6 WAYS AS AN INTROVERT TO MAKE THE MOST OF ORIENTATION WEEK IN SPAIN

Authored by:
Jacina S.

Jacina S.

With CIEE’s orientation week, all of us auxiliares (auxes) hit the ground running from the moment we arrived in Spain.

There were hardly any moments to breathe. We found ourselves endlessly busy with information sessions, orientation group meetings, getting to know Madrid, working on completing paperwork, making new friends, finding places to live, and just enjoying the city and what it has to offer.

As an introvert, all of this quickly became exhausting. I didn't want to miss out on this week and all of its opportunities and various social events. Yet, I also needed time alone to re-energize and recenter myself.

That first week, I felt like I was constantly having to choose between taking care of myself and trying to create a life in Madrid. 

As I reflect on my experience, there are six things that I would recommend to any introvert hoping to find that balance between taking care of yourself & staying involved during orientation week. 

But first, if you're reading this, you likely haven’t done this program, so let’s briefly look at what orientation week is.

Orientation Week: What to Expect

The purpose of orientation week is to help new auxes get acquainted with Madrid, receive necessary information, meet people, and start some of the paperwork they'll need to complete. 

It’s a whirlwind of a week.

Monday: 

Travel day! 

My bittersweet goodbye photo to San Diego
as I started my journey to Spain!

People who arrived in the morning were transported by buses provided by CIEE to the hotel that we would be at for the week.

Others of us, including myself, arrived later in the day (that’s when we found the cheapest flights!). Instead of a bus, we had the chance to learn a bit about transporting ourselves around Madrid by either using a taxi or uber (or similar service) or the cercanías (trains that are typically nicer and longer-distance than the metro). 

All of us, once we arrived at the hotel, received a welcome packet with information about orientation week, a hotel key, and a roommate.

Some of us specified ahead of time that we’d like to room with a specific person, while others decided to let CIEE randomly assign them a roommate. 

Tuesday Morning: 

We met for a few hours in the morning for a presentation about paperwork, health insurance, etc. This was also a chance for us to meet some of the other participants and get to see more of the Madrid CIEE team that would be here to help us throughout the year.

Tuesday Afternoon - Thursday: 

Starting Tuesday afternoon up through the end of Thursday, we met with our assigned small groups. CIEE tried to make these groups based on who would be teaching in schools that were in the same area.

My Orientation Group (minus our leader)!

The groups were made up of about 10 new auxes with a leader who was starting their 2nd year as an aux. The leaders helped their groups learn the metro system, showed them through the city, guided them in filling out paperwork, helped them get their phones setup, and answered questions.

Then, there was a night of watching flamenco dancing, a night of tapas, and a night with a goodbye cocktail.

Friday Morning and Forever Thereafter: 

We were on our own. While we had the hotel until Monday morning and CIEE was still available to help with questions and problems, the organized guidance was now over. 

In the span of just a few days, we had moved to a new country, learned to navigate ourselves in Madrid, received all of the organized guidance that we would be given for the year, and experienced all of our prime opportunities for meeting other auxes. It felt like the most important elements needed to create a strong foundation for the year were packed into three days. 

If I could go back in time, I'd give myself six pieces of advice for how to make the most of these days.

6 Ways to Make the Most of Orientation Week

After living through orientation week and the 2 months since then, I’ve narrowed in on six things that I'd recommend other introverts do to make the most of their orientation week.

1. Find some quality alone time

You're an introvert. You will die if you live this entire week and never find that solitude. Okay, well maybe not diiiiie, but your first week will be harder than it needs to be.

This first week is so packed, and I felt pressured to be with people all. the. time. Any time I did make time for myself was only by saying no to other invites or by waking up early in the morning. 

I really wouldn’t recommend saying no to many social things that week, so if I did it again, I’d tell myself to wake up a half hour earlier every day, do a short meditation and then find a corner in the breakfast area, grab a cup of coffee, put on my large, don’t-talk-to-me-right-now headphones and do some journaling before others were awake.

Maybe the way you find alone time will be different, but finding this alone time is crucial for us introverts to be in a healthy, grounded place.

2. Don't go with the flow

The flow is led by extroverts. It's a trap. Don't follow it. 

I mean, be open to new experiences and try not to get stressed out when things go wrong. But, don't just go with the flow of events, activities, socializing, etc.

Decide when the flow works for you and when it doesn't. Be intentional about what you do this week. Don't be afraid to do something alone or something different from the crowd.

Yes, you'll miss out on some things. But, by following your intuition, you'll also find and experience things that others don't!

3. Be intentional about connecting with others

There are SO many people to meet during orientation week. There were about 160 of us during my week and most of us did not come close to meeting everyone. 

I ran into an auxiliar a month after orientation in the bank. We found out we were from the same orientation week. Neither of us even recognized each other. 

A significant part of orientation week is meeting people, and, to make the most of the week, you’ll want to be intentional about the connections you do make.

Flamenco night. This picture shows about 1/3 of the group
for the week. I recognize almost none of them.

A. Get Contact Info During 1st Interaction: 

If you have a conversation with someone and think they’d be interesting to get to know, exchange contact information right then. 

You won’t click with everyone, so when you find those possible connections, don't let them pass you by! 

Once you get that contact info try to connect with them that week or weekend. Things start getting really crazy and unpredictable the second week due to apartment hunting. So, if you have the energy, take advantage of this first week and plan some hangouts.

B. Do Things With People Outside of Your “Main” Groups: 

Due to the way orientation was structured, I found myself mainly in a couple of groups and spent most of my time that week with them. I soon realized though that there were people outside of those groups who I also would love to get to know as well. 

I made the choice a couple of times to step away from the big groups and do something smaller and more low-key with just a few people. Those people are some of my favorite connections to date. So, don't be afraid to take some steps aside and do smaller things with people you haven't spent a lot of time with yet, even if you'll be missing out on something else.

This week is full of choices. And, with every choice you make, you will always be missing out on something else.

Instead of making your choices based on what you're afraid of missing out on, make your choices based on what you most want to do.

4. Be yourself (I know, I know, this is so overdone)

The fear of being alone in a new country is a very real thing. My biggest fear coming into this experience was not making friends and ending up alone.

I've never been the person to make connections with lots of people, nor do I thrive in large group settings, nor do I make friends quickly. Socializing takes a lot of energy out of me, so I really reserve who I give that energy to carefully. 

I was very aware heading into this experience that those qualities might sabotage my connection-making abilities. I tried for a few days to tap into the side of me that could enjoy large groups and connect with lots of people. After a few days of it, though, I realized I was sacrificing myself to do it. 

I started focusing instead on smaller groups, closer connections, and stopped making decisions based on my fear of missing out and how I thought I "should" socially be.

In the end those qualities I feared about myself didn't hurt my ability to connect with people. It was by embracing those exact qualities that I've been able to make connections with people I do really enjoy being with and in a way that aligns with me.

Orientation week was another reminder to myself that when I embrace where I am in life, who I am, and what I want, I’m far more likely to find those of like minds. 

Some of us thrive in those large groups, others of us don't. What's important is remembering who you are and trusting in yourself. 

Don't make your decisions this week based on fear. Don't worry about whether you'll find your people. They’re there. They're there for all of us somewhere (even if not from CIEE).

None of us are really that unique.

5.  Pace yourself

There have certainly been some sprinting aspects to setting up our lives in Spain. Overall though, this journey is a marathon. Take baby steps. 

I watched so many people try to rush through everything. It seemed to make the experience harder and less enjoyable for them. It can be really hard, though, to slow down.

Pacing yourself requires trust in the universe that things will eventually work out, letting go of control of the things you can’t control, and trust in yourself that no matter what happens, you’ll be able to handle it.

I think especially as introverts, it's important to remember that a lot of what we have to do when we first move abroad requires social energy. You may need to pace yourself more (or differently) than the extroverts around you.

Make the most of this first week (and the next ones) by pacing yourself, taking breaks, and enjoying this new city and country you just moved to.

Note: If you really want extra time to pace yourself and get set up, I’d highly encourage you to look into the immersion program. You can find information about the 2-week immersion program here and the 4-week immersion program here. And a couple of blog posts about the experience are here and here.

6.  This is only one week

Before I moved to Spain and during that first week, I felt like my entire year would be based on how Orientation week went for me. It's not. My life today, two months later, is minimally affected by my first week in Spain.

The people I hang out with, the activities I do, and how I navigate my day-to-day life in Madrid are all things that have largely been formed by experiences and choices I made after that first week. 

I'm also still actively making choices and chasing experiences that will continue to change my life throughout this year. 

I love my life in Madrid. That first week is just one week. How great your year will be isn't going to be determined by it. So, breathe.

Some people do find they create the foundation of their Madrid life that first week, but that wasn't my story. So, I want to reassure you that if you do get to the end of your first week and feel like you don't have a solid foundation to your new life in Madrid, it's okay. It means your journey will look different and you'll find those opportunities to create your life from places beyond CIEE, which can be a beautiful experience in itself.

My Last Piece of Advice

I imagine most of us reached the end of orientation week thinking we could have done things differently to make the most of that week. 

Beauty exists in journeys that are filled with mistakes and discoveries. These journeys are opportunities to learn new things about ourselves, reflect on how far we’ve already come, and decide on things we’d like to work on going forward.

Retiro Park, Madrid

So, my last piece of advice for making the most of orientation week: reflect on it afterwards, what did you learn, what would you do differently, what discoveries did you make, and how will those lessons change you and your life going forward?

 

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