Not to be confused with its mysterious northern neighbour, South Korea is a dizzying collision of ancient and modern, ideal for spending a little or a lot of time in during your gap year. Hallyu (Korean popular culture) abounds in the bustling cities, while the countryside offers a stunning range of mountains, national parks and outdoor pursuits. With great tourist facilities, opportunities for employment, volunteering and one of the most efficient public transport systems in the world, you’ll be spoilt for choice on a gap year in South Korea.
It might be difficult to choose between the modern cities and the lure of the wild, but no gap year in South Korea would be complete without at least a few days spent in the capital, Seoul. Gwangjang market is the place to sample some perfectly tempered kimchi and other culinary delights. Changdeokgung palace is a World Heritage site and well-known for its beauty, one of many traditional attractions to see in the capital, such as the 600 year old city walls. For those after something more modern, the city’s contemporary art scene is not to be missed.
Beyond Seoul, a riot of culture and nature awaits. You can ski in Pyeongchang, which happens to be hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics, hike in the Wolchulsan National Park, or take a trip to Jeju-do, South Korea’s dormant volcanic island. If a stay in a Buddhist temple doesn’t tempt you, then perhaps one of the country’s many festivals will. Boryeong festival of mud is popular with tourists and gap year-ites alike, whilst the Gwangju Biennale and Chungju World Martial Arts Festival draw crowds from all over the world.
Working in South Korea
If you’re thinking of spending your whole gap year in South Korea, then teaching English couldn’t be a more perfect opportunity. If you have a degree and a teaching qualification, then teaching can be very lucrative, often including accommodation, flights and other costs, as well as an excellent salary. Other jobs may be harder to come by without the necessary language skills, but do exist. If you’re not looking to commit to a whole gap year in South Korea, why not volunteer for a short time instead? There are numerous opportunities with well-established organisations and charities, particularly for volunteering with children.
Whilst hopping over the border into North Korea probably wouldn’t be advisable, after spending some or all of your gap year in South Korea there is plenty of scope for further travel. Japan is just a ferry ride away, with China and Taiwan also just a skip over the water. Russia is also accessible by ferry. Further south, the whole of South East Asia is at your disposal, ready for you to spend some of that money you saved teaching. Or cross overland in China and head to Mongolia.