Perhaps the most pressing concern I had on my mind before I left for South Korea was the need to make friends while on the trip. Prior to leaving New Zealand, I was already incredibly close with many of the other UoA students on the trip as we were in the same 2022 Korean classes in Auckland. What’s more, we also spent significant amounts of time in the weekends and outside class enjoying each other’s company and having a good time in Auckland. So, I was not worried about being lonely or lost during the trip, which was quite reassuring! I’d also met the rest of the group at least once before our departure, and I could confidently say they all seemed extremely friendly and welcoming, so I wasn’t worried at all about whether or not our group would get along.
However, one of my personal goals for the trip was to broaden my social circles and make new, international friends both at the Language Centre and as we went about our daily lives in Korea. My group of New Zealand friends was all on the same page about this and all had similar goals. Prior to leaving, we had even contemplated manufacturing a storyline in which none of us knew each other, so we could pretend we were random strangers and spend all our energy on meeting new people (however, we came to the conclusion this idea had many flaws on many levels).
So, on the first day, I turned up to class with slight trepidation. We had been given a very long 13-page PDF document outlining our classes, classmates, and levels before the semester began, so all I had to go on was a.) the knowledge that I was not in the same class as anyone else from New Zealand, and b.) about twelve other random names, all of whom had the class ‘3A’ next to them as I, too, did.
I always feel that the first time you enter a new class is one of the more challenging and terrifying parts of meeting new people. Perhaps this is largely attributable to my tendency to think a little bit too much about things, but I always find it a little overwhelming when you walk into a new class and have to pick a random desk to sit at. What’s more, the vast majority of students in our class had been here for prior semesters. I knew that most of them would already have connections and friends and also be familiar with what was going on, so I walked in with an air of uncertainty and scanned the room for what I deemed to be a suitable place to sit.
I must have looked a bit lost on the outside as well, because luckily a guy in the back row suggested I sit down in a conveniently located empty seat. Thankful that the decision was now out of my hands, I did so, which ended up being a very good choice. We introduced ourselves and I discovered he had come from China, which was another relief – letting me turn to my Mandarin ability when my (very much so inferior) Korean failed me. As the other classmates trickled in, we chatted a bit more.
When they were all there, the class had about thirteen students in total – a lot smaller than my UoA Korean class. As such we had a lot more speaking practice (something sorely needed) and opportunities to answer questions individually. Most students had come from geographically-close countries such as China and Japan, but we also had a sprinkling of others from places such as the UAE and Russia.
However, as everyone had many similarities – all in a new place, navigating a new environment, armed with not a lot more than a shaky foundation in a new language – it was quite easy to get along with the other members of the class. After only a couple of days, we were already making lunch plans and hanging out after class, which was an excellent opportunity to get to know each other a bit better in a setting where we weren’t limited to asking each other about what houses we’d live in if we had a lot of money (or whatever else the textbook was covering that day). What’s more, we switch seats through random allocation every Monday morning, which means I’ve been able to chat to nearly everyone in the class by this point!
I’ve since become very good friends with two of my other classmates (one being my very first-day desk-buddy) and we have since been spending a lot of time after class hanging out and eating our way around the neighbourhood. By 1pm, all three of us are very consistently hungry, so it’s an excellent excuse to close our textbooks and go and do something else for a little while (translation: a few hours, at least). While this is an excellent opportunity to practise our speaking ability, between us we have varying levels of English, Chinese, and Korean – so after spending a while with them I’m never quite sure what language I’m speaking in anymore!
Outside of class, it’s been a little harder to meet friends. The dorms are a very different environment to all the New Zealand halls I’ve been in. Rather than the dorms being a social space, they seem more of a place to sleep and get ready, with the majority of life being conducted outside them. For this reason, I haven’t met any friends yet there. What’s more, it’s the winter semester here, which is much like NZ’s Summer School. Most students are on holiday, so the dorms have a distinctly empty feeling to them. However, I’m not there very much anyway, so I’m not too concerned.
However, I have met a few other people in varying ways. I have a few Korean friends in Auckland who have returned to Korea for the break, so I’m able to catch up with them. I also have a few online friends who I met through various language practice apps a long time ago. I have seen a couple of these people in person, which has been quite a surreal experience! They’ve been excellent tour guides and have proudly shown me around their neighbourhoods or favourite areas of the city.
Conclusively, one month in, I have met some amazing people who I want to stay in touch with after I depart. My initial worries were quickly subdued, and if anything, I need to spend less time socialising and more time studying as the threat of the mid-term tests looms! I’ve learnt so much about other people, their backgrounds, histories, and cultures, and more about myself and how I interact with people, too, over the past four weeks. It truly has been an eye-opening experience, and has also made me reflect a lot on how we as New Zealanders face the world.