Teaching English in South Korea (through the EPIK program) - What to Expect Upon Arrival; The Orientation
Before Departing for South Korea
Before arriving, the EPIK coordinators will have sent you an information pack. It will give you important information, such as what to pack, what to expect from the course, where to meet people arriving, what to do if you haven't received you documents, etc etc.
This pack also includes a hand map of Seoul Incheon airport, which shows you where to meet the EPIK staff and possibly you agent upon arrival. Although this may change, for 2011 it was the last exit to the left, if you are facing out of the airport (the exits). There they had a full desk setup, staff organizing buses and a seating area to which you are directed to wait. Everyone is pretty friendly, as most are new and on their own, so are keen to make a few friends.
Arriving in Seoul
Arriving in Seoul airport is actually a very nice experience. South Korea is unbelievably modern and well organized. Although the airport is huge, it is well signposted and fully equipped.
Then when you have made it through immigration (don't forget copies/original papers as requested), you will meet the EPIK team. These guy and gals are great, their English is excellent and they are very experienced in dealing with foreigners that are tired, new to the country and a little confused. They will help with your questions, and so long as you arrived between the suggested times, they will get you on a free bus to take you to the university holding your orientation course. The bus stops for a break along the journey, is very comfortable and provides you with a great chance to see the unusual scenery of Korea ... if you manage to keep your eyes open after the flight!
The EPIK Orientation Course
Arriving at the center, there is a nervously excited atmosphere. Everyone is excited about this new experience, but most no little about this interesting country. Your bus will drop you to the entrance, where inside some tables are setup to welcome the new EPIK teachers. In the 2011 orientation, we all had to take a name card and sign in. We were then given a full welcome pack which included (but, not limited to) an EPIK towl, an EPIK mug, an EPIK alarm clock (very useful during the course), a guide to teaching in Korea (full of an AMAZING amount of information) and a full breakdown of you classes, rooms, timetable, map of the facility etc etc.
After you have this, you get to know your room numbers and have a couple of hours to settle in before the welcome ceremony. Rooms are not what you might be expecting. I was expecting very basic, possibly old rooms, as they are provided free of charge. However, I was over the moon with what I actually got. The room was very modern, actually it looked almost new. The furnishings were excellent quality, with everything you would expect from a decent hotel room. OK, you do have to share the room, but it is only 5-6 days, so no biggy. There was also unbelievably FAST cable and wireless internet throughout the university. I mean fast! It was performing with actual download speeds exceeding 7mb per second, when tested it was rated at a 64mbps connection!!
You'll also be happy to know, that although you are told to bring money for meals, most meals are actually put on for you. Most days you will get a free breakfast, lunch and dinner ... so it is only if you go out for dinner or drinks, that you will have to pay. However, if you do head out, check if there is a curfew. Some from our group got locked out, as they ignored the curfew ... which had been put in place due to ridiculous levels of drunkenness despite the heavy study program, which resulted in one person smashing their skull (way toooooo drunk!).
Although it is nice to have a drink some evenings and really helps you meet more people, remember that classes are pretty intense. Some days you will be in classes from 8/9am through to 8-10pm. In Korea they work and study hard and long hours, so to them this is an easy day. However, for most westerners ... this is a tiring schedule, let alone with a foggy hangover stuck on top!
During the main five days, you will learn all about etiquette, Korean culture, Korean history, teaching and how to enjoy your stay in Korea. The great thing about this course is that a large portion of it is taught by actual experience EPIK teachers (westerners that have been here for at least 1 year). This gives a very insightful, helpful and HONEST introduction to teaching here. Actually, it is the best introduction I have had to any country and some of the teaching tips will help you, no matter what your experience level.
After the course - Arriving at your school
When you finish the course, quite surprisingly there will be some sad goodbyes as you all add to different areas of Korea. It is actually quite strange how close you can become with people you have only known for five days, when you are thrown into such an intense and foreign situation. You will be told where you will be heading and assigned buses. The good news is, all you class mates will at least be heading to the same province, so should be reachable by bus or train. Then it's time to pack you bags, head to the buses and say your final goodbyes.
When you arrive, you most likely won't go directly to the school. However, they will send someone that speaks English to meet you from the bus, show you your apartment and help you get settled. Please remember that this person is most likely getting no extra money for this, so a present or meal will be much appreciated for their efforts. However, if you give gifts at the start, please remember that you must give the principal, vice principal, you co-teacher and then any other teachers. Another option is to wait until you have been there a month, then buy some cakes, treats or drinks for all the teachers at once.
Hope you go for it and enjoy the experience. Next I will cover living in Korea, but for now, some other hubs on Korea and teaching are here:
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