If you can't get your hands on a paper copy of The Korea Herald, you can follow this link (I hope), or read the article I wrote, reprinted here.
Be a Nate instead of a nothing
Obviously, expats would function better and enjoy their time in Korea more if they lived in a community: all humans do. The hard part is knowing where to find it. Even in densely populated Korean cities, it can be difficult for expats to get connected, and along with the language, culture and schedule barriers preventing networks from forming, there is another impediment to community which is completely surmountable: the initiative block.
My friend Evan is new in Korea: we knew each other back in Canada, and here in Korea we once had an interesting conversation. Evan's church has a couple of English services each Sunday, which attract a couple hundred people. There were a handful of people Evan had met there, either during or after church. These people had enough interest in each other that it would be nice, Evan reflected, if they could meet in other contexts than just the usual chatting semi-circle, with the possibility of an after-service coffee shop meet and greet.
In a completely different context, during my second year in Korea, I lived in a suburb of Seoul where there was a foreigner bar - a bar that had been unofficially designated the place where foreigners from the district met on Friday or Saturday nights. At that bar, it was surprising how often the same faces showed up: we knew each other by name, and had good times together over drinks; sometimes we even got each other's phone numbers and such.
However, the only activity we ever did together was trade shots. While the conversations had over a brew or a cocktail can be interesting, drinking buddy gets to be a pretty one-dimensional relationship after a while. Yet, to our detriment, nobody ever collected those phone numbers, sent out a bulletin, and suggested a hike or a brunch, instead of the same old drinking.
Drinking buddies we remained, and nothing more. When somebody left Korea, they weren't much missed, and when somebody new arrived, we weren't much excited: The beer buzz probably mattered more to most of us after a week of tiring teaching.
Nice as they might have been, I am no longer in touch with any of the people I met at that bar.
For Evan's case, things turned out better. A guy named Nate gathered the phone numbers of all the people he'd met after church, set a time and place, and invited them to meet during the week. The group is now scheduling regular meetings in a couple of locations, and moreover, building and deepening friendships. Though anyone could have done the same, everyone is glad Nate picked up the ball.
The great thing is, it doesn't take much to be a Nate instead of a nothing. Most people are interested in improving their support systems and friendships. All it takes to be a Nate is to gather those phone numbers or e-mail addresses, and set a time and place. Starting a Facebook group is easier still. All involved will be on the way toward a viable community, and a better experience of Korea.
Sure, it's a bit scary to make those first calls, but the possible benefits far outweigh the risks of losing a little face. There is nothing stopping any expat in Korea from being a Nate, instead of waiting for one to come along. Setting a time and place isn't that hard, and everyone will remember, and thank, the one who finally got the ball rolling. That person could be you!
If you know about, or are a member of a community where expats meet, connect, or support each other, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with the word "community" in the subject line. Tell me when and where you meet, and why you think I should feature your group.
To contact Rob, e-mail email@example.com or go to roboseyo.blogspot.com - Ed.
Thanks to Matt, the expat living editor, for giving me the chance to hold forth in the print media, and thanks to everyone reading: I've never met many of you, but I bet you're swell.