Out of my comfort zone

Scan 11When I tell my friends that I’ve battled shyness most of my life, many of them laugh in disbelief.

I was the toddler who cried when the bus driver said hello to her and I earned the nickname of “Noddy” when I went the entire first semester of school not speaking to the teacher (I would just nod my head).  My mother often recounted the day I finally rushed home “Mummy, mummy, I SPOKE to Miss Dixon!”  “That’s nice, what did you say?”  “Yes, Miss Dixon” I said with pride.

Making friends for me was always a slow and painful exercise but was made much easier once I married a sociable extrovert.  However when we moved overseas, I suddenly found myself alone and friendless while he was at work.  My shy inner-child re-emerged.  Fortunately in most of the places we lived I found friendly fellow expats who reached out and drew me into tight and friendly expat communities.  In time, I felt comfortable enough to extend my own hand of friendship to newcomers and locals alike.

In Dubai I started hosting a weekly coffee morning for expatriate women.  For the first one there were 5 of us (all friends I had coerced to attend) but soon the group grew to 20 or more.  From time to time I had announcements to make, gulp, I was public speaking!

Looking for a portable career, I enrolled in the CELTA course to learn how to teach English as second language.  It was very intense, very hands-on, involving a lot of teaching practice.  To say I was petrified to stand in front of class of 20 Emirati college students is an understatement.  But I did it and I survived.

As a volunteer I got involved organizing the Terry Fox Run for cancer research. When I  took over as Committee Chair one of my responsibilities was to take the microphone at the starting line to thank all the volunteers.  As I looked out over a crowd of 12,000 people, my relief that we had a record turnout helped overcome my wobbly knees.

Each of these experiences was a valuable step along the road to overcoming my shyness and none would have happened if we hadn’t moved overseas.

This year I’ve been strong-armed asked to moderate a panel discussion on expat blogging at the Families in Global Transition Conference in March. Fortunately the panelists are well known to me, as (I hope) will many of the audience. Inside that little girl is quaking at the prospect, I just hope I can shut her up with cookies.🙂

19 thoughts on “Out of my comfort zone

  1. Thank you🙂 It’s why I’m so keen (I’d say passionate, but that word is done to death) to help other expat partners, because being new in town and shy is deadly combination.

  2. I never would’ve pegged you for a shy girl. If it’s any consolation, at least one of your FIGT panelists will be peeing herself in terror.🙂 (or maybe😦 )

  3. This really strikes a chord with me. I’m an introvert – my husband is the opposite. Social interaction (even one-on-one) can leave my head spinning, palms sweating and make me feel exhausted in a way physical exercise never does. But when we moved abroad, to somewhere no one knew us, I realised I had the opportunity to be whoever I chose to, unencumbered by historical context and other people’s opinions. It was very freeing and really helped me throw myself into making new friends. And of course when you speak to other expats, they can completely relate to the feeling of being “out of your depth”. All of a sudden the bar is lowered and you find yourself attempting things you never would back home.
    Becoming an expat really helped me bring direction to my social interactions. Instead of being chosen by someone else, I was approaching others.

    • You’re so right, Aisha. That lost sense of identity when we relocate can be turned into an opportunity to re-invent ourselves. I am expat, hear me roar! LOL

  4. How cool that you taught English in Dubai! I don’t think I’ve ever been overly shy, but the thought of speaking in front of 12,000 people is terrifying! Kuddos to you for not just coming out of your shell but turning it on its head!

  5. Congratulations! You’ve come a long way and have “grown” so much since your first expat experience.You are doing a superb job in helping other expats to “connect”. Well done and keep up the superb work.!

  6. Congratulations on accepting the moderating job! That is definitely a great way to overcome any remaining nerves.
    People always think I’m joking when I tell them of my excrutiating shyness as a child – I do understand their disbelief as I’m a totally different person now, mainly due to being forced into situations for work.
    The more you expand your personal comfort zone, the easier it gets to try something new.

  7. Coffee mornings or wine afternoons🙂 is the way to go in a new country! Good luck with your presentation. My father used to say: “Just pretend they’re all in their pajamas and they’ll look just like me.” It may help if you think of them as not wearing any clothes at all . . .

  8. What a wonderful, heartfelt post, Judy. You would have no way of knowing me, but we were in Baku at the same time, so these posts have been bittersweet to discover today. Coming back to the states after 10 years in Baku, has been the hardest transition of my life- much harder than going to Baku alone. The isolation you wrote about in your May 23 “Special Place” post echos the way I have felt coming to the DC area (I’m from Houston so I still feel like a fish out of water). I miss our expat ladies, the AmCham and BBG balls, the Oil Show zoo- but most of all that small group of people that became friends. Thanks for reminding me that it does get better and that moving doesn’t mean leaving behind. I need to reach out to several friends this week! Great blog, Judy! Best wishes to you.

    • It IS a small world🙂 I’m surprised we didn’t meet – expats in Baku were a very small group when we were there. If you’re in DC you should check out the Families in Global Transition Conference in March. Quite apart from the content, just the opportunity of mixing with so many current and former expats who “get it” restores my soul.

  9. Such a personalized post full of encouragement to those who are shy, introverted or afraid of speaking publicly. I don’t mind public speaking, it was part of prior jobs and I like to think of it as orchestrating a conversation. I wouldn’t have thought of you as shy, isn’t it interesting how interacting on social media allows us the opportunity to relax a bit and let glimpses of our true personalities (which we usually show to close friends and family) come out. That blogging panel discussion is going to be fun, girl! (And yes, I owe you some info and a post – duly noted)

  10. Pingback: Families in Global Transition Conference 2013: Day 1 | ExpatriateLife

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