Living and Teaching in Korea

by LadyExpat / Nov 02, 2008 / 0 comments
Where to live on the ROK (Republic of Korea)...Part One of Two

A big thank you to Jessie for inviting me to write an EFL column focusing on living and teaching English in Korea. I have lived in "The Land of the Morning Calm" since early 2001, and  in Daejeon, a city of  1.4 million, for almost four years. Many teachers I have met here came for the job, and thought about their location later, usually much later. I include myself in that group. Experience has shown me that maybe this is  not the best way. In this first column I will provide some insight on..."Where should I live in Korea?" You have many, many choices.

Are you a city slicker, or have simply always dreamed of living in a huge, throbbing with life, metropolis? Then, maybe Seoul, the capital, is for you. With a population hovering around twenty two million, if you take in suburbia, you will never lack for something to do. Further, a world class subway system will take you wherever you want to go. Everything you will ever need or want is here. World class restaurants, English bookstores, neighborhoods
catering to expatriates, movie theaters offering both Korean movies and the latest American blockbusters, traditional markets, and Buddhist temples are all easy to find. I cannot think of anything that you would not have access to in this mega city.  I enjoyed living in Seoul for several years, but ultimately decided that the city was  too big for me. However, should you decide that this is the place for you, jobs are plentiful, and you can be busy all the time.

There are several smaller cities, with populations between one and four million. All have most of the amenities you will find in Seoul, on a smaller scale. First is Daejeon, where I currently live, and fifty minutes from the capital by KTX (the fast speed train). The city boasts a small subway, and a good bus system. Taxis are cheap and plentiful. Twenty universities and colleges have campuses here, including KISAT (Korea Institute of Science and Technology), one of the top English speaking universities in the country. The city has a thriving cultural scene, including the well known Daejeon Philharmonic Orchestra. Many international companies have branch offices here, and the city has been dubbed the  "Silicon Valley of Korea".

Next is Daegu, boasting a population of just under three million. I have visited on occasion, and always came away with a good feeling. The city is similar to Daejeon, with a few more western amenities, since it has a million or so additional people. Again, there is a subway with two lines. There also appears to be a small but active expatiate art scene. Five large universities, along with numerous smaller post-secondary institutions and colleges, are found here. Also known as the home of  Korean baseball, and was a co-host city for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Soccer. Jump on the KTX and you will be at Seoul Station in under two hours.

Travel a bit further beyond Daegu and you will come to Gwangju, Korea's sixth largest city. Capital of the Shilla Dynasty from 57 B.C. to 935 A.D., the city is home to many historical artifacts, and a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They include the amazing Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple; a photographers paradise. The city also hosts an art biennial encompassing several venues throughout the city. I attended this year, andwas thrilled to see an exhibit of Baroque paintings, including Peter Paul Rubens. They also hold the annual Kimchi Festival each October.

The final city on my list is the coastal city of Pusan, with a population of close to four million. According to the Wiki it is  known as the "Rio De Janeiro of South Korea", because of its shore line and many beaches. You can navigate the metropolitan area quickly by subway, bus or taxi. Since 1996 the city has hosted the "Pusan International Film Festival", and like its neighbor, Gwangju, also an art biennial. For those of us raised close to the ocean, a weekend in Pusan is a great way to cure the "I need to smell the ocean blues."  A stroll through the city's Jagalchi Fish Market is not to be missed. Finally, there are many employment opportunities here for English instructors, ranging from private institutes, public schools, universities and corporations.

There are no lack of places to teach in Korea. The key is to choose a place where you think you can successfully live, work, and enjoy, all that this part of Asia has to offer. In Part Two I will talk about  places outside of  the city spaces, which will appeal to some.

Please note, Korea romanized the spelling of many city names a few years ago, and you may still encounter the previous spellings. For example, Daegu was Taegu; Daejeon was Taejon.


Nancie, Lady Expat, is the Teaching in Korea Editor for Wandering Educators.


nancie [at] wanderingeducators dot com

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