Hacked: How To Build a Social Life in Seoul
Moving can be scary.
The farther you move, the more difficult it gets.
Moving across the world, to a country that doesn't speak your mother tongue, while embarking on a career as an English teacher (and often the first taste of a career for many young university graduates shipped to Korea) can be the absolute pits. Especially when it comes to building a new social circle.
But it shouldn't be that hard. With the wild wonders of the internet, and its many nooks and crannies, you should be able to find a comfortable group of friends within your first few months in Korea.
My first go of it was a bit more difficult. I arrived in Korea in 2012. I was stubborn in the fact that #1 I wouldn't waste my money on a smartphone (why would I need one... a flip phone has always sufficed) and #2 I wouldn't travel to Seoul in order to socialize. As many of you are aware, there's a little social messaging app called Kakao. It's kind of a necessity in Korea and you need a smartphone to access it. Refusing to purchase one of those dapper devices was my first mistake.
As far as not traveling into Seoul, well.... You see, my first official job as an English teacher in Korea was in the Northern fringes of Line 1, in Dongducheon. It was at that point where Seoul's convenient subway meets its end and the Yeoncheon train system (reliable for a journey North every hour on the dot) slowly snakes its way to the last few towns before the DMZ. Being an hour or so outside of Seoul, and about an hour and a half from the really juicy bits (Itaewon and Hongdae), I vehemently resisted the urge to trek south in order to meet fellow foreigners. That 3 hour commute was enough to put me off Seoul completely, in fact.
And I suffered for it.
It took me about 5 months to find the "go to" social group in my area. Even with Facebook and Kakao talk, I couldn't locate them. By avoiding Seoul, and its buzzing hub of fellow foreigners, my social life took a massive hit.
I should've taken the subway south instead of being a dummy.
Seoul has a ton of stuff to do. Obviously. It's the largest city in South Korea, one of the most diverse in East Asia, and is an absolute playground (not to suggest you should behave childishly when you're out and about) for travelers and teachers. If you're reading this, you'll probably be living in the Seoul-metro area. I've got some great advice if you want to hit the ground running. There's no reason that you've got to squander a few weeks or months in Seoul while slowly fleshing out contacts.
If you're moving to Seoul, here's what you need to know in order to build a social life:
The Seoul English Party is a great go-to organization for finding nightlife in Korea. Basically, they set up fun nights out on the town in the hot spots of Seoul. It's really convenient, considering how often clubs and bars change in Korea. Any long time resident can tell you that businesses go belly up all the time, and it can be hard to keep track of the spots where other English teachers and foreigners will congregate. The Seoul English Party figures that out for you. I highly recommend them if you want to meet new folks, try out new bars and clubs, and whatever else you're wont to do when the sun goes down.
Learning the native language is one of the most common goals for teachers in Korea. Veterans and newbies alike share a common vision of achieving conversational rank, wandering around the wild haunts of local street markets, and holding a one-on-one conversation with the merchants without the use of body language. It simply makes life more fulfilling here.
If you want to learn Korean, this is the group for you. They have several language exchanges available around Seoul everyday. Yeah... EVERYDAY! There's really no reason to avoid learning Korean when you have this type of opportunity.
With that being said, I've defintely fallen off the "mastering the Korean language" bandwagon myself. I've been too buys to focus, what, with all the late night beer and chicken parties. But even that's alright. The Language Exchange Cafe is, by its very nature, a language exchange. Even if you just speak English, and have no desire to learn a new language, you're welcome in their ranks. It's a great place to meet locals who will show you some really great, unique parts of Korea.
Come to learn Korean or simply make new friends. This place is great, especially if you're trying to have a slow, no-soju type of night.
Friends in Korea is the sum of all of these parts. In essence, they aggregate and organize all of these events available in Seoul and put them in an easy to use schedule on their website. If you consider navigating all of these various Meetup groups a bit of a nuisance, then you should go directly to this website to find the skinny on the latest hangouts in Seoul.
Mountains. Ajushi. Makgeolli.
Those three attributes are crucial to any mountain hiking adventure in Korea, and you're sure to find them in ample supply if you join the Climbing in Korea group. As you might've read on the in-flight brochure, this little Asian peninsula is a rugged sort. Its terrain is pimpled and plotted with every type of mountain. There are small mountains, like the unassuming stair-lined slopes of Soyosan. Or the slightly more steep, stone-faced monster known as Dobongsan. And then there's...
Well, if I'm being completely honest, I don't go hiking that often. Which means my knowledge of Korean peaks is a bit limited. That being said, the few times I have gone were truly memorable. Not just for the breath-taking views, which are certainly nothing to scoff at. I was too busy being mesmerized by the endless groups of Korean folks.
In all shapes, age, and sizes, Korean folks flock to the mountains to hike during the summer. And they make it fun. They drink. They eat. They cause all types of ruckus.
You should definitely join the other foreigners in Climbing in Korea, and with them by your side, try to mingle with the local Korean folks as they plod up the ridges.
In between your daily rounds of Galbi binging, you should really find some time to volunteer. If you can, the Korea International Volunteers are a great organization to join. They've wrangled up some sincere folks who want to give back to their host country.
As you're aware, most of us are English teachers. And even if we're not, most of us are fluent in the Queen's language. As hagwon prices soar ever higher, a ton of great kids from underprivileged communities have been left bereft of native English teachers. You'll see that Korea International Volunteers tries to provide free English classes and experiences as their primary goal.
I know teaching English can really grind your mental gears. Once Friday rolls around, you might wanna veg out on the couch and avoid grammar books like the plague. But you really owe it to the community (and yourself) to volunteer at least once. Assuming you can, of course.
Bar. Club. Mingling center. Bumping elbows cap-i-tal. Hongdae Playground is a Western run bar in the heart of, well you guessed it, Hongdae. They serve up good times, grub, and drinks. You'll see that their constituents are a fifty/fifty split between Koreans and Westerners. It's a great place to meet locals and fellow foreigners alike.
You might not have time to try the various bars and clubs of the Seoul English Party. And perhaps the Language Exchanges that are held during the weekday are just a bit too inconvenient for your Monday-Friday schedule. If so, the Hongdae Playground should be added to your regular roster of weekend stops. Meet new people from all cultures. You can make it your pre-game spot or your all-night hangout. Up to you. It's definitely built for both.
I went to the hillbilliest part of Korea and these guys made it fun.
That's a true feat, if you ask me. Adventure Korea is a travel group designed for long-term travelers and foreign workers in this wonderful little country. That means you, Mr. or Ms. English Teacher. They've crafted a ton of unique packages and you're bound to meet a gaggle of wayward souls similar to yourself.
Scuba Diving. Camping in the woods. Island getaways. You're really not limited by the hackneyed "Insadong Tour" or "DMZ Trip". There's a ton of stuff going on with this company and I strongly recommend them.