September and October were utterly exhausting. Every single weekend I was busy. I attended a co-workers’ wedding (which was gorgeous and the food was delicious), I went to Gyeongju, visited Suwon, volunteered for a Korvia party, took my branch school students to Seoul for a field trip, saw beautiful art, and ended everything with a surprise 6 days in Bundang for EPIK training. The surprise being that technically I’m not EPIK but GEPIK.
Here’s a quick note for people who are confused. EPIK (English Program in Korea) and GEPIK (Gyeongii English Program in Korea) are some of the English programs in Korea for public schools. They are governmentally funded and invite teachers from 7 different countries to work in the Korean public school system from elementary through high school (usually) to teach English to Korean students as a second language. GEPIK however is dying out. Due to budget cuts and a change in policy GEPIK positions are being eaten by EPIK which then displaces GEPIK teachers.
At first Nathalie, who had to go as well, and I were a bit confused. We assumed that maybe due to the change EPIK was prepping by making all the GEPIK teachers receive the same training our EPIK counterparts get. But it just felt strange due to timing and we thought maybe it was going to just be a small group of GEPIK teachers who have been in Korea 2 years or less. This thought coming from my coteacher asking me how long I’ve been here before telling me about the training I had to attend, with equal confusion as we tried to prepare lesson plans for my absence. This hypothesis was backed up by the fact the native english teacher at my school’s middle school didn’t have to attend seeing as he’s taught in Korea for longer.
Our EPIK training was broken up into 3 segments. A pre-orientation, the 6 days actual in person training, and an after training. The pre-orientation felt like a joke. Since we were under the impression that it was for GEPIK teacher’s who’d been in the country over a year or so a lot of the pre-orientation was things we had already lived through. What to do when you arrive in Korea, an explanation of what to bring to Korea, a break down of a Korean school, how to set up your bank account, ect. It felt like they had thrown their welcome packet at us without adjusting anything for the fact we weren’t new. It didn’t help that the site was buggy and I found myself having to re-do lessons that were half an hour-long again and again because despite getting a perfect score.
The pre-orientation would have been super useful before I arrived in Korea, if GEPIK had included them. A better understanding of my program, some day in the life videos and sample lesson planning I’m sure would have calmed my rather frazzled psyche before I left. They even had Talk to Me in Korean do a couple “survival korean” lessons which were great, too few, and went by too fast. I can understand why EPIK would want everyone to start on the same page. With GEPIK I didn’t receive that kind of information, and was only lucky to receive the information I did by going through my recruitment agency, Korvia.
Timing for EPIK training wasn’t great. Friday through the following Wednesday thus squeezing it in between work and not giving us a break. It was not fun to try to fix the schedule, let alone try and explain to my panicking students that I would indeed be back. The lack of a weekend was exhausting, this mixed with being greeted on check-in day by unorganization and miscommunication started me off with low expectations for the training. We’d been given our schedule after check in which started about 3 hours later than we’d been told to arrive. Luckily Nathalie and I managed to end up in the same room, quickly unpacked and headed off to class meetings where we learned most of our hypothesis were wrong.
Our EPIK orientation was an outlier. They are usually for newbies, and to our surprise as I talked to people at dinner, several had just gotten off a plane. I also met people who’d been here upward of 9 years. It was a hodgepodge of people from all over the world, who were living all over Korea and some of whom didn’t know where they’d be living yet. It was also a shortened version of the usual training EPIK provides, and that was strongly felt in our rigid schedule. Breakfast began at 7:50 am, classes began shortly after and continued until about 8:30 at night, after which curfew was at 11pm. Not a lot of time for networking and meeting new people. But also not a lot of time to get wasted and possibly do something to embarrass your home country let alone worthy of losing your visa. They had given us rules, strict rules to be on time, that we couldn’t miss anything without a note from the nurse, and no drinking.
Despite rooming together and both being in GEPIK Nathalie and I barely saw one another. She was placed in another class I assume due to teaching middle school while I teach elementary, but she also drew a different crowd. Her youtube channel pulled in subscribers and that in turn caused her nights and free time to be vastly different from my own. While she went to noribangs with people on the first night, I took new people to a nearby 711 to get them T-money cards and introduced them to Daiso (decent quality dollar store) and Olive Young (foreign bath and body products and snacks). To say I went into RA mode is probably a understatement.
The tight schedule mixed with having to work together to create a lesson plan was exhausting. The stress of this looming “Your visa is at stake” type of warning we’d received in our e-mail before hand was unbearable. Yet a lot of people tended to ignore it. We were given lectures on the history of Korea, culture, lesson planning, storytelling, teaching, co-teaching, the curriculum, and so many other things that were surprisingly great. Every lecture class I had to attend I enjoyed. This might have just been my school loving nerdyness, I did show up early to every lecture with a cute pencil-case filled with pencils and pens and a note-book specifically for this training. But I wasn’t alone. Many of my classmates spoke highly of the lectures. Meeting people who’ve been here for 15 years and hearing them talk about how much they love it here did wonders.
It wasn’t just lectures either. They filled our time with cultural events. The classes opened with a performance by a B-boy group, The Gamblerz Crew and closed with NANTA.
We also visited Gyeongbokgung Palce which was the second weekend in a row for me, and had dinner in Insadong, the poor women working there running holding hot plates of food and shouting in Korean for people to stay out-of-the-way while we tried to figure out where we were suppose to sit.
I ate delicious bibimbap before going off to see that Insadong isn’t very busy on rainy nights in the middle of the week. It was practically a ghost town. The only thing I really did was join Nathalie at a traditional tea house for tea snacks and tea.
We also learned Arirang 아리랑, or tried to learn it when someone realized we had a free period and it was exchanged for the singing lesson last-minute much to everyone’s chagrin. Even this had been fun and got the traditional song stuck in my head for most of the day.
By the end of training I was pretty content. Exhausted, but content. I had enjoyed it, learned a lot, met some cool people from all over the world. It was really nice to see that EPIK tries to make sure their teachers aren’t just thrown in the deep end and hope they can swim. They’re given a chance to learn different tools to help them succeed and to combat culture shock. It was pretty nice for my first training session, plus there was tons of free food. Even after the ending ceremony they made sure everyone would get to where they needed to go and would go there with hot sandwiches.
Useful notes to anyone attending an EPIK orientation/training:
- Do your 15 hours of pre-training and print out the file before hand.
- Bring at least one nice outfit for the final day when you meet with the people who will be in charge of you/when you have to present your lesson.
- If you know how to say hello and can read some hangul go for intermediate korean, beginner and intermediate were almost exactly the same but intermediate focused less on hello. If you want to sing and dance instead sign up for the kpop class.
- You’ve got the world’s greatest ice breaker and starter questions, go meet new people and get their contact info. You’ll feel less alone in Korea if you’ve got people you know in the country.
- Get some rest. Or after camp you’ll probably get sick. Like me.
- Use the time to do basic things like get your transit pass at a local convenience store.
- Make the most of your free provided meals. Save your money.
- The yogurt at breakfast is probably mayonnaise. Even if it’s pink.
- Ask questions, either from the staff or people who’ve been here longer than you. Even if it’s only been a couple of months.
- Be on time. If everything starts on time you’ll be able to hear more from the lecturers who are bursting with helpful resources and information.
- Try to have fun. It’s the start of a new adventure.
- Be patient.
- Be prepared for extra online training afterwards. 15 more hours probably with a test afterwards.