Today’s post is written for the Reach To Teach, Teach Abroad, Blog Carnival. I’ll be participating in their monthly series focused on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers from all over the world. You can catch it here on the 5th of every month. The host for October is Reach To Teach themselves! They’re an amazing recruiting company; the entire application process for EPIK was seamless because of the help they provided for Lauren and me.
The topic of the month is:
What are your top tips for meeting new people abroad?
After recently making the leap myself to teach abroad in South Korea (half a world away from home), it only seemed appropriate to tell you a little bit about what it’s like to make friends in this beautiful, but intimidating country, specifically. So, if you’re a newly transplanted expat in South Korea or thinking about joining the forces of foreigners from all over the world who teach young minds, I hope these tips help bring some perspective on how to make your experience as memorable as possible. After all, it’s not always about where you are, but rather whom you’re with.
1. Join a Group
Photo by: Dirk Moggee
Now, you don’t need me to tell you to “put yourself out there; get involved!” You know that already. However, one of the benefits of teaching in South Korea (at least for EPIK) is having the flexibility to explore your interests in your free time. That’s why one of my main goals for my time in Korea was to join a group, whether it was through volunteering, or theatre, or a different type of hobby.
Since moving here, I’ve joined the Daegu Photography Club, and I’ve already met people I never would have ran into otherwise. Being far from home can be lonely, and establishing a sense of “belonging” is so, so important for your sanity.
2. Seek Beyond Your Cirlce
2% of the population in South Korea is foreign. That may not sound like a lot, but when you consider that it’s the 26th largest country by population with not much landmass to support it, you’ll realize how many opportunities you have to meet new people. We’re squished in here like sardines!
You’ll find that whatever program you’ve secured a job through gives you the opportunity to meet other expats. If you’re teaching at a Hogwan you’ll probably have foreign coworkers to show you the ropes, and EPIK offers a unique 9 day orientation where you’ll have plenty of time to make new friends from your region.
These are all great places to get the ball rolling, but don’t forget about the people outside of your program. You’ll learn much more about your new city, country and yourself if you make a point of making friends outside of your school or the orientation you attended.
The best thing about being here is that there are also people from other parts of the world, not necessarily English speaking countries. Get to know the foreign exchange students! You’ll be a better rounded individual for it. Most cities host an international party at the beginning of the semester. Do some online research and you’ll be sure to find a Facebook group or something similar. If you’re in Daegu, check out the KMU International Lounge page; they’re always posting information about new events.
3. Utilize Social Media
There are so many social media groups you can be a part of. The best way to find them in your city is by searching for your program, city name, and activity. For example, I live in Daegu and I’ve been dying to find a yoga class, so I searched on Facebook for “Daegu Yoga,” – simple enough. I might have also thrown in there something like, Daegu Yoga for foreigners or Daegu Yoga for EPIK teachers… anything that seemed relevant, and I found the perfect yoga class.
These pages are filled with fellow expats (and sometimes locals) informing their fellow Waygooks of upcoming events or meet ups. It’s also highly likely that your area has a designated group that gets together for monthly or bi-monthly dinners/gatherings.
Other key words to look out for are “Adventure” or “Experience.” Look for your program by name, as well, since most have their own designated pages to meet other people within your city.
My recommendations for finding info & friends for those working for EPIK/DMOE in Daegu are:
– In Daegu
– Daegu EPIK Fall (or the equivalent of your intake year… I attached this years so you can check it out)
4. Travel With a Tour Group
In my opinion, this is by far the funnest way to make new friends. Not only do you get to experience something new and culturally stimulating, you also get a discounted price if you go with the right company, and you get a busload of new acquaintances that can quickly turn into lifelong buddies. Guards are down, the soju (or cider) is up, and you’re surrounded by a dozen opportunities to take a new Instagram photo you can look back on as a fond memory.
Some tour companies in South Korea are:
Get your tourist cap on!
5. Say “Yes” more than “No”
One thing I realized about being in a foreign country, specifically South Korea where there are so many other foreigners also trying to make a connection, is that almost anything goes. I’ve heard multiple people compare it to freshman year of college because everyone is bright eyed, excited and hopeful. Almost everyone is open to making a new friend, and they understand what you’re going through. Sometimes it’s such a welcome relief to see another foreigner on the street that your lack of language barrier is all the connection you need.
That said, you will be invited to do things you wouldn’t normally do. You will be forced to interact with people you wouldn’t normally interact with. Last but not least, you will be put into situations where you may feel uncomfortable or out of your element, but it’s so, so important to say “yes” more often than “no.” Lowering your inhibitions will broaden your perspective on people in general, hopefully teach you some life lessons, and help you be less lonely. Besides, a life full of yes’s is far less boring than a life full of no’s, so try that silk worm or hike that mountain – you’ll only be a better you for it.
Disclaimer: This is not to say you should ever put yourself in a dangerous situation, or abandon your morals.