An introvert’s guide to studying abroad and how I overcame challenges in Japan

BA Japanese student Rebecca addresses the fears she had about studying abroad and how she overcame them while in Tokyo. 

Studying abroad during your degree can be a fantastic opportunity for any student, but it can also be daunting and anxiety-inducing if you're more on the introverted side. Even though I had been excitedly anticipating my year abroad, it definitely came with some challenges. Here are those challenges, how I overcame them and what I learnt during the process.

Help! I have to make new friends

Before I left for my year abroad, I often heard how important it is to make friends in your new country, and if you’re an introvert like me, that can be a scary concept. I’m someone who is happy with three to four close friends who share my interests and who I can truly trust, and I had to leave them behind in the UK. 

It’s okay to go at your own pace and comfort level, go to events that you’re interested in without the pressure of making friends and just focus on having fun and enjoying your new country.

Thankfully, it did work out for me. I talk to my friends online all the time, and while I am enjoying my own company in Tokyo, I ended up making friends here after all! Tokyo is the perfect city for introverted people, and spending time alone here is very common, but each time I went to a concert or an event alone, I always ended up making a new Japanese friend. 

Two pictures of Rebecca's time in Japan, featuring tea-drinking ceremony and cat toys.
Tea ceremony class and matching Tokyo Disney character keychains with a friend.

My advice? It’s okay to go at your own pace and comfort level, go to events that you’re interested in without the pressure of making friends and just focus on having fun and enjoying your new country.

I’m too shy to ask for help

Since there were other SOAS students travelling to the same country and attending the same university as me, we had group chats to ask for advice or share information. I felt a lot less troubled knowing that other people were in the same situation as me and that I could also help them in return. There’s also a lot of information available online from past students who have gone through the same things or even just on official websites and how-to guides. 

My Japanese language skills improved so much just by trying to solve problems relating to banking, insurance, or even concert ticket lotteries. I still get anxious when I go to the post office or have to message a seller on Mercari in Japanese, but generally, everyone understands I’m trying my best with the language, and I’ve always found people willing to help when I’m not sure how to do something.

Everything is different and new

I loved my study routines at SOAS; I knew exactly where my favourite study spots were and at which times of the day each was best. I had my favourite cafes for my morning coffee and spots to grab a cheap lunch between classes. 

Rebecca at a school culture festival and a traditional Japanese garden
Rebecca at Waseda Sai, a school culture festival and Higo Hosokawa Garden, a traditional Japanese garden with decorations for winter illuminations.

Starting at Waseda, I had to find all of this again, and sometimes it was difficult not to miss my old routines. But after a couple of months of settling in, I now really love my life here. I know the places I can go when I’m feeling stressed or have to focus, the coffee I grab from the vending machine when I’m running late, and my favourite spots to eat lunch on campus. I know when I’m back at SOAS, I’ll be missing these routines now too. 

Overcoming your fear is worth it

So, would I recommend a study abroad for introverted people? Absolutely! The experience is completely yours to make how you want it to be. Especially if you’re choosing a country that aligns with some of your hobbies or interests, studying abroad is a fantastic way to experience new things while still being able to connect with what makes you happy. 

I’m so excited about everything coming in the second half of my study-abroad adventure.

Header image credit: Mongkol Chuewong via Shutterstock.

About the author

Rebecca Clarke is a third-year BA Japanese student currently studying abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. She loves figure skating, K-pop and collecting tiny things she doesn't need from gachapon machines.