When 26-year-old An Gi Hyue moved from Seoul to Sejong City last year as part of the South Korean government's biggest relocation since the Korean War, it put a damper on her romantic life. Now, the state is offering help.
An joined more than 100 single public workers this week for a lecture by a romance counsellor hired by the government on how to fall in love in their new home, Sejong, a city of 100,000 about 120km south of the capital Seoul, where more than 10 million people live.
"Opportunities to meet men spontaneously have been reduced because Sejong is much smaller than Seoul," An said. "Blind dates would also be called off because I now live far from Seoul."
By the end of 2015 almost 14,000 government workers will have moved to the new city as part of an effort to develop the country's central region. Ensuring South Koreans find partners is also crucial in a nation with an aging population and one of the world's lowest fertility rates.
"It's one thing to build a city, it's another to build a community where people can interact and fall in love," Kim Hye Cheon, a professor of urban engineering at Mokwon University near Sejong, said. "Sejong is too young and would need another 10 to 20 years to nurture such a community. Programmes like the lecture could facilitate that process."
The one-day lecture in Sejong was titled Romantic Strategies and Communication Skills and was a follow-up to a group blind date organised for single officials in June, said Kim Na Na, an official from the government department set up to smooth the Sejong transition who organised Tuesday's talk.
"The event is also a chance for singles to meet each other," Kim said. "Many unmarried employees have complained of difficulties in dating while living in Sejong."
During the group blind date in June, 30 participants played match-making games involving romantic questions, including favorite dating places, and shared their common emotions as Sejong-based workers, said Lee Jae Mok, a professional romance coach who led the meeting.
"They looked stiff and uncomfortable at first, but once they broke the ice, they really enjoyed themselves, putting aside public servants' typical formalities," Lee said. "More than half of them walked away with partners."
Shifting a swath of the government to Sejong is part of a US$20 billion plan by one of President Park Geun Hye's predecessors, Roh Moo Hyun, and is the biggest relocation of public workers since the march of North Korean troops forced the government to flee Seoul at the onset of the 1950-53 Korean War.
An, who helps manage libraries and other government facilities in Sejong, said she found few men who attracted her during the event on Tuesday.
"Who knows, events like this could help open exchanges of words, which can then lead to relationships," said An, who especially liked a tip about how certain body gestures can send the right signals as well as wrong ones to potential partners.
The Sejong events aren't the first time the government has tried to lend a hand to civil servants struggling to find love. In 2010, the Welfare Ministry arranged group blind dates for employees, partly to combat falling fertility.
A year earlier the fertility rate - the average number of children a woman will have during her lifetime - slipped to 1.14, the lowest in three years, according to the national statistical office. That was one of the lowest figures in the world in 2009, World Bank data show. The country's fertility rate edged back to 1.3 at the end of last year.