As a kid, I loved getting new toys. At first, anyway.
Eventually, I’d grow tired of playing with that toy or it would break. I remember very few of my childhood toys.
However, I cling to memories of being with my family and friends growing up.
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.
If you’re traveling to South Korea, you may be wondering how to start making friends.
Let’s look at how to get started.
How to Make Friends in Korea: 6 Tried and True Strategies
So how do you make friends in Korea?
Koreans are a friendly bunch in general, so as long as you put yourself out there, you should have some local pals in no time!
There’s also a large expat population, especially in big cities. The best way to get your social fix in Korea is to find a healthy mix of both 외국인 (oue-guk-in) – foreigners and locals to befriend.
The following six tips should put you in touch with both expats and native Koreans.
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. Teaching English in Korea? 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. South Koreans aren’t shy about meeting folks from other countries and are enthusiastic about sharing common interests.
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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 gatherings to masquerade balls!
You may even be able to join some of the same groups you were part of back home. The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) 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.
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: find amazing dishes and get to know other foodies on the tours.
Meet new friends by joining a late-night pub crawl, taking a tour that visits several unique restaurants in a certain neighborhood or attending a special dinner event for an annual holiday.
But don’t just settle for the bare minimum by pointing at what food you want to try. You’ll want to learn all the words and phrases possible to make your Korean dining experience seamless—and thus, delicious! For that, I recommend the following video from FluentU’s YouTube channel.
Whether you’re trying to order food or you’re looking for and trying to understanding 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.
Wow your Korean waiter or waitress with the phrases in the above video, and check out other awesome videos on FluentU Korean’s YouTube channel.
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 a 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 their national sport. No matter where you find yourself on the peninsula, there’s a local martial arts gym offering daily classes.
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 gaming, especially the ones you play online.
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) – Room a presence on every Korean street corner. These aren’t simple internet cafes. They’re huge, upscale rooms with cutting-edge machines and equally sleek desks and plush chairs to match. 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 room 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 while making friends right there in the PC 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. Find partners through Language Exchange!
But to truly boost your language skills, you’ll need to do more than just speak Korean for half an hour every week.
Like learning Korean with music and fun videos? Then you’ll love FluentU!
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
It’s an entertaining method to immerse yourself in Korean the way native speakers really use it, while actively building your vocabulary. You’ll learn how to speak naturally and authentically, which will make it easier to connect with Korean people.
Use FluentU’s annotated subtitles, interactive vocabulary lists, flashcards and more to brush up on your Korean before and during your time in South Korea.
Access the full video library for free with a FluentU trial! You can learn Korean on your web browser or, better yet, download the app at the iTunes store or Google Play store to take with you all around South Korea.
Drinking buddies, coworkers, language exchange partners and lifelong friends. These are all valuable friendships you can find in Korea.
The connections I made in South Korea are still part of my life. The friendships I developed over seafood pancakes and computer games 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.
Kristy Ambrose has been writing professionally since 2010. She dabbles in various genres, including everything from short blog posts to serialized novels. Her inspiration comes from gamers, beachcombers, foodies and fellow travelers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Victoria.