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A guide to introversion in college

Silence, solitude and social anxiety

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At some point, all introverts are forced out of the turtle shells of their minds and made to live in reality. And more often than not, that time is college.

Studies have shown that one-third of the human population is introverted, so it's likely that many of you are not particularly looking forward to having to make new friends, navigate foreign buildings, and participate in all those "getting to know you" activities.

Basically, you are about to subject your comfort zone to the most violation it has ever experienced.

I know because I've been there. Before college, I was not only an introvert, but a socially sheltered introvert, having lived in the same house my entire life and graduating with the friends I made in first grade. So by the second day of orientation, I was ready to run to the familiarity of home with my tail between my legs. But through trial and error, I figured out how to cope in situations that require extroverted behavior while still remaining true to myself.

By compiling what I've learned from my own experience in college as well as some research, I've come up with some advice that will hopefully make this terrifying transition a little bit easier for the more reticent among you.

Quiet riot

First, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. There are other introverts experiencing the same anxiety, so if you can see past their fake veneer of calm — glance at the mirror if you don't know what to look for — you can brave the shark-infested waters of a new social scene together.

Also, it's important to know that extroverts on campus may be tough on you. It's not their fault; they just don't understand how we work. Extroverts get their energy from other people, by talking and exchanging ideas, so it's hard for them to get why introverts often need time alone to recharge.

"For introverts, when things are quiet, when they can think and process ideas they way they want to process them, they become full of energy," says Sharon Peters, a writer and former adjunct professor of journalism at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs who has conducted several studies on introverts in extroverted roles.

You're just wired differently, so be patient with your extroverted friends and be patient with yourself, too. You're not abnormal if it's harder for you to befriend people than it is for others. You get to pick your own friends in college, so don't be hasty to surround yourself with people because you think it's expected of you.

Furthermore, don't try to be a "yes man." People might tell you that you need to jump on every opportunity in order to have a "real college experience," but this will stretch your social stamina far too much. Get involved with a small number of clubs or teams that interest you, the events of which will keep you occupied throughout the year.

This will also help you avoid overuse of electronic communication. "We all need real, live, honest human interaction," says Peters. "Introverts are at a particularly high risk of relying on electronic engagements at the expense of the kind of actual human contact we all require."

Playing pretend

And then there's the academic life of a college introvert. Odds are that you'll end up in some sort of discussion-based seminar class wherein your prof will expect you to participate.

I would rather sacrifice my left leg (or a few participation points, more likely) than risk raising my hand and enduring whatever consequences befall me after my comment. But it's important to get used to it if you want to survive in the real world. Start small and set a quota for yourself — one comment per class, for example — and slowly work your way up. It'll get easier the more comfortable you get with the class and the people in it.

My last piece of advice has to do with the most dreaded aspect of college for introverts: group projects. Unless you're taking all your classes online, you won't be able to avoid them, so here's the way to get through it: Pretend you're an extrovert.

"Introverts have 'uniforms' that allow them to complete tasks they need to complete," says Peters. "They become very skilled at doing things that they would never do in real life."

Your natural instinct will be to stay quiet and simply observe, but you have good ideas and they need to be heard, so stick your neck out a bit and temporarily adopt a fake persona. It takes its toll on your energy supply, so you'll need plenty of solitude to recover, but if you practice in small academic settings, you'll soon be capable of fooling even your parents, and better yet, future employers.

Despite the value of being able to take on extroverted behavior, it's also important that you stay true to your natural instincts.

"Introverts need to be allowed to be what they're really good at — focusing, listening and internal processing," says Peters. "They should be allowed to feel fine about being introverted and rewarded for what they do bring to the table."

newsroom@csindy.com

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