I never in my wildest dreams thought I would scuba dive during my year of teaching English in South Korea. First, I did not even know if people scuba dove or if there were great locations for diving. Korea is cold for so many months of the year and the ocean water is always freezing; two conditions that are not that conducive for diving. Second, and most importantly, I became certified when I was 17 years old and had not been diving once. Now, I am 26 and really can't remember much about about diving because it has been 9 years and have not thought much about going. But, only a few months after arriving in Korea, I was being invited to go diving.
It just so happens that Jeju, the island that lies just south of the Korean mainland, is a beautiful spot for diving. There are lots of tiny islets off the coast of Jeju where divers boat to and dive for the day. Below the islets are coral reefs and kelp forests that are havens to hundreds of different types of fish. However, the water is cold in Jeju so that diving with a wet suit, even during the summer, is a requirement. With the sights and wonders of the sights under the ocean though, most people claim that the temperature of the water is not a factor and that the wet suit really does keep you warm.
While teaching English, I quickly found out that Jeju was a great diving location after seeing advertisements and noticing all of the dive shops located around the island. Yet, I still did not think about going. By random chance, one of my student's fathers came in to pick up his son from class and he happened to know English. He struck up a conversation with me and told me that he wanted an opportunity to practice his English. I told him that I would be happy to practice with him, even outside of school, if he was serious. Then, out of the blue, the father asked me if I liked scuba diving and would I ever want to go. Without hesitating, I said yes I would love to go, but really did not think it would ever happen.
Well, the next week he was stopped by again and asked me to to that weekend. I had no plans that weekend so I agreed to go. I could not believe it; nine years of being certified and not having an opportunity to go diving and within a few months of being in Korea and I had an opportunity to dive.
My student's father picked me and drove me to a town on the southern coast of Jeju called Seogwipo. From Seogwipo, we took a small boat to a tiny islet. We unloaded there and set up camp for the day. This is when I began to freak out. Up to this point, my adrenaline had been pumping and all the excitement of the day had kept my mind off the fact that I did not remember much about diving. We were 15 minutes away from getting in the water and I did not know what I was doing.
Fortunately, one of the men on the boat turned out to be a guide who gave me a quick run through of how to put on the air tank and how to use it. He told me to stay close to him under the water and to use the ropes that they had installed on the coral and through the kelp forest. When I entered the water, I followed his exact instructions and stayed right by his side.
Under the water, the sights were amazing. Hundreds of fish, interesting rock formations, and incredibly tall and thick kelp plants surrounded me. I used the rope to guide me through this amazing underwater world. I have to admit I panicked a little bit when I became fully submerged, but I calmed down and began breathing properly. Everything after that was smooth sailing.
A couple of things to remember if you want to go diving while teaching English in Korea. Seogwipo is the best place to go and there are lots of dive shops to choose from. Equipment rentals cost around $60 for the day and if you are not certified, you can still go with the help and instruction from a guide, which usually costs around $100. May through September is the best time to go, but if you go in July or August, expect it to be a little crowded and a little more expensive. Let me know if you have any questions about diving!
Adam Montgomery is a 25-year old teacher at the Chungdahm Branch on Jeju. He has been teaching in Korea for over a year. When he is not teaching, he enjoys exploring the wonders of Jeju and Korea.