I am an 18-year-old Panamanian girl who got accepted to UWC Robert Bosch College in Germany one year ago, and it was a dream come true. It’s a two-year pre-university program, where you live with people from all over the world while getting an education. During my first term at the college, I watched Susan Cain’s TED Talk and read her book. Both of these changed the way I viewed myself. I finally saw what I thought before were weaknesses were actually my strengths as an introverted person. And I realized that by choosing to go to UWC RBC, I went totally out of my comfort zone. I finally recognized the value and courage it took me to take the challenge to go there. I also realized that being modest and sensitive, thinking before I speak, and having a small group of friends were also amazing qualities.

After this epiphany, the other question I asked myself was: to what extent should I push my limits to get out of my comfort zone while still staying true to myself? I wanted to know that I would be able to stand up for myself if I needed to.

At UWC RBC, there are monthly village meetings where we discuss different topics and issues. One thing that came up was whether the community was well represented when it came to opinions on the various topics and about engagement in general. It is true that most of the people who always spoke up and gave their opinions were more Western-culture-based, mostly Europeans. People from Asia and Latin America tended to speak up less. I remember hearing comments about this issue several times, and it made me really upset.

I finally gave my opinion about the topic and mentioned all the reasons why people didn’t speak up so much. I defended all of them in front of 250 people from all over the world because I wanted to raise some awareness about this.

I said that not everyone has the ability to speak well in front of others because of the language or education barrier. I also said some prefer not to do it unless it’s necessary because of their culture or because of their introverted personality, while others are just not ready to do it because it is quite intimidating. I wanted to point out that we should respect all the reasons why people might not be speaking up all the time. I also proposed to have an online system where people who were not ready to speak up could just write down their ideas and opinions, anonymously if they wanted, and then someone could read them out loud during the village meetings. It was a success. I had the support of all the introverts and changed the perspective of many extroverts. I lost count of all the introverts (including teachers) who came up to me to thank me for what I said.

Speaking up like this was one of the hardest things I have done, but since that moment, I knew that if I ever strongly disagreed with a topic presented, I would be able to say what I had to say. While my insecurities are not all gone yet, after this last year, I have learned to challenge myself with new things while respecting my introversion and staying true to who I am.

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