I found jawbreakers! Oh yes, I found jawbreakers. My friend, Margaret, found soy products at E-mart and Chance, found dried garbanzo beans… and that equals hummus!
I even found Goldfish crackers at HomePlus, dried lentils in Itaewon (Seoul rocks!) and soy chickennuggets at Loving Hut. The expat game of living abroad is sometimes, like playing a game of Scavenger Hunt!
Moreover, my cool expat community here is quickly making me realize how I occasionally underestimate being a part of one. I don’t know how I would have gotten by without them.
I used to think of expats as isolated bunch, desperately clinging to each other to shield themselves from their foreign environment, but that’s not been the case. Many expats are very accepting of their environment and open to making local friends. Unfortunately, that’s not enough for survival or often times, sanity. Thousands of miles away from home, sometimes you crave a little familiarity and normalcy.
5 Reasons to join your Expat community
1. Bitch sessions are necessary.
While not always healthy, everyone occasionally needs to blow off steam from a bad day (or many) at work. That outlet is necessary.
Who will understand you any better than fellow expats going through similar experiences?
Most of the frustrations of adapting to a foreign workplace, comes from “cultural differences”, unfamiliarity and not understanding or knowing how to navigate the system.
Expats, who have gone through or are going through your situation can help provide information, insight and support, …even if only to let you know you’re not alone.
2. All expats share the same challenges with “adapting” to their new lifestyle
If you’re playing a Scavenger Hunt game in piecing your life together, then your fellow expats are doing the same.
You’re not in it alone.
Where can I get shoes that fit?
Is there a Greek food restaurant?
Where can I get a good deal on a cellphone plan?
Or a travel agent (or doctor or dentist) which speaks English?
What bank is the best for foreigners?
… Who knows this better than the long-term expats or the expats, who are researching the same question.
3. If you’re teaching English in Korea, your fellow NETs (Native English Teachers) and Facebook are your best friends.
When I researched Korea, it had the worst bitch sessions of any other country in the ESL teaching forums. There is good reason. Aside from bad hagwon experiences, expats have to deal with the Korean work culture, which is prone to constantly shifting work schedules, job politics and conduct that may seem backwards to westerners.
It’s not uncommon to be tossed last-minute projects (like teaching English to parents and teachers, video broadcast, etc… with the schedule for the entire semester being due in a week!) or feel like the rug is pulled out from under us.
Jumping onto ESL teaching websites like Dave’s ESL Cafe and Waygook.org is certainly help for quick lesson plan ideas or workplace help. Also in Korea, everyone teaches from the same classroom textbooks. Usually, your fellow English teachers are also teaching the same lessons and thus, a lot of sharing goes on, both here and on Facebook.
Facebook in general, can also be a source of finding help and support groups. For me, it’s become my expat newspaper.
On Facebook, my expat friends share cultural tips, they ask forum questions, seek information and help with lesson plan ideas. Our Daegu EPIK group created a FB page, so we can share ideas, connect for social outings or gain advice for our last-minute scrambles.
Other FB social network groups: Daegu Social Network Group, Seoul Veggie Club, English Teachers in South Korea.
4. Everyone hits kimchi overload
If you’re not tired of eating the local food everyday, one thing is certain,… you need to get your head out of that ESL funk!
It’s not healthy to live your life 24/7 living, thinking in and speaking ESL. It can feel like re-training course in retardation, as you’re constantly pushed to speak slowly and think in short basic phrases that foreign students might digest.
It’s good to have Native English-speaking friends to occasionally have dinner with or do things with to keep your English skills fluid! (I’m not kidding)
I’ve been here less than a year and I occasionally catch myself speaking grammatically poor and broken sentences. Further down the line, I hear it gets worse…
5. Making local friends is not as easy as you think it is
Meeting and making new friends after a new move can feel challenging anywhere you live.
Unless you find shared interest groups or hobbies, finding local friends with similar interests can feel a bit like dating.
It’s not always easy to make friends with locals. I’m not saying it’s impossible or don’t try it. Definitely try to enrich your experience of the culture by having as many local friends, as you can.
But the cultural differences and language barriers between an Asian society vs. Western presents an obstacle. Unless your local friends can speak a bit of English, you may feel like you’re back in your ESL classroom during your recreation time .
I have a Korean friend from Canada, who was always wary of Koreans befriending her, because she felt like they always just wanted to practice their English on her . She felt used a lot, so she ended up growing armor around it. As she said, once she’s clocked out of classes, the last thing she wants to do is find recreation, where she’s forced to work again. I get it. Even with my co-teachers, they’re constantly asking me to back up and explain the way I’ve phrased things, so I can never get through my sentences, without having to tangent into an English lesson. It’s frustrating to have a stop and go, when you just need to have a normal conversation.
The other option is to learn the local language in order to make friends. For instance, I’ve been taking Korean languages at the YMCA. While learning the language isn’t a bad thing… it will probably take you a good chunk of the year or longer to master.