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My reasons to go to haenyeo school (as a man), Jeju, South Korea

27 September 2008 No Comment

guy classmates in my school. It is a woman. It can swim and dive very well under the sea. It catches shells, seaweed, and octopi. What is it? You may be thinking a mermaid, but, from the perspective of a Jejuite, it is actually a haenyeo.

Haenyeo is a word that literally means “sea women”. These women dive to catch turban shells, ear shells, and other marine goodies without the aid of underwater breathing apparatuses. They have a very unique job that is native only to Korea and some regions of Japan, though haenyeo originate from Jeju Island.

I am a SCUBA diving instructor. (It is not my job, but I do it as a hobby.) I like free-diving without equipment. Have you ever watched “Le Grand Bleu”? When I was a teenager, I watched this movie. I was very impressed by the diving of the free-divers in this movie, so I became interested in and have enjoyed free diving ever since.

A new record in the world of free-diving was set by Gianluca Genoni who went 74 meters deep without any equipment and held his breath for 7 minutes and 48 seconds. I have admired his record and have since tried to match it. My personal best thus far is 5 minutes underwater without coming up for air.

One day, I watched a documentary program about the haenyeo on television. These ladies, on average, hold their breath for 2 minutes and go for depths of 5 to 20 meters to work. They look so much like my mother or grandmother that it shocked me. I felt then that my experience wasn’t as special as I had originally thought it to be. These women dive for their children, their husbands, and their families for a living. While Gianluca Genoni may hold the world record for holding his breath underwater, he still finds himself short of breath from time to time when dealing with the livelihood of his everyday family life. I’m not sure which is more painful, but I believe the haenyeo to the real free-divers. So, I decided that I wanted to learn how to dive like a haenyeo.

One day, I saw news about the opening of a haenyeo school here on the island. I decided to apply to the school. I did not meet the number one condition of being a haenyeo simply because I am a man. Regardless, I sent them my application along with my essay that outlined my passion to attend school there and my plans upon completion of my underwater education. Luckily, they granted me admission. I was so happy that I immediately reserved 17 round-trip tickets between Seoul and Jeju for the seventeen week course.


My school only holds classes on Fridays, but they are free, and the school provides the diving equipment. We have 34 students—31 women and 3 men, and the school is opened to everyone—men, women, and foreigners alike, just as long as they are healthy. There is a principal, just like regular school, but our instructor is an actual experienced haenyeo who teaches us directly from the sea. If you’re healthy and passionate, you are more than welcome to attend the haenyeo school and gain some of the unique hands-on experience.

I am now almost finished with the 17-week course that began in May. I will have a graduation ceremony coming up. I appreciate the school which has offered me many chances to learn a lot about the underwater world. I have also learned a lot about Jeju and can’t help but love it now. From my experience, I hope that I can extend this cultural value to others and keep the haenyeo torch burning for many generations to come.


There are two kinds of classes at the school:

Haenyeo training course :
Every Friday for 17 weeks 2:30PM ~ 5:00PM.

Experience course:
At any time the guest can come (please telephone first). Telephone or email Lee Han Yeong: 016-345-1665, guard815@naver.com. Related web sites: http://cafe.daum.net/jejudiver/

Email :
011-690-7928 (Hallim-eup public servant). moontwo4@hanmail.net (Hallim-eup public servant) President : IM, MYUNG HO

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