Safety is Overrated
How many of you have heard the saying, “better safe than sorry?” Probably all of you. It makes sense in the proper setting, but it bothers me when people apply that line in a social environment. In the networking world, “better safe than sorry” doesn’t help you as a safety guideline; it becomes an excuse and ultimately, a brick wall.
When I first came to Busan in 2015, I didn’t know a single local. I had no friends, no family, and no connections at all besides my school staff who were a generation or two away from me. I wasn’t planning on spending an entire year without any Korean friends. So, here’s what I did:
I went on Facebook and typed into the search bar, “Busan.” Before pressing enter, a lot of group suggestions showed up, and I checked out nearly all of them. There were groups for all types of things, for example, Busan Foods, Busan International Party, and Busan Hiking. One group that really caught my eye was Language Cast Busan. It was an organization that hosted meetups in a cafe every Monday, and it seemed quite popular to both foreigners and Koreans. I browsed some pictures, and it reminded me a lot of the Korean Club I was involved with back in Hawaii. The cafe was a large venue and there were a colorful mix of ethnicities. I messaged Language Cast asking about the average age group that attended, and, fortunately, they replied that it was in the 20s. I looked up the location on Google Maps (I wasn’t aware at the time that Naver was Korea’s Google), and studied the video that they had on their page.
Monday came, and I was lost for an hour. The video guide explaining directions seemed to jump at a certain point, and I couldn’t figure out how to get to where it teleported. I backtracked and retraced my steps many times, but I couldn’t find the place. Flustered and irritated, I went into a cafe and asked the cashier for directions while showing her the map I was following. Thirty minutes later, I was finally at the cafe.
The organizers set me up with a nametag, and told me to sit anywhere I liked. I looked around to see about 40 people spread out in their own little cliques. It was high school all over again, trying to decide where to sit for lunch. A lot of thoughts and judgments were running through my head, and I began thinking up excuses on why I had to leave.
Suddenly, a voice behind me pushed, “Do you need some help?” It was one of the organizers. Her voice rang like a wake-up call, and thanks to her, I was able to gather myself. “I’m okay, thanks.” I took one last look, then jumped into what I thought was the least intimidating group. “Hi, is anyone sitting here?”
What that simple greeting lead to next, no one would have guessed. After doing it once, talking to strangers became much easier. I had a great time the first day, and I attended the meet-up every week after that. About a month or two later, I was asked to become an organizer. Very quickly, Language Cast became a large part of my life in Busan, and it also grew to become a very effective skillbuilder. A healthy social life thrives on communication, and being “safe” will never lead you there.
At a bar, I engaged in small talk with a random Korean guy who looked to be in his late 20s, and basketball was playing on the TV. We talked a bit about basketball and exchanged KakaoTalk IDs. The next week, we gathered some friends and started playing basketball every Friday. This basketball group has since generated 30+ members of all genders, ethnicities, and skill levels, and it is now a well-organized club which adopted the name, Busan Bulldogs. We even rent out our own gym and have casual games against other teams. For those of you that don’t know me well enough, I’d like to mention that I’m terrible at basketball. I also don’t follow any teams, but I enjoy playing. So for me to be associated with this sort of club might be a bit shocking. Regardless, it’s helped me bond with a lot of people, some of whom are now my closest friends in Busan.
This next event took me a while to get “better safe than sorry” out of my head. I’ll leave out the boring details and keep this one as short as possible. Basically, I ate at a burger restaurant and found one of the servers very attractive. It took me about two weeks to finally get her number, but I finally did it, and we began dating a short while after that. Unfortunately, we’re no longer dating, but that’s another story for another time.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, most, if not all of you, are either thinking about studying away from home, or are already doing so. This post is strictly dedicated to those who are worried about being lonely, or are currently bored because of their lonesome situation. It’s hard to stress the importance of something you hear all the time, but hopefully reading it here will have some impact. Step out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to make friends. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Korea or South Africa, your experience abroad will be much more meaningful if you have people to share it with. If you regret your study abroad because you had no friends, you have NO ONE to blame but yourself. Get out there and don’t be safe, be daring.
PS: To those who are still contemplating whether or not to take a semester or two to travel, I highly recommend it. Living alone in a foreign country will help build your character, and you may notice things about yourself which you have never known. For 23 years, I thought I knew who I was, but it took just one year in Korea to learn new aspects about myself.