The One thing you need to know before moving to Korea

*Disclaimer*: I began writing this piece a few months ago when I started to make new friends who seemed to be more my speed and with whom I could have long-lasting relationships while in Korea.  After speaking to a friend who is leaving in the next couple of months, I felt like this was something that should be shared.

People are disposable.  You may have experienced this back home by using Tinder or any online dating website/ app, but truly: people are disposable.  I discovered this to some degree back in Vancouver having used Plenty Of Fish on occasion, and in Toronto on Tinder.  You meet someone, they’re great, but you could probably do just a little bit better.  You have no mutual friends with this person, so if you brush them off you really owe them nothing and if you behave less than admirably – who’s going to know?  While you’re rationalizing to yourself, the guy or girl sitting across from you is thinking the exact same thing.  Fortunately, you can always fall back on your network of friends – a highly curated group of beautiful, talented individuals with whom you have tons in common.

Flash forward to Korea.  Everyone has a degree and everyone is from one of a selected few Native English-speaking countries (Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa).  You’re new here and are automatically sorted into one of two groups: “Wanderlust” or “LBH”.  

“LBH” stands for: “Loser Back Home” – the kind of individual who has trouble making friends back in their home country, and even more trouble finding a career (a job beyond “Barista with a Degree”).  They do tend to make friends here often out of necessity, but more often than not they’re guys in their mid-twenties who have never had a girlfriend and seek to be the novelty foreigner on a hot Asian girl’s arm.

“Wanderlust” is the name I’ve coined for the other category based on the number of tattoos with this little word in as many fonts as I can name on English Teachers and Travel Bloggers alike.  These people have an insatiable thirst for worldly knowledge.  Their ultimate best friends are the wanderlust guilt (love you, miss you Mom and Dad!) and their well-stamped passport.  Outgoing and friendly, they make new pals very easily and cultivate fun, intellectual, entertaining relationships.  Many of these people have had satisfying and impressive careers back home, but ultimately have given them up to traverse the globe.

That’s the thing – the wanderlust people (well, we wanderlust people) are used to making sacrifices.  With these sacrifices comes a certain comfort over time and ease of picking up and leaving.  I’ve lived in several places thus far, leaving Toronto for Italy, Italy for Toronto, Toronto for Kingston, Kingston for Port Hope, Port Hope for Vancouver, Vancouver for Toronto, Toronto for Atlanta, Atlanta for Toronto, and Toronto for Korea.  Each time I leave it becomes easier to turn off the painful sense of going away, preferring to simply remember the good times I’ve had and the great things I’ve learned from all the wonderful people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet.  This also makes it very easy to find a new shiny friend and neglect important “classic” relationships.

In any situation that employs a large number of expats and immigrants (that’s right folks – I’m both!) there’s an opportunity to get welcomed (or stuck!) into a foreigner community.  Because this community is in a bubble, there’s more opportunity for drama to occur and with that comes a lot of hurt feelings.  When we create immediately strong bonds with new people in our community we often forget about the people who made us feel so comfortable and special when we first arrived (the classics, if you will).  They become disposable, and in turn so will we be.  Most people that come to Korea from one of the aforementioned countries only stays for a year or two.  Three years and you’re pushing it.  Beyond 3, you’re a lifer.  With all of these people coming and going in the revolving door of recruitment it’s tough forming real attachments knowing the person may leave before you, or that you’ll be jet-setting elsewhere before they’re finished their contract.

It’s important to cultivate new relationships, but make sure to put in the work on your old ones (remember – the classics).  You never know when someone with whom you swiped right might get bored and decide to un-match.  In our digital society time is fleeting and everyone is disposable – even you.

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