Continue making friends- How to avoid a midnight run while teaching English in Korea

You’ve arrived.

The seasons, the traffic, and the thoughts, are all racing past. You’re discovering that teaching English can be overwhelming, especially if you don't have experience in the field. There's lesson planning, disciplinary issues, and the fact that you're starting from scratch.

The seasons, the traffic, and the thoughts, are all racing past.

The seasons, the traffic, and the thoughts, are all racing past.

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.

Facebook and   Hellotalk   for the win.

Facebook and Hellotalk for the win.

How to make local friends while teaching English in Korea

1. Lesson plan

Giving thought to your lessons will be both beneficial to you and your students.

Giving thought to your lessons will be both beneficial to you and your students.

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!

2. Meetup

In Korea, there truly is   a group for everything  .

In Korea, there truly is a group for everything.

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!

A night out in Hongdae

A night out in Hongdae

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?"

4. Language classes & Exchange

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

Snowboarding at     Muju     .

Snowboarding at Muju.

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. 

Hiking trails in Korea   are abundant, beautiful, and FREE!

Hiking trails in Korea are abundant, beautiful, and FREE!

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.

 

Go, for the experience.

Go, for the experience.

First make friends- How to avoid a midnight run while teaching English in Korea

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!

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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.

Instead of splitting a hotel room upon arrival, as  my recruiter  suggested, I got my own. I took this photo from that room before heading down to breakfast, where I sat alone.

Instead of splitting a hotel room upon arrival, as my recruiter suggested, I got my own. I took this photo from that room before heading down to breakfast, where I sat alone.

Start Strong

The flight

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.

Arrival

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.

Orientation

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.

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