Brandon and Kelsey are a teacher-artist duo travelling the world. Currently they are living and playing in South Korea and making short monthly documentaries about their lives and travels.
I’m sure you’ve never heard this before: where are you from?
We are both from the United States. Kelsey is from a small town in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. However, she has spent a significant amount of her life in the big apple, New York City. She blends in with the most social of city scenes, yet she can rough it out in the smallest of mountain villages. She’s got skills.
I am from a small town in North Carolina but I spent a lot of time working all over the country before meeting Kelsey in Maine. I will always be a simple southerner at heart, but I am always actively trying to expand my world views and experiences.
And what did you do there, then?
Before coming to Korea, I was working in the summer camping and environmental education industries teaching the wee little ones. In fact, that’s how Kelsey and I met. We both worked at a summer camp in Maine.
When she wasn’t playing in the woods, working as a camp counslo, Kelsey was going to art school in New York City.
How did you end up in Yeoju?
The short answer is that we were placed in Yeoju by the recruiting agency we used to find our jobs. It was the only place that met all of our living requirements at the time we moved from Pyeongtaek. Pyeongtaek was the first city we lived in when we came to Korea in 2013.
There is a longer story, but let’s just say that it’s a lot harder to get placed in Korean public schools, in your chosen city, when there are two of you. So needless to say, we didn’t have too many location options to choose from.
Have you lived abroad before?
We both have traveled abroad separately, but Korea was our first home overseas.
So what’s so good about Yeoju?
Yeoju is a smaller city with decent access to open spaces, mountains and rivers; yet it’s still close to Seoul. The people are friendly and we enjoy being here.
And what don’t you like?
The expat community is pretty small here. So, you miss out on having a vibrant social scene and recreational opportunities such as sports leagues like you’ll find in the larger cities.
Do you feel like an insider or outsider?
Um, kind-of both really. At times I do feel a little bit like an outsider because as a non-Korean you will never physically be an insider. I’m not saying this as a negative, just pointing it out as what it is. You see Korea is the second most homogenous country in the world (North Korea is number 1).
So because 99% of the population is of one ethnicity, you will be reminded of it sometimes. Not in a bad way (although I’m sure it happens), but usually out of curiousity. For example, my kids will literally pet my arm hair (most Koreans have very little body hair).
With that being said, once you have an in with Koreans (you work with them, you recreate with them, etc.) they are some of the most generous and accommodating people in the world.
How do you support yourself?
Currently, we are both English teachers. This is our main source of income. However, we also run a website and Youtube channel where we produce monthly travel documentaries.
Recently, we shot two “Day in the Life” videos featuring Kelsey and myself. Feel free to check them out here:
While here, most of our films will be about Korea. However, this will be changing when we leave. Additionally, I’m working on an online educational service that I will be launching in the near future.
Any advice for wannabe Yeoju-ers?
I’m going to answer this for wannabe Korean-ers. (I can’t really imagine why someone would be moving to Korea specifically for Yeoju, unless you had family or work here). First, learning the language of wherever you go is a good place to start. Next, try to understand how the Korean social scene works. Koreans are very community driven and usually recreate in groups or clubs. There are clubs for everything: hiking, photography, skiing, model airplanes, art, etc. You name it and there’s probably a club for it. It is by far easier to meet Koreans by joining some type of group activity and building your relationships from there.
Is the move permanent?
This is not permanent move for us. If fact, this will be our last year here. Our contracts end on February 27, 2015. So, we will be leaving Korea sometime in March. We will not be going back to the United States however, as we will be backpacking in locations even unknown to us at the moment.
Finally, tell us about something typically Yeoju
Again, Yeoju is fairly small. However, it is surprisingly concentrated with some interesting historical gems for being a small Korean city.
First of all, Yeoju was the birthplace of the last Empress in Korea. So you can visit the property where she was born. Also, King Sejong (arguably the most popular historical figure in Korea) is buried in Yeoju. There is even a small museum that honors him and the advancements that Korea achieved under his rule.
There is also one of the only Buddhist temples still located along a river here. Korea was very much a Buddhist nation until the Joseon Dynasty when Confucian practices were favored. During that time, Buddhist followers were repressed and communities fled into the mountains and away from the cities. So, even today, most of the older temples are located deep in the mountains and are hard to access.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that moving to the other side of the world was not nearly as scary as we thought it would be. We’ve made some lifelong friends and learned about a new culture. We walk out our door and everyday is an adventure. How many people can say that?