Tips for Being an Introvert in an Exuberant Community

Photo: Jason Henry/Blink

By Nicole Nair | Class of 2020 at Minerva Schools

To be a Minervan = To engage with your community

You could argue that the above statement summarizes our community. Engagement is reflected in every aspect of Minerva, from active learning to Minerva Communities (also known as MiCos, the Minerva equivalent to on-campus clubs) and 10:01s (evening gatherings where we learn about students’ cultures through food). If you happen to be slightly reserved like me, this may worry you. But fear not! The statement below also happens to be true:

Introverted ≠ Disengagement

Fellow introvert, the mark of an engaged member of our community is not raising your hand a million times in class, nor is it leading every MiCo. The mark of an engaged person is that you care.

Caring Socially

Introverts are people who are fueled by quiet time — we recharge when we are alone. In fact, it’s sometimes tempting to recharge a lot. During my first year at Minerva, I often went on introversion “binges.” Some weeks, for example, I would avoid social events like the above mentioned 10:01s, spend a lot of time inside my room, or have only one conversation a day (which might have been with my roommate). Similar to how binging on food can lead to poor physical health, my introversion binges tended to weaken my social health. Extending this food metaphor, there are two unhealthy extremes an introvert can fall into: obesity (spending too much time alone), or undernourishment (spending too little time alone). Here are some tips I found helpful for striking a healthy balance during my first year at Minerva:

Find your Niche

Even if you are not a naturally extroverted leader, you can still contribute to the community. If you see a gap that you would be comfortable filling, fill it! This can take the form of washing the dirty dishes in the sink, helping your friends study, or just offering lots of hugs. Being present in your community does not require being a dynamic and eloquent leader. It requires being there when you should be.

Take Advantage of Social Media

Social media is a loophole for introverted people to keep track of everything going on in the community. By keeping updated on social media, you are less likely to miss out on the fun stuff (like impromptu excursions and free food), community concerns (like the eternally dirty kitchen), and other things happening in our community! Social media also lets you process your thoughts before posting, which is heaven for people like me.

Intentionally Say “Yes” to Social Activities

I often said no to outings because I did not want to deal with the anxiety of communicating with other people. However, this meant depriving myself of opportunities, such as getting to know my classmates. Of course, I am not insinuating that you should say yes to every social activity, because that could lead to burnout. That being said, joining an outing when you do not feel like it can be a positive, rewarding experience. Going out with people can help increase the breadth of your friendships (i.e. help you get to know members of the community that you haven’t really interacted with), as well as increase the depth of those you already have.

Make Friends with an Outgoing Person (or Two)

This tip is probably the most useful. I was lucky to have an outgoing friend who lived a few doors away and barged into my room at various times of day (and night). Sure, you might not be able to be around such a lively person 24/7, but they are amazing! You won’t have to worry about the awkward conversational vacuum that appears when you cannot think of anything to say, which is especially helpful at the beginning stages of a friendship. Additionally, it makes it easier to say yes to social activities when you have a friend who boosts your confidence to engage socially.

Study Outside Your Room

Studying was my favorite excuse for staying alone in my room. I told myself that I was at Minerva first and foremost to learn. However, studying does not have to be a solitary activity. Some people at Minerva form study groups. Even if you prefer studying alone, it is helpful to do so outside your room. You can head out to a cafe with a friend, or camp out in a common room. Even studying quietly with one other person is better than holing up in your room alone. Who knows? You may even make friends with the people who share your favorite study spot.

Caring Academically

One common assumption of active learning is that you talk a lot in class. So, I was naturally worried that I talked very little in my classes. I feared that professors would think me unprepared, disengaged, or just plain dumb. In a moment of despair toward the end of the year, I wrote an emotional response to an in-class poll saying that I was frustrated because even though I did all the readings, I still did not feel prepared to talk in class. My professor’s response was encouraging: he told me that being quiet in class does not mean you are a bad student, and there are effective ways to engage without having astronomical talk time. Here are some of them:

Talk When Necessary

When I’m making a point in class, I hate the neutral faces staring back at me ー neutral faces that my wild imagination can turn into disgusted or irritated faces at a moment’s notice. But if you have an insightful comment to make, make it! Don’t let your fear of talking become an obstacle to your engagement in class. There’s a Malay proverb that says, “Quietly, the tuber grows larger. Quietly, the iron rusts.” Both events ー the growth of the tuber and the rusting of iron ー occur quietly, meaning that quietness is not a sure sign of either growth or decay. Neither is talking a lot. What drives growth is the desire to engage and learn. It is OK to be quiet, but do not let quietness get in the way of growth. Be the tuber. Pay attention in class and grow. This means talking sometimes.

Put Your Best Effort Into Assignments

If social media is a loophole for reserved people to engage socially, then assignments are a loophole for reserved people to engage academically. You get to think through what you want to say, and revise as many times as you’d like before exposing your thoughts to other people. If you truly invest in assignments, you will deepen your understanding of course material and be more prepared to participate in class. Working hard on assignments means you care, and caring is a form of engagement!

Attend Class

This speaks for itself. If you care about class, you’ll attend class. A community is made up of a network of minds and opinions. When you attend class it shows that you value the opinions of your professors and classmates ー you have prepared for and want to participate in discussions on the topics you have read about. In other words, you express interest in being a node in the network of minds, connected to the rest of your community.

Being introverted may mean you dislike constantly drawing attention to yourself, but you can impact your community equally from center stage or from backstage. Loud and quiet notes are both needed to make a true musical masterpiece. Loud and quiet people are both needed to make a truly great community.