Thinking back to life when I was in my early twenties and stateside, I often find myself laughing at how much has changed since then. I regularly remind myself to be incredibly thankful for everything I have here on Jeju Island.
In the summer of 2012, I graduated from Winthrop University in South Carolina and came out into the working world looking for an opportunity to make something of myself. I was thrilled to have received my degree within four years and that I had done so without getting into too much debt.
2012 was a rough year for college graduates. I felt like I may have been a little ahead of the curve when I heard some of my friends tell stories about being laden with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of student loans, but I certainly didn’t fare much better in the recession-riddled job market when l returned to my hometown.
For a year and a half, I took whatever jobs I could get. I pinched pennies, worked as many hours as my bosses would allow me to work, and made plans for the future. In the evenings, between serving steaks and bussing tables, I mapped out escape routes to different job openings across the country, the cost of living expenses in those places, and how much it would take for me to transplant myself into a bigger city with more opportunities.
I had always had a deep interest in teaching abroad at some point in my life, and when I had finally saved up enough money to buy a plane ticket and make real progress towards setting up my life in a new town, I decided that instead of pursuing opportunities in Charlotte, Atlanta, or Washington D.C., I would instead go for something a little more adventurous. I packed my life into two bags, said goodbye to friends and family, and bought a plane ticket to the absolute other side of the world. If I were any further east or west, I’d technically be closer to home.
Making that move to Jeju has without a doubt been one of the best decisions of my life. I am enamored with this island, and it has given me so many opportunities to grow as a person. It is because of these opportunities that I want to talk a little bit about my experiences and my time here.
“I packed my life into two bags, said goodbye to friends and family, and bought a plane ticket to the absolute other side of the world. If I were any further east or west, I’d technically be closer to home.”
Friends and Community
Sometimes it can seem like an idealistic or overly romantic notion that you can move away from where you are in life and build something new for yourself in another place. However, I was able to do that here and I have never regretted making the move. I think Jeju is a wonderful place to set up and start pursuing one’s long-term and short-term goals.
This in part has to do with the wonderful foreign community here. The community is quite large–there are easily over 200 foreign English teachers on the island–but it’s also small enough to get to know a ton of new and interesting people from all around the globe. This is one of the major pluses of living on an island instead of in a large city on the mainland, where you don’t have the opportunity to get to know as many people and connect with them on a regular basis.
Some of my favorite memories and experiences with friends have been motorcycling along the coastal roads of the island, sitting around a fire at the beach and having a cold beer while shooting roman candles into the night sky, and the warm house parties that keep you in good spirits during wintertime. Remember, the people you involve yourself with will determine how much you enjoy your time, no matter where you are. Just know that from my experience, if you come to Jeju you’ll likely have a lot of wonderful people to choose from.
Most foreigners on the island show up to the biannual volleyball tournament
Whether it is only for a year or you’re looking to build a life here, teaching English on Jeju can provide you with a strong base to build credit, save money, and invest in your future. The job does not pay six figures, but when one considers that rent is free and that you can realistically save over 1,500,000 won a month, the job can be incredibly rewarding financially.
Jeju has given me a chance to really set myself up for investing in my long term financial goals. If you stay on Jeju for two or three years and you’re a frugal saver who sets budgets and doesn’t vacation twice a year, you may find that you’re worth a whole lot more than you were when you first arrived. Putting a substantial down payment on a home isn’t a farfetched idea if you know how to save. If saving isn’t important to you, you can afford to live it up a bit, go out to eat more than you used to back home, take weekend trips around Asia. Just be aware, you make enough money to save or splurge, but not both.
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I have always been a budget-conscious person, and I do not travel every time I get the chance to do so. Despite this, I have still managed to visit Cambodia, Thailand, and China during my time in Korea, and soon I’ll be visiting Japan as well. Over the course of two and a half years, I’ll have visited four different countries as well as seen most of South Korea’s mainland.
If you have no intentions of saving money for the long-term, you could easily visit many more countries in that amount of time. Working in Korea will give you the ability to board a plane and, within a mere handful of hours, be walking through the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, strolling along the Great Wall of China, or meandering through the streets and visiting shrines in Kyoto. That is not even mentioning the wonderful things you’ll have available to you here in Korea itself. A flight to Seoul or Busan from Jeju generally takes no longer than 50 minutes to an hour.
You’ll get plenty of opportunity to travel throughout Korea or abroad. This is me at The Great Wall Of China.
Of all the wonderful perks of living and working in Jeju, falling in love with one of those special people I mentioned earlier tops the list. I fell in love with the sweetest and most lovely woman I have ever met while living on this island. We have been able to build a life together here, and with each passing day we get closer to our financial, travel, and professional goals while being entirely content sitting where we currently are.
Back home I often felt like life was passing me by or that I was missing out on some grand adventure. Jeju changed all that for me. I am on my own adventure now, and I have a wonderful partner who is right there with me every step of the way. There are many interesting, smart, and self-determined people on the island who are planning big things for their future here. Perhaps you’ll find someone special as well.
“There are many interesting, smart, and self-determined people on the island who are planning big things for their future here. Perhaps you’ll find someone special as well.”
A word of warning: if you come to Jeju, you’ll be coming here primarily to teach. If there is one thing I don’t care for, it is teachers who don’t take their job or the education of their students seriously. Although we have so many amazing opportunities outside of the classroom, perhaps the most valuable opportunity of all is to stand in front of your students and see their English abilities grow over time. You’ll have to work hard every day if you really want to see them improve. Don’t come to Korea or Jeju if you know teaching isn’t something you’ll enjoy doing. The gig isn’t just about traveling, eating new food, and experiencing life abroad. It isn’t a vacation, after all. It is a job.
On a more positive note, however, teaching in Korea is a wonderful experience. You’ll be able to instruct and speak with students from a different culture who, in my experience, will be interested to hear what you think about everything. As you get to know your students and their academic strengths and weaknesses, you’ll start getting a chance to make a real difference in their ability to acquire a new language. The first time you see a student progress from not knowing their ABCs to speaking in more complicated sentences, you’ll feel a sense of pride that would make the job worthwhile even without the added benefits.
If you decide to take the leap, throw your life in a bag, and move somewhere new, I believe that you should strongly consider the quirky little island of Jeju. The opportunities I’ve had and the people I’ve met on this island have helped me become the man I am today. This life isn’t without its downsides and sometimes it can be hard being separated from your friends and family back home. You also have to take into consideration the fact that although we get generous vacation time, the bulk of your time in Jeju will be spent in the classroom. However, if those conditions sound interesting to you, perhaps you should consider applying to teach in Jeju as well. I’ll always be thankful for what it has given me and I hope that if you do make the decision to come to Jeju, you can build something good for yourself here as well.