What I gained from being writer in residence at Seoul Art Space Yeonhui

One of four buildings at Seoul Art Space Yeonhui
One of four buildings at Seoul Art Space Yeonhui.

It’s time to sum up my experience in Seoul in one small report. My last day in Yeonhui as writer-in-residence was 27 September 2018, and I will always remember my time there with gratitude and affection.

For almost four weeks I lived alongside other writers. Our accommodation was simple, comfortable, quiet, and self-contained, apart from a shared kitchen and laundry, a small gym and a library where people could gather. Four brick buildings, each containing four or five small apartments, stand on a landscaped slope studded with dramatic pine trees. We were responsible for finding our own food, and what fun that was: in this quaint and classy suburb are many cafes and restaurants within walking distance, plus takeaway outlets and a splendid supermarket.

The situation was ideal for sustained work. I had enough solitude to write plenty, and enough company to feel human. We didn’t have any obligations to teach or even do a reading. I made friends with a few of the other writers, which was wonderful, but most of us just hid away and worked.

How is it possible to concentrate and be productive while staying in an exciting foreign city with endless attractions on our doorstep? Well, writers write, that’s what we do, and so we relish this opportunity.

As for me, I wrote a good bunch of poems, mostly in early drafts but a few that I’m quietly pleased with already. I also did some sightseeing, some socialising, and lots of walking around the neighbourhood. Most valuable of all, I got a clear plan for my next few years as a writer.

Many people assume that such an appointment inspires a writer directly with new sights, sounds, and experiences, which then become subject matter, things that we will write about. However, for me the chief benefit lay in temporarily extracting myself from my normal life. I carried on with the same work as before, but everything else was new — place, people, language, routine, tasks, obligations, weather, food — everything. My personal slate was wiped clean for a few weeks, and that enabled me to see the bigger picture. That was exceptionally useful. So for once I had a ready answer when a reporter asked me, “What are your goals and your life plans?”

In short, I left Seoul with renewed energy, excited by my plans for the coming years.

An artist’s residency that is both founded and fully funded by government is rare. This residency is one of (at least) nine managed by The Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture (SFAC). SFAC is a non-profit public organization established and funded by the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG). The success of the Yeonhui residency alone shows how highly the government of this vibrant city values the arts.

You can see that I have multiple reasons for thanking the staff of Seoul Art Space Yeonhui. They were warm and efficient, and I often had a companion for lunch. (Missing you, Junghee!) Because of their support, my stay went smoothly and I felt safe at all times.

For any writer contemplating this particular adventure, I recommend it without reservation.

Entrance to the library and social area at Seoul Art Space Yeonhui
Entrance to the library and social area at Seoul Art Space Yeonhui

12 thoughts on “What I gained from being writer in residence at Seoul Art Space Yeonhui

  1. Rachel sounds like you had an idyllic environment in which to write. One of the reasons why we enjoy housesitting as it gives us space to think and do our own thing for a while, without the rush and bustle of travel. Look forward to reading more posts from you.

  2. Hi Rachel – you certainly led us along with your posts … I need to do a read through now. Thanks for the summary – it seems to succinctly sum things up for you. What a wonderful opportunity that you grasped with both hands … and pen! It does sound so invigorating and I bet you’ll go back at some stage fairly soon … so pleased for you – cheers Hilary

  3. You completely changed my mental picture of Seoul which apparently was formed in 1952! I appreciate the distinction you made between writing about the retreat location and having a new place out of routine to write.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts from South Korea. It brought back lovely memories of my visit to the country and has obviously inspired you. Even your photograph of the wildly tangled overhead cable made me smile. That is such a feature of South Korea!

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