Becoming a Certified Scuba Diver in Jeju South Korea

On the long list of things I never imagined myself doing, scuba diving was one of those things.

Sometime in college, or maybe it was shortly after, I gave up on dreaming. I thought if I could be successful as a costume designer, create a community around me in which I could be effect positively, and make enough money to live a modest life, that would be satisfying. Fast forward several years to me living in Arizona after leaving my toxic career stuck in another job where there was really no growth opportunity without someone investing in me, I hit a breaking point. Well, maybe more a moment of clarity and inspiration. After traveling solo to Mexico City, I decided the one thing that would make me happy if I never found love and I never had a fulfilling career was to travel.

From there, I started to really think about dreams I once had of but had given up on. The first thing I did was make a hiking goal. To Hike The Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. After almost entirely accomplishing (for a later blog) that feat, I was looking for the next challenge. After watching several travel vlogs, I remember how fascinated I was with Australia in elementary school and dreamed of swimming in the Great Barrier Reef. It was then that I decided scuba diving was my next challenge.

Then Covid came, and my hope to get my driving license was postponed for far in the future until my summer vacation plans fell apart. I moved to Korea in February of 2021 after moving across my cat and all the belongings I could fit in my Honda Civic across the United States from Arizona to Michigan the month before. To say the least, by the time my first opportunity to take vacation came around six months later, I was burnt out and struggling. Then My plans all fell apart. Friends canceled my plans; Korea was at the beginning of its 4th wave of covid with restrictions tightening around the country. It looked like I was going to cancel my vacation when a friend talked me back into it.

The moment I decided that my vacation was back on was when I decided to get my scuba license.

Jeju Island, 제주도, has been called Koreas Hawaii. It’s a large semi-tropical volcanic island between Korea and Japan. It is considered a hidden gem of the diving world partially because of the Sealife and coral that call the waters surrounding Jeju its home but because of its long history of women, Haenyeo 해녀, who fish offshore by free diving.

After calling several dive centers inquiring about their availability for teaching an Open Water Certification course (PADI certified), only one contacted me back. MJ with All Blu.

A Pile of nerves, I hopped on the bus from my hotel in Seogwipo 서귀포 and arrived 20 minutes later at All Blu dive center for my first-day training. I spent my whole initial day learning and practicing skills in a pool. The skills were everything from practicing swimming, bouncy, and trim to how to find your regulator (oxygen mouthpiece) when it gets nocked out of your mouth. To say the least, the first day was intense, and I was so exhausted I got sick as soon as I got back to the hotel room.

I’m not going to lie; I didn’t think I would make it through another two days after this first day of training. After sleeping, eating a bundles hamburger, and a mango milkshake, I message a good friend (one of the best) who had freediving experience and was getting her open water license. She reconvened me to get back in the next day.

Of course, I was overwhelmed on my first day. I may have some anxiety issues that I should be a therapist about that makes me hold my breath when nervous, which I was 90% of the time because I wasn’t good at diving. Plus, my class was three days compared to four and five days that most people got, which in retrospect was probably too much for someone who had never been snorkeling and hadn’t swum much in the past few years. The best advice my friend gave me that MJ, my instructor, confirmed the next day is that it can take a while to feel confident on the water. Bouncy is a complex skill, and the deeper in the water you go, the more effortless controlling buoyancy is. You just need more practice and more experience.

They were not wrong. Day two was a day of offshore diving with a waterfall into the ocean as a backdrop. I had such a fantastic time underwater. After hitting bottom, I had a moment of sheer panic, feeling like I needed to go up for air despite having an oxygen tank strapped to my back. But I reminded myself to breathe that I was safe, I had all the proper equipment I needed, and most importantly, I was a fearless queen who could do this. After that moment, my experience started to change. I began to have fun despite struggling to settle on the bottom. Go through all my skills again, this time in the ocean, was less frightening. With clam nerves during my second dive of the day, I started really seeing how much sea life was around me. My tunnel vision was lifting, and I was able to see a whole new world open up for me.

My two-morning dives were over by 1pm. I went back to my hotel, naped, and ate another greasy hamburger at the hotel before I opened my training manual to study all the ins and outs of diving. To my surprise, many things started to really click about bouncy breath after reading the manual, plus I got some great tips from a fellow Expat who came out with us on our boat dive off a nearby mini-island the next day.

Day three, I geared up onshore and hopped on a boat that took us 15 minutes out to our first diving spot. It was amazing! The feeling of being underwater and seeing coral and sea life is truly unforgettable. I was able to spot a giant Sand Dollar, a Starfish, and even squid. By the time we rested, changed air tanks, and went out for our second dive of the day, I was so much more relaxed. Finally, diving was getting easier. Although I was and am a long way from being proficient, I could see my progress. With several more dives and much practice, I know I’ll be good at this. Now that I have experienced life under the water, I want to go back and see more.

My last dive was truly magical. I was able to swim through boulders covered in coral; I saw an octopus and so many different kinds of fish it was beyond what I could hope for. After the dive, I went out to a celebratory dinner with a fellow expat where I had Hallabong Makgeolli 한라봉 막걸, black pork 제주흑돼, and fried fish. I was in heaven and ready to pass my written test and get my PADI certificate. Which I did! I am now a certified open water diver!

All diving photos above are Courtusy of MJ with All Blu Dive Center. She is an amaziging patient instructor and 10/10 would recommend

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