Brit in Seoul. I take street portraits and wear fancy shoes. 서울에 살고 있는 영국인. 스트릿 사진 찍고 멋있는 신발도 좋습니다.
Connecting - A story about how I came to befriend a Korean cafe owner

Chances are that when you arrive in Korea for the first time, you won’t know anyone. This is often the case when you move to a new country and is made worse if you are not at least conversationally fluent in the native language. I certainly remember my first few weeks and even beyond - the culture shock and inability to properly communicate with people made it one of the most testing periods of my adult life.

The biggest change for me was my living conditions. I was very lucky to want for nothing as a child and have always lived in comfortable surroundings through school. Even at university when I was living in the student dorms with five other students, I felt like the rooms and building itself were of decent quality. This was most definitely not the case when I finally arrived at my apartment in Incheon after traveling eighteen hours across the globe. Granted, it was an older building and probably not of a high rent grade but the furnishings inside as well as the openings around the windows and doors were vastly different from that to which I had grown accustomed.

Another thing that I still remember thinking when I arrived was that there was nothing around. Seo-gu, Incheon is a very quiet place with a thirty minute train or bus ride required to reach what I would class as ‘civilization' - bustling streets filled with a younger generation, cafes, shops that took up an entire building rather than one of four or five floors and at least some signage in English. Now, the town in which I lived prior to arriving in Incheon was hardly a metropolis, but had just begun to expand as I was leaving and the very first Starbucks opening not two weeks before I got on the plane. Despite this, I was somewhat taken aback by the desolate area in which I found myself. It felt like each and every building was a stack of old, nondescript shops run by aged men and women. Culture shock at it’s finest.

After almost four years now, I am intimately familiar with the key process required to connect with the country and it’s people, and it is exactly that - connection. The more people you befriend and become close to, the more at home you will feel, despite often sharing nothing other than a keen interest in each other’s culture. It is often said that if you surround yourself with friends, you will lead a happier life, and being in a foreign country doesn’t make this any less true.

Let me share a story if I may, of how I came to be very close to the owner of ‘Drip House Cafe' and the part timers working there. It was near the beginning of the year, around March, one of the buildings all of a minute from my apartment was being renovated and two store fronts, side by side were having the same wood panelling applied. They became a dumpling house on the left and the Drip House Cafe on the right. For the first two or three weeks, I walked past every morning on my way to work and was unable to muster the courage to go in and order the coffee that I so badly wanted (I’m a very shy person by nature). One evening on the way home I decided to go for it and head in when the cafe was really empty so that I could avoid the looks from other customers as a tall foreign man entered their new neighborhood hangout. I ordered a latte, sat down and the owner began to ask me the questions that every foreigner has been asked at least ten times since arriving in the country - where I’m from, if I have any brothers or sisters, etc. I wasn’t feeling the most comfortable with my conversational Korean at this point, but I did my best to answer his questions as fully and completely as I could. I finished my coffee, left and returned the next morning. I continued this routine for a few weeks, growing more and more comfortable with the cafe and it’s owner.

The turning point came when he told me about a new part time worker he was hiring. Her name was Hyejung and she had spent a year in Montreal, Canada (not Vancouver, which is where a lot of Koreans end up) working at a coffee house and studying English and French. I met her a week later and we immediately became friends because of her keenness to maintain her English and also to gossip about cafe happenings. From then on, I would speak to her whenever she was working between studies and she could act as a translator for when I couldn’t quite get my point across to the owner. He himself was pleased to see me interacting with the staff and enjoyed having me around.

I am now a regular customer at the cafe and have been treated to more “service" than I could ever have expected. He is intimately familiar with the goings on in my life and I have met both his wife and young son. I expect to be close friends with him for as long time.

The moral, if it can be called that, is that by making real, physical connections with people working in local shops, cafes, bars and libraries, you are immersing yourself in that community and exposing yourself to a greater number of characters. This will not only benefit your language skills, but show yourself as the kind of person that the locals would be glad to share their neighborhood with.

And so I ask you - Have you befriended a native in a foreign land? How did you do it? Do you remain friends?

    1. 20 notesTimestamp: Saturday 2011/12/10 21:31:00Source: aa-chan.netKorea드립하우스외국인xl
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