Since August 2013, I have been living and teaching English in a rural village in South Korea.
The area where I live is called Jinsari (진사리) and it’s located between two suburbs of Pyeongtaek and Anseong- roughly 64 Kilometers (40 miles) south of Seoul.
The overall experience of living in a rural Korean village is nothing short of bizarre. As you might imagine, I had to make major adjustments to my lifestyle because everyday living in this village is 180 degrees different than how I grew up. However, after living here for a year-and-a-half, I have settled in comfortably and now I call this place my home.
I learned how to speak Korean (thanks to Beeline Languages), which had made my experience so much better.
But before I continue, what exactly do I mean by “rural Korean village?
Here are a few initial thoughts that come to mind:
– I can count on one hand how many foreigners live here
– My school, which is a 7 minute walk from my house, is located in the middle of the rice fields
– There are two local grocery stores in my area
– Every time I walk outside my apartment, I run into several of my 700+ students
– Not a word of English is spoken, anywhere
– There is one main road in town, with various restaurants, convenient stores, a few bars, and some karaoke rooms.
– Given that I have red hair and white skin, I stand out like a sore thumb
But really. I literally get stared at everywhere I go. And I mean everywhere.
At the grocery store, in a restaurant, in the gym, at the local 7-11, riding my bike, waiting at the bus stop—regardless of the place, all eyes are on “Drew teacher”. I frequently see fingers pointed at me from across the street and I’ve been randomly stopped and asked to take a photo with people. It’s virtually impossible to hide my identity in this village, unless I walk around with a bag over my head.
I am the lone ginger in a sea of black-haired people.
But honestly, after living here for a while, I am pretty used to all the attention. I have learned to embrace it. Whenever I am walking past someone on the street, I just smile at them and they usually smile back. It has a community feel to it.
As a kid in his early twenties, my experience of living here has been valuable for me in many ways. (This photo is the view outside my apartment.)
First, it’s the only time I’ve ever lived in a “small community.” I was born in Dallas, Texas, grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, went to college in Madison, WI, and studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic. All of those cities have hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people, so it’s a nice change of pace to have extra time and space. This is also the longest period that I’ve ever lived overseas.
Second, the teaching aspect has provided me with new skills. I give multiple lectures everyday to classes of 35+ students, so now I have public speaking experience. I’ve also learned to be flexible, and to be patient. I’m not going to speak anymore teaching English in this post, so if you’re interested, then check out this blog post. And this one too.
Perhaps the most valuable takeaway from living in my village is that I am rapidly learning and understanding The Korean Language. There really isn’t a lick of English spoken anywhere around me- not even a single street sign.
Everything I do and say is in Korean:
한국말 좋아요! 한국친구 많이 있어요, 그래서 한굴 항상 말해요 🙂
I started studying the language by myself about 6 month before I arrived in Korea, in order to prepare myself. Looking back, it was a great decision, and my experience here would not be the same hasn’t I took the time to learn it.
Nowadays, I am conversationally fluent. I have several Korean friends that I only speak and text with in Korean. I can understand about 75% of everything I hear around me. Throw me in a room with a bunch of random Korean who don’t speak a lick of English, and I can most definitely communicate anything that I want to. It’s pretty rewarding.
Living by myself is another “first” for me in my life. I always had roommates in college. I am a people-person; an extrovert, who is outgoing and thrives in social situations. But it’s kind of nice to live alone, and I learned to appreciate the little things in life. I enjoy the slow-paced lifestyle during the week, because I am free of distractions and I can really get shit done. I’ve been taking Taekwondo classes every night, and it’s been a really cool experience. I should be a black belt soon!
However, during the weekend is a different story.
Every Friday, I go to Seoul to party like crazy. The train ride to Seoul takes approximately 1 hour, and it’s really convenient. Seoul is an insanely energetic and fun city, with some of the best nightlife in the world! Seriously though, the nightlife in Seoul is nothing like I’ve experienced anywhere else. Just check out my Gangnam Nightlife Guide!!
It’s crazy to look back over the last year and see how much I’ve grown and matured. I have learned about myself and what I want in my life. I have a much better understanding of the things I like and the things that I don’t like in this world. I truly think that I could not have picked a better experience to go through at this point in my life, as I will continue to grow and experience new things in the future.
So to wrap it up, I will leave you with this video that I took a few months ago while I was riding my bike around my village. I narrated the entire thing with my gopro selfie stick, and you can see everything that I just told you in real life!
I hope you enjoy and please comment below to ask me any questions about life in Korea!