New Friends in a Strange Land

I think it’s fair to say that many of us take the friendships we’ve made in life for granted. Although you may not have intended to, you do. We’ve had the conditions for friendship-making served to us on a platter for most of our lives. Look at it this way:

When we were kids, we made friends through our parent’s friends and buddied up with their kids who were around our age: Phase one. Then we went to school and made friends with like-minded people in our classes or after-school classes straight through from kindergarten to college and/or university: Phase two. As we matured and acquired a taste for money, we got jobs and made friends through work: Phase three. There’s the saying that most people spend more time with the people they work with than they do with their own family, so it’s easy to see how phase three could be such an influential stage in our lives.

All these social conditions allow us the oppourtunity to connect with many people, simply because they were put in our path. Some friends last for a page or two, some for a chapter, some for the whole book. Such is life. For those of us who choose to move overseas or anywhere far from home, this process of socialization has to begin from scratch and many of us fear that our skills have been retarded by the ease of which we have previously acquired our past relationships.

This can leave the new ex-pat feeling isolated and insecure in a strange new land. Even if you’ve just moved from Toronto to Ottawa it can be hard, but imagine moving to a whole other country where English is not the first language.


Choi and I before the baby.

This is where the roadblocks of intimidation take root and where many foreigners tend to hole up and keep to themselves. I myself did this when I first returned to Korea. I kept to myself and stayed at home on most weekends. I also had a Korean friend I knew before arriving and we hung out a lot, but then she had a baby and the game changed for both of us.

On a side note, the first time I arrived in Korea nine years ago, I was lucky enough to have 4 overlapping days with the teacher I was replacing. I was invited to her going-away party and got to meet a giant group of people (about 25) and ended up making strong and lasting friendships with nine of them. I’ve even been to visit almost all of them at least once since we all returned to our respective countries (Leslie and Mandy, still gotta make the U.S. tour to see you both!). That was back before facebook was around for the everyday user and just around the time of text-messaging and higher-technology phones. I appreciate more now, how lucky I was to connect with such awesome people.

My friends, after the baby.

My friends, after the baby.

Nowadays, I think it’s much easier to meet people in a foreign land, as long as you’ve got some internet access. For those in Korea who move here to teach, we usually get our internet set up within a few weeks of arriving here, so be patient, or maybe even join some similar interest groups online while still at home to prepare for your arrival.

To break it down, here are 3 easy tips for meeting new friends in your adult life when in a foreign land where your co-workers and neighbours don’t speak English.

1. Get a facebook account.

This may seem obvious to you young whippersnappers, but I actually had to build up the courage to do this. I’ve only been a member since I came back to Korea in April. Social media isn’t for everyone, but I’m telling you, it helps so much. Even if you only use it while being overseas to meet other foreigners, do it.

2. Join a facebook group that pertains to your city, region or personal interests.

In my case, I joined a group that related to my city “the Namyangju Hub” and also one that related to a town nearby, called “Guri City Folk.” Both were recommended to me by the teacher I replaced. There are other groups that pertain to activities like “English Teachers in Korea” or “Seoul Hiking Group.” There are tons of options. Check it out.

3. Try to say “yes” to every event – at least for a while.

I told myself that I would start saying yes to events for the next couple months when I started to feel lonely. Sure enough, I met a bunch of cool people in the surrounding areas of my city (shout out to Guri, Maseok, Pyeongnae/Hopyeong and Yongin area!). Below are some pics of just a few of the new friends I’ve made, enjoying some halloween festivities.

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I hope these tips have helped some of you and if you have your own to share, please do so in the comment section below. Best of luck to you and fear not – just because we are older now doesn’t mean there isn’t room for new awesome people to enter our lives.

Korean Public Washrooms

Ah, the small wonders of Korea. There are many, but for this moment I want to share with you the unique characteristics of the Korean public washrooms. Depending on where you’re commuting to on the Seoul metro subway line, you could end up in a swanky, pristine washroom like the ones in Noksapyeong station in the heart of Seoul, or you could end up at one of the more rural stations in Gyeonggi province like the one in Yangsu station.

The difference is you may or may not have to bring your own toilet paper, or grab what you need of the master roll on the wall before you enter your stall. The nicer washrooms have toilet paper in place inside each stall-that is the mark of class in Korean public washrooms. Most women here have gotten used to carrying a package of tissues in their purse and most stores sell them for about fifty cents a package.



Then there is the issue of soap. This wonderful invention is a Korean specialty (I think) and it consists of a steel rod sticking out of the wall with a large bar of soap impailed upon it for all to use. In a way, it’s kinda great. It’s technically hands free and unable to be stolen. You just rub that soap like a geenie in a lamp and get your suds with minimal stress. On the other hand, it’s creepy, but I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just a mental issue, with the soap on a stick like a sacrificial head on a post ala Apocolypse Now.

Either way, soap too, has become a mark of satus in Korean public washrooms. Liquid soap in a pump is considered a step up and if there are hand-dryers or paper towels – happy day!!! You picked a good spot to relieve yourself.

As for the toilets themselves, let me ease your worry. A lot of people who’ve never been to Korea are concerned that all washroom stalls consist of porcelin urinals laid into the ground that you have to squat over, but this is not the case. Almost every washroom I’ve been in (in a subway station/shopping mall/department store) has had all modern toilets that are made to be sat on, while some facilities also provide the traditional “squatters” for the old-school folk who would rather do it camping style. In almost two years here, I’ve had to use a squatter due to no other option only twice, so it doesn’t happen often.

You never know what you’re going to get in Korean public washrooms but I see it as part of the adventure. If you’re heading over soon, I’d suggest getting used to carrying tissues on you and stock up on hand sanitizer, just in case there is no soap at all. Happy travels!

K-Pop Song of the Week #4

This song of the week isn’t really considered K-Pop but the band is unique in a landscape of musical sameness and so I will write on. This week’s video is Jaurim’s “Icarus.” A friend of mine put me onto this group a couple months ago and I’ve been creeping on them all over youtube ever since. The band’s name ‘Jaurim’ is Korean for ‘purple forest’ and they’ve been kickin’ around the independent music scene since the mid 90’s.

Jaurim, courtesy of

Jaurim, courtesy of

Their first single to gain public notoriety was “hey hey hey” from the motion picture Man Holding Flowers in 1997. Since then their 8 official full-length albums (as well as other side project albums and OST work) and 16 years of fine-tuning have turned Jaurim into a musical tempest in the indie world and beyond. In a music scene where mini-albums and a constant rotation of new singles is the norm, Jaurim takes their time and produces a stand-alone sound in the Korean music industry.

A lot of people people say that lead singer/songwriter Kim Yuna reminds them of Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine because of her powerful vocals. It’s true that they have similar sounds but I’d like to point out that Jaurim’s got a solid 12 years on the English indie rockers and had 7 studio albums released by the time Florence and friends released Lungs in 2009. Just sayin’.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Regardless, their 9th official album entitled Goodbye, grief  is soulful, catchy and just plain cool. It’s easy to plug in the track names with “english sub” or “english translation” on the internet but even if you don’t; the songs really take over your head space. Especially Icarus (이카루스). My advice: Let them take the wheel. I’m sure they’ll return your mind in great condition when they’re done and they seem like the type to even fill up the tank. Enjoy.

Jaurim “Icarus” video

For some older listening from Jaurim, check out “You and Me” from their 2006 album Ashes to Ashes or “Peep Show” or “Idol” from their last album Conspiracy Theory in 2011. Happy listening!