“I’m placed in a RURAL area! Oh my God, WHAT NOW?!”

“I’m placed in a RURAL area! Oh my God, WHAT NOW?!”

As August draws ever closer, there are tons of things to look forward to: my birthday, the YG Family, SM Town and JYP Nation concerts and, of course, the next intake of EPIK teachers!

In the month or two before your departure you realize that you’re well on your way to actually beginning your journey here in South Korea, maybe even packing, and excited to see where you’ll be placed! All’s going well…until you find out you’ve been placed in a province/city you’ve never ever even heard of, and when you try to Google it the only thing that comes up are big mountains, being famous for a fruit or, worse, not showing up at all. Chances are that once you find out you’re being placed in a rural area you go through 3 stages: disappointment, worry, slight panic. If you’re anything like me your thoughts will go something like this:


“Where even IS this place…?”

“Ok well, is it close to anything?”

“Thanks Google, that was super helpful. Not.”

“Ok, but this is fine right?! Like, surely there will be other people to talk to in my city…?”

“…but what if there’s NOT?! What if this is all some kind of cruel trick and I’ll be put in a box in the middle nowhere with no friends, unable to speak the tiniest morsel of Korea…?!?!”


Etc. etc.

Trust me when I tell you, I know exactly how all of this feels. Luckily, it’s turned out that living in a smaller are is nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be, so you can officially stop panicking because I promise you: it’s gonna be okay.

Coming from a relatively large city in the middle of one of the biggest states back home, I was a little nervous and slightly dubious about my placement in Chungcheongbuk-do Province. All I knew was that I was in someplace named Chungbuk which, when Googled, merely provided me with the information that it was landlocked and had lots of nature. Thank you for that. But I wound up being placed in one of the bigger small cities in the province (it’s a thing, I assure you). Chungju is still relatively unknown even to Koreans, but it’s cozy and I’ve actually learned to love the smaller city feel after a weekend in Seoul or other, much busier, cities.

Unlike me, several of my friends have been placed in definitively tiny towns that can’t even be technically called cities. I’m talking ‘population of 30,000 people’ towns. However, I’ve heard of more positive experiences than negative. To get other perspectives on small town life, I asked several of my friends to give me their thoughts and ideas on being away from the big city.


My friend Damaris lives in Okcheon, which is a small town about 20 minutes away from Daejeon and she wrote a little to enlighten me on her experience:

    “Okay, so I had initially requested Seoul as my preferred location. I obviously ended up somewhere else. I remember my heart sinking when I opened the email and notifying that I had been placed in the Chungbuk Province. I remember thinking “where the hell is Chungbuk?” my thoughts after a quick Google search, “where the hell is Chungbuk?” Not too much information was given on the province except that the Olympics would be held there. I kept my hopes up and just wished for the best.

“During orientation I found out I’d be placed in Okcheon. There is absolutely no information about Okcheon on Google. Absolutely nothing. So, for someone who had wanted to be placed in Seoul, being placed in the small town of Okcheon was a little scary. I thought I’d be in the middle of rice paddy fields.

“I was happily surprised to see that was not the case when I arrived. There are about 15 foreigners in my town and we all live next to each other. Half of us live in one apt building the other half live on the one next door. We are a 10 minute train ride or 30 minute bus ride to Daejeon. We have a pretty big downtown area with many places to hang out. Since we have a bus and train station we have to travel anywhere we want during the weekends.”

I really enjoy the small town feel. Many of the locals know us already. I have made friends with some of the taxi drivers, and already received a service taxi ride when I was sick, made friends with the owners of the bars we frequent and love that I’m so close to the other foreigners.

I guess one of the cons is that I have not really hung out with Koreans. Which also means I haven’t learned or made an attempt to learn Korean. Now that I have visited many other areas in Korea, including Seoul, I am so happy to call Okcheon my home away from home. It’s peaceful and homey.

Tip: I would also suggest bringing comfort foods. Being Mexican, I’m glad I brought some of the spices and foods I knew would be hard to find in Korea. It has helped incredibly when going through homesickness. Also, I made the mistake of bringing no pictures. Bring pictures with you!” 

 –Damaris, EPIK Teacher

Another friend of mine is also in a smaller town with fewer foreigners than we have in Chungju. She has also lived in Korea before so her experience is slightly different from those of us who just got here in February.

“I knew where I was going to be living when I moved back to Korea so I was excited to be placed in a more rural area than before!The pros for me are that there is less to do and see so I can focus on more of my personal goals, like saving money and working out!

The cons are that there’re not much to do so it can get boring quickly! So you need to have hobbies or things you enjoy by yourself. Definitely take advantage of the opportunity to meet and make friends during orientation!”

-Tiara, EPIK Teacher

Sacha is in an even smaller town called Goesan where she is now the only foreigner, but as much as she hangs out with us I can’t say that that’s ever slowed her down!

“I was disappointed that I didn’t get my choice of city, then when I knew I was going to be in a country area when I couldn’t even Google my area. Mountains and rivers was all Google had to tell me. I decided then that whatever happened I was going to suck it up because going back home was not an option. So I made sure to bring a bag with supplies and products from home to last me anywhere from 3-12 months depending on how hard I thought it would be to find the item. For example, I brought enough of my hair products and shade of makeup to last me for the year.

I definitely say you have to put yourself in the right mindset and always look at the glass as half full or else you’re going to make your time here miserable. Try your best not to complain and find the little things that make you happy. Be open to meeting new people at orientation because that’s your first and greatest opportunity, I feel, to meet people who are just as new and friendless as yourself lol. Get out and see as much of Korea as you can. If you always wanted to learn a hobby I suggest you use your downtime to start it because you might have a lot of that downtime. Most importantly, make the most of your weekends if you know your weekends are going to be quiet!”

-Sacha, EPIK Teacher

The truth is that everyone’s experience while teaching is going to be completely different, but it’s what you make of your situation that’s the most important part. Don’t let how large or small a city is affect your time here, because it might be the only time you have. I say roll with the punches and love what you have. After all, Korea’s a smaller country than you think, so adventure is always just a bus/train/taxi ride away no matter where you are! Here, have some hot Ian Somerhalder to remind you that:


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