|Some of the WSC crew|
However, times change. These days, there are times when I don't want any alcohol. And to be honest, that now considerably outweighs when I do! Don't get me wrong, I love a drink. I like the socialising that comes with it and I like the atmosphere it (mostly) creates. Arriving in Jochiwon was quite overwhelming. I didn't know that there was a Facebook page and when I went to the foreigner bar to meet other teachers, none of the other foreigners initiated contact. My brother was with me and after much persuading from him, I finally went over and introduced myself. It turned out that the two people I met were new and didn't realise I was new too. I got to know them quite well and our first few weeks we hung out a lot. As time went on, I met more people but the community was still quite small. Also, most activities centred around food and alcohol so I spent a lot more time drinking than I had in the previous 6 years I had lived at home in Ireland. I'm not complaining. I really enjoyed every minute of this life but I wanted something more.
See, at home, I was used to sitting around my house, drinking tea (Barry's, of course) and chatting. With my friends, we had several game nights and dinners at each others' houses. We did world food nights, cake nights and wine nights. Some of my friends and I even did Wii dance-offs. It was great fun and our time was not mostly spent around alcohol. Sure, alcohol was involved but it was always a choice in a myriad of other drinks. It wasn't the sole reason for getting together or the one thing each gathering was centred around. I found after a few months living in Korea that I wanted that life. I wanted a social life that allowed me to be somewhat creative, to express myself and that didn't exclude my friends who don't like bars or who don't drink. So, last autumn, I started making dinners for my friends about once a week or once every two weeks.
Now, the expat community in Sejong is much bigger and, I think, has a lot more socialising opportunities that do not involve alcohol. Whether it's going to hike Obangsan or doing coffee meet and greets at the local coffee shops, there are more options. One of my friends, Swaglu, even organised a scavenger hunt to welcome some new people in September. Sure, we still go to Touch or some of the other bars but they are no longer the only place you need go to meet people and they are not the main social arena any more. Which brings me to my next point. As our community expanded, inviting people (outside my core group of friends) to dinner was getting difficult. Our apartments are small and it's hard to sit so many people comfortably in the space provided. I still want to be welcoming, though, and to include as many people as possible.
|Tea night #2|
|Tea night #2|
|Tea night #2|
Once one idea came, it started to shine. I found myself planning events to welcome people into my home, to include them in the things that I love and I wasn't the only one doing so! My friend, BexC, wants to do a chili cook-off, Katetastic and I have talked about a girls' wine and crafts club (that's happening next month!), some of the guys have organised BBQs and Thanksgiving dinner, and Swaglu has so many ideas coming out of her that I can no longer keep up! It's contagious. Welcoming people into your community is important with meet and greets, dinners and drinks but even more important is building your community. That's what chili cook-offs, tea nights and book clubs are for. And we have all of those in Jochiwon. We are a small community but we are a community, nonetheless. We are now more than a few bottles of soju and a chat. We have more things that bind us together than just being expats who live in Sejong. We are expats who live in Sejong who like to cook, to drink tea, to drink wine, to share our creativity and to spend time together hiking, cycling, taking photos, exploring and reading. The amount of friends I have now who love to write and who encourage each other in their blogging endeavours amazes me (Rucy, TravelThayer, Chasing Glitter and AKA to name but a few).
So, you might think I'm mad to believe that to have a real expat community is possible. You might think I'm mad to think that you can and should involve yourself in things like chili cook-offs, book clubs and craft clubs even if you are only there for a year. However, I firmly believe that the meaning of life does not come from the bottle of soju (although that can occasionally give you some insight!) but rather from spending time with others and giving of yourself. If you are willing to put out to the world what your interest are, even if it is only for a short while, you can have a huge impact on your community. You will find like-minded people and people who will really surprise you by what they are interested in. I never fail to be surprised by how many people love Harry Potter. It makes me smile every time he comes up in conversation (and we usually end up doing a round of the Mysterious Ticking Noise). So my advice is, don't lose the opportunities that Korea (or life) presents to you. If you truly enjoy doing something, see if anyone else is interested in joining you. You might be surprised to see who likes the same things that you do. And if you live in Jochiwon and you are terrible at planning events or clubs, let me know: I've got people for that!
PS. Sing the title to the Potter Pals and the Mysterious Ticking Noise tune "Snape, Snape, Severus Snape". It's also inspired by Take That's Shine.