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Revealed: Secrets of the “Inner Circle”

Every year, a new crop of English-speaking foreigners, be they gangs of  teachers recruited for EPIK, engineers brought for an industrial project or  hagwon teachers arriving  in ones and twos, descends on Ulsan. And every year, UlsanOnline.com tries to help make the adjustment to a new city, new culture and new language just a little bit easier. The vast majority of newcomers appreciate our efforts and many have said so (and that’s a nice paycheck to the heart, thank you.) But occasionally someone takes umbrage with our being part of an “inner circle” as if we were anointed, appointed or otherwise ordained to some supreme council of know-it-alls, sitting on high-backed thrones, dispensing knowledge and generally being “in charge.”  We weren’t, I promise.

So, how did we get to this lofty position? We took it.  And the good news is that you can, too. In this article, the secrets are revealed of what you, with a positive can do attitude, can do to become your own “inner circle”, influence broker and all-around wise guy or gal about Ulsan and Korea in general.

But first, a little background is needed.

In 2004, a group of English teachers in Ulsan saw a need for a local newspaper to entertain and inform the foreigners of news and events in the city. A monthly newspaper, the Ulsan Pear, was thus born and began publication in April of 2004. Ulsanonline.com founder, Fin Madden, was one of those forwarding thinking individuals, as was  writer and photographer Jason Teale.  Current UO editor Deirdre Madden also contributed to ‘the Pear’. In its latter years, she was a driving force behind the paper. Even I contributed occasionally.  That endeavor  lasted for just a little over three years. Electronic copies of every one of the Ulsan Pear issues can still be found today on UlsanOnline.com in our Survival Guide. And there is still quite a bit of useful information stored in them.

As teachers come and go, so too, did the talent to keep ‘The Pear’ up and running. In June of 2007, the Ulsan Pear published its final edition.  That left a void in English language news and entertainment for foreigners in the city.

In an attempt to fill the hole left by the ‘Pear’,  in April of 2008 a Canadian businessman began publishing “The Korea Sun.”  This publication was a full glossy magazine with 32 pages of mostly excellent photography, but less than tolerable writing and almost non-existent ad sales.  There was no lack for finding interested writers and photographers, as many find seeing their names in print to be much more satisfying than something as fleeting as a webpage. However, because of the high quality paper stock and color printing, the costs to publish such a magazine required a lot of advertising to keep the price of the magazine free (or he’d have to charge you, the reader, to purchase a copy and we all know what cheapskates foreigners are). A lack of advertising money meant that  after only five  months of publication, the ‘Korea Sun’ had set, never to rise again, with the August 2008 issue being the final edition.

In November of 2008, co-founder of the “Ulsan Pear,”  Fin Madden, embarked on an endeavor to start a new, online publication in Ulsan. With a background in computer science and programming, and a long-running friendship with Fin, I readily agreed to help with the technical aspects of the site.  And in December 2008, UlsanOnline.com began publication. What started with a listing of bus routes, movie listings, restaurant reviews and few articles has grown into an enormous cache of information, news, events and all around useful stuff. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the large numbers of people who have contributed over the years. Far too many to list here, which is why we have a page that lists our authors, photographers and contributors.

In May of this year, UlsanOnline.com will have been in business for over three and a half years. Add to that just over three years of the Ulsan Pear, which several of us worked on. Both publications have  provided valuable information, news and reviews to the foreigner community since 2004. That makes us the longest running, independant English language publication in Ulsan’s history (FLIK magazine is fully funded and staffed by Hyundai).

And that brings us to the cautionary tale section of the article.  In addition to the normal business guidelines, such as defining and working your revenue stream like the ‘Korea Sun’ failed miserably at, there is a special note for (mostly) volunteer organizations such as UlsanOnline and the Ulsan Pear.  It’s called involvement.  Back in 2007 when the Ulsan Pear  stopped publishing, it wasn’t due to a lack of readership. In fact, just the opposite. Many of us looked forward to the week when the paper was printed and distributed around town at the various foreigner haunts. Ms Madden has relayed stories of how wonderful it was to walk into Benchwarmers on the night the Pear was delivered, to find reams of foreigners pouring over a fresh copy.  What killed the Pear was not a lack of readers but a lack of involvement on the front end. Not enough writers, photographers, ad sales people, etc. A good idea just faded into the past because people didn’t get involved.

UlsanOnline.com is run by (mostly) just a couple of people. We currently have the luxury of some talented writers and photographers who fill our pages with beautiful pictures, useful tips, reviews and news.  But all that could fade away. I don’t intend to stay in Korea forever. Teachers and engineers come and go. We can always use some help.

But this article is not merely limited to running newspapers, magazines and websites.  That’s just the ride I took. Your ride is likely different. Others with can do attitudes have started their own activities. Sports leagues, Drama clubs, workshops, study groups and many more have spring up over the years – it’s up to you.

Get involved. Become part of the “inner circle.”  We’ll save you a throne.

 

 

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