Vast Visions

a year abroad in south korea

Friends with Strangers – Orientation

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On arriving at Incheon Airport, after going through immigration and picking up way, way too much luggage, I find myself looking around for other lost (foreign) souls with equally as much luggage. We are all going to be in Korea for a year, no way we could stuff our belongings into just one bag. The comforts of home require space and a herculean effort to lift, roll and drag around the things that will be our lives for a long time. It’s worth the effort.

Before passing out on the bus to Jeonju, I look outside and see an expanse of sea and greenery cut by clean steel. I remember thinking that I really am 7,000 miles from home. But in a cool, awesome,”woah, what the hell” kind of way.

One of the first obstacles I faced was talking to others in an effort to make connections – you need a lot of them to get a good network going on this side of the globe. However, I am largely unaccustomed to seeming friendly to strangers. In an environment like New York, you don’t just chat up the guy next to you: “Hi, nice weather, right? I really like your jacket by the way. Are you from around here?” Smiling out of place makes you look homicidal. The dude smiling through the subway stops is definitely up to something. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t look lost. Head up, clenched jaw, maybe even throw in a mean look. Give off the impression that no one should mess with you. Now…ease up on all that because you need to make friends.

How did I go about unlearning all of that?

I talked to everyone, indiscriminately.

Here, trust is a game of minute exchanges and a few good answers. Ok, I don’t really know you. But hey, we’re both in a foreign country. Let’s be friends. That easy.

Thus, orientation progressed for nine days. It felt like a suspended reality of Korea because we were surrounded by English speakers in a collegiate setting, eating bibimbap and drinking Coca Cola.

Overall, orientation at Jeonju was a lot of fun, but I couldn’t help but feel like it was too “college-y.” Relatively soon, people developed cliques and a “choice group” which I thought was laughable. You’re in a new country with tons of new people who speak English and you still only want to associate with one group? For shame…

The social opportunities after the day’s lectures finished were drinking. Sometimes eating. Maybe singing. But mostly drinking. There were several places to hit along the main street of the university, but some people went downtown by taxi to get food and drinks.  A “cool cultural thing” that I came across is drinking outside a convenience store. The 7-11s around school were teeming with EPIK teachers, nametags and all, brazenly downing soju and makgeolli. Of course, some people stayed in and slept off jetlag, but the more adventurous ones stepped back inside the dorm at 11:58pm. (I think some people got locked out too, haha.)

So, sightseeing, orienteering, rapid friend-making, strangely good cafeteria food-eating and then WHAM you get an envelope and a map with your future on it. Mass confusion, bummed that you’ll be far away from your bros, and then swiftly picked up by your co-teachers. Meeting one’s co-teacher was an awkward “ceremony” of EPIK people lined off at the front of a stage, looking into the audience of co-teachers as they filed down one by one to “pick up their foreigner.”

A 5 min. car ride and a shit apartment later, here I am at my school typing out this post as I deskwarm for the rest of the week. That’s it for orientation, my apartment story will be my next post. Until then.

(As I’m typing at my desk I’m laughing because someone asked in Korean what they should do for lunch, and one guy shouted “KOGIKOGIKOGIKOGI” [meatmeatmeatmeat] LOL)

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Author: Natasha

26, student of law but still a dreamer. currently living in chicago.

One thought on “Friends with Strangers – Orientation

  1. Pingback: Kindness in Korea | Vast Visions

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