EPIK Orientation Fall 2016

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.

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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.

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views from the dorm room

They were given EPIK goodie bags and sent up to their rooms to get settled. The room was surprisingly nice for a university.

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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.

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a children’s choir sang as part of the opening ceremony on the first (full) day

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List of lectures:

  • Lesson Planning (Parts I and II)
  • English Comprehension
  • After School Classes & Camps
  • Elementary English Curriculum
  • Secondary English Curriculum
  • Co-teaching
  • EPIK Duty and Regulation
  • Storytelling
  • 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. 

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I’m sure these are the most interesting pictures for my fellow foodies (hi, Dad!). The food at orientation was pretty good — especially for a college campus! The above picture is an egg/chicken/rice cake soup which reminded me a lot of chicken & dumplings. 

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.

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The only time we got to “explore” Busan was on field trip day. I’ll definitely have to make a trip back one day!

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!)

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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.

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the campus where orientation was held (Busan University of Foreign Studies)

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.

 

EPIK timeline – Fall 2016 (first person)

Hello all! Popping in for a quick first person post so I can be informative to all you potential EPIK-ers out there! Or for those who are just curious about the EPIK application process! It’s a doozey.

Here is a timeline of all the major application milestones so far (all dates are 2016, duh!):

Jan 4: applied for CRC

Jan 5: asked for letters of recommendation via e-mail

Jan 7: started online TEFL course (this is the course I took)

Jan 30: finished online TEFL course

Jan 31: submitted application via e-mail (I had a timed e-mail ready to go out at 10am January 31st EST/12am February 1st KST)

Feb 8: EPIK says they are missing a letter of recommendation; frantically e-mail other professor asking what went wrong

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Feb 9: Professor sends out letter (I’ve had multiple panic attacks during this 24-hour period)

Feb 10: receive EPIK email telling me to chill out until March

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Mar 29: receive interview invitation! Interview set for April 5.

EPIK interview

April 4(5) 9pm my time, 10am theirs: my interview!

April 7: receive interview pass confirmation (e-mail snippets below)

“You have successfully passed the interview and we would like to recommend you to our Offices of Education as soon as you submitall the necessary documents. Remember, it is on a first-come first-served basis!

The final hiring decision is made by the Office of Education. If you are successfully placed, a contract and notice of appointment will be sent via FedEx to your mailing address.  Please keep in mind that we will only begin sending out contracts and notices of appointment starting sometime in mid to late-June at the earliest.”

April 12: request letter of expected graduation and transcripts from university (in my senior year of College at this time)

April 13: CRC arrives at my family home; pick up letter of expected graduation and transcripts from office of the registrar

April 18: NoVA transcripts arrive at my family home (from summer classes that went toward my degree)

April 19: Dad walks CRC into DC for apostille

April 25: Dad picks up CRC

April 26: Mom overnights CRC and NoVA transcripts to me at school

April 27: CRC arrives to me at school; post documents to Korea via FedEX; said to arrive Tuesday, May 5

May 2: documents arrive at EPIK office

May 15: Graduation!

May 16: get copies of diploma notarized, send them to office in Richmond for apostilles; order updated transcripts from university

May 23: apostilled diplomas arrive

May 24: updated transcripts arrive

May 29: coordinator says documents have been received and processed (mass e-mail); he says wait until mid to late June for placement [note here that my final documents were still yet to be sent]

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May 30: send final documents (diploma and transcripts) to EPIK via FedEx

June 14: receive successful placement for Daejeon! (I requested Seoul) Told to wait until mid-July for more information regarding visas and contracts.

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July 18th: contract and NOA arrive! My mom and I head into DC to apply for my visa. Receive information for online pre-orientation course.

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July 21st: I book my ticket online via Expedia (you shouldn’t book your ticket until you’ve received your visa, but Expedia gives a 24-hour cancellation period — the flight was such a good deal that I knew I had to book it right away!)

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July 22nd: my Mom and I pick up my visa in DC [note: the consulate assured me that E2 visa holders are required to have a single-entry visa upon first entering Korea. Once one receives the ARC (alien registration card) after settling in, the visa status can be updated to multiple entries.)

July 30th: Begin online pre-orientation

August 6th(ish): Finish online pre-orientation

August 16th: Leave for Korea!

August 18th: Arrive in Busan!

August 18th-26th: Orientation at Busan University of International Studies

August 26th: Arrive in Daejeon

August 29th: First day of teaching 🙂

 

How much does it cost to apply to EPIK? (first person)

For those that are thinking about applying, are in the application process, or for those who are simply curious, the following is a list of what I’ve spent in order to move to South Korea to teach for the EPIK program:

Online TEFL course: $360 (I used this course)

CRC (federal-level background check): $18 (information can be found here)

CRC apostille: $8 (information can be found here)

Diploma notarization: $5/each; $15 total (I got two — one for EPIK, one for the private school jobs I was applying for, and one extra; my bank was a pain, so I went to UPS and my main man hooked me up)

Diploma apostilles: $15 (I got two as I was in the process of applying for private school jobs as well; information for Virginia residents can be found here)

Passport photos: $20 (I printed quite a few at Wal-mart — for applications, visa, ARC card, and potential uses in Korea)

Documents over-nighted to Korea round 1: $98

Documents over-nighted to Korea round 2: $50

E-2 visa: $45

Flight (Washington DC to Busan, one-way): $549.70

TOTAL: $1,178.70

I feel very, VERY lucky that my parents have paid for pretty much all of my expenses regarding South Korea so far, and I’m well aware that many people don’t have that luxury. Also be aware that this list does not include all the toiletries, clothes, shoes, and luggage that I’ve purchased in preparation for my year (or more) abroad. All that included, and the total would be pushing $2,000. PLUS, EPIK recommends that you bring at least $1,000 (USD) for your first couple of months in Korea before receiving your first paycheck. Whoo! That’s a lot of green. I’m sure those of you who have been working for several years prior to applying will have an easier time (as compared to the recent college grad writing this that was a bit frivolous in spending her money during undergrad), but three grand is a lot of money for anyone.

I’m still very excited for my big move and I’m very appreciative of the EPIK program. I know I’ll make all  the money back (and more) after several months of teaching (with some left over to pay off my school loans!), but shelling out all this money (er…I mean, my parents shelling out all this money) up front makes my little heart hurt.