After a skiing accident in France in which I broke my back, I had come to the decision that my next step in life would be to teach English in South Korea for a year. I arrived in Daegu knowing nothing about it except that it had a population of around 2.5 million people. It wasn’t that there wasn’t information available on the internet, it was simply that I chose not to research where I was going.
Coming from a small village of a few hundred people, my main requirement was that I didn’t want to live in Seoul, a city with a metropolitan population of 25 million people, simply because it was very big. My first impressions of Daegu were quite overwhelming. 2.5 million people make it a very large city when your hometown has one pub and a shop that closes at six. There are buildings everywhere, many of them clutching at the sky, built from concrete and decorated with flashy lights.
This combination of grey and neon left me confused at first, but I soon settled into my life in Daegu and there are many things that I enjoyed during my time as an ESL teacher in Daegu.
I love the outdoors and it is something that I need in my life, especially when living in a large city. Daegu is surrounded by mountains and this close proximity allows for some incredible hiking opportunities. Because I was working at a hagwon, I often didn’t start teaching until three in the afternoon so I was able to get up early and go hiking for several hours before I even went to work.
There are many temples and buddhas to visit, but two notable structures that I very much enjoyed were found in the mountains surrounding Daegu. The first is Gatbawi, a granite buddha with a stone hat that sits 850 meters up Palgongsan. Many people come to pray each day and both the buddha and views are a welcome reward to a fun, multi-hour climb. Palgongsan itself is also a brilliant place to go hiking and houses Donghwasa, an excellent example of a Korean temple with a resident 17m high stone buddha.
2- Foreign Teacher Community
There is a huge foreign teacher community in Daegu. You can’t walk around town without meeting other teachers which helps with the culture shock. As immigration to Korea is low due to strict rules, most of the foreigners I met were also ESL teachers on the same temporary (one year, renewable) visa that I was on.
It allows you to connect easily as you live similar lifestyles. Within a couple of weeks, I had already integrated into a group of friends and encountered numerous acquaintances. As teachers start all through the year there was an endless supply of new friends to meet.
I enjoy playing sport and joined Daegu FC, a football (soccer) team that played in the KFFL (Korean foreigner football league), a football league spread across multiple cities in Korea. We practiced once a week, traveled to different cities as a team, and I generally had a great time by being part of this club. The highlight of the year is the annual Ulsan cup, bringing together teams from all over Korea (and occasionally other countries) in a crazy, brilliant weekend of football.
3- Weekend Trips
Korea is a small country and located on the KTX line, the super-fast train that runs from Seoul to Busan. It means that on any given weekend you can jump on the train and access much of the country.
Similarly, you can rent a car and reach much of the country in a few hours of driving. I did weekend ski trips, visited the DMZ (the border with North Korea), went to islands, stayed in temples, and even popped over to Japan amongst many other things.
There is also a lot going on in the city itself and two of my favourite weekends in the city involved attending a body painting festival and watching Usain Bolt smash the 4 x 100-metre world record during the IAAF World Championships.
4- Twenty-Four Hour Everything
Shops, bars, karaoke rooms, PC rooms, even cafes – whatever I needed at four in the morning could be found somewhere. As a bit of a night owl, I loved this and often found myself popping into the convenience store for chocolate milk shortly before dawn. Convenience stores are everywhere, so they are, true to their name, very convenient.
Life as an English teacher in Daegu is very easy. For the first time in my life, I had enough money to go out for dinner multiple times a week, take taxis, and go on trips without ever having to worry.
I even visited a casino several times for the first time in my life. There are endless numbers of restaurants and I found the teaching to be comfortable. All of the teachers around me were generally looking to enjoy themselves and finally having everyone on a level playing field (financially) meant that there were no hard feelings with regard to financial inequalities. You really do have endless opportunities and life in Daegu was a lot of fun.