Jeju entrances Russian coupleAfter just one visit to the island off the far end of the Korean peninsula, Victor Ryashencev was bewitched. Mr. Ryashencev couldn’t help but love the island’s rocky volcanic surfaces and the breeze gently brushing his face.
The Russian’s crush on Jeju island was so profound that in October 2001 he moved with his wife, Natasha Nazarenko, and their 3-year-old daughter, Maria, to Seogwipo, on the island.
A few months ago, the couple founded a travel agency focusing on nature tours, which they named Jeju Eco-Tours.
As a Korean language studies major at Vladivostok’s Far Eastern State University, Mr. Ryashencev came to Korea in 1994 to hone his Korean further at Kyonggi University in Suwon. A four-day trip to Jeju island with other students that summer changed his life forever.
“The scenery, the ocean, everything was imprinted on my head,” recalls Mr. Ryashencev, 31.
After returning to his hometown of Vladivostok, Mr. Ryashencev taught Korean for a few years, but returned to Seoul in 1997 as a graduate student at Far Eastern State University; he was studying the Korean economy and needed to collect data and documents. He spent much of his time teaching Russian to Korean students at Yonsei University, however, while escaping to Jeju some weekends for fresh air.
“My hometown of Vladivostok is near the ocean, and for someone born in such an environment, life in the city isn’t really satisfying,” Mr. Ryashencev says. Adding to his enjoyment, the clear waters off Jeju island’s coast were suitable for scuba diving, which he’d learned in college.
Back in Russia, his wife, who worked as a designer, needed no encouragement to pack her bags and board a flight out of Vladivostok when her husband asked her to come to Seoul in early 1998.
After getting a taste of Jeju herself, it didn’t take long for Ms. Nazarenko to urge her husband to fly south whenever the couple had free time (Ms. Nazarenko’s passion for scuba diving exceeded her husband’s). “My wife comes from an Italian family, and you can’t beat them,” says Mr. Ryashencev jokingly. In 2001, the couple finally left Seoul for Jeju’s subtropical climes. A year later, their first child was born.
Although not as fluent in Korean as her husband, Ms. Nazarenko nonetheless managed to establish a name for herself after holding an exhibit of her photographs. Meanwhile, Mr. Ryashencev kept busy helping local scuba divers with an assortment of tasks.
With encouragement from her Russian friends, Ms. Nazarenko opened a travel agency last November and registered it with the local government. The couple’s passion for photography ― they had together taken 6,000 shots of the island’s natural attractions ― and Ms. Nazarenko’s design skills combined to help them create a Web site for their fledgling business.
Already, they are seeing results. “The travel agency has only been in business for three months, but we have had more than 100 customers,” said Mr. Ryashencev. Nature lovers, local divers and foreigners in particular have shown interest in the ecotourism company, which organizes mountainside treks and diving excursions as well as yoga courses and green-tea saunas.
“People refer to Jeju island as the Asian Hawaii, but that’s not true,” Mr. Ryashencev says. “Jeju island is simply Jeju island. I wonder if there are any other places in the world that contain such wonderful nature.”
by Yang Seong-cheol