My Struggle Living in Rural Korea

My Struggle Living in Rural Korea

I have officially been in Korea for a total of 3 months now and it feels like I’ve been here for 6, at the very least. Moving to South Korea has definitely been a struggle for me. The gawking and staring, the strange food, and the biggest of them all, the language barrier. I knew not being able to speak Korean was going to be hurdle in my life in Korea. But I came here with every intention of learning the language and at least being able to engage in basic communication by the time I leave this country. To say that I have gotten off to a rocky start would be an understatement.

I have been living in Korea for three months and I have cracked open my language books to study Korean all of maybe…five times? For whatever reason, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I could give a list of reasons but they would all just sound like a mountain of excuses. Before coming here, I wanted to learn the Korean language and started studying it long before I ever moved here. I thought coming to Korea would push me to want to learn Korean even more. But I will be one hundred percent transparent and say that Korea has had the opposite effect on me.

The reason being: I don’t like where I live.

There, I said it. I DON’T LIKE WHERE I LIVE.

I live in a tiny rural town with nothing to do, nothing to see, no one to meet, and hardly any places to go because the bus schedules are so wonky and slightly irregular. I’m definitely not a big city person (I would struggle to survive in a place like Seoul) but my little town is a bit too rural for me. There is no mall, no movie theater, no museum (besides the green tea one), no library, no park, no local community college. Nothing!

Boseong is a tiny town that barely even shows up on maps when you search “map of Korea”. My town is tiny, but to top it off, I live on the outskirts of it. To get to “town” it’s about a 15 to 20 minute walk for me. I live on a street that thankfully has the necessities for daily living plus a couple fried chicken joints (this is my fun. Ordering fried chicken). But other than that, there really isn’t anything going on.

rural 2
This isn’t my photo but this is downtown Boseong when stuff is actually going on. Old people selling produce and very homely looking clothes and appliances.

 

There are a few café’s but the majority of the town is tiny mom and pop shops being run by one or two people with irregular hours. Sometimes they’re open, sometimes they’re closed. Sometimes they even take random breaks during open hours with a sign left on the door that says they’ll “return soon”. When? Who knows.

The town is mostly populated by tiny little old people. Not even exaggerating. The age group of Boseong’s inhabitants are very imbalanced. I would say about 85% of the town are people in their 50’s and above, with the majority of that number already being in their 70’s and 80’s. 5% are people who look to be in their 40’s. The remaining 10% are the students and children of the town, half of which, I teach. The balance is completely off and there is an entire age bracket completely missing. Where are the people between the ages of 19 and 39??

When talking to the former English teacher from my school, she told me straight up that once the kids graduate high school, they jet out of Boseong as quickly as they can. And I can’t even blame them. There is nothing for them here if they have dreams and goals of going to college and working for anything other than a chicken joint and their family’s tiny restaurant or store.

rural
Again, not my photo, but this is the same area as the picture above when nothing is going on. This is “downtown”. And it takes me 15 -20 mins to walk here.

 

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m freakin bored. I will admit I am not the liveliest person in the world. In fact, some might even call me boring. But when a boring person is actually bored, there’s a problem lol. I am trying to turn my mindset around though, and focus on the good things about living in a rural area such as seeing beautiful mountains everywhere I go, and not having the harried frenzy of everyday life in busy cities like Seoul, with people pushing and shoving at you. But it’s hard…

Another thing that’s hard is, along with having no motivation to learn Korean because of how boring my town is, I also can’t understand any of the Korean I hear around me. Usually when I watch TV here in Korea, I can make out some words and I get super excited when I do. But when the lady at the local grocery mart starts speaking to me in full blown Korean, it doesn’t even sound like Korean. When the man at the tiny Olleh phone shop speaks to me, it doesn’t even sound like Korean. When the woman at the bus station got excited about seeing me, a foreigner, and starts rattling off, it doesn’t even sound like Korean.

What is this language?? I actually thought I was going a little crazy due to how nervous I get when anyone tries to speak to me.

So my curiosity got the best of me and I did some research. Apparently Boseong has it’s own dialect. The people that live here pronounce things differently and often attach different endings to their word conjugations. So no, I wasn’t going crazy. They were just speaking a different version of Korean. So now I really don’t know what do to. Do I learn standard Korean from the textbook? Or do I try and learn the Korean spoken in this province? Will I even be understood, speaking standard Korean with a harsh American accent to people who speak a different dialect?

I don’t even know.

But I’m going to try and cheer up. It’s only been three months and I have 9 more to go. If I continue on in this “woe, is me” mindset, the next nine months are going to be pretty crappy and dull. My goal is to start looking on the bright side and find some motivation. Learn some Korean so I don’t feel like such an inconvenience whenever I step out of my apartment. If I happen to start picking up on the dialect, then so be it. I’m just ready to start enjoying my time in Korea.



4 thoughts on “My Struggle Living in Rural Korea”

  • It’s actually pretty funny that I want to teach in Boseong and generally in this province. I imagine it can be boring but I honestly am used to such small and quite honestly older populated places. I’ll definitely need to research on the dialect though or else I’ll probably combust.

  • Hi there, I am currently considering teaching English in Jeollanam-do province and your post has been such an eye opener. Once needs to get both the pros and cons of rural living. I would like to know how you are doing now and if there is any advice you could give a fellow ESL teacher planning to do the rural route.

    Thanks so much

    • Hi Adrian!
      I will actually be making a post about that. Your question inspired me to write it because I realized I never spoke on that. But if you don’t want to wait for the post, my advice is this:
      – Find your community. Whatever it may be, find the people you can build a community/friendship with. Nothing is harder than being in a place where you have no friends, no family, no acquaintances, and zero connections.
      – Go to events. You’re already outside your comfort zone by being in a country that you are not familiar with, so just try something else that’s new and go to a new event. Facebook is great for finding events near you or in other parts of Korea.
      – Don’t be afraid to look silly and ask questions.
      – Don’t forget your hobbies. Find the normalcy (whatever that is for you) and keep it. It can be comforting when things around you get to be stressful.
      – Stay in contact with your family if you are close with them. For me, my family is my rock so I spoke to them almost everyday. It really helped me when there were moments where I just wanted to cry and cry and cry.
      – Don’t forget who you are. As a person of color there were many things about Korea and Koreans that can truly be ignorant, offensive, and sometimes downright racist. Korea does not have anti-discriminatory laws so they think nothing of posting signs like “NO BLACK PEOPLE ALLOWED” or “ONLY WHITE TEACHERS WANTED” or even randomly cursing and spitting at a black person. While I’m thankful this last bit never happened to me, I am aware of people where this did happen to them. Whoever you are or whatever you are, don’t forget who you are. It can hurt sometimes but the world still has much more learning and growing to do. Handle what needs to be handled, and if it doesn’t require your time and energy then just keep it pushing.

      I hope that was helpful for you. If you have any more questions, please ask them! I will be happy to share with you anything I may know.

      • Hey Linaa, thanks for taking the time out to reply to my post, I really appreciate it. Just had my interview today and not really sure how to gauge the interviewer’s responses but let’s hold thumbs and see. Yeah one of the prep questions was regarding racial discrimination. No matter how ‘advanced’ a country is you will always get the ignorant and bigoted, I am glad you were not subjected to any of that, sad that it still exists though.

        All the best for your future adventures

        Blessings

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