With Christmas come and gone, I’m finally (trying to) kick myself into gear and really research where in Korea I want to teach. It seems more difficult than when I researched for Japanese provinces back in 2012-2013, but perhaps that’s because I was familiar with Japan to a greater extent than I’m familiar with Korea.
To begin, I put out a call for suggestions (or warnings) on a Facebook group of ESL teachers in (or wanting to be in) South Korea. I made mention that I lived in quite a rural town in Japan, and I far preferred that to any city. From what I gather, Korea is similar to Japan in that there are no “suburbs”. Cities meld into small towns and the countryside–though, apparently, Koreans consider small towns “the country”, whereas I consider them “small cities”.
I received a few replies, all of which were helpful in narrowing down my search. While I’m still open to more locations, I’m currently considering Jeollanam-do. If possible, I want to narrow it down even further. I know I don’t want a coastal location, and I don’t want one of the larger cities in the region. If I can find something comparable to where I lived in Japan (10,000 people spread out over a 2 hour drive through the mountains), that would be grand. Hopefully this desire will benefit me when application time comes as, I assume, fewer people are asking to be placed in rural locations.
Q: Why rural? Won’t you miss the amenities of larger cities?
A: That’s fine with me. I don’t like cities. They tend to look…less than pretty to me and are far too crowded and busy for my tastes. In fact, crowds and busyness stress me out, so I can’t handle cities for more than a day at best. As for the amenities, I can do without. As long as I have the basics from reliable services, I’m fine.
Q: What about the convenient transportation in cities? It’s going to be hard to get to Seoul and other northern locations from Jeollanam-do.
A: I have a hate-tolerate relationship with public transportation. Trains and buses may be convenient once I’ve figured out my route and don’t stray from it; but until then, or if I have to go somewhere new, I’m a mess inside. Even thinking about it now, my stress is climbing. I had a car in Japan, and the most challenging parts about it were scheduling when to take it to the car shop (conveniently along the route to three of my schools) and passing the Japanese driver’s test (which was fine in and of itself, really). If I had a car in Korea, that would be great. Then I could get to the cities if I needed to go, and I could take public transportation other times.
If anyone is living in Jeollanam-do, or even in Korea at all, I’d love to hear more about transportation and whether or not cars are an option.
Q: You’ll have fewer foreign friends in the countryside. Won’t you miss that? What about foreign foods, which you can’t find in rural areas? Or English? You don’t know much Korean, right?
A: I’m not as social as some people are. I can go to work, come home, enjoy my weekends in my apartment, and repeat it all again the next week with little worry. As long as I have a good friend or two I can see once in a while (and who understands that I don’t want to go to parties or group dinners but once in a blue moon), I’m content. They don’t have to be foreigners, though there are perks to that at times.
Another reason I’m hesitant to have too many foreign friends is that I won’t practice my Korean as much. Yes, I stay at home often and wouldn’t use it terribly much anyway. Yes, I can barely introduce myself in Korean right now, and it takes a few minutes to manage that. And, yes, I’m terribly shy when it comes to speaking Korean in front of native speakers or (perhaps worse) foreigners who are better than I am at it. But I’m hoping that I can be braver this time than I was in Japan, which was already braver than when I studied abroad in college. Surrounding myself with foreigners wouldn’t aid me in that goal much, except if they forced me into settings where we had to speak Korean to someone.
As for the foreign foods, yeah, I’d miss those. That said, I don’t eat much of that here in the U.S., so it wouldn’t be a big change in my life. Plus, I can cook what I’d miss the most (soup, spaghetti, hamburgers, tacos), so I’m not too concerned. I can always eat at foreign restaurants if and when I visit larger cities. Besides, I don’t have much experience with Korean food, so I’m excited to try lots of new dishes. (Yes, people who know I’m still a bit picky, I’m willing to try a good number of things.)
Q: So is Jeollanam-do the right fit, or is it just the first one you found that seems good, so you’re rolling with that?
A: Possibly and possibly. I don’t have much to go on right now, but I’m open to other options, too, provided they follow along the same lines as I’ve mentioned in this post. I really, truly don’t want a small city. I’m a “one major road through town” kind of girl. A “you can hit three stoplights throughout your entire drive across town” sort of person. My stress level grows with each main road and intersection you add to an area.
So, anyone who is currently in Korea, has recently been in Korea, or who has done more research into Korean provinces than I have at this point: if you have any places you recommend (or that you want to warn me against), I’d love to hear from you. Any resources you can link me to for more reading would be wonderful as well.