You have decided to leave everything you have ever known behind. Family. Friends. Girlfriend/Boyfriend. Eating utensils. Xbox360. NFL football Sunday. Now, you are thinking. Wait a minute. WTF am I going to do?! Am I really going to be 100% alone for a year? How will I make friends?! Is it easy to meet friends in South Korea?
WILL YOU MAKE FRIENDS?!
English teachers, on average, are moving to South Korea aren’t coming with friends or family. Everyone is at the same starting point. For context, think about your freshman year at university. Everyone was open and willing to find their new friends in the beginning. The newness and freedom of living in South Korea will be exciting. Most people will want to meet friends and share these new experiences together.
USE SOCIAL MEDIA – FACEBOOK GROUPS
Sure there are negatives to social media but I don’t think anyone can deny how many positives there are associated with it. I lived in a small city, Jinhae, which was located in Changwon. It is not a big city, but just big enough to have a decent amount of foreigners. They were a close-knit group who are very active in including new people. In year number #1 I did not spend too much time with foreigners because there was too much else to do. I was around Americans for my whole life. I was in Korea so one year being with Koreans seemed like that right move for me. Does that mean you have to follow my path? Absolutely not.
Coachable Moment: Search Facebook for Expat groups to ask any questions you have and find out activities expats do together. In winter there are groups that run tours to snowboard/ski. There are culture groups that have weekend trips to different cities in South Korea. If you are searching for new apartment furniture, join a buying and selling group in your area. Teachers are constantly coming and going. You can get cheap things to make your apartment more of a home.
YOU ARE THE 1%. South Korea is ethnically homogenous. Pulling some numbers from Wikipedia(trust it or not) there are around 20,000 Foreign English teachers. That is much less than 1% of the population(50 million) which makes you stand out. It isn’t always fun being stared at or elbowed for no reason by 아줌마(Ajummas-older women/married). However, in my opinion, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Since you are unique and western, some people will be extremely interested in meeting you. I was invited to many dinners and made so many lifelong Korean friends through these interactions.
You will have a tremendous opportunity to make expat friends and/or South Korean friends. Don’t overthink it and just do what feels right.
What Will You do in South Korea?!
You are going to have so much free time. FRIENDS. FAMILY. TELEVISION. GONE! Along with everything else you liked to do back home. A clean slate and a fresh schedule to fill in as you please. This means time to meet new friends and share new experiences together. For me, it was exactly what I needed to shake my life up.
Some weekends I did things that were so normal and comfortable like basketball and surfing.
Other weekends I would have a brand new experience like eating 산낙지(sannakji).
I love sports and competition. Screen baseball and bowling were popular things to do with my Korean friends. Not much English needed and I was so thankful my Korean friends included me. Those experiences were some of my greatest memories in South Korea. An activity like bowling is something I would and still do take for granted in the USA. For some reason, it was special in South Korea.
Coachable Moment: Try not to come to South Korea with too much of a fixed agenda. Come here ready to say YES to any and every invitation. As time goes on you will have to learn to say no and make decisions on what to do. Experience everything you can while at the same time staying focused on where you want to go.
Power of Saying Yes
In my first month, I was asked to participate in the school’s winter festival. I was in a new country and still trying to get my bearings on what exactly was going on. The six other teachers were all Korean and did not speak high-level English. I HATE choreographed dancing and I HATE being on stage in front of people. But I had some stupid idea that “stretching my comfort zone” was something I had to do. So off to teach English in South Korea with the mentality to say YES to all these opportunities that presented themselves.
Our dancing group had dance practice every day after school with a dance instructor. The dance instructor didn’t even say Hello in English. Looks like I really wasn’t in Kansas anymore. After weeks of practice and many Korean dinners together we became great friends. It is amazing how close we became without even speaking the same language. My performance was awful but I was able to hide in the back and the other teachers killed it. The students loved it which is all that matters. I am glad I didn’t let fear and laziness get the best of me with that decision because it became one of my fondest memories looking back on the year.
Come To South Korea and Do it Better Than Me
Case in point. I never ran more than 4 miles in my life before I came to South Korea. For some reason, I decided to run a marathon. Currently, I am taking some time off and visiting my friends and family in the USA. While in my hometown I decided to start to study Korean. I could run anywhere in the world and decided to do this in South Korea. The place to learn Korean would be in South Korea and I am doing that in the states.
Coachable Moment: The obvious. Learn basic Korean before you come to South Korea if you want to learn the language so you can plug-and-play when you get here. Is it mandatory to learn Korean? NO, absolutely not. I am learning Korean because I am searching for a totally different experience than my first year.
Cliches are usually true. Follow this. Do as I say not as I do.
Will You Make Friends in South Korea?
As with anything in life. It depends on you and your actions.
My First Year in Review
Looking back, I mixed in sports and activities I did for years back home with brand new experiences. This mix of feeling comfortable and stretching my comfort zone at times was a perfect balance. I made lifelong friendships that I will cherish not only while I am in South Korea but for the rest of my life. Before South Korea, I did not fully realize how big of a role sports played in my life. That is what works for me as a medium for me.
Last Coachable Moment: Let your strengths show. If you have an interest in art or music then rally around those. This will also help in your teaching and to be a part of the school. Be your truest self and connect with those that get it. Who cares about the rest?
Let me know how it goes. Goodluck.