Somethings things in life are best enjoyed when shared with others.
As you may or may not know Korea is a communal country, where everything is done as a collective “Uri” (us), community, from eating, bathing, hiking, running and, even in some cases, going out on dates. South Korea’s communal values are tied to its compact size, ethnically homogenous population and ardent nationalism. I think the only time that you are truly alone is when you are using the toilet in your house with the door closed. You will hardly ever see a Korean doing anything alone, unlike most of us westerners, who are comfortable doing things by ourselves, and who sometimes even prefer to be alone. This is not the case here in Korea. There are some things that I enjoy doing alone, like going to the movies, getting a cup of coffee, and window shopping, but as for anything that deals with being active, I like doing it with a group. I like the support system of a group environment and the motivation that comes with being in a group. I love being active, and running is one of my favorite things to do. I have been an active runner for a very long time, and I did not want that part of my life to suffer simply because I moved to a new country. Running is a big part of who I am, and it keeps me somewhat sane. Finding a running community here in Cheonan was a priority for me.
I joined the Cheonan Marathon Club when I first moved to Cheonan in 2017. I have loved every minute of it. I was hesitant at first because of the language barrier, and I really did not know what to expect. My program director called the club and explained that I was interested in joining. The first day I was picked up at a designated meet-up spot by two Koreans promptly at 6:00 in the morning. While I was sitting there nervously waiting for them, I tried to relax and just go with the flow. I figured, if all else fails, hand gestures would be a good way to communicate, and I could always use the translator app on my phone. My ride arrived, and I sat in the back not knowing what to say. The 20-minute ride felt like a 20-hour ride. We were all quiet and, nobody knew what to say. We get to the meet-up spot and of course, I stuck out like a sore thumb; not only am I a foreigner, but I am also an African-American woman. I felt like a celebrity for that whole morning. Everybody wanted to know where I was from; the club members were super welcoming. I met a lovely couple who had lived in the States for over four years and spoke English very well. They have become my second family. They kept me informed about everything that was happening with the club, and all the race events that I could participate in and helped me with signing up for races.
During my first year with the club, I signed up for every race event that the club participated in. I have seen so much of Korea because of the running club. The Cheonan Marathon Club is over 20 years old. Some of the original members still take part in the weekly training runs. Our oldest member is 81 years old and still runs. I am so grateful to have found this running club, I’ve come to appreciate the Korean culture from a different perspective, and I’ve learned so much from all the club members. We share meals together, we share family stories together, we go on tours together, I’ve been to a few weddings, and I genuinely feel like a member of the club. I am still the only foreigner in the club, and I would like to see more foreigners join. The Club has made living here in Korea more interesting, and I can honestly say that I have built lifelong friendships.
The club meets 3 days a week, every Wednesday at 7:00 in the evening, Saturday and Sunday mornings at 7:00 in the morning, at the Cheonan Sports Complex, and trains as a group. All levels are welcome. We have breakfast every Sunday morning after the training runs. We also have a few long training runs where we go way out into the country and run anywhere from 22km to 42km. Many of the club members are ultra-marathoners, meaning they’ve run between 100-800km races and many full course marathons throughout the world. The fee for joining the club is 120,000 won, which covers, part of the weekly Sunday breakfast, any tours that we go on, the bus to all races, and part of the year-end dinner. The club also has a picnic every July, where all the members and families get together for a day of fun.
If you plan on living here in Cheonan and want to make your stay as comfortable as possible, I highly recommend finding an activity that you really enjoy doing, look for local events, get to know the people, learn the culture, and make new friends. Your life will feel less lonely while you are here. Don’t let the fear of culture and a language barrier be a deterrent. The good thing about culture is that it’s conquerable with a good attitude and an open mind. Run happy.
If you are interested in learning more about the club, please feel free to contact me. I can be found on Facebook and Instagram.
To learn more about the Cheonan marathon club, check out our Instagram page, Cheonan_marathon_club