The Korea Herald


Expats explore Seoul while honing their craft

By Korea Herald

Published : July 24, 2012 - 19:50

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The Seoul Sub-urban blog was originally intended as a way for creative writing graduate Charlie Usher and photographer Elizabeth Groeschen to continue writing and taking pictures while exploring the city through its subway system.

Now the two are working on a book compiling their photos and writings from Seoul Sub-urban.

It will be translated into Korean, giving native Korean speakers with a passion for travel the chance to experience Seoul through a foreign perspective. The book will be published next spring by Seoul Selection.

“When I first lived in Seoul I got kind of stuck in a loop of my neighborhood-Hongdae-Itaewon-Jongno-Gangnam, and I regretted not seeing more of the city,” Usher told The Korea Herald by email.

Usher had previously lived in the Seoul area for two years, but he liked it so much that he decided to move back. He soon found a way to continue writing, while taking advantage of everything the Korean capital had to offer.

“There were a lot of times when I’d be sitting on a train underground and we’d pass a station and I’d wonder ‘What’s up there? What if I just got off?’”

Seoul’s subway, a complex web of more than 300 stations, is one of the longest subway systems in the world and transports an average of 4 million passengers per day. Usher decided to tackle this mammoth system and attempt to get off at every stop in the metropolitan area he could.

Usher and Groeschen began Seoul Sub-urban in 2009. After three years, they’ve been to 98 stops. They’ve also traveled to about 18 stops for SEOUL magazine for a regular column. 
The outskirts of Sindang Market provide everything from used refrigerators to vintage video game systems.(Elizabeth Groeschen) The outskirts of Sindang Market provide everything from used refrigerators to vintage video game systems.(Elizabeth Groeschen)

Seoul Sub-urban also partners with Nanoomi, an article-aggregator site geared toward Korea-based expats, and their material is often reposted on HiExpat and buzz KOREA, too. The two have also done occasional guest spots on different shows at TBS eFM.

Each blog post unveils a subway stop, complete with thorough explanations of the surrounding area and beautiful photos to accompany them. Many of the posts include descriptions of key sights and recommended places along with stories of what happened when Usher and Groeschen visited and interviews with locals.

For Usher and Groeschen, the Seoul Sub-urban project is a chance to hone their crafts while they teach English in Korea.

“When we began the project, we went together to every subway stop,” said Groeschen. “We did this for the first year and a half or so ― but we have such different work styles and goals (writing vs. photography) and schedules, that we now go separately most of the time.”

They each have favorite subway stops as well, although both list the neighborhood around Sindang Station, known for Jungang market and Tteokbokki Town, for a taste of unadulterated Seoul.

“I really like Sindang because of the outskirts of the market life there. It was the very first market I went to in Seoul,” recalls Groeschen, who first moved here in 2006.

“It’s astonishingly old-school, earthy, insular,” describes Usher. “I almost never feel strange in Seoul but I felt strange there.”

And of course,” he adds, “I’d recommend just getting off somewhere at random, too.”

Usher and Groeschen are not sure whether they will ever finish the enormous project of going to every subway stop in Seoul. Groeschen is soon leaving Korea on a round the world trip, during which she will be working on other projects. Usher does not know his definite plans in terms of staying in Korea. But, for now, the two are taking the chance to hone their skills in their real passion in a city that they love and call home.

“It’s a tough city to figure out and sometimes tough to love, but that’s part of the appeal for me,” says Usher. “I’ve never been bored here.”

By Sarah Berlow (