Known for it’s fast-paced city-scapes and heavily plugged-in culture, Korea is a highly urbanized country. With about 25 million residents, or half the country’s population, Seoul is the world’s second largest metropolitan area. A number of other cities sit well over the million mark, meaning the vast majority of Koreans live metropolitan lifestyles.
With such a high population density and famously large cities, it’s hard to imagine that a “rural” Korea exists. However, travel outside any of the major cities, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by tree-covered mountains that dominate the horizon, tiny towns, vegetable gardens galore, and a quieter lifestyle–unless of course you wander around during the wee hours of a Friday or Saturday night, or find yourself stumbling out of a samgyupsal restaurant with your co-workers after a hwaeshik. Because wherever you go in Korea, it’s easy to find plenty of people who enjoy good company.
When many EPIK teachers find themselves placed in one of these rural settings, the nerves begin to sink in. Worries about communication, access to goods and services, and proximity to other foreigners circle around the other worries of living and working abroad. However, living in rural Korea is a fantastic opportunity to experience some of the best hidden gems the country has to offer.
Cultural Immersion & Community
It’s difficult to live and work in another country without learning a little about the culture and the language. Even in the big city you’re bound to get an immersive experience. But cities also offer the comforts of home, like your favourite food, clothing chain, or just another person who speaks your language, making it much easier to live on the periphery of the local culture and community.
Life in rural Korea, where everything you know is just out of reach, makes immersion unavoidable. It’s essential to thriving. You can’t avoid shopping at tiny mom-and-pop grocery marts or figuring out the local bus schedules. And if you want to try activities like taekwondo, rock climbing, or cooking classes, you’ll be doing it alongside plenty of local community members.
Enjoying food and drinks with local friends from 특공무술 (Teukgong Moosool – Korean mixed martial arts).
Not only will a rural community have a significant impact on your stay in Korea, but living is a smaller town gives you the opportunity to have a bigger impact on your community. Being one of the only individuals in town that can help community members gain English language skills means you’re an incredibly valued asset to the community, and the community is likely to recognize that. Teachers out in “the boonies” tend to have much smaller schools and class sizes, which means they can build stronger, more meaningful relationships with their students. There are so many opportunities out here to extend your impact beyond improving basic communication skills.
Many foreign teachers choose Korea for the financial opportunities it presents. What better way to maximize that opportunity than to live in rural Korea? For starters, living in rural areas comes with the advantage of earning “rural allowance” on top of the regular salary every month. In addition, many teachers in rural areas teach at multiple schools, each of which come with increased pay each month.
Beyond the increased financial opportunities, living in a rural area can be a great way to save money. Naturally, access to certain things like foreign restaurants and clothing shops are limited in more rural locations. It’s a lot easier to save money when you can’t get pizza or mac and cheese every time you need a taste of home, or go shopping after work in the evening. With fewer places to spend money, cash tends to stay in the bank.
Nature & Outdoor Activities
My number one reason for choosing this province as my new home was the hiking. As a country 70% covered by mountains and more than 60% covered by forests, there is no shortage of hiking anywhere in Korea. Even in Seoul you can access fantastic hikes like Bukhansan. But living in rural Korea makes outdoor activities even more accessible. There are a number of hiking trails within a five minute walk of my apartment, not to mention some of the best hiking courses–Taebaeksan, Seoraksan, Chiaksan, and more–being easily accessible by public transit.
The view from Taebaeksan, a hike that begins just 5 minutes from my doorstep.
Prayers at the top of Taebaeksan.
I can snowboard at High1 Resort all winter, swim in the East Sea and rock climb all summer, and try adventure activities like ziplining and whitewater rafting in Jeongseon. If you have a taste for outdoor adventure, rural Korea, especially the province of Gangwon-do, is a fantastic way to build on your experiences. There are also great communities of both foreigners and locals invested in outdoor activities which opens a whole lot of doors to try them out.
On top of all the exciting activities rural Korea has to offer, there’s far less air, noise, and light pollution out here which means you can enjoy your time outside even more.
Enjoying the peak of Seoraksan Mountain.
Proximity and Access to Cities
I live on the opposite side of the country from Seoul. Yet, it’s a direct, affordable three-hour bus ride to get into the city, which means city life is never far away. Weekend trips are easily accessible, and I’ve had a chance to explore many of the treasures Seoul has to offer while enjoying a quieter, more relaxed lifestyle during the week.
Although access to certain things like foreign foods or clothing can be limited out here, everything is still available online. It’s just a click and day’s (usually free) shipping away! Being such a tiny country geographically, nothing is ever truly far away in Korea.
Roaming around Gurye – you don’t get views like this in the city!
Living out in the “womp-womps” of Korea can be intimidating, on top of the already intimidating experiences of moving to a new country. But there is so much to be gained from living in a more rural setting. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s a great way to get acquainted with life in Korea outside the city. Afterall, if you live in a city, it’s difficult to truly experience this side of Korea. Yet, living in a rural area does not limit you to experiencing city life, one weekend at a time.