Yanbo Li started looking for an international school in Asia as soon as his son Zhilun was born.
As a Chinese businessman working in the information technology sector, Li ended up choosing a British school on the South Korean subtropical island of Jeju instead of schools in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore. Two years ago, he bought a house in Jeju and moved from China with his son, who is now a seventh grader at North London Collegiate School on the island.
Li now looks after his Beijing-based business remotely, visiting his company only during emergencies. “The schools here offer high quality education and great outdoor activities,” says Li.
“It’s safe here. Jeju is bigger than Hong Kong and Singapore, with fewer people, less traffic, and it’s easier to get around from here.”
An increasing number of wealthy people in South Korea and China are sending their children to Jeju instead of schools in the west or other parts of Asia, boosting the island’s revenue and driving up property prices as Parents move house to be near their children.
Since 2008, four high-profile international schools, including NLCS and Branksome Hall Asia have opened in Daejeong, after the government launched a $1.5 billion project to transform the 940-acre agricultural site England into an international education center.
Daejeong was once a quiet farming village with breathtaking views of Jeju’s deep blue sea and Mount Halla, the island’s highest peak. The island is famous for its deep-sea diving old ladies, mandarin groves and iconic black pigs, and remains a popular destination for honeymooning couples.
But the town, just an hour’s flight from Seoul, is now brimming with state-of-the-art schools, five-star hotels and resorts, and upscale private villas with outdoor pools and nearby golf courses.
About 4,600 students are studying at four international schools, while the Jeju International Free City Development Center (JDC) has signed preliminary agreements with two other Western schools.
“We will make the city an educational center of Northeast Asia,” said Moon Dae-lim, president of JDC. “We have a unique appeal to Hong Kong and Singapore: the beautiful nature and safe environment of Jeju.”
Jeju’s schools have helped South Korea stem the outflow of money related to studying abroad and the family rift as Korean mothers often send their children abroad, leaving fathers behind. financial support stay.
They have also provided students with a different way of learning.
Bae Suh-yoon, a 13th grader at NLCS, moved to Jeju with his mother Chung Mi-hyang 9 years ago. Her father, a medical doctor, works in Seoul. “The Korean education system is tired and focused on rote learning. I want my children to have a creative education, but I don’t want to send them abroad too soon,” said Chung. “In Jeju, our family can see each other more often.”
Daniel Gondorf, a 12th year student from Berlin, moved to Jeju this year to attend the NLCS. “This is one of the best schools in the world based on their IB program [International Baccalaureate] scores,” he said.
The majority of students at international schools are Korean with about 10% coming from China and 5% coming from Japan, Mongolia, the US, Australia and Europe.
Chinese parents have been further enticed by Jeju’s special visa system, which grants permanent residency to those who invest in apartments and resort facilities, although the system has been temporarily shut down. because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Schools are oversubscribed despite annual tuition and boarding fees of up to $50,000. More than 90% of graduates earn places in the world’s top 100 universities. Students can also participate in extracurricular activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling and horseback riding.
Lynne Oldfield, principal of England at NLCS, said: “More and more parents are realizing that they don’t need to send their children to the UK, US or elsewhere – they can get what they want in an education. Top quality here.
In 2019, a total of 8,961 South Korean students in elementary, middle, and high schools went to study abroad in 2019, down sharply from 29,511 in 2006, according to government data. .
School officials expect more international students to come to Jeju as vaccination rates increase. “We are in a more politically stable part of the world. We have no restrictions on our curriculum, says Oldfield, comparing Jeju’s international schools with rivals in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Eugine Oh, marketing director at Branksome Hall, says that Canadian girls’ schools receive more requests from Chinese parents in part because China’s increasingly tough regulation of private education.
The popularity of the schools has led to a construction boom in the area. High-end villas there cost between 3 billion Won and 10 billion Won ($2.5 million – $8.4 million), far higher than lavish apartments in Seoul’s affluent Gangnam district.
“Real estate prices here have been heavily influenced by international markets. Apartment prices have increased by 60-70% in the past two years,” said a real estate agent in Daejeong village.
“Demand for apartments and townhouses is booming but it is scarce. We wish more international schools were established here.”