I really wanted to meet people from different cultural backgrounds, and the types of people I usually don’t get to hang out with in Korea. I wanted to learn about other cultures and know how others think. So I decided my next most important goal in Shanghai was getting out of my own bubble.
As soon as I arrived in Shanghai I started exploring the city alone. I could have joined other Koreans, but I didn’t. Instead, I enjoyed the tourist spots alone because I knew myself too well. If I had joined the other Koreans, I would have not tried to meet other foreigners and would have stayed in my comfort zone. So even though I felt a bit lonely and scared, I kept exploring the city alone.
After a week had passed, I started eating lunch with overseas Chinese students with whom I had class together. Even though they had Chinese backgrounds, they all came from different countries. While having lunch, we had time to ask questions and discuss prejudice we had toward each other’s culture. It was quite interesting to share different views on the same problem. These kinds of casual conversations during lunch broadened my view.
Other than having lunch with them, I started to participate in their museum trips as well. One Sunday morning, I was supposed to go to an art gallery with a Norwegian-Chinese girl in my class. When I met her at the art gallery, she said we had to wait for her other friends. I was a bit surprised because she never gave me a notice that she would bring new friends to our gallery tour. But since one of my most important goals to achieve in Shanghai was meeting as many new people as I could, I just thought that this could be helpful to achieve my goal.
After a while, two of her friends arrived. One of them was a Chinese girl who studied in Norway and the other friend was half Chinese and half Danish. We walked around the gallery and talked about our favorite art works. After this gallery tour, I actually became close friends with the Chinese girl who studied in Norway.
From this experience, I realized how closed relationships are back in Korea. Normally in Korea, when we hang out with friends, we do not bring or hang out with new friends on the spot. When we bring new friends on the spot without asking other friends who are already with us, the other friends might get offended. In my opinion, Koreans think new people might disturb the bonding time with old friends. So if we want to bring new friends to other friends, we have to ask others’ opinion in advance.
On the contrary, we place importance on building networks with others and put so much money and energy on it. That’s why so many Korean men drink until very late hours with their colleagues whether they truly want to or not. Also, that’s why so many Korean parents are obsessed with sending their children to a good university. Personally, our way of building networks is rather rigid compared with how people do in other countries.
Why can’t we just meet people with an open mind? Bringing new people on the spot does not make friendship less intimate. On the contrary, it still keeps your friendship and gives you a chance to build a network with new people. We should keep an open mind toward meeting new people.