Life on two very different islands

Even before I arrived on Jeju, I couldn’t help but think what life here would be like compared to my life on Lord Howe Island. A big part of what drew me to Jeju was knowing how much I loved island life on Lord Howe. I knew it would be really different, but a few key elements would hopefully be the same. Ever since I got here, the similarities and differences keep popping into my brain. I thought I’d try to write a few of them down:

What’s the same?

1. The pace of life

I think it comes with island life all around the world – a slower, more easy-going lifestyle. I first became aware of island time when I traveled to Fiji (although there it was just called Fiji time). It’s been a pretty consistent experience as I’ve island-hopped across the world. The shops don’t always follow regular hours, people aren’t in a hurry to be ten minutes early everywhere, plans aren’t made months in advance, etc. It can drive some people nuts, but it suits me. I guess it can be inconvenient at times, but I love the stress-free, go with the flow attitude. It makes me feel more at ease. Everything will be okay, and things will happen when they happen. No need to worry.

I think island life must appeal to a certain type of person. Or maybe just expat life appeals to a certain type of person. Either way, I love being around like-minded people with good attitudes. People who can put things into perspective and let the little things go. Both islands seem to attract people who are all on the same page in this respect.

2. The close-knit community

In particular, the expat community on Jeju is pretty tight. I think I’ve gotten to know most of the others in Seogwipo, and I’m slowly meeting those up in Jeju-si as well. What’s really great, is that everyone is exceptionally friendly. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more welcoming group of people.

I was the only new arrival in Seogwipo for my EPIK intake. It can be a bit intimidating knowing everyone has already formed friendships, but I haven’t felt left out once since I got here. When everyone has been in your position just a few months prior, they do everything they can to make you feel welcome. The constant flow of people on and off the island creates a habit of saying hello to new people every few months.

Living in a small place kind of forces you to be friends with the people who are there. Otherwise, you won’t have many friends. But I love that. It makes it easy (for me) to socialize. (I am an introvert – I hate being in big groups of people I don’t know.) You get to know people quickly, and once you do, there’s always something going on and someone to hang out with.

3. Easily accessible, stunning nature

Considering I didn’t grow up near the water, it makes a pretty big difference to me. Just knowing in the back of my head that I can go for a walk along the water makes me feel happy. I love that I can wander around the Seogwipo harbor or over to a waterfall after I get home from school. On the weekends, I can make my way to the beach, up to the highest peak in South Korea, or along one of the Olle trails.

I’ve always preferred smaller places that are close to nature as opposed to big cities. I feel like there’s more to do. When I live in bigger cities, all I seem to do is go out to eat and drink. Which is fun, and I still do it here. But, I hated when I had to drive at least an hour outside Northern Virginia to do some good hiking. I think I get the best of both worlds here. I can go scuba diving during the day, and then barbecue/drink/camp on the beach with friends at night.

What’s different?

1. The size

Jeju is a lot bigger than Lord Howe. To me, it seems huge. When people ask me, “The island’s pretty small, isn’t it?” I respond, “It’s actually pretty big. It takes about an hour to drive from top to bottom, and even longer from east to west.” They’ll say, “Oh, that’s pretty small.” I think living on Lord Howe skewed my perspective. Had I come straight from living in the DC suburbs for 20+ years, I might have also thought Jeju was tiny. But, I came after having recently spent a year on an island that (in places) you could walk across in a matter of minutes.

With size, comes people. Lord Howe had less than 1,000 people (permanent residents and tourists combined) at any given time. Jeju actually has (small) cities. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like I’m on an island. On Lord Howe, you never forgot. This has its pluses and minuses. A lot more convenience exists in populated places – stores stay open past 6pm here. But more people also means more cars, buildings, noise, etc. On Lord Howe, I truly felt like I was living on a remote island. On Jeju, I don’t.

2. Level of remoteness

Lord Howe was the most remote place I’ve ever lived. It was a 1.5 hour, $500+ plane ride off the island. So, I stayed put on the island and never left until I left for good. In my first three months, I’ve already left Jeju once. And I have plans to leave again in one more month. From Jeju, it’s about an hour flight to anywhere on the mainland Flying to Seoul can be as cheap as $40. And there are a lot of flights. In fact, Seoul to Jeju is the busiest passenger air route in the world.

Being on Lord Howe, I felt very far from the rest of Australia and the world. On Jeju, I feel like I can hop on a plane to the mainland anytime I want, which I pretty much can. I hate saying I felt “trapped” on Lord Howe, because it’s a pretty perfect place to be trapped. But, I do feel more free living on Jeju. If I start getting island fever, it can be easily cured with a weekend trip to Seoul.

3. Being connected

Going hand in hand with being less remote, there is actual internet and cell phone service on Jeju. On Lord Howe, I lived without a cell phone for 11 months, and the internet was spotty at best. On Jeju, there is cell phone service everywhere. Even when you’re hiking in the middle of nowhere. And not only is wi-fi readily available, but it’s super fast, too.

As with everything else on this list, there are pros and cons to this. On Lord Howe, not having internet meant I read a lot more books and got out and about when I was bored. On Jeju, if I’m feeling lazy, I can stay in and watch Netflix. But having the internet and a cell phone also allows me to keep in touch a lot better with friends and family back home. Which is something I appreciate and try not to take for granted.