3.02.2012

Any suggestions for meeting people (non-idiots) in Korea? I'm new & having a hard time as I want to learn Korean & adapt but my Korean is almost nonexistent & the other foreigners at my school are disrespectful & think they're still in college.

Um. Haha.

Look, I don't think it's any real secret that I'm a bit of a social.... uh.... selectivist? That's a new phrase I made up to explain that I'm kind of a snob. Only, I'm not really, because I don't base my so-called standards on anything superficial or "cool" or whatever. I'm just picky.

To illustrate, actually, just yesterday Busan and I were on the bus together. I was feeling a little ill and therefore in a sunshiny awesome mood, as you can imagine, and I was having some trouble coping with the people around me. After watching the final (I'm sure highly exaggerated) pained expression cross my face, he burst out laughing. I opened my eyes wide and just barely managed to squeak out: "I don't. Like. Other people."

He almost choked on a much bigger guffaw: "What did you say?!"

"I just don't. I really don't. I don't know why. I try to hide it. But it doesn't always work. You haven't noticed?"

"I uh.... I.... a bit?"

The sincerity of this confession had us both muffling giggles on the quiet bus, but I only just managed to mutter a, "It's funny....but I'm not joking...." in between. And he, an, "I know," in response.

I just really hate bad manners, is a big part of it. Or people acting with blatant disrespect without having any tangible beneficial qualities to back it up. It makes me imagine them to be quite stupid, and the worst kind of stupid -- stupid, but arrogant. So I do really understand what you're going through. I understand it probably more today than I did when I first arrived.

There's a reason I don't really go out of my way to meet new folks, and that's because it's really difficult to find people who are going to view being a foreigner in Korea in the same light as you do. I'm sure -- I actually know -- that we folk who take it somewhat seriously are very irritating to the extended spring breakers, as well. The other kind of group that tends to find me obnoxious are the ones who are really into becoming Buddhist and learning how to make every single side dish in the exactly authentic way, and who speak whatever Korean they know at top volume every chance they get, even if someone is actually speaking to them in English. They tend to think I don't take things seriously enough.

The other phenomenon that happens are the ones who start out in category two and then slowly transform into really obnoxiously racist and bitter people. To me, they're the worst kind to encounter, because it can take you a while to detect them. They'll start out talking about their Korean class and their lesson plans and their favorite restaurant, or whatever. All good. How they really love Korea, they've been here for a while and they can't really see themselves leaving anytime soon. Right. Excellent. And then suddenly, it all takes a bizarre turn: But like you know just saying there's no diversity here. And they really love Korea, but you know like we are just always going to be foreigners here! (Which is true.... because.... well, we are foreigners.) Or they love Korea, but it's just like really soul-crushing how pathetically docile Korean women are and what big liars Koreans are and how superficial Koreans are and how shit and boring the food is and how bland the culture is and how racist they all are and how conformist they all are and...........

And there goes your evening.

It's taken me a long time to be able to spot out people who may be right on my level with things, and an even longer time to actually find those people. It took a load of trial and error, a lot of tense conversations and a lot of nights out that left me fighting the urge toward physical violence. But once you find those people who "get it" in the same way you "get it" (whatever way that may be), it'll be worth the effort.

I don't know you, so I don't know where your people are likely to be found, but to be honest, almost every person I've met over the course of the past 3.5 years I've met in Korea and am still in contact with came through this (or the other) blog. Blogging, and corresponding with people through blogs, gives you an opportunity to thoroughly vet the opinions and views of others, and what they do or do not find acceptable, and as a result, I've hardly met anyone from the blogs who I haven't really jived with. Because I already knew how they handled their shit before we even agreed to have dinner (or coffee or drinks).

Other than that.... just hang in there. There are others like you (however you are) out there somewhere. Try to stay open minded, but also learn how to listen to your gut. These days, I barely get past the, "But Korea's just so homogenous, you know?" before I've realized I just remembered something, and I really have to be going.

Ask me anything

13 comments:

ダンちゃん said...

Hehe. Nice post. I just read some of 'Stupid Ugly Foreigner' last night which I found thanks to your blog and this post reminded me of some of the stuff he had to say about getting to know other foreigners in Korea and how the social scene can take on some kind of distorted weirdness where everything is amplified way above normal.

I'll make a confession. I have zero native English speaker friends in Japan. I have friends who I speak to in English, who are also foreign, but English is not their native language. It's not that I am avoiding people from 'back home' or that I think I am above them, but I also don't go searching for them either. I have met some very interesting people who were passing through, but I don't talk with English speakers from 'back home' on a daily basis. This kind of makes reading blogs like yours and SUF really fun, because it brings me back to my exchange days when I did have to deal with all that icky social stuff. Heck, I was the guy bitching about everything in English to my English speaking friend.

I don't know. It just seems like it is very easy in Japan to find myself being disliked by people I hardly know simply by having the temerity to want to spend the majority of my time speaking with and hanging out with Japanese people. Negotiating other peoples perceptions of you is so much more damn complicated with other resident foreigners, and so much more prone to bitchiness.

Burndog said...

Your answer was much longer than mine! My answer is to meet people slowly. Just take the time to dig who people really are...and then let your friendship evolve. It's too tempting to rush into friendships the minute you meet people and get all excited and plan out the next four years of your friendship!!!! Meet five or six people you love and trust...and see them when you can. That's what makes me happy here.

By people...I mean all people...Korean, Australian, American, Irish...and all the rest.

Loved your answer INP!

I'm no Picasso said...

Yeah this is something that SUF and I talk about a lot, actually. He seems to be a hub for fellow foreigner activity, whereas I came in orientationless and haven't attended a single one, but regardless, we both kind of find ourselves giving the newbies a wide berth these days. It's nothing personal -- they may be saying and doing all of the exact same things you did in your first few months, and you may get exactly where they are coming from, but eventually you just want to settle in and kind of be around people who are at or around the same stage of integration (or non) that you are.

Or even not. I've had a lot of good friends here who came here for a year to save money and never had any intentions of making a real go of it, but they were respectful of the other people around them, and although teaching may not have been their life's work, they took their jobs seriously and did the best that they could. And they may not have felt the need to get neck-deep in Korean culture, but they didn't feel the need to make big swinging assumptions about Korea, either.

To be honest, I haven't found trying to hang around primarily Koreans to be any easier. On that side of things, as well, you can get exhausted from playing the token foreigner role, or the constant shock at your ability to do things. Foreigner or Korean, I've found it's just a very narrow group who are just going to let you (and Koreans) go about your (their) business without bringing weirdness into the equation. But then, I never got friendly with wide swaths of the population back home, either.

I'm no Picasso said...

Yes, Burn, that's exactly it. SUF and I also came on this topic the other night as well -- how arriving in Korea is a bit like university orientation, where you see people breaking off into OMG BFF! groups in a matter of hours, only to watch those forced relationships deteriorate in the most extreme fashions over the course of the next few months.

It just takes a fucking minute to find your people. That's all.

ダンちゃん said...

"To be honest, I haven't found trying to hang around primarily Koreans to be any easier. On that side of things, as well, you can get exhausted from playing the token foreigner role, or the constant shock at your ability to do things."

This is true. I have little zones where I can relax which I shuttle from where I know everybody and they know me, and I don't have to go through any song and dance about how long I have been in the country, how well I speak, where I am from, how tall I am, etc. I can go several days in a row, sometimes even a week without having to do that these days. That's great, but conversely though getting too used to these safety zones where I am treated as a normal person makes me all the more surprised/frustrated when I have people start giving me a good sideways stare at a cafe or suddenly engage me in conversation in English.


In a way it wasn't so bad when I didn't understand the country or the language very well. The weirdness was mutual. It hurts a bit more when it is one-way, where you are very used to the environment but it? is not used to you. Making good friends you can relax around daily, and making peace with your foreignness takes time. I think us poor white boys find it the hardest because we have we are so damn naive. We lack the even the experience of gender discrimination that white women have growing up in their own country. Being treated as a minority is hence such a shock for us because we lack the mental tools to understand and contextualise it, leading us to start making wild generalisations and unfair comparisons between where we are and our own countries where our personal situation is extremely different.

Katherine Koba said...

My blog gets almost no hits, so some alternative answers beyond screaming into the void of "blogging" and hoping someone hears you:

*Other Internet social networking. OkCupid, as dumb as that sounds, is how I met some of my best friends here in Korea (directly or indirectly).

*Find a Facebook group for your neighborhood. If people post events, attend one or two. If people don't post events, think of something you think is fun and host it. I hosted a book exchange at my apartment a few weeks ago and it got me in contact with a new (Korean) acquaintance I wouldn't have met otherwise. Maybe we'll be friends, maybe we won't, but we at least have something in common (reading). She's coming to the next one I'm having this month, and I've already had more people RSVP for the next one that even attended the first one.

*There's also MeetUp, CouchSurfers, and (again on Facebook) language exchanges or board game clubs or whatever it is that you're into.

*Just be patient. Like Burndog said, sometimes it takes a while. The other foreigners who seem like douchebags now may eventually grow up, or they may just be temporarily assholes due to homesickness/culture shock/disorientation. Or you may run into someone else at one of these recommended functions after a few weeks of going with no "results."

Best of luck.

Roboseyo said...

I think another important point is to have realistic expectations.

I came to Korea straight from university (way long ago) and went from being surrounded by friends whom I'd gotten to know deeply and seriously, with whom I'd shared many many amazing times and conversations and laughs... to being surrounded by strangers.

The friendships I formed in my first months in Korea didn't have the same depth and texture and history as the friendships I'd left behind. Obviously.

But as I've been here longer, the connections I've made have grown, in cases, to be just as fulfilling. My favorite people? I don't see them all every week -- some only a few times a year -- but when I do, I always cherish the time.

Now that everyone's connected online, the vetting process has become easier, but both before and since Facebook made it so easy for expats to connect (I was here back when people used Myspace to find other expats in Korea, young whippersnapper!), the key has always been to 1. put yourself out there somehow (be that words on internets, comments on facebook pages, or attendance of group/club meetings: if you're even marginally christian, I highly recommend the English church services around Korea) 2. Take initiative with the people you've met. Ask for phone numbers, and call them. Don't wait to get calls from the people you like. and 3. Be patient with people who turn out to be washouts, or who leave Korea (because some inevitably do) other people will come along, and the key is to treasure the time you DO have with someone, and not get hung up on the fact they might go to a different country: this isn't your i/ancestral hometown, after all.

All that said, one thing I've liked about living in Korea, despite the repatriations and the occasionally enmeshedly small expat networks, is that I've reached out, and made connections, with people I wouldn't have in Canada, where it would have been easier to stay in my comfort zone, and expanded my view of the world accordingly.

kawaii_candie said...

very good post! even reading the comments was insightful.

i'm in a similar situation in Japan and i agree with pretty much everything you've said.

also the blogging thing is really true... i mean, you don't even need to have a blog yourself, but reading other people's blogs who are in the same situation, and then commenting on those people's blogs and creating a discourse... i've met a lot of cool people through blogs here, and i think it's pretty cool!

Paula said...

I love reading your blog and I totally agree about your post. I've gotten into tons of discussions with other expats about how Korea is "homogeneous" and it's all the "same stuff" which I feel like is rubbing off on me! I don't want that mindset at all.

Then I learn that these people never leave Seoul and never hang out with other people besides foreigners.

Sometimes expats I feel like a lot of expats are like the "fobs" of Korea. They are only interested in hanging out with other expats and doing the exact same things they did back home. Only dipping their toes (so to speak) in the culture and way of life.
The more I live in this country, the more I realzie it's incredibly important to find people who are going to enhance your time here and not rain on your parade.

I'm no Picasso said...

Well the thing is.... I hardly ever leave the Seoul area, and most of my closer friends are foreigners. I do all of the same things here that I did back home (read, go to coffee shops, eat, have a few drinks, occasionally see an exhibition or movie or show, hang out around the city). I don't go on 'adventures' or cultural excursions or anything. But I still don't feel like Korea is homogenous.

I mean, it is. Racially. But I think a lot of expats like to take that word and apply it to all kinds of other things, which have nothing to do with race or Korea.

Mostly I think foreigners kind of suffer from a lack of information, There's no feminsm in Korea, because I'm not involved in feminism in Korea. There's no punk rock in Korea, because I've never been to a punk rock show in Korea. I see these kinds of statements all of the time: There's no _____ in Korea. Well, most of the time there is. The person just hasn't come across it, but to assume you would be aware of everything that exists in a country where you don't even speak the language fluently is a little naive.

James said...

The percentage of non-kooky, non-racist, non-weirdo, non-fratboys in my weekly Korean class is quite high. I always recommend taking a class to anyone looking to make some new friends/contacts/BF-GF's.

Also, I've met some expats who aren't English teachers (businessmen, military) which is nice as well.

Roboseyo said...

I second James' comment.

Charles said...

Consider for a minute what you would do to meet people in ANY new city? Your situation is a bit more complicated because you're in a new country with a different language, but it is not, conceptually, THAT different.

Start with "What do you like to do?" Look for those activities you already enjoy. While out and about be prepared to ask somebody for advice or help or some sort. Explain your situation (new and want to meet people) and your goals (learn the language and experience the culture). Be prepared for a lot of rejection, ranging from the crossed finger "X" which I've found usually means "I'm not really sure I can help you" to the crossed forearm "X" which means "NO!"
To improve your Korean language, enroll in a class. You may find somebody who you share some interests.

Unfortunately, there is no magic "idiot-filter".

I like this website: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/
but any travel guide website can help with your search for activities.