My mother and sister sending me off to Korea at LAX Airport was surreal. We said our goodbyes over and over and they watched as I went up the escalator and waved them a final goodbye. As soon as I got through the security check, I felt my heart beat triple. I felt off balance and I was losing my senses. I remember stumbling into the first restroom after security. I had no idea what was going on with me, but I felt a huge rush of anxiety fall upon me and I was struggling to breathe. Moments later, I realized I was probably having what people would call a mild panic attack. After reciting prayers and focusing on my breath, I felt the nervousness in my stomach begin to settle. I had to hear myself say out loud, over and over again, “You can do this.” Once I pulled myself together, I took a snap before leaving the women’s restroom.
What to pack when you’re gonna be gone for a year? If you are a new EPIK teacher, here are some things I would definitely pack:
- 8 GB usb (for lesson plans & teaching aides)
- external hard drive (personal documents and photos)
- power bank (a must for travelers)
- laptop (make sure it is not MAC as they are not compatible with any Korean CD-ROMs or online CD formats)
- adapters & a converter (you can buy these in Korea too, but it doesn’t hurt to have them just in case you get a rural placement & have no idea where the nearest market is located)
- pocket flashlight (blackouts/emergencies)
- mosquito net (this is a hard find in Korea; better to buy one before you leave your home country–you may need it your first night if you’re arriving anytime other than winter)
- rubbing alcohol (help reduces mosquito bites immediately–worked better for me than any cream or ointment)
- mosquito repellent (I would invest in some citrus candle repellents before you arrive in Korea. Also, the Korean supermarket “Lotte Mart” carries repellent that you can plug into an outlet. These are by far the most effective!)
- any medicine you are already taking (medicine in Korea is often considered much weaker than the medicine in the USA, so if you’re life depends on it, bring your prescriptions and year supply of medicine)
- Inhaler (if you are asthmatic, the humidity may irritate your lungs, so pack your inhaler if you have one; you can also get an inhaler for very cheap at a doctors visit, as health care in Korea is extremely inexpensive)
- workout clothes (clothes are generally expensive in Korea, especially fitness apparel)
- full body towel (Korea’s equivalent of a full body towel will leave you feeling bare and cold, so bring a fluffy full body towel because if even if you’re lucky enough to find one in Korea, you’ll be paying a ridiculous amount for it)
- rain boots (unless you live in Seoul, it might be a little difficult to find a decent pair of fashionable rain boots. The large shopping markets don’t carry them on Jeju. Also, if you are a size 7 in women’s shoes (USA) or larger, don’t expect to buy shoes in Korea as most Korean women have smaller shoe sizes.
- photos of the people you’ll miss (this is self-explanatory)
- gifts (bring something native to your hometown that you can share with your coteachers, principal, vice principal, better yet, the whole staff. I’m not kidding– this is important for a good first impression at your schools) *I’ll do another post with good and bad gift ideas for making a good impression.
iSpa is a Korean traditional day spa located in Irvine, CA. The facility is clean and well-maintained. I recommend the Jimjilbang+Sauna for those who would like to sweat off some calories in the saunas, relax in the heated mineral pools, and then take a nap in the jimjilbang. For only $25 I think the experience is worth it.
If you’ve never been to a Korean Traditional Spa. There are several things you’ll need to know.
1. The wet area is nude only. Yes, get over it.
2. They provide each patron 1 pair of shorts and a shirt that you must wear in the common area (aka Jimjilbang)
3. Don’t bring a towel, you’ll be given a couple of towels at the front desk. Make sure you save one in your locker for the showers, unless, you want to dry off with a sweaty towel.
4. There are 2 sets of lockers. The first one is small and they’re only for your shoes. The second one is the large one for your belongings and clothes.
5. Anything you wish to purchase during your stay will be charged to the wristband locker key that you should wear at all times (trust me, it’s easy to lose, so don’t take it off)
6. If you get a body scrub, massage, facial, or any other spa service make sure to bring cash for tip. Yes, most places will give you an envelope for your tip.
7. Don’t bother bringing slippers, they won’t allow it.
8. Make sure to shower every time before you get into the pools. Yes, that’s every time, so if you shower then go to the pools, then go to the saunas, you should shower again before you get back into the pools.
9. Yes, they speak English.
Before you can get that NOA and school placement, you need to submit all required documents. The hard part is obtaining it all in a timely manner so that your application isn’t delayed. Take it from someone a perfectionist, it is easy to screw this part up. I applied for the Fall term, which is actually not the ideal time to come in since it’s mid-school year, but if you are applying anyways, then here’s the list of documents you’ll need (assuming you’re not applying from Korea and that you’re not Korean). My advice: make a spreadsheet; it will keep you incredibly organized and on top of everything you need to succeed! If you want help with organizing that spreadsheet, I’d be more than happy to help.
List of Required Documents:
① Application Form
② Photocopy of Passport Information Page
③ Passport Sized Photo
④ Apostilled CRC
⑤ Apostilled Diploma
⑥ Sealed Transcripts
⑦ Two Original Recommendation Letters
⑧ Proof of Level 2 Pay Grade: TEFL/TESOL/CELTA Certificate or Teaching License
Top 5 EPIK Interview Questions and Tips
1. Why have you chosen to pursue a teaching job in Korea?
The emphasis here is why you would make a good EFL teacher and why, specifically, a teacher in Korea?
2. Why do you prefer to teach in [province/region]?
If you selected one on your application, they more than likely will ask you why you are requesting to be placed in that location.
3. What grade/age group would you prefer to teach? Why?
The key here is your understanding of Korean students and the characteristics of the grade/age groups you wish to teach.
4. How do you intend to adapt to the differences between your country and Korea?
Acknowledge the cultural differences and similarities. The more you are aware of, the better. This is a good opportunity to demonstrate your understanding and interest in Korean culture.
5. How will you handle classes that consist of students with varied English skills and capabilities?
For this question, you’ll want to pull from your TEFL training or experience. Discuss a couple strategies you would implement in a classroom, such as: classroom arrangement, pair work, group work, and scaffolding techniques.
When I started this process, I thought the hardest part was going to be the application and interview–basically, getting accepted into the EPIK Program. It turns out, the hardest part actually comes after you get your acceptance. It’s being able to obtain and mail all your documents within a short window. Even if EPIK formally extends you an offer of acceptance, it doesn’t mean you have a job. Why? Because you can’t officially be placed at a school until they physically have all your documents. Every year, EPIK seems to accept more teachers than there are positions, because it’s expected that many teachers fall out of the hiring process. This is what makes the hiring process “competitive.” The only way to secure your placement at a school is to submit your documents immediately after you accept the EPIK job offer. Now, it doesn’t mean you hastily submit your documents without thoroughly reviewing them. One mistake in your application or 1 missing business card, could delay your placement for weeks. My advice: be extremely tedious with everything and when in doubt, always ask questions.
Applicants must meet all of the following eligibility requirements:
1. Citizenship from 1 of the considered 7 Native English-Speaking countries: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States, or South Africa.
2. Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. An Associate degree does not qualify, but an Associate degree or minimum of 2 completed years at a university will make you eligible for the TaLK Program: http://www.talk.go.kr
3. Teaching license or teaching major or a TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA Certificate (with 100 course hours and 20 practicum hours) This final requirement might seem like a deal breaker, but in reality, a TEFL certificate is not difficult to obtain. This is the preferred teaching certificate in South Korea at the moment, although all are recognized. I obtained mine in about 3 months via an online course and a 2 days of practicum in Los Angeles. Honestly, I could have probably completed the course in under a month if I allocated my time more wisely. As for recommendations, I only completed one certificate program, so it’s the only one I can speak to. I have nothing to compare it to, but I can share with you my likes and dislikes in another post. For now, I’ll leave you with some tips to help you narrow down the right program for you.
- Tip 1. Online or in-class setting? This is truly up to you. I was working at the time, so I opted for the online course, but it was hard to focus with all the distractions at home. If you do the online course remember that no one will push you to do it and the course has an expiration, so there’s a higher chance of you failing the course if you wait until last minute to do the tests at the end of each chapter. If you have the time, I would definitely recommend looking into the in-class courses, especially if you tend to procrastinate or struggle to manage your time effectively.
- Tip 2. Length? I would be cautious of programs under 3 months. If their program is incredibly short, then you won’t receive a beneficial training that will prepare you to teach in Korea. I’m sure you also don’t want to get scammed.
- Tip 3. Testimonies? Don’t rely on their published testimonies. Many businesses post “testimonies” on their site or other forums. Make sure to review multiple sources for reviews on the program and the company that’s offering the course. Enter keywords such as “scam” or “fraud” in your search.
- Tip 4. Recruiter? If you’re going with a recruiter or agency ask them for recommendations. Most likely, they will guide you in the right direction.
- Tip 5. Accreditation? Although many businesses will claim that they are accredited, there is no single accrediting official body for TEFL. Instead, check the certifying program’s sponsorships. What organizations sponsor them? Are they unknown? Are they legitimate organizations?