Steph Yiu

Digital Nomads and Co-Working at Jeju Island

I grew up between countries and cultures. I’m not really Singaporean, I’m not really Hong Kong-nese, I’m not really American, I’m not really Canadian. I am a mismash of all those things and over the years I’ve come to love this about my childhood. I don’t have a “place” that I’m from, rather, a “cohort” that sociologists call Third Culture Kids (TCKs). And whenever I meet other TCKs, we immediately click, no matter what countries we grew up in.

So, I really shouldn’t have been surprised that as an adult, I’ve become a digital nomad – a person that works remotely for a technology company, and travels often.

A few weeks ago I was invited to a digital nomad meetup in Jeju Island, South Korea. Meeting the other nomads was like discovering a sister cohort to TCKs. It was a group I felt immediately at home with – in a way I can only feel among my expat friends.

Digital nomads at Seongsan Ilchulbong

Digital nomads at Seongsan Ilchulbong

I quickly noticed a few trends among the group that reminded me of TCKs – traits that I’m sure all world travelers require. All were confident and independent. They were open and friendly to newcomers. The conversations were relaxed as we explored different perspectives and backgrounds. And, everyone had a story. Of how they chose this life, of what they had to give up to be there, of “why nomad.” As my colleague Matt eloquently wrote, this was a group of pioneers.

Youjin Do was the meetup organizer. She’s working on telling the story of digital nomads, and gathered a group of us at J-Space to present on our experiences.

Of the presentations, I particularly enjoyed Kavi Guppta’s talk on digital nomads. Kavi writes for Forbes on the future of work, and he believes that improving the workplace can change the world.

I also loved hearing Pete Rojwongsuriya’s stories about traveling to remote parts of the world with just a backpack, and working from unlikely places (like an unlocked church in the middle of the night). Though Pete is a business-owner, he is very clearly an artist. His images help me feel the mood and personality of the spaces he inhabits in his travels

You really have to be here to feel it #travelstoke #bagan #digitalnomad

A post shared by Pete R. (@peachananr) on

 

My teammate Matt and I presented, too – the culture of Automattic and the VIP team. Seeing the surprised looks on the audience’s faces as we talked about our work made me remember how unique Automattic is. It was nice to step back and reflect on the incredible company that employs me – one that believes in encouraging complete transparency, giving its employees incredible autonomy, and measuring only output (and not hours at a desk). You can see our presentation in the video below.

 

While at J-Space, Matt and I were also interviewed by a few journalists in the Korean media, which was an interesting experience. Our favorite question was: “What do your family and friends think about your digital nomad lifestyle?” Matt and I looked at each other and laughed. If you can read Korean, here are the two articles that came out of the interviews.


Tips for Co-Working on Jeju Island #

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the South Korean government is ready to sink all sorts of money into making Jeju into a startup and innovation space. In addition to the government-funded co-working space, J-Space, they have encouraged tech companies like KakaoTalk to relocate their headquarters to Jeju, and started nurturing a tech hub in Jeju City.

I already have a group of colleagues that are going to Jeju for co-working in the next month, and I sent the following tips to them. I’m posting them here in case you’ll find them useful, too.

Overview: Jeju Island is a terrific spot for co-working. Beautiful views, excellent public transportation, solid wifi, and lots and lots of places to eat. There is also coffee (and very fancy coffee) about every 5 steps.:)

Don’t be fooled by the “island” name, Jeju is about 3x bigger than Singapore in terms of land mass, and it takes about 2 hours to get from Jeju City (north) to Seogwipo (south). There are about 600k permanent residents, about the size of Boston.

Language: There are very few foreigners in Jeju, so there isn’t a ton of English around. Fortunately, many restaurants have English menus, so we made do with pointing and gesturing. A few times I pulled up Google Translate and typed up what I was trying to say, and that worked well.

Internet: Really excellent. Wifi access points are everywhere: every coffeeshop, the airports, hotels, etc.

Cash: Most stores/restaurants accept credit cards (chip not required), but you will need cash for taxis, busses, and small food purchases. Not all ATMs accept foreign debit cards so don’t be surprised if an ATM you go to doesn’t work.

J-Space Co-working: Located inside the technology center, it’s huge, modern, with great wifi. It’s open to the public and can get crowded some days. There are many places to eat within walking distance.

Hotel: We stayed at the Orange Tree Hotel and Cafe. It was excellent: clean, simple, solid wifi and a decent breakfast. Because J-Space is closed on weekends and evenings, and we were all sorts of jetlagged, we actually ended up working out of the hotel cafe more than at J-Space.

Things To Do: There are lots and lots of guidebooks devoted to this, but we explored both cities, seafood markets, lots of waterfalls, beaches, climbed the Seongsan Ilchulbong crater (very easy). One thing that helped was stopping by a tourist center (near the bus station) and getting some English maps. We chose not to climb Mt. Halla, as it’s a 10-hour endeavor, but you may want to! More here.

Food: As with most Asian countries, restaurants are very comfortable with seating large groups, so we had no problem dining out with 15 people at a time. There are three major food streets in Jeju City which you definitely should visit: Noodle Street, Black Pork Street, and Raw Fish Street. Black Pork Street especially is very comfortable with tourists and big groups.

Transportation: There are busses that go all over the island, and cabs are inexpensive and easy to get. You shouldn’t need a car. There’s a 600 Airport Limo Bus that makes a big loop around the island every 15 minutes – we used that to get around when we were sightseeing the island. One thing we struggled with was the lack of Google Maps. Most locations do not appear on Google Maps, so searching for most restaurants and even the co-working space was a guess, at best. The directions are also very lackluster, no driving directions and most bus routes are not listed. We got around often by asking for help.

Airport Guide: There are more than 100 flights a day from Seoul to Jeju, and flights are about 1 hour. If you’re flying internationally, it’s very likely that you’ll need to transfer from Incheon to Gimpo airport. Transfer is very simple, there’s an efficient train that runs between the airports and takes about 40 minutes. This blog post is helpful.

Have an amazing time!

Hanging out with Jeju Grandpa at KakaoTalk headquarters.

Hanging out with Jeju Grandpa at KakaoTalk headquarters.

More reading: I loved this blog post from meetup organizer Youjin Do. “The digital nomad lifestyle is not a miracle cure for your life, let’s stop selling it as one.”

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