All of the information here was provided to us by teachers who live here.
Gwangju is a diverse and vibrant city; the 6th largest in Korea with a population of about 1.5 million. There is much to do and always something happening that you can get involved with. Called “The City of Light,” Gwangju is famous for its food and strong foreigner community
Among the foreigners who live there, Gwangju is also loved for having open, friendly, and helpful locals.
Gwangju is in the south of the country and is surrounded by mountains and beautiful countryside. Several cities are within easy reach by bus or by train. Some examples:
Yeosu ~1.5 hours
Mokpo ~1.5 hours
Suncheon ~1.5 hours
Jeonju ~1.5 hours
Daegu ~3 hours
Busan ~4 hours
Seoul ~4 hours
Grocers in Gwangju
Every neighborhood will have at least one small grocery to take care of your daily needs. But for a wider selection of foods and other household items you can go to the big box stores that are not unlike a supermarket, Wal-mart, or Target.
Gwangju sports several all over the city. In some cases there is more than one branch of the same store. They are:
Ask your new friends or co-workers and they can tell you the closest one to you.
“Downtown” is the most popular place for shopping, bars, norebong (karaoke rooms), and restaurants in Gwangju.
The underground mall is a few miles of small boutique stores run by ajummas (middle aged Korean women) selling anything from clothes to purses to hats to toys. The easiest way to find it is to take the subway to the Culture Complex stop.
Shinsegae Department Store near the bus terminal has higher end goods from many Western companies.
Kumho World has more electronics than you can shake a stick at.
Don’t worry about getting homesick. Korea has plenty of Western options for when you get cravings. Here are a few you’ll recognize:
In addition to these mainstays there are plenty of Korean chains that serve Western style food, such as Café Lemon Table and Krazy Burger to name just two.
Gwangju also has a limitless supply of Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, and Japanese restaurants on top of a bevy of other nationalities we can’t name here. One expat favorite is First Nepal.
There is also Tequilaz, an expat owned Mexican bar and restaurant.
First Alleyway is also expat owned and is the go-to source for little tastes of home. Like pizza whose crust is not made from rice dough.
Or for the closet thing you’ll find to New York style pizza in Korea, try Mick Jones’.
The Pub Scene
Cultural Gems Only the Locals Knows
Gwangju takes great pride in its 5-18 Memorial Park and Cemetary. This commemorates the massacre (starting May 18th, 1980) of civilian demonstrators, most of them students, against the country’s military regime.
The Damyang Bamboo Forest and Boseong Green Tea Fields are also popular destinations among the expats in this city.
Or you could go to the Gwangju Folk Museum.
There are truly dozens of little gems in Gwangju. Check out the Gwangju Guide available the Gwangju International Center and have your very own guide book to the city.
Public Transportation Overview
Like the rest of Korea, Gwangju’s public transportation is excellent. You can get anywhere in the city on its intricate and inexpensive bus system. Or the subway line which runs east-west.
Gwangju also has one of the biggest bus terminals in the country with comfortable intra-city buses taking you all over the country. Again, for cheap!
But if you want to go faster than bus – you can take the train either from Gwangju Yeok (Gwangju Station) or Gwangju Seongjeong Station.
Gwangju also has a pay-as-you-go transit pass that you can buy at any convenience store. Load it up and use it on the buses, the subway, and even in some taxis!
Cost of Living and Saving Money
The cost of living is cheaper than in the USA and other English-speaking countries. Things just cost less.
A lot of money also saved because of the necessities from home that aren’t necessary in Korea. There are no car payments or insurance. Americans will drop their mouths then they see how cheap the health care is. Your rent is paid for.
Most people have no trouble paying off debt and student loans.
The two largest universities are Chonnam University and Chosun University. Korean lessons, beginning with the semester, can be taken at either university.
The Gwangju International Center (GIC) located across the street from the YMCA downtown offers regular, inexpensive lessons. Stop by and ask for a flyer on the start dates for the next session.
Regular, inexpensive Korean lessons are available at the GIC (Gwangju International Center). http://eng.gic.or.kr/. The GIC is located across the street from the YMCA downtown, right next to the bank. Walk into the building and you will see the GIC posted on the wall along with the other businesses in the building.
This building is the Jeon-Il building. The address is Jeon-il Building 5th Fl., Geumnam-no 1ga, Dong-gu, Gwangju.
The Gwangju International Center
The Gwangju International Center is the first of its kind. It is a non-profit organization established by the city and staffed by Koreans whose entire purpose is to assist Gwangju’s international residences and to bring the city’s Korean and foreign citizens together.
When people say “There’s always something going on at the GIC,” they are not exaggerating! Check out the website to get a glimpse.
There is also an English language book and DVD library and a counseling service, which offers legal advice, and resources for doctors, dentists, counseling. If you need help locating anything in the city, the GIC volunteers will help you. They’ll even help translate your bills!
Everyone in Gwangju loves Mudeung Mountain! There are several trailheads and dozens of trails. The expats in Gwangju have frequent hikes and night hikes on Mudeung. They have really embraced the Korean national past time!
Joining a hike is a great way to meet new friends, Korean and foreign, in Gwangju.
Check out the Facebook Groups below to get a glimpse of what the foreigners, alone, are up to in Gwangju.
The city has a seemingly limitless number of norebongs (Karaoke rooms). You can also go the Bus Terminal (a mall in and of itself) to take in a movie. Or go to one of the expat-frequented dance clubs: Holic, Bubble Bat, Mixx, Soul Train, or Kino.
Or go on a night hike. Or watch the city’s baseball team, Kia Tigers, play a game. Or go to a climbing gym, walk along the river trails, swim at the pool, go to the jjimjilbang (a Korean bathhouse and spa), or stop by the Gwangju International Center for one of their many activities.
If you say you are bored in Gwangju you are Korea’s most unmotivated expat.
Search for “Gwangju” on Facebook and you’ll find the copious number of groups this vivacious community of expats has going.
Gwangju Book Club
Gwangju International Center
Gwangju Korean Learners Club
Gwangju Live Music
Gwangju Photography Club
Gwangju-Jeolla One Stop Second Hand Flea Market
Speakeasy Gwangju Darts
TEK Gwangju – that’s us!
Seriously, if you say you are bored in Gwangju you are Korea’s most unmotivated expat.
Current Teachers’ Emails
We have an amazing group of teachers in Gwangju we’d be happy to connect you with.
Link to Gwangju’s Official Website
Teacher Testimonial About Gwangju
“I have been very happy with my experience in Gwangju. My husband and I have traveled to Seoul several times, and we are always happy that we ended up here instead. While many people think the ideal is to be in Seoul, I find that Gwangju is more relaxed and less expensive, and we are unique in that we have a great center to assist the foreign community with any needs that you might have.” ~ Carrie L.
“It’s hard to describe the city. I love Gwangju. I’m very happy with where I am. I can walk 5 blocks from my apartment to a trailhead leading up into Mudeung. I can walk less than 2 blocks and get to several different marts, stationary stores, 1000 won stores, banks, gyms, convenience stores.
I visited Seoul for a weekend and after two days I couldn’t wait to get out of it and back ‘home’. I feel safe leaving my door unlocked here which isn’t something I could say for any American city I’ve ever been to. The foreigner community is welcoming and friendly on the whole. Gwangju has enough western luxuries that I can indulge when I’m feeling homesick, but it’s also Korean enough that I don’t feel like I never left home.” ~ Matt L.
“I quite like the foreigner community in Gwangju, certainly more so than the ones in bigger cities like Seoul or Busan. It feels more tight-knit, but is big enough for everyone to continue meeting new people. It is less cliquey than Seoul or Busan, and the people are friendlier and more willing to converse or smile at you on the street.” ~ Kezia C.
“For many foreigners that decide to teach in South Korea the choices might only be between two cities: Seoul and Busan. While those cities can seem enticing because of their size and accessibility they severely lack the benefits that a smaller city can offer. One city that has exceeded my wildest expectations is Gwangju.
It has some great advantages that not even Seoul and Busan have plus none of their drawbacks. These advantages include the cost of living being extremely affordable, there are a great number of activities available for the sports enthusiast and those interested in the arts as well.
Most importantly there is a community of foreigners who regularly have events to get together that utilize the opportunities presented here in Gwangju. In the two and half months that I’ve been here I’ve already gone on two organized foreigner dinners, a night-hike up Mudseung Mt., a scavenger hunt around Gwangju, plenty of soccer, rugby and basketball pick-up games and of course ventured to some great bars and dance clubs to hang out and have fun at.
Despite being seen as a smaller city Gwangju has a population of 1.1million, can boast of an excellent subway and bus system but most importantly the locals are extremely friendly and willing to help out a lost foreigner.
In addition to its perfect size, Gwangju is surrounded by mountains so there’s always a trail to explore or a new temple to see. It also is only a two hour bus ride from some great beaches that any Korean will be jealous of once they hear that you visited them.
In the end it’s your choice if you want to live one of the larger cities in Korea. Yes the pay might be more but you’ll just be another foreigner walking around in the massive crowds while living in a shoebox apartment. However if you want to live in place where your bed isn’t as big as your apartment, you can hang out with foreigners and locals alike, travel to both beautiful mountains and sandy beaches then a smaller Korean city, like Gwangju, is the place for you.” ~ Logan M.