It's exciting but also nerve-wracking to think: You are going to a foreign country, specifically Asian, that is crowded with people. You are afraid that people will look at you differently, may think you're weird, or will not become friends with you. You imagine being all alone throughout this journey. Well, in this situation, it is simply not the case. As an introvert, this is my first out-of-the-country experience, and I came to South Korea all alone. I have social anxiety, and speaking to others, especially strangers, is not my forte. I wondered to myself, "How will I be able to make it through this? How am I going to come forth and talk to people? Will I ever make friends?" Realize this: there are many foreigners in South Korea, and there are people like you who also want to be able to talk and make friends. They may also have the same social issues as you too. Here are some tips that may help you get through this stressful dilemma:
1.) Practice your speaking skills.
Before this experience, my speaking skills were still adapting. I took a public speaking course and worked only in retail, so both have helped. However, the speaking course was forever ago, and I quit my retail job, so I was stuck, not being around people for a while. Knowing that I would have to talk a lot, I practiced some communication skills during quarantine. Put yourself in different situations (whether good or bad), and try to find the proper response to what someone might say.
For example, let's say you're going to a restaurant or fast food place and you're nervous about ordering. If you see the menu beforehand, read it over, choose what you want, and practice what you want to say before you call for the waiter or go up to the counter. If you don't speak Korean, I highly recommend either learning a couple of phrases that would be useful or have a friend that speaks Korean relatively well.
2.) Do NOT be afraid to reach out to others, but learn to be independent sometimes.
Some of my most proud moments while being in South Korea is reaching out to others in the program and learning to be independent at the same time. Once I got released from quarantine, I had no idea how I was going to make friends or hang out with people. Some other students shared their plans for the day, and let anybody messaged them to come and hang out: This was a bold move on my part. I stated that I wanted to join them with their plans, and they immediately agreed. That was the beginning. Now, we hang out constantly and have become really close. This hanging out also led me to meet other people outside of the program including many foreigners, native Koreans, Korean students, and other students that were studying abroad.
Once you have become accustomed to living in Korea for a while, you may want to do things on your own without depending on people. Take some time to walk around the city you live in and become more familiar with certain places: restaurants, cafes, shops, etc. Even buy something from one of those places to practice your communication. Then, once that's done, venture out more to different parts: I have personally been to Hongdae multiple times, and knowing how to go there by heart is thrilling. You have to treat yourself to alone time once in a while.
3.) Have a balance.
Even though it may be exciting to be in a foreign country, and you want to go out and explore constantly, you definitely have to have a balance. You can make a regimen on how you want to spend your time. On days where I'm not the busiest, not extremely tired, or on the weekends, those are the days I go out. There are maybe 1-3 days of rest, but they are actually spread out. There are also several program activities to go to if you sign up for them: Always have those days free. Also, have those rest days as a social recharge too. The weekends will make your social meter go fast quickly if you are not used to it.
Through this program, I have met some fantastic people, and I continue to do so! Every encounter is a special moment, so whoever you meet, cherish that moment with them. Some may be temporary, but the majority is a lifetime!