▲ Olivier Duong has Jeju dreams as expansive as the coastal vistas above, but he is realistic about the challenges he faces with his family. Photo by Olivier Duong
Olivier Duong is a 27-year-old Haitian-French-Vietnamese photographer, graphic designer and online entrepreneur. He recently moved to Jeju from Florida to settle down with his wife and two children.
I’ve always wanted to live in Asia. Even after marrying and having two kids in the US, the dream was still there, despite being relegated to "some day in the future." However, when my mother passed away in the Haitian Earthquake of 2011, it was the wake-up call to carpe diem, seize the day.
And that we did. My wife, kids and I moved to Jeju (without visiting first), and we are loving it.
I have many dreams for my family on this island, and we will face many challenges ahead. The challenges such as obtaining a residency visa and mastering the language will take time, so let’s begin with what brought me here from the United States.
The first reason is simple: it is a great place to raise children.
▲ Despite being newly arrived, Olivier Duong plans to settle here long term. Photo by Olivier Duong
I am talking about the environment as a whole, not only the fact that Korea has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
People are friendly and helpful, outdoor activities are never far away and the food is much healthier food than in the US.
I always felt bad about eating at fast food joints in the US, giving kids greasy french fries and burgers because mom and dad were too tired to cook. But here the fast food has so far been gimbap and overly addictive convenience store sandwiches.
It is also reassuring that world-class medical help is available and if, God forbid, something were to happen to us parents the kids would be led back to the family safely. (When we were scouting for locations in Asia and the idea of leaving the kids alone in somewhere like Thailand made us uneasy.)
The rich beauty of Jeju’s environment speaks for itself with its beaches, mountains, hills, pastures, woodlands, caves and valleys. You can be in the rainforest one minute, a Caribbean beach the next, and then on sweeping plains. Jeju is small, of course, but that is its greatest asset — everything is within easy reach.
Science museums, nature walks, theme parks or any other activity are only one or two buses away. Add to that the fact that Jeju is visually diverse, and a small trip down the road can make you feel you are in another world.
Although my 7-year-old self had the grand dream of owning a Ferrari, our dreams on this island are very humble: We just want to settle down with the family on the outskirts of town.
I have multiple hopes invested in Jeju. As a photographer, Jeju is like a muse, and I hope to capture the splendor of its landscapes and people. As an entrepreneur, ideas are already germinating in my head.
There are definitely opportunities here, especially at the intersection of tourism and technology, but there are barriers, too.
▲ The Duong family see a healthier and safer life on Jeju. Photo by Olivier Duong
The residency visa is one, and just looking at the points system for a business visa makes my stomach churn in cluelessness.
And this is the heart of my fear, that all my efforts will be for nothing.
To be blunt, I fear working hard for a permanent visa and never obtaining it. It depresses me just thinking about it, and the repercussions for my kids.
If all goes according to plan, I should be a resident in six to eight years by which time my kids will have lived in Korea for most of their lives, and my second child will have formed his first memories here. I do not want to take their friends, home and whole life from them because I can’t obtain residency.
It’s true that most of our fears never end up happening, but there is great reason for concern.
I have heard of a woman who worked diligently to receive her visa on the F2 point system, only to be denied. I also know of a man who has lived here for a decade without his residency visa.
Visa regulations also seem to change on a whim, and I am afraid that the course I am pursuing will be obsolete in the coming years.
Coming to Jeju was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made in my life, and my wife and I agreed that we don’t see ourselves living anywhere else.
But it is also a high stakes gamble, and if we are denied residency it would be 6-8 years wasted and the kids uprooted.
At the end of the day, I see moving to Jeju just like a marriage— I made an informed decision, followed my heart and I hope for the best. Will we be able to stay? Only time will tell. All I know is, when there is a will, there is a way.
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