By George Hogan
Expatriates' lives in Korea can be very unstable.
They're full of dicey jobs, poor planning, all-night benders and, in many cases, very little reality. Day-to-day bills are low, rent is paid for and there is a sense that you are being taken care of by someone other than yourself. To the majority, however, that's fine.
The guys and gals teaching here often enjoy this purgatory-like state and use it as a springboard for their next adventure. Planning the next Asian getaway or weekend pub-crawl becomes a top priority, while little or no legitimate concern for reality beyond the peninsula is expressed.
This perceived disconnect is what some crave. I remember it fondly, casually drifting from one bar to the next, eager to make that night better than the one before. It was a simple existence full of ``samgyeopsal and soju," beer and fried chicken and the fitting drunken debate (or loud talking, in my case). That said, even though I have gotten married, stabilized numerous facets of my life and curtailed most of the aforementioned behavior, there still is something unstable about expat life in Korea.
During the course of one's time in Korea, no matter who you are and where you live on the peninsula, you will be constantly bombarded with new people. You will arrive new and, in many ways, you will leave new as well. I remember my arrival. I was fresh, anxious, and, most of all, presumably dependant on the friends that I was hoping to cement in those first few weeks. And after a couple hours, I was essentially accepted into the crew and my Korean transition became much easier. I was grateful for them, but at the time, was totally oblivious to the cycle that many of them had been in for years.
Every few months, teachers in Korea are forced to say goodbye to friendships forged while working here. Maybe you got here at the end of someone's tenure or perhaps you arrived at the same time as your new international ``Best Friend Forever." Either way, after a year, chances are someone is leaving.
Naturally, expanding your friendship pool is always fun, but when you reach a certain point, the baby-sized pool of long-term friendships in Korea is full. I have had many conversations with my friends here and they know my feelings about staying in touch and keeping memories alive. It's quite important to me, but where can the line be drawn?
A few weeks ago, I made a statement regarding to whom I thought I would remain close. I was being very realistic and suggested that geography would have a huge effect on friendship maintenance. After I finished, some acted as if they were shocked to hear such a thing, but had they thought it through very much? A fellow American in the room ― sensing the vibe ― suggested that there's a very real possibility that, even if we did stay close (emails, phone calls, etc.), there would probably be decades when we wouldn't see each other.
This summed it up for me. I have a solid batch of expat friends right now as it is. More will be coming. At this point, I'm already going to have trouble managing the ones I already have, so do I want more? I'm sure that new teachers will arrive in the near future, be placed into the group (like I was) and I must therefore interact with them.
But at this point, I'm prepared to say that those interactions will be stifled by my conception of expat friendships. There is a certain level of expectation in expat friendships. After a few months, people start to realize that a time will come when Korea is in the past and when you realize this, to quote a friend, you gotta ``twist or stick." Twisting (or capping your pool) can cause problems, but sticking only exacerbates the problem and creates an even more dysfunctional reality.
During the course of my three years here, I have made a lot of friends. Some of them have been drinking buds that I still love to get a beer with and others are the ones you call in a time of need. That said, it is impossible to make this distinction without stepping on toes.
There is nothing rude or insincere about it. It's natural. All of us have made tons of friends who we were once close to, but as time progressed, we grew apart from.
That's life. As stated, all of us who come here are ``new," and as the cycle of friends continues to rip through the expat community, many will leave ``new" as well.
The writer has been teaching business English and current events for three years in southern Seoul. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.