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Updated 6 months ago

Often, expatriation means starting from scratch when it comes to building a brand new social circle. Whether or not you speak Korean, there are several possibilities for you to make friends with locals and other foreigners in Seoul.

Immersion in a country as culturally different from your home country may look frightening at first, but even though there are language and cultural barriers to consider, expatriates in Seoul shouldn’t abandon hope of a rich social life in Seoul.

The expatriate social circle in Seoul

At first, for an expatriate who doesn’t speak Korean, it might be easier to meet other expats first.

The student expatriate will, of course, have the easiest access to resources via which to build a social network in Seoul - not least thanks to the many clubs and events organised directly by schools.

That being said, if you are no longer a student, meeting expats is still relatively simple. There are many Facebook groups which offer opportunities, where members regularly offer outings or meetings. For example, a male amateur football group meets every Tuesday night on the roof of the French high school to play a good-natured match. The meeting operates on a registration basis as places per game are limited.

Various bars in Itaewon, the international district of Seoul, organise parties focused on various nationalities, with perks offered if your country is the one featured (on presentation of your passport).

Other recurring events include evenings by the Chambers of Commerce of different countries. Participation is paid, and the lowest rate is around 30 000 won, but the organisers vary the themes and the activities.

There are also key meeting places in the international community where you should be able to meet people in a convivial atmosphere, such as the creperie Yec'hed Ma in Hongdae, nicknamed "ChezArnaud" by Seoul expats. At the weekend, expect a festive atmosphere.

Stay connected: Facebook has already been cited for its themed groups, but other social networks like Instagram or Twitter can also serve to grow your social circle. Part of the international community of Seoul is active on sites such as these, and in a few clicks or hashtags, you can get in touch with users who share your interests.

The Korean social circle in Seoul

A Korean social circle can be harder to develop, especially if you do not have a good command of the Korean language, but there are solutions.

Kill two birds with one stone and download an application like Tandem or Hello talk. These can put you in touch with Koreans willing to help you practice the language - people who may even become your friends. Bear in mind the nature of the connection you are making - some Koreans find it rewarding to have foreign friends, but a sincere, meaningful friendship may not be on offer.

Keep an open mind! Meetings can be undertaken everywhere, in a café or at the supermarket - as a foreigner, you will find you are approached regularly. Kakao is a commonly used messaging service in Korea, so you might exchange information or simply arrange a coffee or dinner.

Keep in mind that - as always in new places - caution is required. Proselytism is common in South Korea and believers in various cults are reputed to address strangers in the street, in order to make a connection with the person and attempt to convince them to join their churches. If they are not physically threatening, they could become more insistent should you exchange contact details - avoid doing so, and politely move on.

In Seoul, as in many European countries, you can also register for activities of all kinds: cooking classes, dance, drawing, sports, thus increasing your chances of meeting people who share your passions and interests.

Volunteering in Seoul

Many associations in Seoul accept volunteers, whether in animal shelters or associations helping orphanages or retirement homes, and some accept foreigners with pleasure. For expatriates who have a little time to offer, this is the perfect opportunity to meet people while being useful to society, moreover, this activity does not require that you possess a working visa.

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