You’re in a foreign city and a foreign career. But again, YOUR PRIORITY SHOULD BE MAKING FRIENDS! Even if you've met tons of people at orientation, odds are, many, or even most of them are now scattered throughout the country. Thanks to the KTX, Reaching them on weekends won’t be an issue, but you'll still need a more local community.
"Well, won't I be busy with work during the week?" you may be thinking. Yes, that's correct. But trust me, in the evenings you'll want to blow off steam. Unlike jobs in your home country, as an English teacher in Korea, you'll likely be the only native speaker at your school. Granted, some of your coworkers may speak English, but the workplace in Korea may not be what you're used to. Korean culture is strict, and education is taken very seriously. So, even if your coworkers can speak English, you won't be able to chat with them like you may hope to.
"If I'm busy with work, and I don't know anyone in my new city, how will I make friends?" It's a great question, and one that I failed to answer as a teacher. But, I think I’ve got a few suggestions now, with the help from some intake classmates who’ve made it to the end.
How to make local friends while teaching English in Korea
I know, it sounds lame. But odds are, when you're starting out as an English teacher in Korea, you'll have a ton of work to do. Because of this, it can be easy to think that you don't have time for friends. That just isn't true. There may already be lesson planning groups in your area, which you can find through pages such as EPIK (insert city and year) (example epikdaejeon2016), and they'll always be open to accepting someone new.
Groups like these not only make it easy to meet people, but they also offer resources which will ease your transition into teaching at Korean schools. Can't find an existing group? Start one! With Facebook or even Meetup, gathering English speakers in Korea should be accomplished without issue. Remember, those other teachers are in the same boat as you!
In any city in Korea, you should find some sort of English friendly Meetup group. Shortly after arriving in Daejeon, I enrolled in "Daejeon international social gathering" "Daejeon paint night" and several others. And then I never worked up the courage to attend any events. If I had, I may very well be writing this from my desk at Daejeon Middle School.
3. Go out!
I'm not a big drinker, and I get the worst hangovers, so going out was never my thing. But, on the few occasions that I did go out, I met people! In Daejeon, there were several "international" bars, and even an English pub or two. Going to places like these makes it extremely easy to meet people, because unlike other places in Korea, you'll all have one major thing in common, your language! And everyone there will be dying to have a conversation that goes past "how are you?"
From day one, I had no intention of learning the Korean language. I was an absolute fool. In my placement city of Daejeon, Korean language courses were offered in beginner, intermediate, and advanced, all for free. The classes were held two days per week, and they were open not only to EPIK teachers, but to other English teachers throughout the city. These classes would have been an amazing way to meet people, and I truly regret not enrolling.
Language exchanges are common in cities throughout the world, and Korea is no exception. Often held at bars, these gatherings are as much about meeting people as they are about practicing language. I never did attend a language exchange in Korea, but I did finally have the experience in Barcelona Spain. My Spanish isn’t much better than my Korean, but that didn’t keep me from having a great time interacting with locals. And is often the case, the only thing I paid for was a drink.
5. Do the things you want to do
After three weeks in Korea, the excitement began to wear off, and each day became progressively more mundane. I'd met a few people at orientation, but several were in other cities, and the ones in town were constantly "busy". Snowboarding abroad is something I'd always wanted to do, but I couldn't find anyone to join me. I began that day sitting in my apartment, but something told me to get out. The following events ensued.
Long story short, do the things you want to do, and you might just meet someone who shares your interests. You may share other things with that person too.
6. Apartments are for sleep
Earlier, I mentioned the importance of avoiding the temptation to hangout in your dorm room during orientation. When you arrive at your apartment, it’s equally important to avoid this place. My apartment was a tiny sterile studio, with a small bed, a desk, and one window that faced a wall. Often, I’d return home from work, and sit awkwardly in my bed, either lesson planning, or thinking about being lonely. Even if you are lucky enough to get a nicer place, I still can’t stress enough how important it is to avoid using it for anything other than sleep!
So, you’ve met people, now what do you do?
Invest in the experience/yourself
Before going to Korea, I spent countless hours dreaming of places to visit. Tokyo, Shanghai, Jeju island, the DMZ. But as I settled into the Monday-Friday life, I began counting every nickel and dime. Instead of experiencing things, I decided to save more money, which eventually led to a miserable life, and an abrupt decision to escape. As a teacher in the EPIK program, you should be making about $1,800 US per month, tax free. And, you’ll be given a furnished apartment for which you don’t pay. So, although it can be tempting to save as much as possible, trust me when I say that spending some money and enjoying your time will leave you with more saved in the long run.
Go for the right reasons
I applied to teach English in Korea in April of 2016. I'd quit my first job out of college after just five months, and I'd managed to burn through every dollar of my savings, and then some. I was living at home, with credit card debt, no social life, and a burning desire to get out and have an experience. I saw the EPIK program as a way to pay off debt and eventually save money to put toward future travels. I didn't know much about Korea, and I really wasn't all that interested. From day one at orientation, it was clear to me, that I was the misfit. I made no effort to learn the language, to meet locals, or to be a part of a community. I wasn't ready for Korea, and it ultimately beat me.
Go for the experience. Live like a local. Put yourself out there. Keep an open mind. Don't try to pinch pennies. And not only will you make it through, but as several of my former colleagues have said, it may provide you with a lifetime of memories.