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.
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.
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.