Cheonan is a growing city about 30 to 40 minutes south from Seoul on the KTX. Among many Koreans that I met, it stays in their mind as a small, rural city. But coming from a truly suburban and rural city in California, it is hard to categorize Cheonan as a truly small city anymore, most parts from the KTX station to the Shinsegae mall are pretty urbanized and connected by subway or busses.
There are many reasons I loved living in Cheonan. Sure the city isn’t perfect. But the location, the affordability, and the seemingly endless hiking and running paths, made it for me, the ideal location.
First, the location. Cheonan is a short thirty-seven-minute train ride on the high-speed rail (KTX) from Seoul Station. Which makes your trip up to Seoul on the weekends or on holidays super easy. The convenience of having the KTX station and the bus stations cannot be emphasized enough, Cheonan is a transportation hub, which makes traveling to a lot of places in Korea economical and easy. Cheonan is less than thirty minutes away from Daejeon (Korea’s fifth-largest city, and great place to go shopping and thrifting, as well as hiking), a quick train ride away from Boryeong (they have a fun mud festival every year with Kpop artists performing), and a convenient stop on the train from Seoul to Busan. And that’s not even mentioning the small cities around Cheonan (like Sejong, Buyeo, and Pyeongtaek) that you can buy bus tickets to for a quick weekend trip. Here’s a walking path next to a river in Deajeon.
Although the location is great, saving money while in Korea is important too. Living in Seoul and Busan is expensive. Going out to eat, going out for drinks, transportation, all this adds up. Living in Cheonan is much cheaper and helps you save significantly even if you do want to eat out often and go to a bar for a drink. Restaurants in Korea are generally pretty cheap but that’s especially true in smaller cities, where you could pay only about 2,000 won for a pretty thick kimbap or 9,000 won for some galbi, or 5,000 won for some bibimbap. This makes eating at restaurants and trying out the local cuisine by your workplace a pretty cheap thing to do. Pictured: Me, laughing about how I could possibly finish all that budae jjigae (mind you it was like 8,000 won for a two-person meal, and we still had some left over).
And lastly, the hiking and running spots. I’m a big runner and I love being out and exploring new places, so it was really nice to be able to do that in a city that is so runner/jogger-friendly. There are countless hills you can hike up, many of which have outside gyms and plenty of older folks hiking these hills at all hours of the day. There are also rivers you can run next to, with cute bridges, lakes, and pagodas you can stop and gaze at. There are also mountains surrounding Cheonan with much more cultural significance in them. For example, there’s Gakwonsa temple where a giant buddha statue resides overlooking a lake filled with turtles and a long path of stairs. Gakwonsa temple is one of multiple in the area, and many smaller cities have many similar features - an aspect that is difficult to find in now more urbanized and metropolitan Seoul.
All in all, my experience in Korea was based very much on the city where I lived. And I was truly happy in this small-ish city. It had everything I needed and more, and it was here that I was able to build my community of friends. I am very happy and honored that I got to live in Cheonan.
Luis Gonzalez is from Temecula, California, and received his bachelor’s degree at UC San Diego in Political Science and Ethnic studies. Luis taught in Cheonan from 2018 to 2019, and will begin law school in August 2020. For any questions or advice please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org