When first coming to Korea, I was afraid to talk to people unless I was lost and needed to find my way around Seoul. Eventually, I became less afraid to talk to Koreans. I realized that I should not be as afraid to talk to them because many of the Korean students know pretty good English. I started off thinking I could not make Korean friends because I did not know the language and I thought people would act shy towards me. Some of them are shy, but it is mostly due to the cultural and language barriers. In fact, when you meet Koreans or talk to them in person, whether it is to be friendly or ask questions, most of them will try to help you. There are different ways to make friends in Korea!
I first recommend joining a club on campus by contacting the club officers on Kakao or Naver. You can also walk to the student hall building 107 and knock on the room that has the club you want to join. If you are a Chung-Ang University exchange student you can find the club names and room numbers on your exchange student guide book, which you get on orientation. Add the acquaintances you make on Kakaotalk, the main messaging application in Korea, and make plans to meet up. You can also make Korean friends through mutual friends, language exchange apps, or social media. You do not have to know Korean to make Korean friends, but it is very helpful when trying to get around Seoul. Trying to speak Korean might also make Koreans a little more comfortable around you. The Chung-Ang University Korean Lounge is always here for you if you want to practice your Korean!
Hanging out and meeting Koreans is no different from making friends with anyone from another culture. Staying open-minded is important. Korea might have cultural values and aspects different from your own. It is also good to note that age difference is important in Korea, if you are older than someone or younger than someone there are certain terms in Korean that you can call each other.
When someone is older than you, you should use 존댓말 jondaemal (formal Korean language) and when someone is the same age as you or younger you use 반말 banmal (informal Korean language). If you are friends with a guy or a girl, the names you call each other differs. A girl’s older male friend is called 오빠 ‘oppa’, while a girl’s younger female friend is called 언니 ‘unnie.’ A girl’s and guy’s younger male or female friend is called 동생 ‘donsaeng.’ A guy’s older male friend is called 형 ‘hyung,’ while a guy’s older female friend is called 누나 ‘noona.’ When you are both the same age regardless of gender, you call each other ‘friend’ or 친구 ‘chingu’ in Korean.
When you say hi or bye to your close friends you lose the formalities if they don’t mind it. To say ‘hi’ you might say 안녕 ‘annyeong’ instead of 안녕하세요 ‘annyeonghaseyo.’ To say ‘bye’ you might tell them 잘가 ‘chalga’ instead of 안녕히계세요 ‘annyeong-hi gyeseyo’ (when you are leaving) or 안녕히가세 요 ‘annyeong-gaseyo’ (when they are leaving you).
Also, skin-ship between friends is different in Korea than in other countries. It might be normal to hug someone in your country or kiss them on the cheek; in Korea such forward skin-ship is not used among new friendships. Sometimes friends of the same gender hold hands when walking together, if they are comfortable enough in their friendship. Skin-ship you are used to using in your country might make your Korean friends uncomfortable so be considerate. As a greeting just bow, and say 안녕 ‘annyeong’ or 안녕하세요 ‘annyeonghaseyo.’
Whether it is through clubs, language exchange apps, or mutual friends, there are plenty of ways for you to make Korean friends. However, when you make new friends you should keep in mind the formalities when your friends are older or younger than you. Also it is good to note the cultural differences in how people greet one another and the limited use of skinship. Remember that Kakaotalk is the most widely used messaging app that is used in Korea so, if you do not already have it be sure to install it. This application will be useful when texting your new Korean friends! Making friends can be a process and may take time–but you can do it!
Written by: Glidiany Vallejo