Article for Groove Magazine: On community (published Jan 2010)

As of the time I post this, Groove Magazine’s website hasn’t yet been updated with the newest issue. Pick up the paper copy at your friendly Hongdae / Itaewon bar, or just wait until you see it online.

On community

As of the time I post this, Groove Magazine’s website hasn’t yet been updated with the newest issue. Pick up the paper copy at your friendly Hongdae / Itaewon bar, or just wait until you see it online.

On community

2010 holds more opportunities than ever to become part of a community, and there’s plenty of choose from. It’s time to really get to know people going beyond polite conversations on where you’re from or how long you’ve been here. It means getting out of your comfort zone instead of just going to the same bar, the same trivia night, or the same three parks. That more foreign teachers are calling Korea home for longer than usual (thank you, global recession) means they’re less likely to say goodbye right after you meet them. It also means they’re more likely to help out when crap hits the fan and you need a friend.

So why isn’t there a better / stronger community of foreigners here in Korea? It might just be what I’ll call the ‘Superman attitude’. When you first got off the plane in Korea, you learned how to deal with things for yourself because you didn’t have anyone to turn to – things like a tiny apartment. A washing machine entirely in Korean. How to work the air conditioner or heater. Where to get groceries. After awhile, you figured out how things work here and gained some self-confidence. You might have said to yourself ‘I can do it all’, ‘I can take care of myself’, or ‘I don’t need to be a part of a community’. Put simply, it’s counterproductive and somewhat pointless. Just because you’ve put up with the hand Korea has dealt you doesn’t mean anyone else needs to. What’s to lose by sharing what you know with those who might benefit from it?

Take it from science if you like. Several studies have shown people that belong to a community – no matter the kind – have fewer health problems, commit suicide less often, and tend to be more satisfied with their lives. One study (Beem, C. (1999) The Necessity of Politics. Reclaiming American public life, Chicago: University of Chicago Press) equates one’s social connections as a predictor for one’s life span, similar in accuracy to getting married or affluence. The study suggests the same health benefits come from quitting smoking as joining a community of some kind. Abraham Maslow (of the famous Maslow’s hierarchy you might have learned about in Psych 101) listed social groups on the third tier – a pre-requisite to reaching the esteem and self-actualization levels. In other words, you can’t achieve levels of happiness or self-actualization without having other people in your life.

It’s very true that teachers have different schedules, locations across the country, needs, interests, lifestyles, jobs, native cultures, different visa categories. No matter what differences you may have, the nice thing about communities is that they start with sharing a common interest or goal. It doesn’t have to be a huge community – few of the expat-focused ones are – so
start with what interests you and build from there.

Great – so where do I find these communities?, you ask. There isn’t any one place to find them all, but you can learn about quite a few in the back of the magazine – quite a few have an advertisement in the classifieds. Matt Lamers of the Korea Herald has put together an extensive list of communities based on common interests or populations. If you’ve been looking for a community to join, anything from the Cigar Aficionado Society to ice hockey to touch rugby to the Czech Club is available in Seoul. Playing in a dart league may not interest you, but the Seoul Hiking Club might. You may not be interested in joining an Ultimate Frisbee team, so take some photography lessons instead. Other areas of the country have expat-focused groups as well, especially in the larger cities of Busan, Daegu, and Daejeon. In smaller cities, you can always start one of your own.
While they lack the same kind of connection, getting involved in online communities is another way of staying in contact with friends and family – whether in Korea or your home country. Facebook and Myspace are the two undisputed champions, although Cyworld is a great place to make some Korean friends if you can navigate their website. One you probably haven’t heard of yet is Chatjip ( – aggregating news, opinions, and pictures from all over the web in an effort to be a one-stop-shop for all things Korea. Whatever one works best for you, use them to connect with other groups or like-minded people during your time in Korea – and to keep in touch after you move elsewhere.
A few communities based around a common interest worth checking out:

2S2 – founded by the popular blogger Roboseyo, 2S2 meets on the second Sunday of every month to do something different. The last couple meetings took the group to see the snowboarding festival in Gwanghwamun and taught the group how to play Go-Stop over lots of conversation. Check out for more information.

Animal Rescue Korea – adopt an animal, animal-sit, get to know other animal lovers, or help raise funds to care for lonely animals. Lookup for more.

Adventure Korea – if your excuse for not traveling around Korea has been not going where to go, this community does plenty of trips across Korea while taking care of all the transportation details. The people you’ll meet are fellow travelers – and the trips can take you almost anywhere Korea has to offer. Check out for a list of upcoming trips.

Swing, salsa, and tango dance – you won’t find the same people at each studio or dance floor, but pick one (or more!) and find some lessons to learn. If you already know the basics, there are plenty of clubs that specialize in each kind across the country. They’re scattered across the city, but a tango and a swing place are within walking distance of Sinsa station. keeps maps and directions for all the swing dance clubs around Seoul; for salsa and tango, do a little online searching to find one closer to you.

Seoul Improv flexing those theatrical muscles doesn’t need to happen before a crowd of thousands. While the troupe performs occasionally, practices can be just as much fun. Contact [email protected] for more information. Whatever community or groups you join, I wish you a Happy New Year, plenty of friends, and a great community.

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe – 2010

This post was originally published on my blog, Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.

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