Destinations

Jeju Island Trip With My Korean Bestie

I am going on a trip with my Korean bestie who loves photography as much as I do. We are planning a 3-day photography tour to Jeju Island. She is the first to admit her English is not great. And my Korean isn’t stellar either. But we manage to have fun taking pictures together. She thought it would be fun to go on a photography tour with a well-known National Geographic photographer who doesn’t speak English either. What could possibly go wrong?

How I Met my Korean Bestie

I met Angela 5 years ago through a community organization called DIWA. However, we didn’t start hanging out until 6 months ago. We were reintroduced by a mutual friend who recognized we had a similar hobby. And soon we bonded over a love of photography. In that 6 months, we have taken two day trips. Once, to take photos in Gyeongju and another time to fly our drones in Pohang. That’s it. So I’m not sure why, when out of the blue, she invited me to Jeju for a professional photo tour for 3 days. We are planning to leave on Monday, and I am both excited and scared to death about traveling with my Korean bestie to Jeju. It’s going to be a learning experience for us both.

What I Want from my Korean Experience

I am having a blast. This is the third time I’ve been to Korea, but it’s the first time I’ve had more Korean friends than American friends. And that’s exactly the kind of experience I was hoping to have this time around. And even though we don’t speak the same language, we share a love for photography, so I started planning a trip to Jeju with my Korean bestie.

However, Angela and I have already had a handful of miscommunications surrounding booking the dates, flights, the tour, initial costs, and what equipment to bring – we haven’t even left Daegu yet.

Let the Miscommunications Begin

Miscommunication is a big part of ex-pat life in Korea. Most times it’s in passing conversations in stores, taxis, cafes, salons, restaurants – you name it. If you get it wrong, you may end up paying a few extra won or eating something you don’t like.

But with friends, especially ones that don’t speak the same language or understand the subtle nuisances of a sensitive joke – you want to get it right.

The Photographer & Planning Photo Tour

The photographer’s name is Kim Jaesun and he is a very well renowned wildlife and nature photographer who bounces between Jeju and Seoul. His work can be found in many national publications including one of my favorites – National Geographic.

And although I am excited to learn from him, he does not speak or understand English, so I am completely dependent on Angela to translate his instructions and directions, which I know will be difficult for her.

I have asked for an itinerary, but as far as I can understand, Mr. Kim doesn’t have one. He hopes to take some long exposures, low light (sunrise & sunset) galaxy, wide-angle landscape, and flowers. The itinerary will have a lot to do with the cloud density, tides, crowds, and the weather. Usually, I don’t have a problem winging it because I am very spontaneous. But, I am a little outside my comfort zone, and I’d feel more confident with as much information as possible. I am also a little excited because I am always doing the trip planning and this is a chance to see Jeju from a new perspective – that of my Korean bestie.

Planning the Trip with my Korean Bestie

Flight Miscommunications

I was told next Monday, what she meant was next Month. She told me to hurry and book a flight, which I did. But when I sent her my itinerary, she informed me of the screw-up. She also said I could invite a friend who was on board with the initial date but had to back out when the date changed.

Fortunately, Jeju Air allows you to change your flight dates without penalties, so that wasn’t an issue.

Equipment

We initially decided on bringing our DSLRs and drones. Unfortunately, I crashed my drone last week and I am still waiting on a replacement from DJI.

The miscommunication was the filters. I did not bring my ND filters for my dslr with me to Korea, but apparently, the photo session Angela booked, is called a galaxy which includes photos taken from sunrise to sunset, landscape, and wide-angle photography. And for these kinds of photos, I’ll need an ND lens, so I had to purchase 2 which were not cheap.

Photo Tour Dates/Costs

I could not understand why Angela wanted to book this photographer for two days. Plus, it would cost 200,000 won per person per day, which I thought was very expensive – too expensive, as a matter of fact.

I asked her why we couldn’t just rent a car, which she eventually talked me out of in favor of a better solution.

Face to Face

At this point, I felt it was necessary for Angela and me to meet face to face. But I didn’t feel like she felt the same way. It wasn’t until I met another Korean friend a week before the trip to Jeju that I learned Angela actually felt the same way. This friend called her on the spot and we met the next day.

Clarification

This isn’t going to be a studio shoot. It is 100% location-based and the photographer, Kim Jaesun has selected all the locations based on the time of the year and weather. He will also do all the driving and help us set up our cameras to get the best photos. He requires two-day booking minimums so he can get to know the clients a little better.

And it’s not 200,000 won per person, it’s 200,000 won per day. We will have to cover his meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). When she told me the total I would have to pay was only 330,000 won, I almost kissed her. That’s half of what I thought this trip was going to cost. I was starting to get more excited than scared for the first time in weeks.

So for 2 days, 400,000 won would cover airport pickup, daily pickup/ drop-off, his photography & driving fees, the rental car, and gas. Angela convinced me to pay him an additional 50,000 won each for the 3rd day instead of renting a car. Mr. Kim will take us to a few more shooting locations and then drop us off at the airport for our 2 pm flight back to Daegu.

Accommodations

We are staying at Angela’s house in Jeju. She stressed it was small, which is fine. She showed me pictures. They had just purchased the land when we started hanging out.

It is very small but so cute with most of the what you’d expect in a traditional Korean home. She has cable, Wifi, and Internet. And hot water. She did warn me she doesn’t have American-size towels (I do) or a shower (I’ll manage). I expect it’s probably just a wet bathroom, so I’ll bring my slippers too. I’m not looking forward to sleeping on the floor, but I’m sure she will have a thick pad. And naturally, I’ll just save the lingerie for another trip and opt for some really warm jammies instead.

Conclusions (so far)

Angela and I both decided it was already difficult to communicate, so we should not make it harder. It is best to talk in person as much as possible. It’s more fun to meet over coffee anyway.

If we do not understand, we will say so, so the other person can try to make herself better understood. If that doesn’t work, we will use the translation app. But we never assume anything going forward. That doesn’t work when both people speak the same language. Lol.

And finally, if numbers, money, dates, or times are involved, we will clearly write them out (in number form) so there is no doubt as to what they actually mean. And, even if we do all of the above, I am sure we will still have a few moments of miscommunication over the 3 days we spend on vacation in Jeju.

What I Hope This Trip Accomplishes

  • Better friendship with my Korean friend
  • Improved Korean Language skills & communication
  • Insight into the culture I wouldn’t normally see on my own
  • The experience of staying in a traditional Korean home
  • Foods I wouldn’t normally eat
  • Some fun in the sun, nature & beach
  • Some great photographs & memories

As they say… stay tuned. I’ll update you on the actual trip next week.

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🇺🇸 Stacey Peters

I started blogging, writing, and taking travel-related photos to stay in touch with my friends and family while I traveled around the world with my soldier. So far, we've lived on three continents and traveled to more than 70 countries. Every new country increases my desire to see more. I have a passion for history, wine, and new experiences. This is the third time we've been assigned to live in Korea. We had the chance to go anywhere, but we chose to return to Korea one last time before my husband retired from military service. We chose Korea over Germany because we have a lot of Korean National friends, we love the food, culture, and traditions. I have enjoyed living in Korea, but I realized I hadn't immersed myself in the community. I had a ton of "surface level" knowledge, and that's okay for some people. But not me. So we returned to Korea to take everything we had left on the table off. I have had many experiences understanding what to do but not why I should do it. So I intend to delve deeper, ask why instead of what, and find out what I don't know I didn't know. Lol.