Are you introverted? It’s an extra hurdle in integrating in an outgoing society

It might just be your worst nightmare … a crowded room of people networking, chit-chatting and trading business cards. You stare down at your phone with intensity or rifle through your bag looking for something as if your life depended on it … anything to appear busy or preoccupied instead of how you actually feel — lost.
If this scenario describes you, you might be an introvert.
In Canada, introverts are the minority in a society that tends to put a higher value on extroverts —people who are outgoing, and at ease in front of groups and strangers.
Introverts, in contrast, are inner-focused observers who prefer small groups and meaningful conversation to big parties and small talk. Until they feel comfortable in a group of people or new environment, they are inclined to listen before they talk much. As a result, extroverts might view them as too quiet, reserved or even low-energy. In worst-case scenarios, introverts can be viewed as boring, rude and unapproachable.

Challenges of being introverted
Manjit Bains, a self-described introvert, knows this well. She doesn’t enjoy small talk. It simply wears her out. Indian-born Bains admits it can be challenging to put herself out there in a business culture that predominantly admires outgoing, outwardly energetic personalities.
“I describe myself as an introvert because being around people tires me out,” says the writer and filmmaker behind Surrey, B.C.-based Niko Productions. “I am very sensitive to people’s energy and expectations,” she explains. “After being with friends, I need to go off by myself and find a quiet corner where I can observe without being involved.”
But when she engages with others, she engages fully. “People love being listened to.  Maintaining this level of active energy is what tires me out,” she continues.
It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy the people she meets and conversations she has, but she fills up fast. “I enjoy them fully in the moment when we meet.  And then, I’m full.  I do not wish to connect further, unless circumstances bring us to that point. I prefer to be the proverbial ‘fly on the wall.’  Free to observe and see the bigger picture, along with the ebb and flow of life unfolding.”
All of this makes Bains, and introverts like her, keen listeners, perceptive and thoughtful. “I hear what they are saying, at a time when they’ve tuned themselves out. They are often surprised at my insight, even when I point out the words came directly from them. I simply filter out the drama because it creates sensory overload.”
In her field and many others, such traits are definitely assets, but the larger business culture in Canada puts a higher value on those who display their passion and energy in a more obvious way. As an immigrant — especially from cultures where introversion is more cultural acceptable like Japan or Nordic countries like Denmark or Finland — being an introvert is an additional barrier one must overcome to make connections in their new country and business environment.
“An introverted immigrant who doesn’t want to approach others will find it challenging to be part of society. The new kid always has to be the one to put in more of the effort,” Bains adds. “One of the challenges of being an introvert in my career is that I abhor small talk. Early on, I learned that not everyone is like me, and so I make effort to engage in the ‘How do you do?’ tradition.”
So while it might not be a natural state for introverts, it is critical for introverts to find their place in an extroverted world.

Showing your strengths
So, what’s an introverted immigrant to do in an extroverted culture?
Karen Southall Watts, an American-born immigrant and entrepreneurship expert and author, has examined the topic of introversion, especially among immigrants, as she, too, calls herself a “classic introvert.”
“Introverts learn to organize our lives so that we get quiet time each day to build up our inner strength to face the world,” Southall Wattssays. “Yet, if we move to a new country and begin a new life, all this planning can fall apart.As an immigrant who is also an introvert, you may face some real challenges. I certainly did. So, what can we do to make the process easier?”
Begin reaching out in your community, starting at your local library. “Libraries are a great place for introverts. They’re quiet, full of free information and people seldom approach you without some invitation,” Southall Watts says. “In the library you can observe your new community and learn about it without feeling pressured to socialize.”
The library also gives you access to many of the agencies or services that assist immigrants, from English classes to job training. “When you’re ready, you can contact those that interest you,” she says.
Even easier than going to the library is using the internet to “meet” people and groups. “One of the worst feelings as an introvert is walking into a room full of strangers. By reading through the websites of groups or agencies you plan to visit, and even emailing them to ask a few questions, you can lessen this feeling,” says Southall Watts. “A little online reading and communication can make it seem more like you are going to meet someone you already know.”
Connecting with anyone can be challenging, but doing so cross-culturally adds a whole other layer, so there is no harm in starting out amongst your own culture group. “Don’t feel guilty about doing some of your socializing with people from your home country. It’s not realistic to think that anyone would automatically become totally Canadian right away. Sometimes you will want to talk to others in your first language or go to an event that reminds you of home,” says Southall Watts. “The beauty of the Canadian multicultural society is that no one expects you to abandon your roots. In fact, you may find others are eager to learn about what you bring to Canada.”
Similar to finding comfort in your home culture, you can find comfort in other introverts. No, you are not alone!
“Reach out to other introvert immigrants and help each other. When you attend your first few events or classes, you will quickly see that you are not alone,” says Southall Watts. “In the back row, hoping to be invisible, may be another introvert immigrant trying to learn about their new community. Introduce yourself to him or her. Don’t try to meet everyone in the room; focus on getting to know those few who share your struggles, so you can be stronger together.”
In addition to being selective, the simplest strategy to help you in social or networking situations is to come prepared. Have an elevator speech about yourself ready that you can easily remember and share with the select people you meet. And prepare a few general conversation points about something in the news or in your industry — just avoid anything that might be too negative or controversial.
Then ask questions and listen. You don’t have to be the social butterfly at the centre of everyone’s attention; showing interest in others is one of the best ways to make a meaningful connection with others, introvert or otherwise. And isn’t that the ultimate goal anyway?

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