Keep breaking out of your comfort zone and start mingling with strangers
Keep breaking out of your comfort zone and start mingling with strangers
승인 2020.02.18 13:25
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Global Seoul Mates provides international community platforms for foreigners and Koreans to get along
As one walks into a lounge bar in Gangnam, the enthusiastic interaction between foreigners and Koreans reminds one of a college study group. Global Seoul Mates (GSM) is a community of people that brings Koreans and foreigners together in international friendships. The Korea Post interviewed David Woodworth, the founder of GSM on Feb. 17, 2020 at GSM Terrace Language Exchange Café around the Sinnonhyeon Station in Seoul. David Woodworth and Yun Jeongho founded this international community platform in 2016 in order to provide language exchange platforms, international parties and Korean lessons.
Excerpts from the interview follow:
Question: Global Seoul Mates is known as one of the largest language exchange gatherings in Seoul. Please tell us about your business and yourself.
Answer: I came to Korea to teach English in 2014 and co-founded Global Seoul Mates (GSM) in 2016 with my Korean business partner, Mr. Yun Jeongho. Since the beginning, the whole purpose was to connect as many people as possible through language. So that would be foreigners and Koreans meeting together. But always since the beginning, the plan was to do Global Seoul Mates, Global Shanghai Mates, Global Busan mates and so on. We always wanted to make as many locations. Right now we have a Chinese location too. We have about 5,000 members per month. At Global Seoul Mates, I would say there are about 60% of Koreans and 40% of foreigners.
I’m from Canada originally. When I was younger, I always wanted to travel a lot. I loved the idea of backpacking. When I was 18, I did my first backpacking trip to Europe and I met a lot of travelers there. I was able to learn about their languages and cultures. That traveling background I had in Canada turned into this business.
Q: A lot of Koreans go to hagwon (private English schools) to learn English and they mainly focus on reading and grammar but they don’t get to speak English that much. What makes GSM different from English hagwon?
A: I think in language learning, there is more than just learning vocabulary and grammar. Language and culture are very alive. When we meet people, we make a relationship. There are so many things you need to learn when you meet people from different backgrounds.
I think GSM is on a really good trend right now. I’m starting to notice many other hagwons or English study groups starting to make social learning platforms which GSM has been doing for a long time. GSM is a place where Koreans and foreigners can just meet and make friends freely. So I’ve actually noticed many Koreans who already have a lot of knowledge about English but shy to speak up even though they have really good grammar.
But when it comes to speaking, sometimes they are losing their opportunities because they think too much whether their grammar is correct. I think this kind of language exchange platform is very helpful for Koreans learning English since it’s a lot more organic and natural.
Speaking English is very different from what you learned from textbooks or classrooms. Since you can easily get along with foreigners here, you can confidently improve your speaking skills and that has been very useful for Koreans.
I’ve been invited to 10 different weddings that happened from GSM. Some Koreans and foreigners meet here and get married. For language learning part, of course you have to learn English which is the global language but to really understand the language, you should speak it with people and build a relationship. I think that is the real strength of GSM.
We are open every day from 7 pm to 11 pm so I think it’s almost similar to living in a foreign country because even in America you might not speak that much when you’re at work and you start speaking after work.
Q: Why do you think foreigners come to GSM? Are there any foreigners learning Korean?
A: I think it’s really hard to make Korean friends because the cultural divide is really wide. But once you pass it, it’s same as anywhere else. I made great friendships here but if you don’t know the language it’s very hard to communicate. GSM has lots of Koreans with global backgrounds, so I think foreigners can easily mingle with Koreans here.
There are many foreigners who want to practice Korean but I had an issue with this. Koreans learning English always have higher English than foreigners’ Korean level and they would just end up speaking English. So we started this one on one Korean lesson so foreigners could practice Korean before joining a regular meeting. They can book online and they will meet with their Korean tutors and they will talk in Korean for an hour. We usually use our Korean textbooks for the lessons.
Q: Did you have any connections to Korea?
A: Yes, my mom is Korean. I loved Korean food but didn’t really speak Korean that much growing up. When I first came here, I was an English teacher and Korea seemed very new to me.
Q: GSM is one of the largest language exchange communities. How do you promote your business?
A: I was recently on a TV show called “Welcome, First Time in Korea.” I didn’t know it was a TV show when they first called me. I thought it was just an advertising agency. But I had my girlfriend besides me and she said it was a famous show in Korea. I accepted and talked a little bit about GSM during the show.
We are planning to launch a new website (www.hilokal.com) and the whole plan about that is to make our business bigger. Hopefully, we can expand our business into Busan, Gwangju and Jejudo as well.
The website allows other foreigners to host their own meetups in our space. Through that website, they can host Spanish and Chinese meetups and non-language meetups like investment meetups as well. We can have a native host or someone skilled at whatever skill they want to share and then we can support them in our space.
Q: Please share some interesting anecdotes that happened here.
A: GSM actually has so many random people. I once met a very famous American comedian, Hannibal Buress. I didn’t actually recognize him when he first came in and I shook his hand. He was just traveling Seoul. That was pretty interesting. I also met this Korean lady who was a lion tamer at the zoo. There was another rich guy from Saudi Arabia and he had a bunch of tigers as his pets.
Yun Jeongho (Woodworth's partner): I have also seen some people coming here to find their partners. There were two foreign guys who got into a physical fight lately. One of them was severely injured but then they reconciled luckily. Sometimes we have to deal with this kind of situation. If they mess up the mood, we usually warn them and then kick them out if it gets too worse.
Q: Any advice for Koreans and foreigners feeling hesitant to join GSM?
A: Well, I’ve also been there. A lot of people move to Korea because they want to have something new. But they usually go back to their old patterns after a couple of weeks. I would just suggest if you keep breaking out and trying new things, maybe that’s what you originally wanted to do.