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.

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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.

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