Friday, May 24, 2013

How to make Korean Friends

I was chatting to another NET the other day, about what to do for summer vacation. Her plans fell through so I said I'd ask my Korean friends for advice, and she gasped in amazement and demanded that I tell her how to make Korean friends.

I could write another "witty and yet informative" guide, but I think this is best done by just describing how I became friends with some very cool people. 

1) Co-workers
One of my first Korean friends here was one of the math teachers at my school. She'd had Korean friends before, and since she had a lot of free time she'd come into our office to chat quite often. I tried to follow the Korean conversation (my limited vocab of 150 words means this is possible in about 1 of 100 cases) and joined in where I thought I could. Generally I sat there nodding and smiling. She started sitting with me at lunch and inviting me for walks around the school after eating. She offered me coffee and diet supplements. She took me to the restaurant in Palgongsan when I lost my camera. She treated me to delicious traditional food, and another time we had barbecue and beer. We even went to an art gallery opening together. 

The important thing to note here is that I simply made myself available and open and went with the flow, and all the effort came from her. An important thing to keep in mind is not to turn down invitations. When we first started hanging out we had plans to go for dinner that kept falling through because of a project she was working on that required a lot of travel, and eventually she felt so bad that she took me to one of the fanciest restaurants in Daegu. These days we help each other learn each other's languages, and next weekend I think we might go clothes shopping. 

I also drink coffee in her office sometimes. Today one of the other ladies in her office asked me to join her for iced coffee after lunch, and during that, she invited me to her home for dinner on Sunday. Her mother is going to cook me dinner and we're going to compare Korean and Western culture. I'm really looking forward to that, and it came completely out of the blue. 

2) Meet-ups
I had a rough day and decided the only thing that would make me feel better was beer and a puzzle, so I headed to Buy the Book after work. I forgot that every Friday they have a language exchange there, so I sat there doing my puzzle and drinking beer with a bunch of strangers, and made some new friends. Some of those friends were foreigners, and some were Korean. One girl, about nineteen years old, told me she's planning to move to Germany soon and she shared her fears and excitement with me. We swapped numbers and now we're kind-of friends, but I'll have to work on it a bit harder to make it a more solid friendship.

3) Hobbies
I'm becoming more and more obsessed with geocaching, and after a particularly active day in Chimsan park I received a message via the geocaching website from someone who wanted a hiking buddy while they visited Daegu over the weekend. I think that at the time he thought I was a dude, but I responded positively and we started chatting over Kakao to plan where and when we'd hike. And then we chatted about other things. Eventually the day swung around, and as I stood at the back of a block of flats, waiting to see if this guy was a serial killer, I considered calling in a friend for backup. And then this charming, rather attractive man appeared with a grin and a wave, and off we went. It was hot, we were sweaty, and we found over 35 geocaches together. We spoke about geocaching, and big name geocachers in Korea like Jiho Kim, and hiking, and also language, education, the environment... Lots of things. His English wasn't amazing but neither is my Korean, and we managed to get by with patience and bravery. Other people who we met along the way thought we were a married couple rather than people who'd only met that morning. After the six hour hike we sat on a bench, drinking beer and eating bananas, and those were the best damn bananas I have ever eaten in my life.

4) Local business owners
I always make an effort to chat to the owners of the small businesses that I frequent. The ladies and gent that run Hansot, the andong jjimdalk couple, the owners of awesome bars, to name a few. I see them all the time, so a little word here and there about their health, their kids, or how delicious their food/drink is doesn't go amiss. 

5) Chance encounters
I've told the story before about how I bumped into and befriended my downstairs neighbors. They've been wonderful friends to me so far, and I really look forward to spending more time with them in the future. Other chance encounters that have lead to friendships are things like going for a walk in the park and ending up chatting to a retired English teacher for hours, or striking up a conversation with the girl in the makeup store only to discover that she's half Korean and half Portuguese - a rare mix. Or being asked for directions by someone from out of town, or being offered soap by an ajumma in the shower at the gym. Or hanging out with a dozen Korean Air force majors, captains and lieutenants in a bar downtown. Granted, some of these encounters are significantly more awkward than others, and some are more fun. The important thing is to brush off the awkwardness and appreciate the friendliness that is being sent your way. 

What can each of these little anecdotes tell you about how to make Korean friends?

Well, it's simple really. Stop thinking of it as 'making Korean friends' and just think of it as 'making friends'. And go about it the same way you would absolutely anywhere else.

Apologies for the lack of pictues; I'm lazy. Here you go:

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