Saturday, October 29, 2011

Introvert Saturday: The World-Traveling Introvert

About the author: Kati Woronka defines herself as a world-traveler, an academic, a woman who loves Jesus, and an introvert who loves people. You can follow her at her blog CultureTwined and on Twitter.

I don't know how an introvert like me ever came to be a world traveler, moving to a new country every couple of months. Every move means meeting a new set of people, making new friends, going to a huge number of social events in the hopes of finding a few people to connect with. That was a fun adventure the first time, still rather exciting the second and third times. After half a decade, though, it's come to feel a little pointless. I love people and I want friends, but it costs so much energy to go out and find them.

As a Christian, I wrestle with my introversion. Part of why I took a job that sends me all around the world is to be a blessing to the people I meet and to learn from different cultures, to build bridges of respect and understanding and love in parts of the world where, sadly, those attributes have fizzled away under burdens of war and repression. So for a while I kept trying to get out and meet new people, but found myself increasingly playing the role of the freak at the party who stands at a corner and stares at everyone else, or the shy girl at the dinner table who everyone's worried about because she doesn't say a word.

More recently, I've withdrawn into a social scene that includes lots of skype, facebook, and blogging - relationships that do not depend on my geography. It sometimes feels a bit pointless, because how am I being a bridge of faith in a place where I have not one single friend?

A few things I've learned about moving to new places as an introvert who is passionate about Jesus:

- I've re-learned a lifelong lesson: I am never actually, truly alone. My relationship with Jesus is the most important one to invest in, and contrary to some misguided idea I learned somewhere along my journey through Christian communities, time spent with no one other than Jesus is not wasted.

- Online community is real. I take issue with those who scorn facebook for moving people into a virtual world rather than face-to-face interaction. Facebook and skype are how I keep in touch with friends of many years, and while it's not as fulfilling as sharing a cup of coffee with someone, they can be great tools for long-term investment in people. I joined a blogging community, Imperfect Prose (http://canvaschild.blogspot.com/), and the other writers I've met in that space have become a church in its own right.

- Never underestimate the ministry that is relationships with colleagues. When I've had a strong church community, it's been easy to focus on friendships at church and maintain superficial-at-best connections with co-workers. But while I rarely stay somewhere long enough to build inroads at a local church, I go to an office every day that I'm posted somewhere. Colleagues become friends. I've worked with some amazing people who I would never have met if not for being thrown into an office together, and I try to love them as Jesus loves them.

- I can't keep up this job forever. Moving around has become an excuse to avoid anything that is socially uncomfortable (that's a lot for an introvert like me!). So it's time for me to plop myself down somewhere for as long as it takes to make some face-to-face long-term friends, while hopefully still finding the energy to spend time online with friends around the world.