If you were to ask people what their top 10 wishes were, most if not all would likely say something along the lines of “I want to travel abroad” or “I want to live abroad”. Travelling is often glorified as this smooth, meaningful, eye-opening journey. Meaningful? Yes. Emotionally so. Eye-opening? Absolutely, you may not recognise the person you were pre-travel! Smooth? Rarely. It’s hard! Sometimes it’s stressful. Other times, it’s isolating. But all of this isn’t news. It isn’t new. You’ve heard it all before. Still, I wanted to share my personal experience travelling and living abroad so far.
Along with the good moments, living abroad can be quite a lonely experience – being away from your family and home, it is often difficult to find and sustain social connections. It makes a tremendous difference having a support system, especially during holidays like Christmas. Somedays, I just crave to speak freely in my native tongue. When you’ve had a stressful day, it’s nice to meet up with friends and vent in a cosy cafe, or go travelling together during vacation. A community (or lack thereof) can in-part make or break a person’s time abroad.
Oooookay. So: forming connections while travelling/living abroad is important. Got it. But that’s the easy part! The hard part is how. How can you make friends living abroad? If you work abroad, it can be difficult as you are likely busy during the week. For those of you travelling abroad, it can be even more difficult as you may only stay in each city/country for a few weeks/months. Now, of course, there are many ways to meet new people. If you have found a way that works for you, great! Don’t fix what isn’t broken and all that. But, if you are struggling for ideas or how to start, hopefully this will be of use to you.
My main tip is this: branch out! Find things that interest you and see if there are any classes held within your area. Do you like sports, reading, arts and crafts? These are common activities which usually have a fair amount of clubs. Remember: the internet is your best friend! Check online to see if there are any expat or travel groups specific to the area you are living in. Once you find an online community, you can ask around for any clubs or activities happening nearby. Online groups can store a wealth of information and are a great springboard for meeting new people with similar interests to your own. And don’t forget to frequently check if there are any festivals or events being held in your city – those things are certain to draw huge crowds of people, and are an easy way to socialise with many people in a short amount of time.
Let me share with you a few of my favourite memories with some of my closest friends in the expat community in Korea! All of these activities are great ways to meet new people and find a community that suits you and are additional activities to try alongside those above! With at least two of these activities, I met new people as friends of friends. Once you establish that base of connections, everything else falls into place!
1. Hiking (or any other outdoor activity). This is not only a great way to see more of the natural environment of the country, but it’s also active. I find people are more talkative when they are engaged in physical activity, whether that’s playing sport or simply walking. You don’t see anyone on their phones during a hike, after all! It’s a nice custom to say hello to fellow hikers, it really lifts your spirits!
During my first month, the GETs (Guest English Teachers) arranged a hike to a nearby mountain that was to be my introduction to the expat community in my town. I liked them immediately. They were sweet, funny, outgoing, and just what I needed (and still do!) to prevent me from going stir-crazy! On the day of the hike it was very hot, so we grabbed iced coffee from a nearby cafe beforehand. At the top, we had a picnic for lunch – after our celebratory group selfie, of course!
2. Sponsored Races. Similar to hiking, except there’s more talking before and after the event. Also, there’s usually a buffet or at least snacks after the race which gives you chance to introduce yourself to others. At Easter in 2017, Camp Walker (US military base) in Daegu advertised a 5k Color Run.
I had completed two Color Runs previously back home in England and was excited to take part in my first run in Korea. A few of my friends were also interested, so we formed a team and went together. It was an amazing day and had a decent turnout! The course was fairly simple, with coloured dye being thrown at participants every 1km. A memorable part of the race was running down a straight path lined with blooming cherry blossoms. After the race, Camp Walker had a buffet and refreshments that we all treated ourselves to.
3. Summer events. Summer: PICNICS! BBQ’s! PARTIES! Summer is the perfect chance to meet new people! The sun is out, everyone is spending longer outdoors, and there’s a definite boost in social activity – depending on the country, of course! Antartica, I feel you. Ask around to see if there’s any events starting, keep an eye out for posters around town, or even make your own – so long as you have the basics down: good weather, food, drinks, and music, you’re all set!
During the summer of 2017, we had a little picnic by the river. In Korea, there are many of these outdoor wooden structures for resting, so we decided to eat at one relatively far from the main centre of town. Taking your shoes off before you enter keeps the floor relatively clean and safe to sit on, but we still brought mats and blankets with us as we were going to be eating. It provided the perfect amount of shade from the glare of the summer sun! Everyone brought either homemade or purchased food. We had a nice balance of main dishes and desserts. No treats before lunch, people!
4. Camping (also part of 3). This is a fun experience to do in the summer and is really effective at bringing people together, given you are spending time in close-quarters with people for a long period of time with minimal distractions.
Before summer drew to a close in 2017, we went camping in Susungdae, a national park close to Geochang. The river level was quite low due to a considerable lack of rain in the previous months. Needless to say, we severely underestimated the dropping temperatures at night-time! Huddled together in three tents on raised wooden platforms, we were still FREEZING! But, during the day we enjoyed wandering into the clear water to view the small fish swimming nearby.
If life as an expat has shown me anything, the most important thing would be to make and maintain connections. Having those wholesome relationships that you can look back on fondly, is key to an enjoyable, fulfilling experience.