Throughout my summer in Korea, I had always wanted to go to Paju. Paju is a city in Gyeonggi Province, it is located just south of Panmunjeom on the 38th parallel. That makes it dangerously close to the North Korea border, and I really wanted to go to the DMZ, but due to unfavourable political conditions at that time, we decided otherwise.
But Paju is, of course, much more than just a city near North Korea, and one of the main attractions in the city is the Gyeonggi English Village Paju Camp. ‘Paju Camp’ sounds eerily like a concentration camp. Thankfully, it’s not actually as sinister as it sounds.
Gyeonggi English Villages are for the residents of Gyeonggi Province and the Republic of Korea to experience the English language and the cultures of English-speaking countries. It is our intent to provide strong support for the public and private English education system of Gyeonggi Province and for Korea as a whole.
A place just for Koreans to practise English? Sounds intense, but not hard to believe if you know the emphasis they place on mastering English.
Plus point: This was the filming location for Running Man, and Jekyll, Hyde & Me! A few music videos were also filmed here, including EXO’s Miracles in December.
The entrance already reminded us of an ‘English village’. You can tell that they put in a lot of effort to make this look every bit like a Western destination, complete with castle walls and medieval architecture.
If you need validation that Running Man filmed here, this is it.
After you pay for admission tickets, you receive this small booklet where you can collect stamps and validate your efforts in learning English. We had to pass through ‘immigration’ – almost as if you are actually travelling out of Korea to England.
I thoroughly appreciate the effort that the Koreans put into this because even in food establishments around the village, food items are listed in primarily English so that you can practise ordering in English to the cashiers. I think when you are trying to learn a new language, one of the biggest obstacles is using it on a frequent basis without fear of getting things wrong. Having to use it in a place like this forces you out of your comfort zone, and I guess it really does help if you’re looking to use English in daily life.
As you can tell from the photographs, the place looked strangely… deserted. I had read about this place on another blog and it showed photos with plenty of Korean students. My experience, however, was far from that. I’m not sure if it was because I came in the summer, and students wouldn’t be coming here in their holidays to practise English unless they were forced there by their schools/parents. I did see a few families here, but mostly with young children.
Despite my awe at how dedicated the Koreans are to learning English, I think the place is in urgent need of a renovation. Many interesting buildings around the village (recording studio? glass house?) looked like they were abandoned for years, and there is no activity going on in there at all. It was really disappointing because I was hoping to have a glimpse at how activities are conducted there. All I managed to see was a lady conducting a cartoon quiz with 2-3 children, and even that didn’t look very engaging to me. We ended up spending less than 2 hours here because there was nothing for us to do, which was really sad because we sat on a long bus ride to get there.
I think this destination has a lot of potential to become a fun learning hub, but only if there is more life injected into it. I’m still not sure if I happened to visit at a bad time, or if this place has been abandoned by the Koreans as well.
If you have young kids or are planning to practise English as well, you might want to head down to Paju to check this out. If you are already planning to go to Paju to visit the other villages (Hyeri Art Village, Provence), then you can just come here and have a nice feel of how the Koreans imagine Western villages and have a fun photoshoot here. Do be warned though – we had an extremely tough time trying to get to the other villages from here and ended up getting seriously lost. In fact, we were so lost that we ended up at random bus stops and had no choice but to just take the bus all the way back to Hapjeong Station.
Address: Paju City, Gyeonggi Province, 1779 Beopheung-ri, Tanhyeon-myeon, Republic of Korea, 413-780
Take bus 2200 from Hapjeong station and get off at Paju English Village stop.
For more information, visit Gyeonggi English Village’s website here.