▲ Nik Brountas is the KCTV English News anchor. Photo by Tracie Barrett
Nik Brountas first came to Jeju Island more than 11 years ago and, in his own words, has “never looked back.” Now married to Chujado native Hyun-ju Seo and the proud father of a young daughter (3) and son (2), the KCTV English News anchor appears very content with his life here.
“I came to Jeju originally and never had any inclination to go anywhere else,” he said. “I’d heard from a friend at university about teaching English in Korea. When I did graduate, I thought I’d give it a try and in doing a bit of research, it looked like Jeju was a place I’d like to go.”
He said Jeju “may be one of the most similar places to where I’m from,” Maine, in the United States. “I have no desire to live in a big city on the mainland.” Brountas communicates well in Korean, having begun learning the language before his marriage more than seven years ago.
“I started really learning Korean when I decided to get married to my wife. She speaks Korean and English but many of her family don’t speak English so I had to speak Korean. That’s an ongoing goal for me.”
That fluency stands him in good stead in the KCTV anchor position, which he will have been in for two years this coming July.
“Until I came here, I’d always worked in colleges or schools and people there were expecting a foreigner and they tried to adapt to my culture a bit. But when I came here, I was the first foreigner to work here. It was all me who had to adapt and I am very glad to have worked my way into Korean corporate life.
“I very much like everyone I work with and I’ve gained a lot of insight into a part of the culture that I’d never seen before. And it’s also been a struggle.” “There have been some cultural misunderstandings or just something that I didn’t know about before and learning how to adapt to that here was tough. But enjoyable, a challenge!”
The show is broadcast Monday through Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., 10 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., then again at 8 a.m. the next day.
“It’s a good challenge for me,” he said. “It’s a challenge coming in - I have a certain amount of time, usually two hours each day, where I have to get everything prepared. At first, when I first started doing this job, sitting in front of the camera was the most difficult thing.
“As time’s gone by, I really enjoy that now and when I finally walk down here and walk into the studio, it’s a relief and I feel like the day’s almost done. But now what I’ve found, in the last two years, is the really challenging thing is getting ready for coming down here. I get 15 or 16 pages of news every day and have a short amount of time to edit those for style, for grammar and to put some finishing touches on them and get some extra information that maybe English-speaking people on the island don’t know about.
“Everything that I read on the news is a direct translation from the Korean news. But often, when we’re talking about an issue that is either culturally related or something that’s been covered in the Korean news but not in the English news, there are some details that are left out. So I have to do the straight translation from the Korean news and then also add in some extra information to make it a little bit more understandable to people who maybe don’t know what’s going on.”
Brountas also continues some teaching. “Right now, I have the very best of both worlds,” he said. “While university is in session, I teach some morning classes at Jeju College of Technology.”
And as someone with a solid stake in Jeju, as a long-term resident, family man and media personality, he has thought much about what is important to the island.
“What needs to be thought of, I think, very carefully for Jeju-do going into the future is the style and the pace of development. I fully understand and I fully agree that development needs to be done, but I think the issue is how to develop and what ways to develop and developing in a way that keeps Jeju an enjoyable and attractive place to live and visit.
“Five or 10 years ago, I think the talk was development just for development’s sake. Now, I think, people really are talking more - and I mean people on the street and politicians and news programs - people are really talking about developing in a good way.
“That’s the issue now - how to develop - and I think that’s an excellent step.” “I think a lot of those things started with the World Natural Heritage designation [when three sites were listed by UNESCO in 2007] - that was the beginning.
“Five or 10 years ago everyone was talking about, ‘Let’s make Jeju the next Hong Kong, let’s make Jeju the next Singapore.’ That sent shivers up and down my spine because I don’t want that.
“Now, I think there’s a big push, in a lot of quarters at least, towards greener development. Of course you can see the push that they’re putting behind Jeju Olle and a big project that I’ve been working on a bit here at KCTV and a big project for this year for the province is trying to be designated a UNESCO Geopark.”
As for where he takes visiting friends and family, Brountas said Halla Aboretum is always on the list and somewhere his family goes often, and he also enjoys climbing Jeju’s many oreum. But his favorite event is a festival about to take place this very weekend.
“I always suggests that anyone who comes [to visit Jeju], comes for the fire festival,” he said.
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