More and more Millennials are moving to Korea, maybe for a job in South Korea’s growing economy, or to learn the language or a thirst for adventure in a vibrant culture, or the allure of Hallyu. Whatever the reason, building a brand new life in a foreign city is difficult, especially in Seoul where things are constantly changing. Make Seoul your city with these steps, and transform it from being a foreign land to home sweet home.
Educate and Explore
There is no shame in being a tourist at first. You might as well start to familiarize with Seoul by doing all the mainstream activities. Popular destinations are Gyeongbokgung, 63 tower, and Myeongdong. Although it won’t give you a deep and intimate understanding of Korea, visiting the tourist destinations will be the first baby steps in your relationship with Seoul. You may be disappointed by the swarming tourists, but knowing these areas will give you a bigger picture of Korea later.
Join Korean Communities
Learning from locals through osmosis will be a fast and fun way to learn about Korea. But it is easier said than done, right? The best way to expand your network in a new city is to attend public social gatherings (using apps) and getting involved with an already existent community. As Woody Allen once said, “80% of success is showing up”.
Introducing yourself to strangers will be soul-crushingly scary at first, but after a while it will become second nature. Nerves may make you want to impress people by blabbing about yourself, but sincere interest in another person’s life will earn you more respect and be a lot more useful. By putting yourself out there, you will be exposing yourself to superb people (as well as a few dreadful encounters) and you will start to learn things you didn’t even know existed
Adopt a Korean Routine
Attempting to swallow Seoul whole may work for some, but for a more natural and long term adjustment create small daily rituals that lets you connect with your pocket of land.
Find your favourite coffee shop, get a membership at a local gym, save the numbers of your favourite delivery restaurants, work out your fastest subway route and memorise it, go to the local market and attend neighborhood events. It’s the little things that will make you feel like you fit in with the other Seoulites.
Go On Friend-Dates
There is no need to jump into a romantic relationship when having a fresh start in a new country. Treasure the time you have alone. But, if you click with someone, going on a non-romantic outing together around Seoul will widen your perspective.
I once went to a big event and somehow met a few people who I got along with. It was the first time that we had met, yet the six of us had great chemistry despite all being different ages, from different backgrounds and different personalities. We had dinner and ended up chatting until 2am. I treasure this memory because I had the honour of listening to all their stories and opinions. I learned more from that 6 hour conversation than I have from reading any Korean book.
As an outsider, generalising Korea and Seoul dwellers seems easy, but once you are integrated in the community you will be surprised by the diversity. You are bound to meet people who you get along with, and you may even find a lifelong soul-mate.
Don’t Compare Seoul To Back Home
Grumbling, “You wouldn’t be having this problem in (insert home country here)” will only make you miserable.
If you constantly talk about how your home town is better and how much you miss it, not only will it annoy the locals around you, but you will constantly be rejecting the uniqueness of Seoul. There are bound to be differences, especially if you come from a first world country. Seoul may seem modern and new, but in reality South Korea is a developing country, and is still working on its infrastructure.
Feeling homesick on the other hand, is a natural stage of transitioning. This will likely happen after living in Korea for 6 months. Don’t get homesickness confused with being dissatisfied with Seoul, as you will likely crave comfort at times.
Embrace The New And Shed The Old
Everyone has their own life necessity from their home country that they keep with them always. For me it is my daily morning cup of Twining’s Earl Grey Tea. However there is a line between having these items and taking too much of ‘home’ with you. You may have made some unconscious rules in your life that restrict you from new experiences, for instance, instead of using Google use Naver instead or try a new Korean seafood dish every week until you find the one you like.
You will not be able to be a Seoulite immediately. Building a network, taking advantage of what’s to offer, feeling the natural joys and sorrow of life in Seoul are the small steps that will make you become a part of the city. It takes at least a year to fully be comfortable and adapted to a new country, especially in a big city like Seoul. The learning process is slow and steady, so don’t rush and be disappointed with yourself.
Every district of Korea has cool things going on, even if you are not in the trendiest parts (like Hongdae, Gangnam, Itaewon). Your life in a new city by yourself is going to be the ultimate test of your limits, but it will also teach you more about yourself and your abilities. It will be tough at times to be away from friends, family and your comfort zone, but these challenges will make you stronger. Recognise that your experiences (both good and bad) shape your ever-evolving identity.
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