The 5 best cities to live and teach in Korea

Once I started this weblog, this was one of the first subjects I ever thought to write about. It’s an obvious question, and individuals come here in search of info on this matter. It’s a subject I’ve considered lots; in all my travels in South Korea, I’ve all the time stored a psychological listing of cities that I wouldn’t mind dwelling in, if I had the prospect.

But I’ve never written this submit. And the reason is this:


If I ever went for a job in considered one of these places, I didn’t need to be competing with all of you. A great proportion of people interested in educating in South Korea do visit this blog ultimately, and I didn’t need to advertise my secret places. Sorry.

What’s changed? Nicely, at this point in my trajectory I feel I’m unlikely to be competing with first-timers who’ve by no means been to Korea; I might in all probability be after totally different jobs. And anybody in Korea in all probability has their very own listing, or no less than has the choice of touring to a spot and checking it out. So I assumed I’d lastly inform you all my favourite cities to live in and teach in, in Korea.

However first, an entire lot of disclaimers and qualifications. (If you would like to skip straight to the record, click on here for my record of the 5 most livable cities in South Korea.)


1. I haven’t been to every metropolis in Korea

Wanting on the Wikipedia listing of Korean cities by inhabitants, I’ve been to a few third. Some I do know nicely; others I’ve visited only briefly. Still, that’s not dangerous, and in all probability compares properly to the typical Korean.

Additionally, my proportion is probably higher than it appears. Whenever you travel, you select locations which are both giant, famous, or scenic; so I’ve in all probability been to a larger proportion of the fascinating cities. By the identical reasoning, the higher you go up that record, the more doubtless it’s that I’ve been there; I’ve been to 9 of the 10 largest cities.

That stated, there have been some areas that I have explored higher than others. Whereas I’ve been to every province, I’ve spent very little time in Gangwon-do. I hear it’s pretty and an amazing place to live, however in terms of my information of Korea, it’s a little bit of a black hole.

2. I’ve personal biases

Most notably, I’m Australian, and so have a tendency to like coastal and warmer locations. When you feel at house in chilly, mountainous areas, your record will probably be totally different from mine.


1. Why which metropolis you choose doesn’t matter that a lot

Look, regardless of the place you find yourself, Korean cities tend to be a bit samey. Additionally, where you’ll truly live in a metropolis makes at the least as much difference as which city you live in. I’ll clarify both of those things.

Firstly, the sameyness:

Look! I’m a psychic. I will now describe for you the town in Korea that you’ll ultimately name residence. Should you already live in Korea – properly, I’ll describe the place you live now. Prepared…?

There’s a downtown with numerous clothes shops and comfort stores and coffee outlets. There’s additionally a Paris Baguette, a Dunkin Donuts, and a Baskin Robbins. The Paris Baguette is on a outstanding corner; the opposite outstanding corners are in all probability occupied by telephone outlets. There’s an E-Mart (and/or Lotte Mart/Residence Plus), nevertheless it’s not in downtown; it’s in one other part of city. There’s a foreigner bar. There’s an area mountain the place you’ll be able to take a look at cherry blossoms in cherry blossom season. Someplace near the town is a body of water where you possibly can lease duck boats. The locals will probably be pleased with their mountain and their physique of water. They may even be pleased with a specific meals that they declare is best there than anyplace else in Korea. There are places you possibly can go climbing. There are lots of barbeque locations, fried hen locations, and conventional Korean meals places. There is a market space, and in all probability close to it’s an Previous Korea part of city the place all of the previous individuals hang around; this place could have plenty of run-down wanting stores selling second hand goods and ajumma trend. There is a seedy area with love motels and business bars and noraebangs, some “nice” neighborhoods with numerous married couples with youngsters and a lot of parks, and a City Hall sort area that has a considerably sterile really feel to it and a lot of office buildings.

The above, kind of, describes every Korean city. There are small Korean cities, medium Korean cities, and huge Korean cities. The differences lie only in minor specifics.

Now, here’s the essential thing. Korean cities are divided up into dong (동), or neighborhoods. Each of the above descriptions may describe a whole dong, or a dong may need multiple such areas within it.

The character of every dong inside a metropolis is rather more distinct than the variations between cities themselves.

That may be a little confusing. Let me attempt to clarify. A love motelly, noraebang, amber-light district space in one city is likely to resemble the amber-light district in other Korean cities fairly intently. It’s going to, nevertheless, be very totally different from the great neighborhoods with numerous parks and couples-with-kids in the same city.

What I’m saying is that even for those who’re in a position to select your metropolis, it’s still very exhausting to know what the place you’ll end up dwelling in is actually like, until you can too select where in the town to live. And that may be a selection you virtually definitely gained’t have, for those who’re new to Korea.

(Should you do ever get to choose where in the town you will live, I recommend all the following!: The amber mild space with the noraebangs, the previous Korea area, the downtown area, the sketchy neighborhood across the bus terminal, any university “back gate” area.  This is the place Korea tends to be at its most vigorous and fascinating, and despite any misgivings you may need, these locations are nonetheless pretty protected. Places I’d favor to avoid: the town hall space, any space with a lot of massive field sort stores, new city sort areas and areas in a cul-de-sac off a primary highway. All these tend to have a little bit of a depressing and empty feel to them. Good neighborhoods with a lot of younger families and youngsters might be good places to live, but may also be just a little on the uninteresting aspect.)


1. Waegukin’s information to how the locals understand foreigners

One thing that can make an enormous difference to the ambiance of where you live, and which does seem to range from city to metropolis, is how the locals perceive foreigners. The feeling of being silently despised as you go about your on a regular basis existence will get to anyone after a while. And a minority of places I’ve been to in Korea do have that feel.

I’ve thought quite a bit about what accounts for this difference in vibe relating to how foreigners are perceived in totally different cities, and from this have formulated the following highly unscientific chart to explain them.

Rationalization: the horizontal axis displays the wealth of the town. Is it residence to a large Chaebol business, or is it a rural, farming area? The vertical axis represents the world’s familiarity with overseas English academics. Have they seen them around for years, appearing like dickheads and consuming outdoors the convenience stores, or are they nonetheless a novelty?

This leaves us with four quadrants, and explains, I feel, the differing levels of hostility you may encounter. Now, certainly one of these quadrants in all probability doesn’t exist any extra – the rich area that is unfamiliar with foreigners. The wealthy individuals in those places long ago introduced in foreigners to fill their hagwons and tutor their youngsters. But once I first got here to Korea, these places still existed, and they have been nice places to live – everybody beamed at you and was delighted to see you.

Anybody know of anyplace left in Korea like this? Some wealthy island someplace, perhaps?

This leaves us with three quadrants. Sadly, familiarity with the ways of the waegukin breeds a specific amount of justified contempt in many. Still, I feel the angle in the direction of foreigners in rich areas in Korea tends to be fairly good, which is why I describe it as “tolerant” – they could have a mix of good and dangerous impressions, however they haven’t any cause to feel resentment. So the angle is certainly one of tolerance; whatever they consider foreigners, they don’t feel any deep animosity; they haven’t any cause to. To make an analogy, do the inhabitants of a rich gated group resent the immigrant gardeners? In fact not.

Resentment belongs to the upper-left quadrant. These are areas which might be both poor and accustomed to overseas English academics. The resentment shouldn’t be arduous to perceive. Many people in these places lead troublesome, hard-working, unsuccessful lives, and in order that they resent young, barely qualified foreigners who come to Korea, are paid nicely for little work, and act boorishly.

The last Korean metropolis I lived in, a rural metropolis in Gyeonggi-do, was an instance of this kind of place.  I felt the detest every time I went to the native supermarket, and I felt it in the seems of strangers. In fact, there have been pretty individuals there, too; but I felt it typically enough in outlets and on the road for it to hassle me.

The metropolis I live in now, in rural Jeollanam-do, is equally poor, but the really feel is completely totally different. There aren’t many overseas academics right here, and the angle, as illustrated in the diagram, is oblivious. Individuals here have a tendency to haven’t any preconceptions about foreigners, good or dangerous; they treat you solely as the one that seems earlier than them. The approach this most clearly manifests is this: around right here, I’m hardly advised I converse nice Korean (which I don’t). They don’t have an expectation about how a lot Korean I in all probability know; they only accept it.

Anyway – my advice is to choose someplace rich, or someplace with few overseas English academics. Avoid poor places that have loads of English academics.

2. Transport

Wherever you live, you’ll need to get away from time to time.  Korea’s public transport is sweet, nevertheless it’s not equally good in all places.

All cities have a bus terminal. However larger cities have a tendency to have larger bus terminals, with buses that go to numerous locations. Small cities may have a bus terminal that goes to local cities, and hooks into a bigger bus terminal in a neighboring metropolis. Altering buses is a ache, so having an enormous bus terminal is an advantage. A subway connection can also be nice. A KTX station is great! You possibly can go to huge cities shortly. A KTX station on the Gyeongbu line is best – you’ll be able to shortly go to Seoul, Daegu, Daejeon and Busan, and a bunch of other fascinating locations.

3. Downtown area

Does the place have a cool, compact downtown with a variety of totally different outlets, bars and eating places? Wherever you live, you’re going to spend numerous time in downtown, so it helps if it’s a fun, fascinating place, and isn’t unfold out right into a bunch of different areas.

4. Attractiveness

Is it pretty? Self-explanatory.

5. The Goldilocks factor

Some might disagree with me, but I feel there’s an optimum population zone: between 200,000 and 1 million individuals is about right. Smaller cities could be good, but they’re probably to lack belongings you’ll miss after a while. The provide of foreigners dwelling in these locations, too, is usually a bit limited – there could be no one you’d need to hang out with. And the general public transport choices are often not great.

As for the most important cities – many people like them. Their important disadvantage for me is that there have a tendency to be too many different foreigners, and that can impression your experience. As an alternative of only a foreigner bar and a restaurant or two, you start to have whole areas the place foreigners congregate. And people areas may be messy on a Saturday night time. You begin to have the opportunity to live a cocooned, expat-bubble expertise in these bigger cities, with expat final frisbee teams, quite a lot of expat restaurants, expat “events”. That’s straightforward, and so you’ll be tempted to do this, and I feel that may be a drawback. People who do this tend to not get as much out of their time in Korea. Nonetheless, I can perceive why for some individuals, which may sound like a superb factor and a very good place to live.

As well as, with the most important cities you additionally start to run into an excessive version of the issue mentioned earlier – where, exactly, will you be dwelling? Within the coronary heart of downtown, or an hour outdoors of it, off the subway line, with an extended bus journey to get to downtown? End up in such a place, and you’re doubtless to begin to resent everybody who gets to live closer to the town’s occurring areas.

None of this is to say that these larger, metropolitan area cities like Busan and Daegu are dangerous locations to live; they’re not. But this can be a listing concerning the absolute best locations, and for me, they don’t make the minimize.

Lastly, the record

Enough of all that. In reverse order of private choice, listed here are what I contemplate the best locations to live and teach in Korea.

The iconic photo of Gumi that everyone takes - the view of downtown, coming out of the train station. From here

Gumi downtown, seen from the practice station exit

5. Gumi, Gyeongsangbuk-do

I’ve a private bias, here. This was the primary city in Korea I lived in. However I do assume it has rather a lot going for it.

Gumi’s downtown surrounds the practice station, at the base of a fantastic mountain, Geumosan. The practice station is on the Gyeongbu line, and Daegu is simply half an hour away. There are straightforward excessive velocity practice connections to Seoul and Busan. It additionally has a bus terminal that goes to virtually anyplace you may want to go. The downtown is just not giant, but has a nice feel to it, and neighbors the massive market. It was the hometown of benevolent-ish dictator Park Chung Hee, and so has historically been the beneficiary of a disproportionate quantity of government favor, which accounts for its great infrastructure and the supportive presence of chaebols like LG and Samsung.

There’s nothing spectacular about Gumi, nevertheless it’s on the middle of the whole lot, you possibly can go anyplace in or outdoors of the town with ease, and it ticks all packing containers. A pleasant place to live.

Comparable choices: Pohang, another city in Gyeogsangbuk-do, has numerous similarities to Gumi. The transport isn’t fairly nearly as good, nevertheless it has the advantage of beaches.

four. Songjeong-dong, Gwangju

I’m dishonest a bit of bit right here by including a dong in a larger metropolis. Nevertheless, I justify it by the fact that till lately it was a separate city, and it still has that really feel.

It is uncommon for this record in that it is the solely city that doesn’t fall into the top proper of my diagram. It’s not wealthy, and furthermore it’s a city that’s acquainted with foreigners, one thing I stated to avoid. So, what provides? Properly, the foreigners they’re accustomed to aren’t English academics. They’re Cambodian, Vietnamese, Chinese language, and Thai individuals who work in the local factories. Those individuals should put on a better present than us English instructor varieties, as a result of this city is amazingly pleasant to foreigners; the downtown outlets have signs in them saying “We Welcome Foreigners!”

Songjeong is among the few locations in Korea that, to me, has the texture of an immigrant neighborhood that is about to be gentrified. It has superb, genuine south-east Asian restaurants courtesy of all these totally different immigrant groups. In a sq. kilometer or so it has a terrific downtown, a terrific five day market, and a love motel-y nightlife space.

It additionally has spectacularly good transportation for a not very giant or well-known place. It has a KTX station, a subway station on the Gwangju network, and an airport.

Cheonan downtown

three. Cheonan, Chungcheonnam-do

Cheonan is one other city which ticks each field. It’s on the Seoul subway system and its KTX station is the crossing level for the Gyeongbu and Janghan strains. It’s a wealthy city with a bunch of different universities, and a tech middle for corporations like Samsung and LG. It has a wealthy-feeling, vigorous downtown space. For these for whom “how far is it to Seoul?” is a major consideration, I’d advocate Cheonan as a place to live.

Comparable locations: Suwon, residence of Samsung, jogs my memory of Cheonan – they’re each rich tech cities, close to Seoul, with good public transportation.


Anapji Pond in Gyeongju

2. Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do

Gyeongju is an internationally well-known vacationer destination, the “museum without walls”. However I don’t put it here for that purpose – at the least, not primarily. From a tourist perspective, it can be seen in a day or two, and what are you going to do with the remainder of the yr?

However, like most locations that profit from the vacationer business, it’s a metropolis that is friendly to foreigners. It has a small, engaging practice station shut to downtown. Even in the event you’ve seen all of the tourist spots, it remains a really pretty city, full of parks, timber, and history. It has a compact, nice downtown area.

When it comes to transportation, it isn’t as related as a number of the different locations, nevertheless it does have both a practice service and an excellent bus terminal. Greater than that, it is extremely shut to Daegu, Ulsan, and Busan, supplying you with no shortage of nice locations to go on the weekend.

The city of Okpo on Geoje-do

1. Geoje Island, Gyeongsangnam-do

Geoje-do is an island of extraordinary beauty off the southern coast, filled with mountains, beaches, coves, and tiny offshore islands that appear to be something from a storybook.

It’s a shipbuilding island, and every of the 2 important towns, Gohyeon and Okpo, are company towns – Gohyeon residence to Samsung’s shipbuilding amenities, and Okpo to Daewoo’s. One of many more fascinating sights I’ve seen in Korea is Okpo at seven in the morning, everybody on the streets sporting equivalent Daewoo coveralls; like something out of a science-fiction movie from the seventies. Both cities have a wealthy feel to them.

Gohyeon’s downtown is nice, alongside a single, vibrant, busy and wealthy strip operating down to the water. The bus terminal is shut by. Though it’s an island, it’s related to the mainland by bridges, and so you are not reduce off from going to different locations. Whereas, being an island, Geoje isn’t as central with regards to transport as a number of the other places talked about right here, it does have buses that go to lots of places, including a super-cool, fast run to Busan alongside coastal bridges.

It’s, nevertheless, an expensive city, due to its location and the excessive common incomes.

Comparable options: If I didn’t really feel the need for stability, there would in all probability be more Southern coastal cities on this record. Tongyeong, close to Geoje Island, additionally has a stunning feel to it. Yeosu in Jeollanam-do can also be an amazing city, though once I was there last it did seem to be experiencing something of a post-Expo droop.

Why some other locations didn’t make the record

I considered together with an inventory of the worst locations in Korea, however it didn’t really feel quite proper. A lot of the places I might nominate I don’t truly know very nicely; I simply handed by way of them. They’re additionally of a kind: that kind of smallish, depressed rural city.

I will, nevertheless, point out a couple of well-known locations, and why they didn’t make the minimize:

1. Seoul – I’ve written earlier than about my feelings about Seoul; suffice to say I don’t assume it is among the world’s nice cities. A colossal concrete machine, like Ginsberg’s Moloch, devoted to turning individuals into money, lacking in inexperienced area, unpleasantly crowded.

2. Busan – I’m not alone in my hatred of Seoul; it’s an opinion shared by a considerable minority of expats right here. However, I don’t assume I’ve ever met anybody who didn’t like Busan, and I’m unsure I might belief someone who didn’t. Busan is nice in all of the methods Seoul just isn’t: colorful, energetic, and vibrant.

But… it’s actually unfold out. It truly covers a larger space than Seoul. And its subway system is sluggish, making a trip from one aspect of the town to the opposite one thing of a trek. And who knows where you’ll find yourself dwelling, within that city? Personally, I favor Busan as a spot to visit, quite than a spot to live.

3. Jeju-do – The island of Jeju-do is rightly acclaimed for its beauty and pure wonders. And expertise those wonders you will, in the event you go to live there, because you’re going to be principally caught on that island. Positive, you’ll visit Seoul a couple of occasions, and Busan perhaps once, but finally it’s going to be too much of a problem to go to anyplace else in Korea. It’s additionally windy for a lot of the yr.

Your ideas

But don’t stress about it, as a result of it really doesn’t make that much difference, which city you find yourself in. You possibly can have a good time in any of them, and equally you can also make yourself depressing in any of them. In the event you don’t get to choose – should you just have to roll the cube and go the place you find a job – then I might recommend you embrace that randomness. I’ve lived in 4 totally different cities in Korea, and only selected considered one of them. And it didn’t make an excessive amount of difference, both approach. They have been all great experiences, in alternative ways.

An inventory like that is sure to cause a good amount of disagreement, and I’d love to know what you assume. What are your secret locations? Am I lacking necessary standards? Is there a better city that I happen to have missed in my travels? Let me know in the feedback.

I do have a request, though. In the event you’ve only lived in one place, and want to say that place is super-great, I might ask you not to remark. I’m glad that you simply like the place you ended up, but you could have big quantities of affirmation bias, and nothing to examine it to. Once I’ve seen this matter discussed before, I’ve seen the next happen: you get a ton of individuals saying, “I like where I live!” and it finally ends up being nothing more than a ballot of where foreigners live in Korea. And that doesn’t help anybody.

If, then again, you need to nominate a special metropolis, or when you’ve lived in a number of locations, by all means go ahead and tell me where you like, and why.