Life in a South Korean village

A lower cost of living, friendly locals, teaching English at a middle school -- these are some parts of British expat Valerie's life in a rural village in South Korea. Here she describes what she likes about village life and compares it to living in a big city like Seoul. She also offers tips for adjusting to the Korean lifestyle and culture.
Valerie in Korea

-Where were you born?

The U.K.

-In which country and city are you living now?

A village in Gwangyu City, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea

-Are you living alone or with your family?


-How long have you been living in South Korea?

In the village for 6 months. I lived in Seoul for 1 year before that.

-What is your age?


-When did you come up with the idea of living in South Korea?

I lived in Tokyo for 7 years and felt I needed to move on or stay there forever! I had been to Korea twice on vacation so it seemed a natural baby step away from Japan!

-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?

No. If you have the correct qualifications it is a breeze. However, the additional requirements (police checks, etc.) that came into force during my first year made signing up again a little more annoying.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

Medical insurance is provided through the government and is effective from your first day of work. (Until you receive the actual card you have to pay and then get it back). The tiny co-payment kicks in after about 3 weeks, the average time to become fully registered here.

-How do you make your living in South Korea? Do you have any type of income generated?

I teach English at a rural middle school. (Last year I was a kindy homeroom teacher in Seoul). There are plenty of jobs available, easily found on the Internet. The trick is to keep an accurate record of those you apply for and to be fussy.

-Do you speak Korean and do you think it's important to speak the local language?

My Korean is nearly non-existent. I can do the very basic greetings/thanks things and am picking up random words and phrases. Partly this is because I still tend to think in Japanese, and also because I am so busy finishing my M.A. thesis I have little time to spare. I find Korean much harder to actually use than Japanese. (So even if I learn words I have less confidence to use them).

-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.

Of course I miss family and friends, both from the U.K. and from Japan. I am very lucky to have a wide circle of friends here, who I treasure.

I live in a very scenic area and enjoy looking around. Otherwise I spend time meeting friends and eating/drinking/watching movies, etc. Most of my spare time mid week is spent on studying.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

I am leaving in September and planning to travel from the U.K. to India without using airplanes. Should be interesting!

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

I live in a 'one room' provided and paid for by school. It is very big by Korean standards and has a wonderful bathroom with a window AND a radiator! (Luxuries here). Everything else is in 1 room. It is comfortable but my goal is to stop sleeping with my fridge! Apartments are fairly cheap here as it is the countryside.

-What is the cost of living in South Korea?

Reasonable for most things, though the credit crunch is raising everyday living costs. It is also a little more expensive to shop rurally as there is no competition. If I go into the nearest town I can buy cheaper fruit and food, which works so long as I don't taxi back and negate the savings! Taxis are very cheap here though compared to any other country I have lived or travelled in.

-What do you think about the Koreans? 

People here are friendly enough and stare less than when I was in Seoul. I think most of them got used to me being around. (Until last week I was the only foreigner). Most people are kind and do theri best to help you out in shops and such. I tend to return to those places where I am made welcome of course.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in South Korea?

Pollution is less of an issue in the rural areas, it was pretty chronic in Seoul. It also takes awhile to get used to the pushing and shoving. There are not enough people in the village for that to be a problem on the streets but people rarely queue for the bus or wait patiently in line. This is not a country for shrinking violets.

I like the opportunity to try new things and the meat feasts are wonderful.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in South Korea?

Be prepared to arrive with an open mind and establish a friendship circle as soon as you can. Foreigners are friendly and there are lots of groups around on Facebook. I think it is really important to have people around you you can share experiences with. There will be many things that happen here that puzzle most Westerners...Korea aint changing in your time here so try to see the funny side!

two more questions

elisa.m039's picture

did you go to Korea already knowing how to speak Korean or did you learn there. If not then how did you comunicate?

what other jobs is plausible for a foreigner to gain that those not have to do with teaching English (specifically in the math and science field)?

Can you tell me more about there culture?