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Is a Socialized Introvert a Happy Introvert?

Updated: Apr 16, 2023


I know why I felt more at home in Poland than in the United States. Almost a whole year has passed, but I have uncovered the answer.

While abroad, I had 2-3 roommates who were willing to talk to me on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. Within the group of API study abroad students, I could easily converse with 9 out of 11 of them—some people were more busy traveling than others––and my site director was always willing to talk as well. For travels, I was mostly on my own, except for two trips—one with my sister and a friend, another with the same sister and one of my flatmates. Those two trips were more exciting than the ones I took alone, yet the solo trips were not disappointing at all since I learned and absorbed a million nuances of life each day of those trips. I had to communicate and read in a combination of Polish and English each day to travel, buy supplies, educate myself, etc. Hand signals were also useful and creatively choreographed. To summarize, living quarters, markets, bakeries, supermarkets or convenient stores, restuarants, train compartments, bus stops and terminals, walking home at 11pm on the streets (don't worry, Poland is very safe)...even in Białowieża Forest at the border of Poland and Belarus I found something very special that has been lacking in my life a lot in the United States.

I will continue. In my classes, information was given to me in a way that made my comprehension of the material the focus, not the topic itself. It was important to my professors that I learn and think about the material in their presence—not only outside of class. In other words, attendance of the mind was also checked off in addition to the body. They wanted to help the students engage the material—not finish their lesson plan in the allotted time so that they could feel accomplished. Polish professors wanted to interact with the students in the classroom and outside the classroom. A short anecdote about this… my literature professor was on his way from class and he startled one of my flatmates and I on our way to the Galeria Krakowska Shopping Mall. He had come behind us and suddenly started talking about the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre on our right that we were gawking at while still making our way to the mall. We jumped slightly at his soft voice behind us and he apologized, but also remarked that he could not let us walk by the theatre without mentioning some of its marvellous productions.

So what does all of this have to do with experiencing homeliness in Poland? What I found in Poland was the ability to stop making internal excuses. I had to communicate without assuming that someone may not understand me or may not want to hear what I had to say. It was a do or die situation where I either faced my social anxiety or I forfeited the opportunity to interact with another person who had the potential to make the day more satisfactory. For example, if I just ask for help in the moment of need, I would not worry about the outcome for the next minute let alone the rest of the day. Or if I were to say "Chciałbym (wstaw żądany obiekt)" I could immediately get the pączek or maybe directions to a pączek shop or something else that I was looking to get. I decided whether or not people would respond a certain way before I gave them a chance to prove it.

Today I listened to Dong Seon-Chang about how we perceive other people and I realized with great grief that despite my efforts to be all inclusive in my outward gestures, my inward "gestures" are very subjective and they negatively impact the amount of socializing I may complete in a day, which is something to grieve over. How many conversations have I squashed and thrown away before they were opened up?

Despite the Poles’ generally more reserved mien, I found that they provided more fulfilling company than Americans who tend to be overly friendly. I guess we [Americans] are compensating for the misery that life can bring rather than accepting it? I have a number of presumptive theories of why conversations with the Poles were more homely. (1) Their company may be more fulfilling because their eyes were not affixed to the internet, TV, or social media; it’s very refreshing that they are not too busy to look you in the eye when talking. (2) Or maybe their thoughts are not filtered to a certain standardized idea––I'm not sure if Americans can be blamed for this, but the people behind the internet/other media can be held accountable. (3) The Poles do not greet with the chummy “Hello, how are you!!? How are you doing!!?” They may not know you and it would be outrageous to be that personable with someone that you have never met before. You do not know what a person is going through and most times this question is not meant to be answered, which can be hurtful to the addressed person in the midst of life's drawbacks. It honestly is not appropriate to greet someone this way unless you genuinely want to know how they are doing. (4) As a foreigner, you have to be bold or creative to speak their language and even more attentive in listening to their response to get what you want. Arriving at the airport departure terminal right on time could depend on your ability to pronounce a few Polish words which leaves out the possibility of "inward gestures". In all seriousness, I am exaggerating when I write that "you have to be bold or creative to speak their language" because many Poles know English and they are willing to help you out since they are well aware of the American disease that is monolingualism. For the Poles that do not know much English, thank you. I had to think fast and work up a plan to speak to you about something I needed, which challenged my "inward gestures". (5) English is used bluntly and precisely. There may be a few minor discrepancies, but I would say that Poles can speak or write it more proficiently than people in the United States are able, which is evident right here in my writing since I still have not revealed the manifestation for this blog post.

If you have not guessed it by now, which I doubt you have because this is an information spiel, I am writing about experiencing the absence of loneliness. Loneliness was something I expected to feel when I was out of the United States away from friends, family, and everyone I had ever known, but I never thought that I would have a socially fulfilled day, everyday when I was in Poland. That is something I cannot say for my life in the US on a three month basis, the same amount of time I was abroad. Loneliness is prevalent in the US. While I may be alone in my room or in my thoughts most days, I am not alone in feeling lonely*.

I will wrap this blog up with these seemingly random questions and a response. If you knew someone who smoked about a pack of cigarettes a day and wanted to stop, would you be concerned enough to act out and help them stop immediately? If you knew an alcoholic who was trying to be sober, would you be reliable as their accountability partner? Lastly, if you knew that a certain activity could double the chances of dementia in a person that you love or care for, would you let them do it?

These questions elicit an image of possible suffering through resistance, but now I want you to imagine the suffering that loneliness brings. According to research done by No Isolation ( loneliness is more fatal than smoking or an alcohol addiction and if it persists, it can double the chances of dementia in a person. These problems are expensive and they might easily be fixed if a person haunted with loneliness was instead gifted more minutes of companionship each day. It’s a fact that people with a companion are happier and healthier, are generally doing better in school or at work, and they know that they will be taken care of if something tragic happens—they are less vulnerable and they can worry less.

These are the reasons why Poland felt more like home to me. I was surrounded by strangers who were willing to communicate with me without passing judgement and I indulged in conversations without passing my own judgements of how these strangers would react. This is what happens when you step into a new world whether it be outside of the house, outside of the state, outside of the country, or in outer space. The old habit is gone because it is no longer appropriate for the environment and a new ability is formed. This is how I gave up loneliness while abroad. This is how I learned to be more satisfied in life.

*If you want to learn more about the loneliness epidemic, I recommend Karen Dolva’s TEDTalk “All the lonely people”.*

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