Monday, January 6, 2014

Where to Live in Korea: Big City vs. Small City

My newest post is up on The Arrival Store Blog! You can also check out the original here:

As the capital and cultural hub of South Korea, Seoul is of course the most popular option for prospective teachers. Gyeonggi-do, the province surrounding Seoul, is also a popular place to look for jobs. While your gut instinct may be that you must live in Seoul, and nowhere else, don’t be too quick to judge! There are plenty of great alternatives, such as large Seoul satellite cities (eg. Anyang, Suwon, Seongnam, Yongin, etc.) and smaller cities outlying cities such as Yeoju, where I reside.

 It can be daunting to search through job listings and try to choose a location based on cities which you know little about. For a complete list of the cities in Gyeonggi-do, you can check out the subdivisions section of the Seoul Capital area wiki. Before you get worried about landing in the middle of nowhere, keep in mind that Gyeonggi-do is very densely populated and well connected.  

Large satellite cities and smaller outlying cities are usually connected to Seoul, and to each other, by bus, subway, or KTX high speed trains, all of which are highly efficient. I live about as far out in Gyeonngi-do as you can get, and it usually only takes me an hour and 10 minutes to get to the world famous Gangnam. While some cities may be lacking some of the culture Seoul offers, most will contain all of the same amenities, access to universities, and active expat communities.

It’s important to realize that South Korea is an incredibly homogenous country and that much of these cities, including Seoul, will look the same. As you travel throughout Seoul and Gyeonggi-do you will inevitably encounter the same architecture, same stores, and same atmosphere in cities large and small. The fun part is finding the hidden gems. And there are many! Lately I’ve stopped going to Seoul to see my friends, instead they come to visit me to experience a different side of Korea.  Choosing a smaller city in Gyeonggi-do, where Seoul is still nearby, is a great way to get the best of both worlds!  

A taste of Yeoju and the Korean countryside. 
People often ask me what to look for when deciding where to live. Experiences and preferences vary widely, so the best thing you can do is consider what you want out of your city and make sure it has those things. In addition, I would research:
  • Variety of Facebook groups- most cities have Facebook groups, but it’s also good to find cities with groups that cater to diverse interests, such as sports clubs, language exchanges, etc.
  • Use Naver or Daum, Korean search engines- if one were to Google my city, there would be few returns, however this is not the case on Korean search engines. While the returns will be in Korean, many sites have English titles. There are lots of Korean bloggers out there, and even if you can’t understand their posts, they’ll provide lots of pictures you won’t find on Google, Yahoo, or Bing. It might give you a better idea of what your city is like!
  • Historical and cultural attractions – it’s my opinion that cities and districts with more history are more likely to have more hidden gems and traditions. Try to look at tourist sites to see what kind of attractions are around. If you find that your prospective residence is a very industrial area without many cultural sites that could be a bad sign, as that usually indicates that there will be factories, offices, coffee shops, and not much else.
  • Personal blogs- I try to stay away from public forums like Dave’s ESL and Waygook when searching for unbiased opinions about cities, as they seem to attract a lot of naysayers, or those who think there is no life outside of Itaewon. Try to look for personal blogs of teachers living your city; people giving thoughtful day to day accounts about what life is like there.
  • Universities – A reputable university usually means there will be some culture, nightlife, and vibrancy that comes with having young people around! There will probably also be Korean language classes, language buddies, and more opportunities for cultural exchange if you’re interested! 

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