After making it through the easiest Customs process of her life, Carly stepped through the sliding glass doors into Gimhae International Airport, bangs sticking to her forehead, glasses sliding down her nose, with the biggest smile she had had in over 30 hours. She was finally in South Korea, land of kimchi and high-speed internet! Ignoring the stares and yelps from confused Koreans as she ran over their feet and bumped into their shins with her luggage trolley, she stumbled to the nearest set of open seats, unloaded her bags, and lay back in her chair to enjoy the Busan sun. It was 7am, and the fresh, clean air felt like an angel’s comforting hand compared to the stuffy Beijing airport. She kept an eye out for the other EPIK teachers she had met before boarding the final flight, but soon abandoned that task and audibly hooted with delight as she opened the settings on her phone and saw a message from God Himself: FREE WI-FI NETWORK AVAILABLE.
She opened Kakao and, without texting first, immediately called her Mom. Tears started to fall at the sound of Mother’s voice — she could finally say that she had arrived. As they drifted out of Customs one by one, she motioned to the other teachers she had met to join her, but she did not hang up the phone. She wasn’t sure when she’d have the chance to talk to her Mother during orientation and did not want to waste the precious (and fast!) gift of wi-fi she had just been given. Wanting to appreciate the first moments in a new country and/or not look like a typical millennial obsessed with the internet did not even occur to her. At that moment, the internet was, in its ability to connect her to what she needed most, life itself.
A phone call and several messages later, she started talking with the other teachers that had joined her. Many were going to different cities in Korea, but a few were placed in Daejeon like her, and she immediately began the first impression game, making predictions about who would take on which role in their orientation group and who she would remain friends with. The shuttles to take them to the orientation site wouldn’t arrive until 11am, so they had four hours to kill — un-showered and un-slept in their sweaty, smelly plane clothes.
But the four hours passed surprisingly quickly as more and more EPIK teachers began to fill the tiny airport. Soon, over 100 teachers had taken over half of the available lobby space. Carly mostly stayed in the seat she had first claimed, but occasionally wandered among the other teachers to introduce herself and exchange travel stories. She eventually made her way to the bathroom to sponge bathe, change, and put on a bearable amount of makeup, and was delighted when, after returning to her seat, she saw that an EPIK staff member had arrived while she was gone.
Soon enough she was boarding the bus to the orientation site and pulling into Busan University of Foreign Studies.
She sighed with relief when the staff announced that roommates would be assigned randomly by order of arrival. Of course this made the most sense, but the insecure middle schooler that still lived inside her was terrified of all the other female teachers pairing up before she had the chance to meet someone. She could picture herself having to raise an awkward hand to say, rather, announce, to the whole of orientation that she didn’t have a roommate. An irrational, and dramatic, fear, especially among other adults, yes. But FOMO was hard to avoid no matter what age or situation.
They were given EPIK goodie bags and sent up to their rooms to get settled. The room was surprisingly nice for a university.
Small, yes, but incredibly clean, modern, and well-kept. She had flashbacks of her University dorms and cringed at the memories of cockroaches, broken floor tiles, and life-threatening mold. (This is not a joke).
The first day was devoted to rest, and the next eight were jam-packed with lectures and activities meant to prepare the future (and current) teachers for life in their respective cities and life as an educator in South Korea.
List of lectures:
- Lesson Planning (Parts I and II)
- English Comprehension
- After School Classes & Camps
- Elementary English Curriculum
- Secondary English Curriculum
- EPIK Duty and Regulation
- Cooperative Learning
- Teaching Students with Special Needs
- Korean Language and Korea Today
> As you may or may not know, the orientation also included a full day of lesson plan presentations. Each EPIK teacher was paired up and given a Korean ESL textbook excerpt with which they had to plan a 15-minute lesson.
The orientation included a “cultural experience” — a day of field trips that actually turned out to be incredibly fun and educational (and were also good break from the monotony of lectures) On the morning of the third day of orientation, they visited the UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, which was beautiful, humbling, and heartbreaking. Carly did not feel comfortable taking pictures at a cemetery, so none are included here.
In the afternoon, they visited the Busan National Gugak Center for a traditional music and dance performance — absolutely incredible! The stage and costumes were unimaginably detailed, transporting one to the court of the Joseon dynasty. (I’d highly recommend going to the local Gugak Center in whichever Korean city you visit if you get a chance!)
While many of the lectures were helpful, both for easing the anxiety of teaching and of living in a new country, the orientation probably could’ve been condensed to five days. A lot of Carly’s time felt wasted by too-long and too-boring lectures. The experience itself was an amazing time to meet new friends and was a solid buffer in her transition from foreigner to permanent resident, but busy work and too much down time seemed like a bit of a waste.
On the final day of orientation, they were divided by city and introduced to representatives from their respective MOE’s (Metropolitan Office of Education), where each teacher placed in Daejeon was ushered into a classroom and given an envelope with the information about the school in which he/she had been placed. Carly completely disregarded the instructions from her city representative (also known as her …. boss) and immediately flipped through the envelope to find out the name, location, size, and details about her school. This is when Carly discovered that she would be teaching in a (drum roll, please!) middle school!
After signing several contracts and sitting through Daejeon-specific powerpoints about school life and expectations, Carly and her new friends enjoyed a final dinner together in the university’s dining hall before heading back to the dorm to pack, clean, and sleep in preparation for their early morning departure (6:30am).
The next morning, she exchanged a final hug and farewell with her roommate, commenting about how fast the week had went. They promised to keep in touch (her roommate was placed in Gwangju) and exchanged information, for they had someone failed to do so throughout the whirlwind of orientation. She (semi-successfully) maneuvered her three over-size bags down to the lobby to sign out and line up for the bus. Dressed in business-casual attire, she exchanged nervous smiles with her fellow Daejeon EPIK teachers and mentally prepared herself for what was next: the meeting of her co-teacher.