What's the best city in Korea? I should be heading over there in a year or so (for school) but my only otions seem to be Busan and Seoul. I'm a small-town kid (from the south so I'm curious about what life will be like?

This one is a little difficult for me to answer for two reasons: 1. I really haven't traveled tons around Korea and 2. I lived in New York City for over five years before I moved to Korea. So I had already done my 'big city' adjusting before I arrived.

You are never limited to just Busan and Seoul for your stay in the ROK. In fact, those are probably the two most difficult places to get (at least public school) jobs, because no one really wants to live in the boonies in a foreign country. So if small town South Korea is what you want, you should have no problem getting it. I'm not really qualified to comment on what that experience is like, however, given that I live in Incheon, which is quite a large and populous city.

I have to say that the time I did spend in smaller towns to the south was lovely. I don't know if I'd go full-on country (although I did seriously wish to, for a time), because you definitely get the impression you are literally the first foreigner everyone in the whole town has ever seen. People were unbelieveably kind, given that I was already in Korean company, and didn't hesitate to approach and make all kinds of conversation (all in Korean), hand over all kinds of food and drinks, or anything else they had at hand. I don't know that I could do it full time, however. At some point, you do want to just be left alone. Of course, after some time, your neighborhood would get used to you. But this kind of thing wouldn't ever entirely trail off.

If you go to the other extreme and end up in Seoul, you'd better prepare yourself not just for a city experience, but probably The City Experience. Even compared to Manhattan, Seoul does city big. Towering buildings, no horizon line, neon absolutely everywhere, broiling sidewalks crammed full of people and vendors -- it's not a joke. And it can be quite overwhelming, depending on how much you care for/are used to that kind of thing. But. As a trade off, you don't get more than passing glances from busy urbanites who probably just passed another foreigner about fifteen minutes ago, and the shop clerks will likely all take your orders and give your totals in English, automatically. Or at least try to.

What you might try to do, for the first year, is aim somewhere in between. I personally have a soft spot for Gwangju and Jeollanam do. It has all the amenities of the city, but the people seemed so much friendlier and more relaxed, compared to the infamously harder and grittier inhabitants of Incheon (where I live). It has almost a Philly/Portland kind of vibe about it -- a decent city which holds its own, but isn't exactly at the very top of the pile. When you think about Seoul and Busan, think more New York/L.A.

So. It's up to you, really, to decide what aspects are most important and/or least tolerable for your personal character. Good luck.

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Laura. said...

I personally live in Daegu. I don't teach here, but have many friend who do. Daegu, being the 4th largest city has both a relaxed and cityish feel to it. Only 2 hours away from Busan and Seoul, I think. It's nice and fast paced in some areas, whereas slower in others. So it's the both of both world imho.

Tiffani said...

Personally, I love Busan, and it feels a WORLD away from Seoul to me. When I went to Seoul for my summer vacation, I had a great time, but about once an hour something would happen that made me say, "God, I'm so happy I don't live here." Just TOO many people, too busy, too...impersonal. Granted it might just have been the areas I visited, but it just felt so damn huge.

Busan is large too, but it has so much more of a small-town feel (to me, at least). There are only three subway lines as opposed to - what - 10? 11? in Seoul. And there's the beach of course. ^^

Can't speak for other cities as I haven't spent much time there. Jeonju was gorgeous and comfortable but TINY for my taste.

Helena said...

I have a soft spot for Gwangju too.

Maybe some place around Suwon would be good. Close to Seoul, but near the countryside also.