Preparing to go

As so often is the case, the thing that set the EPIK (English Program In Korea) apart from so many other international teaching options for me, was a personal reference. I’d spent weeks, scouring the web for opportunities. Chile, Argentina, Thailand, I considered several, more culturally appealing destinations, to no avail, before reconnecting with my old high school friend Wayne, over burritos in Austin. It was early April, and I’d been living in my childhood bedroom for two months. With no leads in the creative industry, and a persistent loathing of the corporate life, I found myself searching for opportunities abroad.

Wayne, a soon to be senior law student, certainly wasn’t looking to teach abroad, but he’d just recently spent a month in Seoul where his wife was stationed in the military, and he raved about the city in between bites of fried cod. “Hmm, Korea” I thought. It wasn’t at the forefront of my interests, and the political tension of the peninsula wasn’t exactly welcoming, but it was worth consideration. Before parting ways, he gave me the name of his friend who had just begun a contract with EPIK. It was through him, that I discovered “Reach to Teach”.

Based out of Taiwan, the California number that recruiter Jason called me from was a comforting sign. When dealing with international applications it’s nice to have a native speaker to help guide you through. The initial conversation was short, but I was sold. The deadline for submission for the Fall ’17 intake was April 14th, which left me just ten days to gather numerous documents, and enroll in a TEFL program, all of which was laid out for me by the recruiter. I immediately got to work.

Unlike the inquiries I’d made with other international programs, the process for application with EPIK seemed organized. And while the asks were lofty, especially under such a tight deadline, checking things off the list made me feel as if I were actually working toward something. For the first time in nearly a year since leaving my job in finance, I woke with purpose.

After submitting my documents on April 10th, I waited, for weeks, without word. It was during this time that I began my TEFL program. An online self-paced course through a British agency called “Global English”. The instructional material was primarily comprised of outdated video clips, and links to a few generic workbooks, and the assignments were more of the same. Heavily grammar based, with a strict British grading rubric, I found the course to be surprisingly difficult, yet at the same time, unhelpful in preparing me to teach abroad.

Nearly two full months had gone by when, on another hot night, as I laid down for bed, I received an email inviting me to schedule the interview. In the two weeks leading up to the interview, I finished my TEFL course, and printed my watermarked certificate from my home. I hadn’t learned much, but it was finished.

My heart raced, from the caffeine shot I’d ingested thirty minutes prior, acquired on that 1am trip to the convenience store, and from the overwhelming importance of the interview, that was about to take place. 1:27am, three minutes to go. I paced my room, sweating profusely, through my white shirt and wool pants, which weren’t even in frame on my webcam, but felt appropriate. I looked at my phone, it was 1:33, still nothing. After the months of waiting I’d already endured to this point, it was no surprise to me that the interviewer was late.

1:34 “Kim Lee would like to connect” the request flashed on the screen. I accepted. “Are you ready?” she typed. “Yes.” I said. Then she called. “Why Korea?” “Why teaching?”. She asked only a few of the many common questions that I’d prepared for, and then the screen went blank. Again, I was left waiting. I called my recruiter, Jason, and talked about how it went. The next two days were torture, as I pondered my answers obsessively, until another email came through. “Congratulations, you’ve successfully passed the EPIK interview” I didn’t even bother to read the rest, before finally allowing myself to sleep.

With that huge sense of relief, I again felt excited. Now mid-June, my departure to Korea was just two months away. I began researching Daejeon, my selected placement city, and mentally preparing myself to move abroad. I kept in touch with Jason, and with the John, the head of the recruiting agency, but as the calendar turned to July, I began to worry. On the EPIK Fall ’17 Facebook group, to which I’d been invited, I watched as entire groups of new teachers celebrated their placements. “Any day” Jason kept saying. And then, on that hot summer night, I received word that my departure had been delayed.

Originally viewed as a devastating blow, my delayed departure to Korea turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to experience my first seasonal job, and before I knew it, it was February. Despite being told that I would “be at the top of the list” given my situation, I was still far from first to officially receive my placement, which came in around December 20th. Before leaving, I visited a travel clinic for a few booster immunizations, and completed the mandatory online pre-orientation, and even attempted to study a bit of Korean. I’d say I wish I would have prepared better to teach, but then again, I never intended to take the job seriously, which goes back to my revelation that I was doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Aside from a miserably lengthy application process, which consisted primarily of waiting, and my unfortunate status of delayed, which stemmed from a last-minute submission, I found the program to be fairly organized, and welcoming. It was fueled by my own misconceptions that I began my journey in Korea, where the following stories took place.

Interested in Teaching with EPIK?

Reach to Teach Recuiting- The recruiting agency I used was fairly helpful in helping me organize my documents, especially in the beginning of the process. Jason, my main point of contact, was always positive, and helpful, but after my interview, John (the owner of the agency) became my main point of contact. As several other Reach to Teach applicants would later agree, John was not exactly friendly, and as the process stretched on, I began to dread my dealings with him. After finally arriving in Korea, where John met us at the hotel he insisted we book, and then took us out to what felt like a mandatory Korean BBQ dinner, that we paid for, I met people who were far happier with other agencies such as Korvia, and others that had applied directly to EPIK. While the initial help was welcomed, if I could do it all over again, I would apply directly to EPIK, for the most efficient process.

TEFL Certificate- To Teach English in Korea, you must have at least a 4 year degree from an accredited university, AND a TEFL certificate of at least 120hours (unless you have teacher’s certification). There are tons of TEFL options out there, with a wide variety of fees, ranging from around $100 to well over $1000, which can make the selection process difficult. But, as is so often true, you get what you pay for. My decision to go with the Global English “Teach Korea” program was primarily based on making my application more attractive to EPIK, rather than best preparing myself to teach. Currently priced at $236.25 (due to an odd conversion rate), this is a Korea specific budget course that should look good on your resume. That being said, as mentioned before, I found the course material to be dated, and the assessment process to be rather unhelpful. Teaching English in Korea is a serious job, and preparing yourself to do so is a worthy investment. Look for courses that offer in-class sections, and if you find yourself taking the easy route, you may want to consider if you really want to teach.

YouTube- Cedric and I were in the same orientation class, and we were both placed in Daejeon. Although we never did hold more than a casual conversation, it was through hearing him speak passionately about his desires to explore Korean culture, that I first began to seriously doubt my motives. His YouTube channel is an excellent resource for all things EPIK, and I highly encourage anyone who’s considering teaching abroad to binge first.