GWANGJU METROPOLITAN CITY
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 in. Gwangju is famous for its food and thriving foreigner community. Among the foreigners who live, Gwangju is also loved for having open, friendly and helpful locals.
Gwangju is located in the south of the country and is surrounded by mountains and a beautiful countryside. Several cities are within easy reach by bus or train. For example, Seoul can be reached on the KTX in just over 2.5 hours!
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: HomePlus, Lotte Mart, and E-Mart. Ask your new friends or co-workers and they can tell you the closest one to you.
"Everyone says Homeplus is the superior major Western grocery store, but I personally have always just gone to LotteMart when I need Western ingredients, since it is closer. They have peanut butter and spaghetti, the two Western stables I couldn't live without. They recently started carrying oatmeal, too! A lot of friends fill in the gaps by shopping through iHerb, which offers free delivery to Korea. It's a great website."
"We use Homeplus home delivery for most of our groceries (you can get free same day delivery if you order before 11am - crazy!) and pick up some extra fresh fruit and veg from a little mart on our way home from school. There aren't a great deal of familiar British products available here so once every three months or so I tend to make an order from who stock everything you could be missing from home and have good shipping options. Things
tend to arrive from there in about 8 days."
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!
"Gwangju is a great city for travelling; we have one of the best bus terminals in the country and you can get to Seoul or Busan in just three hours by bus. They're super comfortable and very convenient. You can make reservations on your phone, but that's not usually necessary. You could also take a train to a lot of places, too. I frequently travel on weekends. Gwangju is great because you also have access to a lot of natural areas or small towns in the surrounding province that might otherwise be hard to get to. Within the city itself, public transportation is also great. I take the bus to work every day and to the downtown area almost every weekend. Kakao Maps is great for working out bus schedules and directions, and Kakao Taxi makes it extremely simple to hail a cab anywhere by using their app."
"Gwangju is well placed as it's on a KTX line and has a huge bus station that can connect you to almost anywhere in Korea. We're also only half an hour from Mokpo where you can get the ferry to Jeju for the weekend. It takes 2 hours to get into Seoul on the train, 3.5 hours on the bus. Taxis and buses are really cheap to get around the city itself (around $6 to get from our apartment way in the south to downtown in a cab or $1.40 each on the bus), and there is a subway - although it only has one line so we don't often use it."
Gwangju is known for it's tight-knit expat community, which is unrivalled in Korea. Teach ESL Korea has deep roots in Gwangju and as a result, we feel personally connected to the city and its expats. You will find many foreign led businesses and groups in Gwangju and there is something for everyone to take part in.
"I work at a large school with nearly a dozen other foreign teachers; we've become quite close. I've met other people through Facebook groups. Gwangju has a huge, vibrant foreign community. There are a few foreign bars/restaurants, art classes, an English theater group, yoga classes, language exchanges, open mic nights/bands, etc. It's really easy to meet people in Gwangju."
"The expat community here is great, I can see why people say Gwangju is the best city in Korea for expats. There's a foreigner run musical theatre program, sports teams, volunteering opportunities as so much more. These would all be great options for making friends and meeting people but I have to be honest and say that most of the connections I've made have been either by looking through the Gwangju hashtag on Instagram and messaging people, or by just walking up to people on nights out and starting a conversation! People are super welcoming and friendly here."
There is no shortage of active things to do in Gwangju, whether you love the gym or prefer spending your time outdoors. Hiking Mudeungsan mountain is a favourite past time of foreigners and locals alike and teachers will often get together to hit up the trails on weekends and sometimes at night to watch the sunrise or sunset. There are several sports teams you can join, such as soccer and ultimate and there have been several scavenger hunts organized by teachers.
"Most of my friends have joined a gym. I sometimes go for runs outside. I actually did taekwondo for over a year in Korean (I'm a black belt now!) and some other friends did other martial arts, too. There are also some social dance groups."
"About ten minutes away from our apartment there's the Gwangju World Cup Soccer Stadium that has all kinds of sports venues in its complex. There's an ice hockey rink, swimming pool and driving range to name a few. There's also a volleyball team here in Gwangju and tons of hiking trails and parks with free exercise equipment. We also joined a hiking group through one of the Korean teachers at our school and we often go away to another area of the country for a day of hiking, eating and drinking with them."
Going out in Gwangju can be a lot of fun and those of us who have had the chance to party in Gwangju, would probably agree that they were some of the best nights to be had. Start your night out with dinner downtown, then head over to the Speakeasy for some live music and yummy drinks. If you feel like dancing, stop at one of the nightclubs and finally finish it all off by singing some tunes at a norebang. It feels like the night never ends in Gwangju and the best things is that you can do all of these things on foot.
"There's a decent amount of foreign bars in Gwangju starting with The First Alleyway, a Canadian-owned restaurant that serves brunch on Sundays and has tons of board games for wasting away a lazy day with friends. There's a couple of bars too - Speakeasy and Tequilaz - that are always busy with expats looking to have a good time. Finally there's Thursday Party, a western style bar with dart boards, foosball and a dance floor that usually stays open till 5 or 6am at the weekend. Once you're done clubbing there are also 24hour norebangs (karaoke
rooms) that have tons of English songs!"
"The Big Three: First Alleyway, Speakeasy, and Tequilaz. They're all in the downtown area and sometimes I walk in and feel like I've been transported back to the US. There are some cool clubs as well. I personally usually go to social ballroom dances."
Festivals/Cultural Events/Korean Lessons
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 counselling service, which offers legal advice, and resources for doctors, dentists, counselling. If you need help locating anything in the city, the GIC volunteers will help you. They’ll even help translate your bills! You can sign up for Korean lessons and join regular cultural events put on by the GIC, as well as subscribe to the Gwangju News, a monthly newspaper for expats.
"There are Korean lessons available at the Gwangju International
Centre, as well as private lessons available. Lessons at the GIC run for 7 weekly 2-hour sessions on a Tuesday night or Saturday morning and cost about $140 plus the textbook.
There always seems to be a new festival going on! In the past month alone we've been with friends to a kimchi festival, downtown festival and an international festival and all three were tons of fun with food, performances and music. Koreans definitely know how to celebrate!"
"Gwangju is the home of a kimchi making festival every fall, as well as a recollection or memory festival ( I don't remember the exact name). It also has a lot of historical value since it was the site of the May 18 Uprising."
Getting access to great and affordable healthcare in Gwangju comes without hassle. You can chose from local neighbourhood clinics or a university hospital, depending on the level of service you require. This applies not only to Gwangju, but all cities in Korea.
"I've visited the hospital several times (my asthma hasn't been taking well to the fine dust). It's no big deal. Insurance here covers way more than most American insurance."
"I've only had to visit the doctor once since my medical check, for a problem with my eyes. My coworker found the nearest ophthalmology clinic to our school and put the address into my phone which was really kind of her. When I arrived, the receptionist didn't speak any English but she was really kind and just took my Alien Registration Card which had all the information she needed. The clinic was very clean and bright and I was the only person there so I was shown in to see the doctor straight away. He took a look at my eyes and explained
(in English!) what the problem was, and gave me a prescription. I paid $5 for the doctors appointment and $2 at the pharmacy downstairs for two sets of eye drops, a bargain! I've also got a lot of friends here who've had dental work done or been to the doctor with coughs and colds, and they all have good things to say about Korean health care."