While in Korea, it’s undoubtedly valuable to put effort into making Korean friends. Most students in CIEE take advantage of the Seoulmates program, which assigns students to a group of two to three other CIEE students and a Korean student from a nearby university.
This semester, my Seoulmate is 주희, who’s helped to guide us in Seoul and introduce us to various aspects of Korean culture. The first time we met, we visited the LINE Friends store and hung out at the LINE cafe. We have also collaborated with other Seoulmate groups and explored the COEX aquarium together. Most recently, we even designed phones at a DIY phone case cafe in Hongdae. We hope to spend time studying together for midterms this upcoming week!
Through the Seoulmates program, I’ve also been able to spend time with multiple Seoulmates by attending group hangout events outside of my direct Seoulmates group. In addition to Seoulmates, Yonsei University offers various clubs for international students wherein they can partake in cultural exchanges and make Korean friends, such as YECCO and Mentors Club.
A more alternative route to meeting Koreans that I’ve recently been exploring is HelloTalk. This is an app that connects you with people fluent in the language you’re hoping to improve on. It allows me to talk to Korean speakers hoping to learn English, as I am hoping to improve my Korean as well. HelloTalk is also quite helpful because it translates messages for you, has the function of correcting the other person’s message when there are mistakes, and also links you with those in your area so that you can meet them in person.
Recently, I’ve been hanging out with Jiyoon, who my friend from Yonsei met on HelloTalk. He lives in Incheon, which is about one and a half hours outside of Seoul and is a more suburban, middle-class area than Seoul. Because my Korean is at a beginner speaking level, we speak in English. Jiyoon only learned English ten months ago, but he’s fluent enough in it that we can have fulfilling conversations about our different and intersecting experiences, views, and interests. I was able to visit his house and see what a typical Korean home looks like and play with his dog, Pong, who is a little wild but obedient when tempted with treats and given commands in Korean.
Last night, I met someone from HelloTalk for the first time by myself. His English name is Dennis and he told me how he often meets foreigners because he’s interested in cultural and language exchange. I was surprised by this encounter because sometimes when talking to Koreans, I feel like I need to censor some of the things I say due to our differences in levels of conservatism (for example, when talking about queer issues or politics). However, Dennis initiated a conversation on feminism in the US as compared to feminism in Korea. We talked about foreigners wearing hanbok as a form of cultural appropriation, which I think is harder for most Koreans to understand due to their homogenous background. We also discussed a movie we’ve both seen, 스물 (Twenty), and my reactions toward it as a film of a raunchier genre. Dennis and I plan to meet again next week and continue exchanging culture and language together!
A goal of mine while abroad is to build relationships with Koreans interested in Western culture, as I know that these interactions are mutually culturally enriching. It’s not as easy to meet native Koreans in the US, so this is an opportunity I hope to continue to take advantage of during my free time while abroad.