It's lonely. Or it can be. It was for me. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE!
"Tyler, I'm worried about you, are you okay?" My co-teacher Dan Kim asked me somewhere around month two. I forced my head up and down in agreement, but my response was far from the truth. For a while I was alright, I'd met a girl to be excited about. But on April first she broke the news. She was leaving the country, and I wasn’t being fooled. I was a mess.
"Why do you ask?" I returned to Dan. "Well, when I ask the last two English teachers about their time in Korea, they both tell me the same thing. It's very lonely."
I thought a lot about this statement, and it ultimately played a huge part in my decision to leave the country early. The funny thing about being lonely is that the worse it gets, the less you want to try.
But YOU CAN FIND FRIENDS WHILE TEACHING ENGLISH IN KOREA!
I recently talked to several people from my Spring '18 EPIK (English Program in Korea) intake group about how they've made it through the year. Some of them are choosing to renew their contracts, others are leaving in a month, but all of them, said that they got through with the support of friends!
So, how do you find friends while teaching English in Korea ?
Well, like with many aspects of the EPIK program, there's a lot of luck involved, but doing these things will vastly improve your odds.
Put yourself out there. It seems obvious, but all too often, people move to a new place, just to hide out in a room. I know because I've done it, several times. With teaching in Korea, you've already moved across the world, so why not make the most of it?
From the second your plane lands, or better yet, before, start introducing yourself. Don't know Korean? That's okay! Approaching western faces with "Hey, do you speak English?" is an excellent ice breaker. Understand that the other English speakers you meet are just like you. There's no reason to be afraid.
Get some sleep, that time difference is insane. But when you're at the hotel breakfast the next morning, don't pick the empty table, find a place to fill an empty seat. On the bus, do the same. If you do these things, by the time you get to orientation, you should have made a friend or two.
Once at orientation, you'll be surrounded by hundreds of foreign English teachers, all of whom speak your language. Take advantage. Use English.
You'll likely get your own dorm room, but don't sit in it! Sit in the common areas instead. You'll attend mandatory classes from 8:30am-5:00 on most days, and sometimes later. But don't let that discourage you from going out.
Sure, you've got a lot to learn, and teaching English can be stressful and consuming, but this is your time to build a foundation of friends. Having this support will make the difference in leaving early and making it to the end. So, buy some Advil if you must, but go out and make friends!
Arriving in your city
When orientation comes to an end, the intake class will separate into different cities. But that doesn't mean that friendships must end! Korea has an excellent train system, which connects every city in the country in three hours or less, end to end. But even with these weekend friends, once you get to your new city, you'll immediately need to get to work again.