Friendships are one of those things I always took for granted at home, having had essentially the same group of friends for the last 15 years, and adding another group in university roughly 5-7 years ago. Of course I have made the occasional friend here and there, but my “pack” has basically been the same group of people for the past decade, at least. Matt has the same situation with his friends.
When you are traveling, you don’t have the luxury of a built-in group of friends. You are plopped down in a new place, and if you want to do something other than sit in your apartment all the time and watch television, then you have to go out and try to make friends.
The difficult part of this in a foreign country is, of course, the language barrier. The great part is the expat community. We have been really lucky that there are so many other foreign teachers around and near our town, and everyone has been incredibly welcoming. Because everyone is in the same position and no one wants to feel lonely, everyone is really good about arranging get-together’s.
In addition to befriending other foreigners, we’ve also finally started to meet and befriend locals. We met our Korean friends Eric and So Hyun (a dentist and an English teacher) through my co-teacher Stephanie, and they have been so great to us–helping us with translations, talking to our apartment building security guard for us, taking us out on the town, and helping us find things in Gwangju. We’re forming relationships and friendships with our Korean co-teachers, and both of us have been stopped out in public by friendly locals that want to chat and practice speaking English.
Friendships are a funny thing. At home, we tend to form them with people we have a lot in common with, and at least for Matt and I, we tend to keep them for a long time. But here, it’s less about meeting people you have stuff in common with, and more about meeting people who are also seeking friends and willing to put in the effort to form new companionships. I think this has been really good for us–we are meeting so many people from all over the world, from all walks of life, with all different backgrounds. Our new circle of friends includes people from the U.S., Canada, England, New Zealand, South Africa and Korea.
In the beginning it’s easy to feel lonely, but as time has gone on, the connections we are building here grow stronger, and we can confidently say now that many of the people we are meeting here will be lifelong friends. As Alan’s character says in The Hangover, “And now I know for sure, I just added two more guys to my wolf pack.” Only we’ve added a few more than two.