Engage the Introvert … and Keep Them Interested

Apr 26, 2022

People describe me using these words: Loud. Talkative. Outgoing. Life of the party. Adventurous. Gregarious.

My whole life, I’ve been an extrovert. I can go to an event or travel alone and not know a soul, but by the time the event ends or I return home, I’ve made 10 new acquaintances, swapped e-mail addresses, and gained new Facebook friends. My friends, who travel with me, find it interesting that I talk to everyone—whether I know them or not—and gain insight about a region, restaurant or tourist destination, often benefiting our travel plans. My friends also know a trip to a tourist destination may take longer than normal, because I’ll chat with the ticket seller, tour guide, fellow participants, and even the gift shop attendant to find out where they live, why they choose this job or tour, what is their favorite food, and what are their hobbies.

Others, who consider themselves introverts, may view me as attention-seeking, easily distracted and unable to spend time alone. They can’t understand how I rely on external stimulation. As introverts, they’re usually shy, reticent and quiet. They aren’t comfortable with large group conversations; they’re focused more on internal thoughts, feelings and moods. Introverts are selective in who they interact with and don’t want others to intrude. They have no desire to be the center of attention, are great listeners, and get recharged by spending time alone—not with others.

As an educator and the daughter of a retired educator, I’m people-oriented, charismatic, enthusiastic, uninhibited, and energized by other people. I survive and thrive as a social butterfly. I often find it challenging to be around introverts, who seem to be aloof, introspective and missing so much of what is going on around them.

How will you, as a teacher leading a student group, engage the introverts and keep them interested? How will you let extroverts sparkle but not override the introverts’ opportunity to glow?

First and foremost: Let introverts know they’re not missing out on the true travel experience because they don’t have long, meaningful conversations with others. Because introverts are more attuned to their surroundings and better listen to the tour guide, let them share and reiterate information to the group. Extroverts, excited to take in the surroundings, often don’t pay attention or gather details. In Paris, our group visited the Eiffel Tower. The guide shared facts about when it was built, who designed it and how tall it was. When we got back on the bus, the tour guide quizzed us. Most extroverts couldn’t give accurate answers, while the observant introverts shined as they noted the Eiffel Tower was built in March 1899, designed by Gustave Eiffel and 324 meters tall.

Give introverts opportunities to try new experiences that don’t require a group effort, such as paddleboard, tai chi lessons, or an activity where a person is taught one-on-one or learning on their own. In Australia, our group learned how to surfboard while standing on the beach. Once in the water, it became an individual sport. Cathryn, a shy teenager, thrived when she managed to get on the surfboard, stand up and ride a wave for a short while. I noticed her smile as she achieved her goal. She didn’t have to worry about what the others were doing; she only had to focus on herself.

Groups often visit museums or historic sites where an audio tour is used, providing an ideal opportunity for the introvert to be with the group, yet not with the group. The introvert can meander through the museum wearing headphones and absorb the information, with no worry about engaging in meaningful conversations. In Japan, we visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Museum. It affected all students, but it was particularly insightful for introverted Daniel. He put on his headphones and took his time, listening, reading displays, absorbing the true meaning of this place. When we left the museum and got back on the bus, Daniel talked to me about his experience. I observed a change and knew this type of group activity was perfect for an introvert, like him.

Churches, temples, mosques and other quiet places are perfect for your group itinerary. Introverts need recharging after they’ve been in large group settings like Palace of Versailles in France, Acropolis in Athens or St. Mark’s Square in Venice. A visit to St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest, Hungary, allowed students to reflect on their own perspective of religion. Extroverts raced around the church taking numerous photographs and were ready to leave. My introverts selected a pew, sat down and contemplated the environment. They meditated on the relics and historical significance and admired the stained-glass windows and frescoes.

Schedule a variety of activities when planning an itinerary. Yes, some activities must be done with the entire group. But be cognizant that introverts will need time when they can be around a selective few people. Plan a fun activity where the group divides into smaller subsets and completes a task. When leading People to People International trips, we often let the students go on a City Quest. In Vienna, Austria, students were divided into groups of three or four and explored the city to find Schönbrunn Palace, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Museum Quartier district, and a café serving Sacher-Torte. This exercise was great as it gave students independence and—for introverts—an opportunity to interact with a small group.

You’ll have a variety of personalities on your educational group tour. It’s your responsibility to engage the introvert and keep them interested. If you’re gregarious and energized by others, remember: Some people have no desire to be the center of attention, and are recharged by spending time alone.

“Plan activities that provide a mutually beneficial interaction that results in participants feeling valued for their unique contribution,” notes Debbie Pushor, University of Saskatchewan, “and engage all students, so they are an integral and essential part of a process, brought into the act because of care and commitment.”

Written by Julie Beck, Contributing Writer for Teach & Travel.

This article originally appeared in Teach & Travel.