One of the many concerns that people have before going abroad alone is the opportunities to make friends in a foreign country where they might or might not speak the language. If this concerns you in any way, do not let it be. Korea is the country of collectivism. No one person should be by themselves. In fact, it would be rather depressing and often looked down upon if you’re always by yourself in Korea. Most, if not all, of the restaurants do not sell food to a party of one anyways. So say goodbye to the leisure of enjoying food by yourself, unless you’re planning to eat convenience store food in your room in front of a computer screen.
Before landing in Seoul, you will be offered the opportunity to join SNU Buddy, a student organization that would make your life in Seoul amazing. Joining SNU Buddy was probably the best decision that I’ve made during my exchange period. You get to pick your own personal buddy, who has about 5 exchanged buddies. So right off the bat, you are already friends with 6 people who you’ve never met. Then you are assigned to a bigger group comprised of 10 Korean buddies, meaning you’re in a group of over 50 people. That’s already a lot of people! But that’s not all. SNU Buddy is large, and during my term, we had 10 groups total, meaning about 500 people for you to meet and make friends with.
SNU Buddy is not just about meeting people though. SNU Buddy organizes at least 2 events per week where you can join to either learn and explore Korea, or just to simply have fun and enjoy Korea. Though the events are not mandatory and can get expensive, I would recommend joining all of your group events as well as the events for all groups as they are very fun and you definitely would not want to miss out on the great experiences and memories!
Though you will meet many cool people, you will probably end up finding yourself hanging out with a smaller group of amazing people. And that’s normal. I’ve made so many friends when I first came over but I found myself getting attached to a small circle of friends of 12 people. They were amazing people who I’ve spent all of my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners together for the entire exchange period. They were people who I’ve spent the weekends exploring Korea and other countries with. Though we’ve only met each other for a couple of months, we were very fond of each other and are hoping to be friends for a long time. It doesn’t really make sense that you can become so close to the people you meet abroad knowing that you might never meet them again but it’s true, and it happens all the time. I am still keeping in touch with friends that I’ve made a couple of years ago when I was on co-op in China. You will be amazed to find out how much you will miss these people when you have to go back home.
Anyways, going back to how Korea is the country of… uh.. not being alone. In Korea, you will notice that people are always in groups. It’s rather difficult to find someone who’s always by themselves. You just can’t be by yourself. Even restaurants won’t serve you if you’re by yourself. And don’t worry because you might actually have to work hard if you want to eat by yourself because SNU Buddy have group lunches together all the time, dinner events, etc… And you will be eating out with your smaller groups of friends as well. So again, do not worry!
I went off track again, but ANYWAYS. Korea is an interesting country and if you’re there by yourself, you might actually find yourself feeling lonely. No, not because you have no friends, but because you will see couples everywhere when you go outside. Couples on your left, couples on your right, couples above you, beneath you, right next to you, far from you, couples everywhere! There was one time where Sandon [exchange, Australia] and I went to a restaurant together. While waiting for our food, we counted how many couples walked passed us. We ended up counting 12 couples in less than 5 minutes… It’s like Korea was made for couples. Couple clothes, couple accessories, couple EVERYTHING are EVERYWHERE. It’s all about romance in Korea, it seems. There are so many dating spots that even if you’re single, you would want to check them out, so make sure to grab a friend if you’re planning to go to those places. Now, you might have that kdrama fantasy of dating in Seoul and I don’t blame you. And I will tell you know that it’s actually very possible. I actually met my girlfriend at SNU, but that’s another topic, which might not be appropriate to discuss. So if you have any questions regarding dating in Korea, feel free to reach out to me. I would be more than happy to answer your questions.
Anyways, as a collectivist country, it’s very important to treat each other with polite and kindness in Korea. What we consider acceptable at home might not be in Korea, so I have a few tips below that might help make your life in Korea way easier and enjoyable. Trust me, a simple little thing might actually change your entire experience in a good or bad way.
- When you have group projects, buy some snacks and bring them to group meetings. Trust me, they will too. Sharing food is big in Korea. You will leave a very good impression if you bring some food to share and people will love you for it. You don’t have to spend a fortune on it, just a little is okay. It’s the thought that counts.
- Don’t be stingy when it comes to money. Of course we are all poor college students who need to save money. But be careful when it comes to dividing the bills and things like that when you’re going out with friends. It’s the Korean culture not to split the bill. However, your Korean as well as foreign buddies will understand the concept of going Dutch and will try to make sure that it’s black and white when it comes to money. However, be the big guy. Don’t be super stingy with a few dollars. If you buy them a coffee, they will be buying you the next meal. You will not be losing out if you treat them a meal or something because they will make sure that you get your money back, either in actual money, or in terms of food.
- Don’t be afraid to meet new people, especially the locals. It’s easy to just start hanging out with other exchange students because we all share similar cultures and it’s much easier to communicate. However, try to make friends with the Korean students as well. You will find your exchange experience more meaningful this way.
- Try to assimilate. It’s understandable that you will only be in Korea for a couple of months and that you might find fitting into the Korean culture is useless. But trust me, assimilating will make your life in Korea much easier and more enjoyable. You don’t have to whip out the 1000-page article about Korean culture and memorize everything. You just have to try. Just try to do what’s acceptable in Korea and you will realize that people will be surprised and they will love you for me. Offer your seats to the elders and don’t sit in the seats designated for the elders even if they are empty, don’t get too loud in public, don’t act/think like everything is much better at home, etc….