How to Survive Your Year Living in Rural South Korea
Perhaps you’ve decided to look for a little adventure or perhaps you had no choice; maybe you didn’t do your research before accepting the job, like me. However it came to be, though, if you find yourself living and working in rural South Korea, you’ve just buckled in for quite the ride. I’d like to help you to not only survive, but hopefully have the time of your life in the South Korean countryside. Whether you’ve already arrived or you’ll be shipping out soon, these tips should help you make the most out of your experience.
One of the things that you’ll have a lot of in rural South Korea is time. Since friends rarely come out to your neck of the woods and you likely live within five minutes of your place of employment, your free time will pile up. Instead of becoming bored, make it a point to develop or practice one of your hobbies. Knitting, painting, writing, running, music; whatever it is, you’ll have plenty of time to concentrate and practice it. You want to enjoy the time you spend with yourself and hobbies are one of the best ways to do that. Wondering if you should pack your guitar? If you’re moving to the countryside, you’ll definitely put it to good use.
Legally Blonde once taught me that exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy. You’re going to need a positive outlook to survive the initial adjustment phase that comes with moving to the middle of nowhere in a foreign country. Exercise will also help you use up some of that free time you’ll likely have in excess. And on top of all that, exercising regularly can help you ease into a routine to make the hard days pass a little more quickly.
Look around you and notice all the good. The rice paddies, the farm plots, and the sunrise or sunset unimpeded by blocks of buildings are all waiting for you to notice them. It’s also likely that your grocery store buys all of its produce from local farms; you’re eating really fresh and cheap vegetables. You’re going to sleep uninterrupted by late night bass beats and screaming college students. I’ll bet there’s a tiny back road that you can walk down for miles. There are a lot of wonderful, beautiful things to see in the country, but you’ll have to go discover them.
Consider buying a car
I know this isn’t the most welcome advice, but it’s practical. No one wants to shell out USD 1,500 for a vehicle they may only use for a short time. However, consider how long the local bus takes to get to the nearest city and consider how late/early it runs. In my case, buying a car was one of the best decisions I made while living in rural South Korea. It really gives you a sense of independence; you won’t be dependent on bus schedules and the time saved will likely be tremendous. It’s a hassle to go through with the process of finding a used car that isn’t junk and then figuring out the paperwork, but, at least in my case, it was 100 percent worth it. (And I’ve only had my car for seven months!) You can always sell your car at the end of your contract.
If you’re a teacher, don’t expect too much from students
Like many countries, the kids in rural areas of South Korea are a little less modern, a little less driven to succeed and perhaps have had a bit lower quality of an education than the city kids. Not to say that every one of your students will play computer games until 3am and then try to sleep during your class, but a few definitely will. Not all kids attend afterschool private lessons. And some students will absolutely refuse to see the need to learn English (or whatever subject). Try to be empathetic and remember their background. Don’t forget that some students are actually right; they may never need English. They may grow up and work in construction, never leaving the area they were born in and being perfectly happy. Don’t fault them; instead, give them a reason to enjoy coming to your class every day.
If you’re worried about living in the countryside or are having problems adjusting to life in rural South Korea, then I hope I’ve given you something to ease the transition. Some transitions are harder than others, but you’re obligated to do everything possible to make yourself happy before writing off the experience. No doubt there will be lonely times; living far away from the other expatriates is tough sometimes, but the tradeoff is that you’ll have an experience that no one can replicate. You’ll see Korea from a different angle and also change the way citizens in your small town view the world. Instead of a television personality, they’ll have a real example of a foreigner, and maybe a realisation that life outside of their little world exists. You, on the other hand, have wide open spaces and fresh produce, rice paddy sunrises, and if you do it right, the experience of a lifetime.