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[Weekender] Center supports urbanites’ rural dream

After hesitating for a long time, Choi Hyeong-tae, a 64-year-old retiree in Seoul, finally made up his mind to live in the countryside for the rest of his life. 

Then he faced the next question, “Where and how?”

Instead of hurrying to a real estate agency to buy a rural home as many do, he visited one of the nation’s support centers for people looking to move to rural areas, where systemized directions to relocating and living in the countryside are offered. 

From April, Choi took a course provided by the center which involved visiting several rural areas. One of them was Yeongdong, North Chungcheong Province. Despite having no prior connections to the area, he decided to relocate there. On Thursday, he finally moved into his new home in Yeongdong. 

People visit a consulting booth at a job fair for rural regions held from June 3 to 5 in Seoul. (Gwinong center)
People visit a consulting booth at a job fair for rural regions held from June 3 to 5 in Seoul. (Gwinong center)

“I got to know good people and learned about the area during my field trips with the center. I stayed there for days, examining the area,” he told The Korea Herald. 

Choi is among 18,000 urban dwellers who take preparation courses at the Gwinong, Gwichon Support Center annually. 

Established in 2012 and headquartered in Yangjae, Seoul, the center has over 5,000 instructors and extensive networks with rural governments. In Korean, Gwinong and gwichon mean a return to the rural life and agriculture. 

People visit a consulting booth at a job fair for rural regions held from June 3 to 5 in Seoul. (Gwinong center)
People visit a consulting booth at a job fair for rural regions held from June 3 to 5 in Seoul. (Gwinong center)

The center provides consultations, lectures and field classes. Attendees can also stay and learn about farming at its Return Farmer’s Houses in rural towns. 

“There is a big difference between those who have taken our courses and those who have not,” said Kim Kwi-yeong, the chief of the center, in a phone interview Thursday. 

“Jumping into farming without proper preparation would lead to failure,” she said. 

Decades after urbanization and industrialization, Korea started to see a new trend in 2006 -- people moving from cities to rural areas. 

A law was enacted in 2007 to support population migration for the first time. Faced with increasing calls for more systematic and practical support, the Agricultural Ministry started running consultation sessions and education courses, which led to the establishment of the Gwinong center in 2012. 

“Around 30 percent of the returned families have been educated in the center,” said Kim, who also returned to the rural life. She stressed the importance of education and legwork for successful resettlement in rural areas. 

“Beginners are so used to city lives and they face challenges when their dreamy expectations are found to be wrong,” she explained. “Living in rural areas is not a fantasy but a reality.”

People should know what they want from the rural life to successfully settle down, Kim added. 

Living in rural areas may sound like freedom to some, but such freedom often comes with a price. 

“For instance, when home appliances go out of order, you often have to fix them yourself,” Kim said. “Repairmen do not come fast like they do in the cities.”

People attend a farming course at Gwinong center.
People attend a farming course at Gwinong center.

Aside from investing capital on buying land and farming equipment, living cost is usually cheaper in rural areas than cities. However, many forget that the income made through farming is different from what they earned in the cities and they have to adjust their spending patterns accordingly. 

According to the center’s data, the average cost of resettling in the countryside is 160 million won ($141,000) for buying farmland and farming equipment. 

“Earnings are not promising when you are farming, especially when you have just started. So it is very important that you think of a five-year income plan and spend less money,” the 52-year-old Kim said. 

A native of Seoul, Kim had never lived in the countryside before choosing to move to Hongcheon, Gangwon Province. She was one of the first few people to relocate to the area from the city in 1978. 

She said she sees great value in rural regions and in farming, which she described as an act of caring for living plants. 

“Farming is never to be looked down on, and it is actually like running a business -- only more difficult as the environment is not full of help as it is in the cities,” said Kim. 

But once properly prepared, moving to a rural area can enrich your life, she added. 

“Life is freer and you are close to nature, for sure. People are different in a positive way, too,” she said. 

By Jo He-rim (