It’s been a very long road, friends and neighbors, but I can finally say–I’ve done it! I have been safely settling myself into my new job/town/life in South Korea for the past 2 weeks or so, and it’s such a relief to finally be here doing what I’ve been working towards for like 10 months.
Here’s a quick one of some fellow teachers and I at the Jinhae Cherry Blossom festival. ❤ I’ll try to post some more pictures up soon!
Anyway, I realize this blog is SUPPOSED to be about writing, and not all of you are terribly interested in the whole Korea thing. I get it, and I appreciate your patience while I switch my life up, ha ha. It is definitely my intention to get back to my writing/editing/blogging endeavors as soon as I get over this cold that I’ve had for about a week and a half, and feel more secure in my new job.
But, for anyone who IS interested in the whole ordeal, and may be interested in making a similar move… This is a post I just wanted to write for you.
1. How did I get interested in this in the first place?
A girl that I worked with at Macy’s the first year I was there had taught English in Japan. She told me about the experience, which I was understandably fascinated by, as I have an interest in Asian cultures and have been to Japan myself. I was expressing a lack of direction in my life and not sure what I wanted to do beyond Macy’s, even though I was graduated. Friend told me I should consider teaching English abroad, something I had never considered. ‘Surely you have to be able to speak the language/have a teaching degree?’ I said, but the answers were no. The wheels were turning.
Shortly after, I started watching Boys Over Flowers again; a Korean drama that I had started some time before. I’d heard about it because it was based on a Japanese manga that I had read. Then I discovered that fellow blogging/writing enthusiast and my friend here, Michelle, had ALSO been to teach abroad… In Korea. At the same time, I was remembering that a girl I met in college who graduated a year ahead of me had also said something once about going to teach in Korea. At the time I was preoccupied by my upcoming Ireland internship. But suddenly this wasn’t just an idea. It was a thing people–a lot of people I knew–had done.
So I googled it, like you do with strange new ideas. I found the website that Michelle had gone through.
I sent them an e-mail, and before I knew it, I had a recruiter. This was a thing I could do.
2. How was the recruiter experience?
Let me be clear–you don’t NEED a recruiter to apply to EPIK. Actually, EPIK isn’t even going through recruiters right now–that could change in the future, or it might not. And it’s faster to go through EPIK directly–obviously, ha ha. But I wasn’t totally sure what I was doing, and I liked the idea of going through the same people that Michelle had. Not to mention, if EPIK hadn’t worked out, they had more options of private teaching jobs through Hagwons, etc.
My recruiters were pretty awesome. I have no complaints. They responded promptly, helped me with questions, gave me a very all-inclusive packet to follow to get my paperwork on time, and at the end they arranged my flight/had someone meet us at the airport. The process of applying to them wasn’t too difficult. It does require an interview to be represented, but it was a nice interview, and obviously they want to know if you’re even someone they can rep!
That being said, as I mentioned, right now EPIK does not go through recruiters anymore. But, if you’re interested in GEPIK or Jeollanamdo, or maybe a Hagwon, I would recommend my recruiters–Canadian Connection. (CanconX.) But there are a lot of them. Korvia, which several people I met later on went through, also seems popular. I really recommend a reputable recruiter if you want a hagwon job, though. It’s easy to get scammed/abused by hagwon owners, since they are businesses. Be careful!
3. What was the process of applying to EPIK like?
LONG. Long and hard, ha ha. With periods of hurry-hurry-hurry, followed by being unable to do anything but wait. I’m sure that’s not everyone’s experience, and if I were to do it again, I would do a LOT of things differently. But as long as you have good time management, you’ll probably be fine. Just be aware of deadlines, and how long everything takes–usually weeks longer than you anticipate.
AND IT’S EXPENSIVE! I had no idea how pricey it would be when I started, getting all of the documents, getting them notarized/apostilled, and getting them shipped here and there. Not to mention my online TEFL course, which is quickly becoming required for any kind of ESL teaching job abroad. It all adds up.
If you decide to go through EPIK, or GEPIK, or the Jeolla program, they all have similar paperwork requirements. That’s because those are kind of the main things any place overseas needs to know about you in order to ascertain you are not some crazy psycho, have been to college, and are worth hiring. Then there’s the paperwork you need for a Visa, which is required to be in a foreign country for any length of time.
You have to apply for all of these things, and they will be accompanied by so much technical jargon your brain will feel like it’s melting out of your ears. You will re-read the same paragraph on the IRS website so many times your eyes feel like they will fall out of your head. And you will be biting your nails in front of your mailbox, praying that your background check arrives today because you have roughly a week to get it to DC and back, then off to the recruiter in order to make your deadline.
Okay, that last part was just me. But really though. For me, I needed: 4 passport photos. An FBI background check (apostilled). (I applied for one through the FBI main headquarters. That was my mistake. It took them about 5 months. I ended up paying $150 to get my background check done in 1 day at a channeling agency. I could have gone through them for less money and still gotten my background check faster, but at that point I didn’t have time.) Fingerprints for the background check. A notarized copy of my college degree. Transcripts from my college, sealed. A completed EPIK application, with personal essay and sample lesson plan. Proof of my TEFL course completion. (120 hour minimum.)
There’s a lot of stuff you need once you’re here, too, and a tax paper from the IRS stating that you lived and payed taxes in the US. (That I’m STILL waiting on, months later.)
And don’t forget that EPIK interview! I found mine wasn’t quite as awful as I had built it up to be in my mind, but it was still rather stressful. I definitely sounded like an idiot–thank goodness the guy interviewing me took pity on me, ha ha! You just have to be natural. Let them know why you want to do this, that you know a bit about Korea in advance, that you have enthusiasm, and that you’re willing to try hard. What more can they ask for?
In the end, I barely made it. I wasn’t in time for the original cut off, so my recruiter held my paperwork while we tried to figure out what to do. I interviewed for a hagwon position in Seoul that I was nervous about, since I really wanted to work in the public school system. Then, as we were waiting for GEPIK applications, EPIK told us that I was on the waiting list and would get a position. Like I said, it was a constant game of hurrying to complete things, and then just having to wait for them to tell me what the next step was, whether I was in or not.
4. What happened once you knew?
After hearing that I had made it to EPIK after all, things went very quickly. I found out at the beginning of March. I was in Korea by the end of March. After 8-9 months of working towards it, the actual event happened very quickly, and it was still a lot of paperwork to the bitter end.
At that point, I get sent my contract, which I had to look over and sign. Then I sent that, with my letter of appointment and some other documents, to the Korean consulate in Chicago with my passport to get my visa. The visa is important–you can’t work legally without having one!! A lot of hagwon jobs will try to hire you without you having a proper visa first, and do things called ‘visa runs’, where you have to leave the country and go to Japan to get your visa after you’ve already been here teaching. THAT’S NOT OK!!
Anyway, so there I was. I knew I had a job somewhere in Gyeongsangnam, but that was the most I found out. I wouldn’t know the exact school/city/county until I was there. Canadian Connection arranged my flight, and I booked a hotel, since I was doing a night layover in Incheon. The only thing left to do was pack for a year, and to start trying to make contacts with other people who were doing the same crazy thing as me.
Facebook is, on more than one occasion, a God-send.
And there was a lot to think about, like what I was going to do about a phone, or if I had enough socks. You know. Details.
5. What are the particulars of your job with EPIK?
Here’s the deets to my job: You get paid according to your experience and degree type. I have a degree in an English-related subject, so I get paid a little more. About 2000$, or 2,200,000 won a month. I work 40 hours a week, but only 22 of those hours are teaching hours. The rest are desk-warming, or basically working on lessons, etc. If they want me to teach more, they have to pay overtime. But since I only have 15 lessons a week, they supplement that by having me do after-school classes–I also teach 4 conversation classes and 2 essay classes a week.
You get a free apartment. It could be a studio, it might have some rooms, you never know. But you’re guaranteed free housing. It will also come with certain things–a bed, a desk, a chair, a TV, a fridge, a stovetop, a washer, etc. You pay for the utilities, phone bill, internet, etc. But still, good deal, right?
Schools can require you to teach at multiple schools, and teach multiple grades. Luckily I don’t–I only teach at one middle school–but they’re allowed. If you teach at multiple schools, they’ll pay you extra to get from one to another. Also, if you work in a rural area, your pay gets a little hike.
This is not a vacation. It’s a job, pure and simple. But it’s a really interesting job, in a foreign country.
6. Is it very different, living in South Korea?
Yes and no. I’ve been to other countries, so I’m kind of used to adapting to new environments. Every country has its quirks. Granted, I’ve only ever been to what people would consider ‘developed’ countries, but if you’re planning to come to South Korea, here’s a little of what you can expect.
Yes, some people still eat dogs here. It’s a thing, especially with older people. You just have to grit your teeth and bear it. Nobody is making you eat it. Kimchi, or fermented spicy cabbage, is the national dish. You eat it with everything, like rice. You should probably have an adventurous palate too, although it’s not a total deal-breaker. They don’t really flush toilet paper here. That one is a bit hard to get used to. The sewer system isn’t really set up to take it, so it’s usually thrown in a wastebasket next to the toilet. Spitting on the streets/sidewalks is a thing, especially for older guys. You can drink in public here, and South Koreans LOVE to drink. Take things with 2 hands. Pour with two hands. Respect your elders. The beds will probably be as hard as rocks. Get used to having no idea what’s going on around you. You’re going to get pummeled riding on the bus, and probably miss your stop. A lot. The public transportation system is much more active in Korea than in the States. Kids are kids, no matter what country they’re from. There’s a convenience store on every single corner. Motorists of all sorts WILL try to kill you–it’s nothing personal. Getting naked together at the public bathhouse is a thing. Online banking is a horrible and exhausting experience. Pads will cost you an arm and a leg, and don’t even think about tampons. Clothing is cheap and plentiful… as long as you’re a one-size-fits-all, and that size is a 4. Get ready to do more recycling than you’ve ever done in your life, or the apartment ahjumma is going to have a fit. Eating by yourself isn’t just something for sad people here, it’s just something you don’t do–like, especially at dinner places, you’re literally not going to get seated. Make some friends, stat.
I’ve got a million more, and I’m sure I’ll have more than that before long.
SO. That’s it, my journey here in a nutshell. There were a lot of tears, some of which came from me–a lot of which came from my mother. There were times, a hundred, where I wondered if it could possibly be worth the hassle of getting everything together, of paying another exorbitant shipping fee or losing my package somewhere in Wisconsin. To get here I spent hours trying to learn what little Korean I could get to stick, watching fifty-billion dramas and trying to meet people ahead of time.
Korea will probably, in the next year, test everything I know about myself, and things that I don’t know. It will make me grow up and learn to manage myself, to manage my money, to be more social, to make friends. It will show me whether or not teaching is something I should be doing, how I feel about kids, how I feel about a strange new society. I hope it will be an adventure, but even more, I hope that it will be the first step of a life. I’m not sitting on the sidelines waiting for something to happen anymore.
This is it. THIS is what I’ve been working for.
So I’m going to enjoy every second of it.
Until next time, when I promise I will get back to our regularly-schedule program! Please stay well, my dear readers. Coming at you live from South Korea, yours truly,