How I Found Community in Korea: An Expat’s Experience
Lindsay McKissick, an expat from Atlanta, shares how she found community in Korea and what it took for her to make it feel like home. She hails from Atlanta and found herself falling in love with Korea her first week off the plane.
A hagwon English teacher by occupation and an artist at heart, she finds the most fulfillment in the dance, music, and art that’s so readily available in Seoul. Lindsay tweets at @LindsayEryn and blogs at LindsayEryn.blogspot.com
Growing up and coming into my own has shown me that I possess magical powers of connecting with people easily. Before I left my American home, I would wonder about the friends I would make on the peninsula without much concern. As my departure date got closer and closer, however, the anxieties started pouring in. There was the issue of my FBI check which was taking way too long to return to me, I wasn’t even sure if I’d have air conditioning in my apartment, and I had learned much less Korean than I had intended to acquire before moving to Korea. (Magical connection powers can only go so far when you don’t understand the language.) Those visions of beautiful friendships started to slip away, and, frankly, I freaked out.
In my panic, the boldest thought was this: I was moving to Korea where I knew one person from college among 50,000,000 strangers, give or take a few. Just splendid. I felt my confidence in easily making friends and finding community in Korea slip very, very far away.
My first day at work, I was of course introduced to the faculty and staff. When I met my 16 foreign co-workers, I saw a group of people who would never have come together if left to their own devices in the States. We had folks from so many different lifestyles and talents. There was no way anyone couldn’t belong with them. Sometimes the only thing we had in common was English!
As if I wasn’t already surprised by the instant acceptance, I certainly didn’t expect how much I would depend on my co-workers the first month of my time here. My recruiter had told me they’d be there, sure, but their importance wasn’t even a consideration until I realized just how many questions I was asking them and how many times I would be rescued by them from waiting for someone to come and take my order. (I waited patiently but uselessly a lot when I first arrived.)
My co-workers at Gangnam SLP were my safety net. They shared those first sightseeing days with me and convinced me to try the live octopus. This motley splash of people accepted me into their family and gave me a springboard to jump from and into the rest of my experience in Korea. I have since found more people and other groups to adventure with, but my co-workers are, naturally, those I see the most and those I’ve spent the most time with.
After learning the ropes at work, one of my first orders of business when I came to Korea was to find a church. I grew up in the church, and I knew that I didn’t want my time away from home to also be a time away from my faith. The one friend I knew in Seoul told me she’d found a great church, and before I had a chance to get in contact with her, I stumbled upon this very one my third Sunday in Korea.
The minute I walked into the sanctuary of Jubilee Church, I felt like I was home. I don’t mean America-home, either. I mean soul-home. I am all for stretching yourself and getting outside your comfort zone, meeting new people, and sharpening yourself against others’ ideas, but having a place where I had the same main values and convictions as the other people in the room washed me over with peace and comfort.
That sounds pretty sappy, so allow me to say that I felt a very similar bond with the people at my krump class. In a downstairs studio in Hongdae, the best krumpers in Korea teach a beginner’s class on Tuesdays and Saturdays. I was privileged to take lessons with this group, the Woo Fam, last month. I am eternally grateful for my two Korean and Korean-American friends who came with me and acted as necessary translators.
The entire lesson was given in Korean. I could catch most of what was going on, dance is a visual art, after all, but there were plenty of times when I just felt lost. In those moments, I was glad that there was something deeper than being in sync with the class that gave me a reason to be there. I cared about learning krump just as much as the cool cats next to me. We weren’t from the same country, but we had the same goal.
Since touch down, I’ve been rooted in many different communities, and I can honestly say that my experience in Korea would be duller if even just one of them were absent. I know that everyone who comes will have different passions and interests, but I hope that everyone who comes will make the effort to find like-minded people to join up with and also completely different people to swap ideas with. It’s made all the difference for me, and dang, has it been a lot of fun.