How to Make Friends in Korea: 6 Tried and True Strategies
When we travel, we can buy as many souvenirs as we want. We can take photos and check things off our bucket lists.
But most travel experiences mean so much more when we have someone to share them with. That’s why making friends abroad is invaluable.
South Korea has a large expat population, especially in big cities, and Koreans themselves are a friendly bunch.
So how do you make friends in Korea?
As long as you’re willing to put yourself out there, the following six tips will help you connect with both expats and native Koreans alike!
- 1. Use Social Media
- 2. Join Expat Communities
- 3. Immerse Yourself in Foodie Culture
- 4. Enjoy Sports and Outdoor Activities
- 5. Play Video Games
- 6. Learn Korean
1. Use Social Media
When you arrive in South Korea, buy a Korean SIM card and start downloading social media apps. Korea is a tech-oriented society, and having a social life here is much easier if you have electronic devices.
South Korea loves social media. If you have a presence on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or even Battle.net, you can find friends in Korea without even leaving the house!
You can even use these social platforms to meet people before you arrive in Korea. Headed there to teach English? Find your company’s group page on Facebook and start adding friends while you’re still back home!
Don’t forget dating apps like Tinder, which Koreans also love to use. Even if you don’t find the love of your life, dating is still a great way to make connections and form lasting friendships.
No matter how you meet them, South Koreans aren’t shy about meeting folks from other countries and are enthusiastic about sharing common interests.
2. Join Expat Communities
Everyone gets homesick sometimes. Thankfully, there are groups you can join when you want to speak your mother tongue, eat some familiar food or just talk to people who understand where you’re coming from.
Virtually every nationality is represented in South Korea, and modern technology makes it easy to find them.
InterNations has a page for South Korea that lists an impressive array of special events, seasonal parties and other gatherings throughout the peninsula. Find every type of activity—from arts and crafts to masquerade balls!
You may even be able to join some of the same groups that you were part of back home. The Society for Creative Anachronism and Toastmasters are two examples of international groups that have a presence in South Korea.
Most of these groups are concentrated in Seoul and other big urban centers, like Daegu. But some smaller towns have them, too, so always check!
3. Immerse Yourself in Foodie Culture
Kimchi. Bulgogi. Bibimbap. Korean food has definitely spiked in international popularity over the past few years—and for good reason!
Taste as much Korean food as you can by going on organized food tours. You can kill two birds with one stone this way: Find amazing dishes and get to know other foodies on the tours.
You can also meet new friends by joining a late-night pub crawl, taking a tour that visits restaurants in a certain neighborhood or attending a special dinner event for an annual holiday.
You can make the most of these experiences by learning Korean food vocabulary and how to order food in Korean. This will help make your Korean dining experience seamless—and thus, delicious! You can also check out this video for more:
Whether you’re trying to order food or you’re looking for and trying to understand recommendations from the waiter, learning beyond the basics can turn your dining experience into a full-on Korean cultural experience.
Korean speakers are passionate about the food they make and serve, but they’re even more passionate about foreigners trying something new and taking an interest in Korean cuisine—another great way to meet people!
4. Enjoy Sports and Outdoor Activities
For those who like to follow professional sports, baseball and soccer are popular in Korea for both players and fans. The K League (Korea Professional Football League) and the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) both have a national fan base that gathers at the local stadium to attend games.
Joining an amateur sports team is another great way to make friends, and there are a lot of options in Korea!
North American football, badminton, ball hockey and even cricket are represented, and these groups are always welcoming new players. I was pleasantly surprised to find an ultimate frisbee league in my neighborhood when I lived in Seoul.
If you enjoy amateur sports or less organized sporting activities, hiking is a popular pastime in Korea. Combine exercise, ancient history, and local flora!
Walking tours are another great way to combine visiting important tourist attractions and enjoying the company of like-minded friends.
Taekwondo is the sport people often associate with Korea, and the people here take great pride in it. No matter where you find yourself on the peninsula, there’s a local martial arts gym offering daily classes in their national sport.
You don’t have to go for a belt, but can take regular classes for fitness, fun and friendship. My belt never went any higher than yellow, but I still have fond memories of attending weekly workout sessions with my friends and neighbors.
5. Play Video Games
A huge benefit of a culture that’s so closely connected to the internet is the popular world of online gaming.
If you’re into games already, this is an ideal way for you to start making friends. If you’re not into video games, this environment might change your mind!
In Korea, this is known as “E-sports” and consists of Real Time Strategy (RTS) games or Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs).
These include titles such as League of Legends, World of Warcraft and the survival epic Fortnite, among many other popular choices. All of them include vast online gaming communities that you can join for fun or competition.
This phenomenon has made the PC 방 (bang) or “PC room” a presence on every corner. These aren’t simple internet cafes. They’re huge, upscale rooms with cutting-edge machines, sleek desks and plush chairs. It’s easy to relax for an extended period of time and chat with other regulars.
When I lived in South Korea, Diablo II was the game to play. I spent almost every evening in the quaint PC 방 near my house. It wasn’t just about the games… it was also about social networks and phone programs like Skype. I stayed in touch with people back home and also made friends right there in the room!
Even though I couldn’t speak much Korean, it was easy to make friends and have fun with my fellow gamers. All you need to do is speak the universal language of loot, hack and slash. To this day, I still have friends that I met through the gaming networks of South Korea.
6. Learn Korean
Learning Korean can help you in two ways. First, when you speak Korean, you can meet locals more easily and form deeper friendships. Second, learning Korean can be a social activity in and of itself.
An easy and fun way to make friends is through language exchange. Plenty of Koreans are happy to simply sit and get to know you just for a chance to practice a different language.
You can speak Korean for half an hour, then English for half an hour. Look for partners through sites like MyLanguageExchange.com!
You can also learn Korean by taking language classes or using learning apps for a more structured experience.
For example, FluentU is an immersive language learning program that teaches you Korean via authentic videos such as movie trailers, inspirational talks, music videos and more. Videos come with expert-reviewed, interactive subtitles that provide contextual definitions of every word.
You can study with FluentU’s customizable flashcards and personalized quizzes. The program can be used in your browser or on your mobile iOS or Android device, so you can start learning before you leave home and continue once you’re in Korea.
No matter how you choose to study, learning the Korean language is a great conversation point that can help you meet and befriend more people in Korea.
Drinking buddies, coworkers, language exchange partners and lifelong friends—these are all valuable friendships you can find in Korea.
The friendships I developed over seafood pancakes and computer games in South Korea are still going strong after more than 15 years!
I don’t have many souvenirs from my time in Korea, but I have plenty of friendships.