Teacher’s trip to Ulleungdo울릉도: The Island of Mystery

For awhile Korea has sent English teachers to the island of Ulleung-do with the goal of them visiting the smaller mostly uninhabited island between Ulleung-do and Japan. The way the trip is run has changed throughout the years. Now public English teacher’s can sign up and request to go on the trip when it rotates to their district and then hope that the weather is good enough that they not only make it to Ulleung-do but to the other islands beyond.

Ulleung-do isn’t the easiest to get to if you’re not fluent in Korean or able to easily book your ferry there. I spoke with friends after the trip who’d been or tried to go and due to the weather one of them couldn’t even leave mainland. (the leftover funds from their education trip ended up mostly paying for food and their group spent the three days and two nights just eating and eating and eating). This isn’t surprising since there’s about 50 typhoon’s per year around the island and about 4 of which actually hit. But they all make it difficult to travel between the mainland and Ulleung-do.

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I originally thought teachers were randomly selected or invited to attend, until the middle school English teacher at my school got very excited and told me about it. I applied by giving my office my passport, ARC (alien registration card), and some basic contact information and then played the waiting game. We didn’t hear back until shortly before the trip was scheduled and it was split. I was invited to go, but the middle school English teacher was not. After talking to other teachers on the trip it seems that the minimum amount of time you need to have been teaching in Korea is for over a year and a half. Which she had not been. Then after that it’s luck. A couple of my friends who were on the trip found out even more last minute because other teachers backed out.

The trip was three days and two nights, though a bit longer for me since I am teacher through GEPIK. Since I’m a GEPIK teacher we met at our department of education headquarters which is in Suwon, the whole other end of the province from where I live. This meant I had to leave the day before and returned too late to make it the rest of the way home and thus my trip was four days and four nights. For lucky people who lived closer, it was three days and two nights.

Our trip included not only those of us in Gyeonggi-do but also teachers from Gangwon-do and Incheon Metropolitan city. There was about 67 native English teachers total. However we met in different spots. I met my bus at 5:10 am at an intersection that if my friend who I’d spent the night with hadn’t been kind enough to join me in a taxi ride to (too early for the trains or buses to have started yet) I wouldn’t have been able to find. The place we thought we were going was completely wrong. This was also pretty far away and not easy for a lot of people to get to. Those who had friends willing to drive them were lucky, but many teachers had to get hotels or stay at hostels or jjimjilbangs (bath houses) the night before and then take a taxi. The Gangwon-do group met in Chuncheon, which I learned much later and to my own disappointment since Chuncheon is much much much closer to where I live than Suwon.

After we gathered everyone onto our bus (we left a bit late due to missing someone who had to eventually be left behind) we made our way towards Hupo which is on the East coast of Korea. It’s about a four hour drive, where we thankfully made a couple bathroom breaks since none of the public bathrooms in Suwon were open yet.

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At Hupo we unboarded and met with our guides for the trip. They gave us pamphlets about the islands, bags of snacks (which was needed since we hadn’t had breakfast and it was nearing lunch time), liquid seasickness medicine, pins and name tags. Lastly we were given our tickets and told to have either or ARC or passport ready to show when we boarded the boat.

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We boarded the Sea Flower and were all sent to the second floor to our assigned seats. Our boat left at 10:00am and arrived two and a half hours later in Ulleung-do. On the boat our guides gave us a safety lesson and translated it from Korean into English, including where the bags were for us if we needed to “revisit breakfast”.

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Despite the nice weather it was imperative to take motion sickness medication since we were going against the waves towards the island. Thankfully most people took it and very few people got sick. About part way through the boat ride they took our ticket stubs for their bookkeeping.

The boat was nice, we took the same one to Ulleung-do and back, however I ended up in a middle seat on the way back which had little to no leg room and felt very cramped. There is a concession stand on the boat that offers a very small selection, mostly of chips and cookies. There are also several bathrooms. The bathrooms do have toilet paper but on both our trip there and our trip back there was no soap in any of the bathrooms. Since it’s also a speedy ferry there is not an outside deck for you to go out and take pictures. Instead I suggest taking the time to nap or read a book. Also bring your own snacks to eat on the boat if you think you’ll be hungry. I demolished most of my provided snacks on the boat ride there and bought more for the ride back.

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Once on the island we broke into three groups that were then led to three buses. The island is mostly uphill so it was the best way to get to and from the ‘resort‘ we stayed at. We however did not take the bus everywhere we went and did a lot of walking after the initial drop off into town.

If you go on your own I highly suggest being cautious if you rent a car since there are only 3 gas stations on the island, if you take a bus note that the roads are very winding so stock up on motion sickness medication. If you want to go swimming remember that Ulleung-do is a volcanic island and thus there are no sandy beaches, only pebble beaches (which is a theory as to why the water is so clear and blue). We saw several groups of people scuba diving which seemed a popular thing to do on the island.  In the spring it’s a popular time for wild garlic and vegetables. Summer is popular for squid and fish while fall is a good time to see the stars and in winter they get snow, about two meters. (The southern part of the island is suppose to be warmer and thus a popular spot in winter) The specialties of the island are pumpkin and squid.

 

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