Cover Image

Illustration by Isabel Ríos

Living as an Introvert Amid an Extroverted Pandemic

Although introverts may seem like the world’s best soldiers at fighting a pandemic that is fueled by human contact, they have been among the most wounded.

Aug 30, 2020

When the governments around the world first announced a lockdown, everyone around me began to freak out at the thought of having to stay home for long periods of time. As an introvert, I plead guilty to rolling my eyes at those complaints and amusing myself with how everyone was just overreacting. Time spent at home, alone, is how many introverts like myself get their energy, harness useful thoughts and produce their best work. One would think that the transition to Zoom University is just the third season of “Introverts in Wonderland,” preceded by Season 1: Social Distancing and Season 2: Quarantine. Well, the grass is always greener on the other side. Although introverts may seem like the world’s best soldiers at fighting a pandemic that is fueled by human contact, they have been among the most wounded.
The first sign of my introversion appeared when I entered kindergarten. Apparently, when my mother asked me “What did you learn today?” I answered “nothing” for an entire year. My poor mother had to bottle in her frustration and accept the mere observation of my seemingly happy face at the end of the school day as the only consolation for my refusal to open up. The only difference between myself and other students was that I kept everything I learnt and thought of locked inside my head and for several years afterwards, that did not seem to count as engagement in the classroom.
My educational experience as an introverted student was different from that of my extroverted peers in so many ways. I often felt that the only way to assert myself in a classroom was to raise my hand and say what I thought was the correct answer out loud. In fact, that was the definition of active participation in class. Otherwise, people thought I lacked valuable ideas and opinions to add to the table. Most of the time, introverted students prefer to let their work speak for themselves, but that does not always suffice.
As I transitioned to university, I was told of the importance of networking in order to secure a decent place in the ‘real world’ once I was out of my institution’s cradle of support. But I found myself less likely than my extroverted peers to use office hours or reach out to professors and build relationships with them. For me, this felt similar to making small talk in order to make an impression, or simply having to function against my nature. As an introvert, now that we are once again preparing to engage in online learning, I feel very prone to falling through the cracks of this educational system. A screen does not only separate me from my classmates and professors; it also makes me and my other introverted peers disappear and seem disengaged.
As guilty as I am of turning down an outing every once in a while to spend some quality time with my laptop or a good book, being locked behind a screen at home taking classes was, ironically, far from an ideal situation for me. Learning is not a one-man show and the myth of the lone mad scientist is anything but true. Even as an introvert, I enjoyed the company of my classmates and professors. I deeply appreciated the human presence in a classroom filled with students because it gave me a sense of connection and purpose that I felt was completely lacking in an online class. The ability to observe the facial expressions of my classmates, their vehement gestures in a heated discussion and the look of reassurance that a professor would give followed by a promise to explain that impossible concept were definitely luxuries that I missed out on in my seclusion. I used the limited time that I allowed myself with people to learn, share thoughts and ideas and make beautiful friendships. However, if that in-person time, when eye meets eye and thoughts just click, is taken away from us introverts during the pandemic, then what means of interaction do we have left?
In some ways, unmuting the mic to ask a question or answer another was far more difficult for me in an online class. I already carefully picked the times I wanted to speak in during in-person classes, so an online platform made the decision to press the ‘unmute’ button considerably harder. Contrary to popular belief, this is not an issue of anxiety, shyness, lack of confidence or even arrogance. It is simply in the nature of introverts to listen and think more than speak. Apparently, I was not alone. I know that I am not the only one who is consumed by the awkward silence that follows a professor’s question in class. I have seen it as a student and I have seen it as a volunteer virtual tutor. It looks bad and is quite frustrating on both ends.
As much as I would have loved to tell people that I have trained for quarantine and social distancing my entire life, being an introvert, I have yet to discover a way to make this training useful in a remote learning environment. I look forward to the time when introverted students will be given the chance to stay with their thoughts for a while before voicing them, while still being considered to be actively participating by their peers and educators. I realize that our teachers and professors often need a sign to know that their introverted students are engaged and focused, but there should be a way to include these students in the classroom without always having to push them far from their nature. The need to develop our educational systems so that they are more accepting of introverts’ nature is a pressing matter, especially if we are to continue with remote learning, either under this coronavirus pandemic or some other extroverted calamity. Of course, other introverted students may feel differently, but many could already have some ideas in mind that they would want to implement. Quietly of course, but by all means powerfully.
Aya Abu Ali is a contributing writer. Email her at
gazelle logo