As promised, I want to write about something that not a lot of people in the blogosphere do: making friends as an expat. A little bit of background, I am outgoing and love meeting new people; I make connections very easily and consider myself an extrovert. That being said, I’ve still had trouble here. This is my first time living completely by myself and I was terrified that it would be a disaster. Last time I was in Korea, I lived in a dorm building where my 6 best friends in Korea also lived. I literally saw them every day and I loved it. This time around I was nervous that Korea would feel really empty without my group of friends.
As an EPIK teacher in Seoul, you’re dropped off at (in my experience) an empty apartment and left to fend for yourself. Whatever connections you made at orientation are likely nowhere near you. In my case, there are just a couple (like 2) people near me that I’m actually friends with. In the beginning you’ll be super willing to travel 40-50 minutes everyday to see the friends you’ve made and foster those relationships. That will start to get old, however, and you’ll wish you didn’t have to spend so much time travelling. You’ll find that you need to make connections that are more in your neighborhood. Or you’ll want to make Korean friends! In my opinion, it’s hard to make Korean friends organically – you’ll need some sort of middle man.
So, here are my tips on making friends as an expat in Korea!
- Meetup – Meetup is a beautiful website where anyone can create a group and advertise it. As Seoul is a ginormous city, there are probably hundreds of Meetups for people of varying interests from art to zouk. A little hint though, you’ll probably get click-happy like me and join 10 million meetups. My email inbox is now bursting with Meetup event invites that I’ll probably never attend — choose wisely.
- Apps – We live in a digital age, there’s no getting around that. Let me tell you a secret, when I was attending Sogang from 2012-2013, I was lonely as hell for the first 4 months. I was having the hardest time making Korean friends and really wanted to work on my language skillz. So, I joined a dating app called Skout (albeit naively) for the purpose of meeting Korean people. I was explicit as possible about solely looking for friends, but of course there were a few pervs who didn’t care. However, after weeding through the masses, I made a few good Korean friends who I still talk to 3-4 years later. I also know lots of expats currently in Seoul that are using Tinder as a means to make friends. Turns out that a lot of the Korean guys and gals on Tinder use it for the same purpose! If you’re up for the challenge (and willing to scourge through all the US army guys), give it a shot!
- Language Exchanges – This one’s tricky. There are dozens and dozens of language exchanges on Meetup and they sound like a great idea. In reality, it’s usually 95% Koreans and just a couple of foreigners. The Koreans will only talk to each other and the foreigners will sit there awkwardly. Or you’ll find the situation where it’s just a bunch of thirsty Koreaboos who only care about K-Pop and then the poor Koreans who are annoyed by it. However! There are a few diamonds in the rough! One that I recommend is in Itaewon and has a structured set up. It’s not a free for all mix and mingle, but rather they organize seating by language level. Intermediate/advanced Korean speaking foreigners are put with novice English speakers and intermediate/advanced English speakers are put with novice Korean speaking foreigners. They put on a timer for 30 minutes to use all Korean then they do 30 minutes all in English. This forces you to work on your language skills and you’re able to develop some decent connections if you attend regularly. Check out this link for an example of one of their events.
- Facebook Groups – There are whole bunch of Facebook groups for expats in Korea for any interest. I’ve met up with a few different ladies from a couple of different groups and I’m so grateful for them! I was looking for friends in Jamsil (my neighborhood) and found out that I’m not the only foreigner who lives here, lol. Some of these groups can get pretty troll-tastic (*cough* OiNK *cough*) but others are really supportive like Expat Women in Korea or Brothas&Sistas in South Korea. Again, don’t get click-happy and join a billion groups, only join ones you think will add something beneficial to your life.
Whew, I feel like I ran a marathon after writing that. Regardless, thank you for running with me and I hope this was helpful 🙂