I have long delayed posting. I did mean every word I said about you. I do look forward to your comments and try to keep up with your posts. I used to be skeptical of blogging. But, I’m a convert now. 🙂 I’m happy to ‘virtually’ connect with people who are similar. 🙂

  2. Reading this post was like getting a glimpse into my own heart. Fellow introvert who self-inflicts painful people encounters and ultimately winds up enjoying it 🙂 Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. It’s always nice to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. Looks like your trip to Korea will remain forever etched in your mind and heart. Lovely post and so very interesting!

  4. I love the Susan Cain quote at the top which fits me just perfectly and have copied it into my notebook! An interesting post, Cheryl. I am rather ‘late to the party’ with your blog but always enjoy reading.

  5. Growing comfortable with whoever you are is a good start but I’ve discovered something else. Being an introvert, I lavish days where I don’t speak to anyone but my current novel’s characters. Recently, I was at a party where half the guests were also writers and have never felt so at ease. my discovery — find like minds!

    • Perfectly said! I have truly begun to enjoy my solitude in Seoul. It’s nice when I really haven’t to speak to people, primarily because, I cannot speak Korean. I need to get back to the first draft of a book I wrote two years back. This was much before I created the blog for a diversion. I have considered joining a writer’s meet-up in Seoul. Or maybe, I’ll take it as it comes. 🙂

  6. Hello! Hey this is very interesting Cheryl! Something that I could relate into.I love how poetic it sounds and yet that Susan Cain’s quote hits the ace . You are one of the “few”special bloggers here that I met that always remain in my circle..I may not be constantly commenting on your posts or posting daily but sure thing I am touch by your writing every time I visit! I think if you are totally in tune with your inner self then that’s the only time you can be able to reach out and extend yourself to others.I wish you more inner peace & Thank you for sharing this piece that helps me get to know you better.
    Greetings from Germany !X

    • Hi Christina! So good to hear from you after such a long time. 🙂 Have you left Kuwait for good? I did quite enjoy your posts on the local culture and food. Thank you so much for your positive words. And you say it very well, ” I think if you are totally in tune with your inner self then that’s the only time you can be able to reach out and extend yourself to others.” Sometimes, I wonder if I’m sharing too much about myself. 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Have a great weekend!

      • Hello Cheryl..yes, we left Kw and moved here in De. We are just settling in, still getting to know of the new place & neighborhood and I’m learning the language 🙂 Big changes but I’m still the same soul.
        Hope your days have been full of positive vibes as I could see it from your writings.
        See you around 🙂

      • Ah! We share much in common. I know I will have to start learning Korean soon. 🙂 Have a great week and all the best with your new life!

  7. It’s funny how many of us are introverts, isn’t it? In our blogs we can retreat into our worlds, solitary or otherwise, and then pop up again when we feel like it. I always feel cheated in a day if I don’t get at least some ‘alone’ time. Yet, at the same time, human interaction is still very important to us. We just prefer to avoid being the ‘life of the party’.
    Lovely whimsical flower shots – well done as usual!

    • I know! I was pleasantly surprised by the response! I must have a gift for picking introverts. How have you been, Debbie? Thanks for the last line! 🙂

      • I’ve been spending a mellow time at home and making plans for some little jaunts next month and in September. I know I haven’t posted in awhile. This is my lazy time of the year. I hope you are keeping well.

      • I know that feeling. I’m trying to get Basil to help me plan a trip somewhere. 🙂 September is a good month. At the moment, there’s a wave of humidity in Seoul. Things are well otherwise. 🙂

  8. You’re welcome, Cheryl, I didn’t expect to be mentioned here hahah…I chuckled to myself when I saw those photos of peace signs, heart shapes and matching shirts (oh yeah, I have seen so many of such couples!). Eventually you will get into the rhythm of things over there. Good luck and do keep in touch, anytime! 🙂

  9. Great post 🙂 Fellow introvert here – I really enjoyed Susan Cain’s book as well. It really is about finding that balance between knowing yourself and inching out of our comfort zones. Thankfully, travel is great for that 😉

    • Wow! So many of us (travellers/bloggers) are introverts! You couldn’t have said it better, Kendra. Travel is a great way to explore our dormant personalities. 🙂

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