Returning Aberdeen winger Niall McGinn admits he has no regrets after his South Korean adventure ended prematurely.
Northern Ireland cap McGinn rejected the offer of a new Dons deal at the end of last season and eventually signed for Gwangju.
He was the first Irishman to sign for a South Korean side and in retrospect admits it was a brave step into the unknown.
After just four months, McGinn terminated his contract by mutual consent following the South Koreans’ relegation and change of manager.
That opened up the way for a quick-fire Dons return as boss Derek McInnes, who had remained in contact, moved swiftly to secure the free agent.
McGinn, 30, returned to Pittodrie just seven months after he left, having penned a three-and-a-half year contract until summer 2021.
He admits the football side didn’t go to plan at Gwangju but the whole South Korean experience was worth the gamble.
McGinn said: “I have no regrets about moving to South Korea as it was a new experience and a new challenge.
“To just go and experience a new culture and new surroundings was great. The way the players in South Korea trained and looked after themselves was incredible.
“It is an experience I am thankful I did and one I am 100% sure will stand me in good stead coming back to Aberdeen.”
Hibs, Hearts and MK Dons were keen on landing McGinn but the pull of Pittodrie and the Granite City were strong.
A world away from the north-east of Scotland, Gwangju played home games at a 40,250-capacity stadium built for the 2002 World Cup.
With a population of close to 1.5 million, Gwangju is the sixth largest city in South Korea. During his time in Asia McGinn had an interpreter, named Tim, who helped him integrate with the language and culture.
He said: “It was probably a brave move from myself.
“People I have talked to about me going to South Korea have said it was a bold move but when the opportunity came I wanted to take it.
“For the Gwangju club president to fly all the way from South Korea to Belfast to meet me in person was obviously massive for me.
“That just showed how big of an interest it was.
“It was a great experience although on the football side of things it didn’t work out the way I would have liked.
“I was playing catch-up when I signed half way through the season and they were round about the bottom of the league. Gwangju ended up being relegated and had a change of manager.
“The facilities and stadiums I played at were top drawer as they were all built for the 2002 world cup.
“All in all, regardless of the football side of things, it was an unbelievable experience.”
Gwangju is 350 miles from the border with North Korea. In the last 12 months, North Korea has tested powerful nuclear weapons.
In response, President Trump has threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, with “fire and fury like the world has never seen”.
Earlier this week the South Korean Defence Ministry confirmed it was creating a new bureau dedicated to monitoring and countering the threat from North Korea.
Was McGinn conscious of that increasing tension, and did he see any fear within the South Koreans?
“It was one of those situations I probably heard more about when I was home and I could speak the language,” he said.
“It was a little more difficult over there.
“Regarding the South Koreans it has been the normality for them for so many years. Seoul is the capital of South Korea and is probably one of the safest places in the world.
“North Korea have their own interests but it’s something that didn’t bother me when I was out there.”
McGinn exited Pittodrie after the 2-1 Scottish Cup final loss to Celtic and will make his competitive return in the same tournament against St Mirren on Saturday, January 20.
He said: “It seems like only yesterday since I was last at Aberdeen. I am delighted to be back at the club.
“It was easy for me to come walking back in and see familiar faces, the manager again and the players.
“When I saw everyone again it was a strange feeling, but a nice feeling.
“After only being away for six months, to see everyone so soon again was good.
“I loved coming back in and getting everything done and dusted – it has been great. It will be great to play in front of the Aberdeen fans again as they have been brilliant.
“Since the very first day when I came through the door at Pittodrie the fans have been unbelievable to me.
“Even when I left they were fine and the stuff on social media has been very, very positive.
“So hopefully me coming back here will put a lot of smiles back on their faces.”
McGinn is set to make his first appearance in a red shirt in a closed doors friendly against Uzbekistan side Lokomotiv Tashkent FK during the winter training camp in Dubai.
The friendly is scheduled for Sunday, January 14, at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence.
“It is just a case of getting that match fitness up for me,” he said.