EPIK Program, EPIK Teacher, Jeju Island, Uncategorized

Jeju Island: The Cons

WHAT ARE THE CONS TO LIVING ON JEJU FOR THE NEW EPIK ENGLISH TEACHER?
Are you considering teaching on Jeju Island? Are you worried about the housing options? Well, you should be. I taught on Jeju and lived in two different EPIK Jeju POE housing accommodations during my two terms. Neither of them were that great, but while the free housing accommodations that EPIK provided me was one of the hardest pills for me to swallow, there are additional reasons why I would not teach on Jeju Island again. Here are my top 5 reasons why I would not choose Jeju Island.

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  1. Jeju Island is incredibly humid. While this can be great for your skin, it can mean throwing out some comfortable sneakers that got wet in the rain or having to wait on those bed sheets you washed two days ago that still haven’t dried. Because the climate on Jeju is very humid, a lot of mold can build up very quickly. Regular exposure to mold is terrible for the health and especially intoxicating for those with mold allergies or asthma. Mold spores produce mycotoxins which can affect people in many different ways. Mycotoxins can cause an infection in the lungs and trigger the immune system to defend the body by attacking the lungs causing pneumonia or inflammation in the lungs. Fungal infections can also cause skin irritations or damage to the central nervous system.
    Humidity Induced Asthma
    I’m from California where the climate is pretty dry, so I had no idea my lungs would have an allergic reaction to the humidity on Jeju. Yes, apparently that’s a real thing. Asthma can be triggered by humidity. Strange? Yes, I thought the exact same thing. Coupled with the mold and abundance of cigarette smoke, my asthma became severe and persistent. If you have any form of asthma, I suggest checking with your doctor to find out if you may be at risk for humidity induced allergic asthma.
  2. There is not a lot of government funding for EPIK on Jeju. This means that they do not take the time to thoroughly clean, upgrade, or remodel the already very limited housing accommodations. If you want to live comfortably, you should expect to do a lot of cleaning yourself the first couple days or consider hiring professional cleaners. Also, don’t expect all your appliances to work upon arrival. You will more than likely need to put in a work order for at least one of your 2004 or 2008 appliances (washer, fridge, microwave).
  3. Jeju Island has tons of bugs in the warmer months.  Before living in Korea, I did my best to avoid getting bitten, because who knows what kinds of bacteria or viruses those buggers are carrying. This was easy in California. Indoors, we have the ants and spiders in the summer. At night, we get crickets and sometimes cockroaches. Outdoors, there would be bees or mosquitos (if you were in the more damp areas of California). I would get the occasional spider bite here and there, but those were tolerable. If you are planning to live on Jeju, expect to make a lot of bug frenemies. They have everything from winged fire ants,  I’m convinced that Jeju Island has the biggest mosquitos! I averaged 10 mosquito bites a week while wearing long sleeves and leggings. Yes, even while I was wearing repellent! The worst part about these bites are that they swell up like no other. They are incredibly itchy and painful. A few of these bites actually sent me straight to the hospital. I got bitten on my foot the first day I arrived on Jeju and my foot swelled up so fat that I couldn’t fit into any of my shoes. I literally walked in the rain through the city streets of Jeju, alone, sobbing in pain, looking for the nearest hospital, wearing ONE convenience-store-bought one-size-fits-all pink house slipper. Luckily, health care in Korea is soooo inexpensive. I visited the hospital/clinic a total of 6 times and the pharmacy a total of 8 times and my total estimate in medical bills while living on Jeju only amounted to $200. The bright side is that (like anywhere) the longer you live on Jeju, the better your survival instincts become. By the end of my stay on Jeju, I was averaging only one or two bites a month. To find out how you can shield yourself from these pests, please check out my post on the best mosquito repellents.
  4. There are a lot of remote schools and Jeju Island’s transportation system is sh!*If you get stuck with a rural assignment or rural housing, transportation will suck. I was given 3 assignments (schools) and my longest commute was an hour and a half (longer if I missed my transfer bus). There’s no telling what your commute will be like until you get to Jeju. It’s kind of the luck of the draw. Your commute can range anywhere from 15 minutes to 1.5 hours. Note: The teachers who have been there the longest (8-10 years) will get first pick on the best schools and housing locations. pexels-photo-210711.jpeg
  5. Typhoon Season is no joke. The rainy season starts late July and the typhoons hit late August to September. While living on Jeju, I survived 3 typhoons. I say survived, because it really felt like I was going to die. When the cyclone hits, you’ll get a text alert of the impending danger. During these typhoons, the buses will stop running and everyone will stay indoors. I kid you not, these moments were some of the scariest. One night, I was in the city planning to head back to JFLHS with some groceries, when I received a text alert. Not only could I not read the Korean text, but it came with a yellow warning symbol. I immediately ran for the bus stop, but found that the rural bus schedule had been cancelled (this meant that no buses were permitted to further operate into rural Jeju). I had no other choice but to hail a taxi. The taxi driver warned me that he could only take me so far before he would have to turn around. I thought this was insane, “How could he expect me to walk the rest of the way? In this ridiculous storm?” I didn’t actually think he would kick me out, but he did. I was about a mile from the dormitory and figured I could do this. The downpour grew heavier and the winds started to pick up. The walk up the hill was incredibly excruciating. It felt like I was being hosed down. My umbrella was torn apart by the wind and although I was wearing a parka, I was soaking wet from head to toe. I don’t know how I managed, but I made it to the dorm. I changed into some dry clothes and received another alert. This time the alert was in red. Seconds later, the storm raged louder and stronger. The wet winds thrashed against the windows and I feared the vibrating glass would break. One of my screen windows were knocked out and I scrambled to fix it back into place (I literally taped the darn thing). The unforgiving storm raged throughout the night and I barricaded myself between my dresser and wardrobe in hopes that I wouldn’t wake up covered in glass. That night I got maybe 2 hours of sleep. I had never experienced anything like it in California.
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EPIK Program, EPIK Teacher, Jeju Island

List of EPIK Teacher Housing Locations

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Marion House / Merchen Building

Jeju Island has two main parts: North and South. The North is called Jeju-si (Jeju City) and the South is called Seogwipo-si (Seogwipo City). These are the 4 main EPIK teacher housing locations in the northern part of Jeju Island.

  1. Midum Hanaro Apartments, Jeju City
  2. Marion House (메르헨하스) or Merchen Building, Nohyeong, Jeju City
  3. Jaewon Apartments, Shinjeju, Jeju City
  4. JFLHS (Jeju Foreign Language High School) Teacher Dorm, Aewol, Jeju City

List of Pros and Cons EPIK teacher housing on Jeju Island:

  • Midum Hanaro Apartments, Jeju City
    -PRO: City location (aka near banks, markets, and restaurants)
    -PRO: Largest living space
    -PRO: Located near Jeju City Harbor
    -PRO: 5 minute walk to Dongmun Market (동문수산시장)
    -PRO: 10 minute walk to Jungang Underground Market
    -PRO: 10 minute ride to City Hall (Downtown/Night life)
    -PRO: Less than 10 minute bus ride to Tapdong
    -CON: Bathroom ventilation may or may not work very well
    -CON: Trash disposal and recycling bins are confusing, but then again, it can be like that in the beginning no matter where you live on Jeju.
  • Marion House (메르헨하스) or Merchen Building, Nohyeong, Jeju City
    -PRO: City location (aka near banks and restaurants)
    -PRO: 5 minute walk to nearest gym
    -PRO: 10 minute walking distance to Lotte Mart, Krispy Kreme and Daiso
    -PRO: 15-20 minute walk to Emart Mart and McDonald’s
    -PRO: Quiznos and Convenience store is located right outside the building
    -PRO: Bus stop is located right outside the building
    -CON: Studio unit sizes vary, but they have some of the smallest sq footage
    -CON: Some floors reek of cigarette smoke
    -CON: Walls are very thin; neighbors can be noisy
    -CON: Elevator takes forever, because there are 16 or 17 floors!
    -CON: Communal restroom is not well maintained
    -CON: Ventilation is horrible, so there can be a lot of mold buildup
  • Jaewon Apartments, Shinjeju, Jeju City
    -PRO: City location
    -PRO: 5 minute walk to Shinjeju shopping district
    -PRO: 5 minute walk to bus stop
    -PRO: 5-10 minute walk to nearest convenience store
    -PRO: Studio units are about the same size
    -PRO: No city or scenic view
    -CON: Ventilation is horrible, so there can be a lot of mold buildup
  • JFLHS (Jeju Foreign Language High School) Teacher Dorm, Aewol, Jeju City
    -PRO: Large living space
    -PRO: Bathrooms have a bathtub
    -PRO: Strong teacher community
    -PRO: Beautiful view of the mountains
    -CON: Rural location (aka no shopping or food nearby–just 1-2 convenience stores)
    -CON: No atm or banks nearby
    -CON: Bus stop is a 7-10 minute walk downhill, so coming back up the hill is work
    -CON: Lots of mosquitos, beetles, moths, spiders, and other island bugs
    -CON: Hard to come by a taxi in this area (you’ll have to call or use an app to request a taxi to pick you up)
    -CON: Hard to get to and from school during harsh winter weather (the bus will sometimes stop operation during dangerous hurricane or tsunami weather)
    -CON: Some taxis will not go through the trouble of driving you all the way to JFLHS when it’s icy and dangerous. They have dropped me off almost a mile away and had me walk the rest of the way.

In short, a housing placement at Midum Hanaro is like winning the jackpot. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can choose, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if there is an available unit there.

EPIK Program, Jeju Island

English Teacher Living Expenses in South Korea

One thing to seriously consider before moving to Korea are the living costs. The cost of living varies for each teacher depending on where you reside and where you teach. Considering the average starting salary for a new EPIK teacher is 2,000,000 KRW ($1,800 USD), I’ve come up with 3 main cost categories: Fixed, Variable, and Flexible Costs.

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Fixed Expenses from Monthly Income
These are what I consider fixed expenses, because these fixed amounts are automatically deducted from your monthly paycheck before it enters your bank account. You have no control over these expenses.

  • 3.3% Income Tax
  • 4.5% Pension
  • 1.5% Health Care Insurance

To give you an idea in US dollars, income tax for a first year teacher is generally around $60-$70 USD, pension is about $80-$90 USD, and Health Care is only a little less than $30. Another thing to note is that EPIK and other employer are supposed to match your pension contribution. This is great, because it means you’ll be getting 9% of your total income back once you decide to leave Korea, as long as you remember to claim it before you actually leave the country. I recommend taking care of this a month in advance, because it can take a few weeks to process your paperwork and receive the direct deposit. If you are unsure about the process for claiming your pension, let me know and I’ll do a separate blog post on this topic.

To summarize, the average fixed expenses for a new English teacher is around 170,000 – 190,000 KRW ($170 – $190 USD).

Variable Monthly Expenses
These are the costs that fluctuate depending on each teacher’s school placement(s) and residence.  The cost of living varies for each teacher depending on where you reside and where you teach.

  • Government Housing is great because rent is FREE
  • BUT, if you choose to opt out of government housing, it’s probably because you want to ensure quality housing. The average rent in Korea ranges from $300 – $3,000  depending where and how nice of an accommodation you want. If you let your employer know ahead of time that you would like to find your own housing, they can give you a 400,000 KRW ($400 USD) monthly housing stipend. However, you will burn a hole through your pocket in order to secure your own housing since in Korea, they require “key money” aka a lump sum or initial security deposit of at least $200,000. If you have friends or are willing to find a roommate situation, you just might be able to pull this off.
  • Utilities is around $60-$200 depending on your appliances, your building, and whether you live in a city or rural area
  • Internet is very affordable $30 to $50, but make sure to check with your foreign neighbors to see if anyone wants to split the bill (this is what I did)
  • Cell service will range from $40-$100. There are different options for service (rental phone, prepaid SIM card, half-year phone lease, or a 2-year contract).
  • Transportation to and from school will vary for each teacher. I lived on Jeju and it cost me about $8 for a 15-minute cab ride and $1-$5 for every bus ride. On mainland, I believe it’s around $20-$30 a bus ride if you are traveling within the city and $20 for a 30 minute cab ride. If any of your schools are located more than an hour away, be sure to apply for a quarterly transportation reimbursement (Keep track of your transit expense from the very beginning and it will be easy for your co-teacher to help you with this).

Flexible Living Expenses
This category is the most flexible depending on your lifestyle and eating habits.

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  • Food can be as cheap at $3 for a kimbap roll from the convenience store to a $5 tofusoup at a local restaurant. It can also cost you $20-$40 if your craving finds you at a fancy sushi or Italian sit down restaurant. The more foreign or western you go, the more it will cost you. I recommend avoiding touristy restaurants and sticking to your Korean options to really embracing the food culture and stretch that travel budget.
  • Shopping for makeup and skin care products in Korea is inevitable! There is so much to choose from and so many free samples to try! My tip is to find ways to prevent impulse buys! You know yourself best, so come up with a strategy. Assess your finances and give yourself a monthly shopping allowance. Fit it into your budget early and milk those samples before you buy! My monthly shopping budget was about $200 USD, but there were times I went way over because I was not keeping track. If you’re not sure where to start, you can try withdrawing your shopping budget from the ATM after pay day. Cash can help you see how much of your budget you’ve spent and how much you have left. If you have another effective budgeting strategy, please share it with me!
EPIK Program

What Will EPIK Cost Me?

pexels-photo-210574.jpegIf there’s one thing you need to know before applying to EPIK, it’s that it is NOT cheap! Fortunately for me, I had enough money saved up before leaving my nonprofit job in the Orange County. I didn’t realize how much this whole process would cost me until I had already dived into it. I have detailed all of my expenses for you below (excluding photocopying documents). Hopefully, this gives you an idea of how much money goes into the application process.

$675 = I-to-I TEFL Certification 3-month Course
$84 = Diploma Notarization (x2) and Sealed College Transcripts of Record (x2)
$20 = Diploma Apostille (x2)
$25 = Fingerprints @ Police Station (total of 4 sets)
$50 = Accurate Biometrics Application for CBC (rejected by FBI 1st time)
$10 = Accurate Biometrics Application#2 for CBC (accepted by FBI)
$12 = Mailing CBC Applications (x2)
$30 = 2×2 Professional passport-like photos & document photocopies
$58 = Mailing Final Documents
$85 = 6166 Tax Exemption Application User Fee (to obtain Residency Certification)
$58 = Mail missing business card for Letter of Recommendation
$60 = Visa Application Fee
$770 = Flight Expense
=$1,937
So expect to spend around $2,000
Cost of Flight = EPIK Entrance Allowance (Flight Reimbursement)
Expected Expenses – Reimbursement
$2,000 – $770 = $1,230 USD
This whole process cost me about $1,230 USD

IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that EPIK recommends that you are able to financially support yourself until your first paycheck. This means you do not receive any funds until the end the month or the beginning of the next month. I recommend bringing somewhere between 1,000,000 – 2,000,000 KRW or $1,000 – $2,000 USD. That should get you through the first 30 days. To get an idea of living expenses, please check out my post: English Teacher Living Expenses in South Korea.

Jeju Island

Best Flight to Jeju

pexels-photo-723240.jpegFLIGHT REIMBURSEMENT
Luckily, EPIK and other private employers will provide some kind of flight reimbursement or “entrance allowance”. Upon arriving to Korea, if you submit your original boarding pass (yes, the actual hard copy) to your designated office of education, EPIK will reimburse your flight up to 1,300,000 KRW ($1,200 USD).

BOOKING YOUR FLIGHT
Honestly, my situation was a little unique, because I hit multiple road blocks with my application. Because of some minor set backs, I ended up having to waitlist for the mid-school year intake. It got down to the wire and I had almost given up hope, but I managed to get a placement on Jeju (which was my first choice) on the very last day of placement offers. Here’s the thing–the later you receive your placement, the more you’ll have to scramble. You cannot apply for a visa at your local consulate until you receive the official employment offer. As soon as you receive your placement confirmation in the mail, book your flight! If I remember correctly, I purchased it only a week before the flight and I paid around $770 for a one-way economy ticket to Incheon International Airport (ICN) with a connection from Gimpo International (GMP) to Jeju International (CJU).

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Bibimbap, Korean Air

KOREAN AIR PROS
I flew with Korean Air Lines and I’m so glad I did. Although I flew economy, it was a fairly comfortable 13-hour flight. Here are the reasons why I flew Korean Air Lines:

  • If you’ve ever had airplane food, you know it can be awful!  Korean Air serves better food than most other air lines. The bibimbap was pretty good and it comes with seaweed soup. The food and hot green tea definitely helped to sooth my stomach.
  • The seats are fairly comfortable and there is plenty of leg room
  • Every passenger gets their own personal movie screen with free movies
  • Every passenger seat has a USB charge port so you can charge your devices
  • If there are horrific delays, they are very apologetic and do provide some kind of food voucher or air line credit
  • The flight attendants are attentive and friendly
  • EPIK would fully reimburse the $770, so why not ride comfortably?

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KOREAN AIR CONS
The worst thing about my flight experience was transferring from an international flight to a domestic flight. When you arrive in Korea and transfer to another Korean domestic flight, there is NO AUTOMATIC TRANSFER. You will need to claim your baggage and check it in again for your next flight. Domestic Baggage allowance and overweight fees DO NOT APPLY if you are connecting from an International Flight. However, if you have a connecting itinerary to Busan with a Korean Air transit domestic flight, then your baggage will automatically be transferred.

TANSFER RECOMMENDATION
If you are not Korean or your Korean is limited, I highly recommend that you give yourself at least a 4-hour transfer window. I had a 2-hour transfer window and I missed my connecting flight because my departure at LAX was delayed by a half hour and I was  interrogated by customs for another half hour. By the time I made it to baggage claim, I only had about 30 minutes until my next flight and I was lost. I couldn’t find the train (which is the faster route to Gimpo), so I had to take a 40-minute bus ride from Incheon to Gimpo. Luckily, since my first flight was delayed, they changed my ticket at Gimpo Airport so I could board the next flight. I honestly couldn’t have figured it out without the help of an English-speaking flight attendant headed the same way as me.

KOREAN AIR BAGGAGE ALLOWANCE
The most up-to-date baggage policy can be found directly on their website:
Flying to/from America
Flying to/from Europe, Middle East, Africa, Oceania
If your flight has a transfer where you’ll need to transfer you baggage manually, I highly recommend packing only 1 large check-in luggage and 1 large carry-on bag. I had 2 check-ins and 1 large carry-on. It was so ridiculous trying to transfer my baggages. I actually fell down an escalator at one point with my baggage. Don’t do it. Pack lightly. You can have things shipped to you later. Yes, it’s expensive, but missing your connecting flight is not worth the trouble.

EPIK Program

EPIK Recruitment Agencies

Korvia Consulting is and has been one of the most reputable recruiting agencies for US citizens. They are based in Seoul and provide one-on-one guidance throughout the entire application process. Their website is extremely resourceful and thorough, so if you’re not completely aware of all the program details or you have some questions, I suggest reading through their FAQ pages. As you can probably see, there are a lot of pros to working with Korvia; however, as someone who has worked with Korvia and spoken to other EPIK teachers, there are some things I would consider:

  • Response time can be a little lengthier during peak hours or the month of EPIK placements. In all honesty, Korvia would always get back to me within a few days during this time, but when you’re racing the clock and you have questions about documents you need to submit asap, it can seem like you’re missing your window.
  • Popularity = Competition? I’m not saying that Korvia won’t guide you to success, but considering the large amount of applicants they hand hold each hiring season, I would think that a lot of their candidates don’t make it to the final cut. Whereas, one of the other recruiting agencies or an independent recruiter with less applicants, will have the capacity to provide more individual attention to each applicant and would probably have more impetus to push their candidates through the pipeline as efficiently as possible, as their reputation depends on it. In my personal experience, Korvia was great and well, I got placed, but it was a long arduous process. But after speaking with other teachers, I learned that their recruiter pushed them through the pipeline much faster, in fact, my next door neighbor went through a much different process. It took her about 2 weeks after she applied and well, it took me half a year. In my opinion, Korvia is just more thorough as they try to hire the best of the best, but had I known there was an easier route, that went by the name of Jimmy, I would have taken it.

EPIK puts out an official list of recruiting partners each year; however, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t other independent recruiters working behind the scenes to place other qualified applicants. Here is the official list:

  1. Korvia Consulting (Korea)
  2. ESL Consulting (Korea)
  3. Reach to Teach (USA)
  4. Oxford Edication (Korea)
  5. Korean Horizons (Korea)
  6. HandsKorea (Korea)
  7. Canadian Connection (Canada)
  8. Korea Immigration Recruiting Service (Korea)
  9. Goldkey Education (South Africa)
Jeju Island

Why Teach on Jeju Island (제주도)

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  1. Jeju, “Island of the Gods” is known for it’s lush green landscapes, 368 oreums (hilly volcanic formations), waterfalls, lava caves, green tea plantations, oranges, and fresh clean air. After a lot of research and discussion with my recruiter, we thought that Jeju would be the place for achieving my thirst for an outdoor, recreational, and adventurous lifestyle. There would be plenty of olle trails for me to hike and beautiful beaches to run along. I wouldn’t get bogged down by the social drinking scene and I could achieve my physical and athletic goals.
  2. Weather conditions in South Korea in general aren’t ideal. In January, it can get as cold as 6.8 °F (−14.0 °C) and in August, it can get as hot as 99.1 °F (37.3 °C). Considering I’m a Californian, that sounds awful. The real problem is the humidity. Korea is incredibly humid, that even if it’s a nice 76 °F outside, you could be pouring sweat. Which leads me to my second reason for picking Jeju… it’s an island, so they’ll get the nice breeze (little did I know they were also popular for their terribly dangerous windstorms). Nonetheless, Jeju was known for having slightly better temperatures in the hot humid summers.
  3. Everything I read online suggested that the cost of living on Jeju would be cheaper than mainland. Not only is housing more affordable (400 KRW – 700 KRW for an average studio – 1 bed apt) but pescatarian food would be more available and comparatively inexpensive since the island was surrounded by sea life.
  4. Lastly, I knew I would want to travel Korea quite a bit and I learned that the best placements for a wanderlust would either be Daejeon or Jeju. Daejeon is at the center of mainland, so public trains would be accessible and it would only take an hour to get to Seoul and a little over an hour to get to Busan. The problem was traveling to Jeju Island from Daejeon. Roundtrips from mainland to Jeju ranged an average of 100 KRW – 300 KRW depending on the season, while traveling from Jeju Island to anywhere on mainland was quite inexpensive, where you could find rates as low as 40 KRW for a roundtrip. What’s easier traveling an hour by train or by plane at a fraction of the time and cost?
  5. Jeju has a large expat community. It’s not hard to make friends with other English teachers, because of close proximity. There are only a handful of housing locations for English teachers, so more than likely you’ll be living in the same building with a few other teachers, if not more. (I’ll share more info on housing options, locations, and expectations in another post)

Update: Requesting a placement on Jeju Island is a huge decision. As much as I enjoyed certain aspects of Jeju, there are just as many reasons why I would not choose Jeju again. I recommend thoroughly researching both the positives and negatives of each location you may be considering. Take it from me, your placement can make or break your experience.