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Apparently, “no cuts, no buts, no coconuts” does not apply to older Koreans. Every time I’ve waited in line to purchase a bus ticket or a train ticket, some ajima (old woman) or ajashi (old man) cuts me in line. It becomes extremely awkward when you’re waiting in line and an ajima comes and stands RIGHT NEXT to you. It becomes even more awkward when you’re waiting in line and an ajima comes and stands RIGHT IN FRONT of you as if you don’t exist. Then, it becomes pretty infuriating when it’s your turn to purchase a ticket, and an ajima just cuts right in front of you as you are saying hello to the ticketer. This has happened EVERY single time I have stood in line to purchase a ticket.
Often times, the ticketer will tell the ajima or ajashi they need to stand in line. I have now come to the decision that I will just expect to get cut in line by an ajima; that way, I won’t be shocked every time it does happen. From now on, I’ll just think of it as a “respecting you elders” type of deal and just let them cut.
So, if you ever come to Korea, expect an ajima or ajashi to cut you in line. Don’t get angry about it. It’s just how things are in the R.O.K.
Applying to teach for EPIK in Korea is not the most relaxing experience you can have. There is paperwork that seems like an amount that no human can deal with and there are a lot of things that you will not know. Your life is kind of on hold… literally. There’s a lot of waiting involved:
- you wait to hear if you have an interview
- wait to see if you passed
- wait to see if a school hires you (because even if you pass the interview, you still may not get a position at a school)
- you wait to hear what province you will be in
- then you wait until the end of orientation to know what school and city you’ll be in
If you teach for EPIK are you required go to orientation. Our amazing recruiter (EduCon shout out) flew us in a day before orientation so that was amazing. We arrived in August. There is only one word that comes to mind when trying to describe the weather when we arrived… disgusting. It was just straight up nasty. There is humidity and then there is Korea humidity. You never really feel clean. It rains out of nowhere and there is this forever feeling of stickiness. Doing your hair is a hopeless cause and showering often is a must, even though it doesn’t help (it’s a mental thing). We tell you this so you can be prepared for it. Bring an umbrella… you can’t get by without one.
EPIK Orientation is a 10 day crash course on how to teach in Korea. You are grouped into classes where you will be with people in your province. This is good because you get to know people that you will spend the next year of your life around. You go to a ton of lectures. The lectures are about all kinds of things… classroom management, life in Korea, motivation, curriculum…we could go on and on.
There are two things to be anxious about during orientation.
The medical check-up. Just the idea of it is horrifying, but it’s not that bad. They weigh you, check your hearing, vision, they take a sample of blood, chest X-Ray, and then you take a drug test (urine sample). The rough thing about the medical check-up is that you don’t know until the end of orientation if you passed or not. At our orientation there were about 300 of us and we all passed.
(Side note: Orientation days are very long and everyone usually goes out for drinks. It’s really common. We knew people that were at the bar every day. The bars also know when new teachers are coming for orientation because they will put signs outside saying, “Welcome EPIK teachers!”)
You must present a lesson. You will work in a small group from within your class. Group presentations can always be a little tricky, but the thing is that you have to present it to EPIK observers (not sure of their title) and then they give you feedback. The presentation isn’t as bad as it seems. You teach the people in class as if they were your students. No biggie.
After orientation you hop on a bus and go to the Reaping. We call it the Reaping because this is when you will be presented to a room or auditorium full of co-teachers. They call your name, you bow and then your co-teacher raises their hand and you sit with them. There are a lot of emotions going on. You’re excited to meet your co-teacher, you’ll probably go to your school that day and meet some of the staff and the principal, and you will see your apartment for the first time. Apartment assignments are hit or miss. Keep your expectations low, both of us got lucky because our apartments are pretty nice.
The best advice we received at orientation was to “be flexible”. For example, your classes can and will be canceled one day at school and no one will tell you. You can assume that your schedule is normal, but you walk into 1st period and learn that you don’t have class. Your students know more about the schedule than you do and they inform you as best they can. Class has been rescheduled for another day because your co-teacher isn’t there. BUT you don’t know when the rescheduled class will be. Be flexible.
There will be times where you’ll be at school all day and then at 4:15pm someone asks you if you’re going to the school dinner. School dinner? What school dinner? The school dinner no one told you about. Be flexible. A lot of things can be challenging living here just because things are so different. Not bad, but different. You can either get upset about them or…be flexible.
The second little tip we got was from a lecturer. He told us that everywhere we go people will look at us like we’re unicorns. Truth. In big cities where there are a lot of foreigners there is less of the unicorn look, but if you’re pretty much anywhere else… unicorn. It’s like people stare in awe of you because you look so different. They’re not really aware of it, but they’re just not used to seeing people who look so out of the ordinary. Little kids will point with their mouths open. People of all ages will walk past you and muster up the courage to speak English and say, “Hello”. When you respond they usually laugh or say “Wow!”
Korea is a country filled with some of the nicest people around. It’s important to remember that things are not bad, but different.
So, while in Korea just remember to be a flexible unicorn
Check out this amazing blog!
Here, you’ll find hilarious truths on what it’s like teaching and living in the R.O.K.
One of the biggest holidays in Korea is Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). Koreans take this time to spend with their families and make food to offer their ancestors in thanks for a plentiful harvest.
Side note: If you want to go anywhere during Chuseok you need to plan in advance because the ENTIRE country is traveling.
So, when we heard there was a holiday, we got pretty pumped up. We had the weekend and Monday through Wednesday off. Translation… long ass weekend. This was the perfect opportunity to go to the soul of Korea… Seoul (and see each other for the first time in a month because we live about 3 hours away from each other).
The plan: Cindy was supposed to go to Jeanette’s on Friday and they were supposed to travel to Seoul together with a group of friends on Saturday.
What happened: Cindy gets on a bus thinking she’ll be able to get to Jeanette’s. False. She’s stranded in a city with no way to get to Jeanette’s. They reached the consensus that Cindy will just go straight to Seoul. Cindy survives and doesn’t sleep on the street (way too classy for that anyway)… thank goodness for the smartphone.
Focus. So we go to Seoul with no plan in mind. We decided we would just roll with it. And roll with it we did. We did whatever we wanted. “I want that. I want that.” became our slogan for the long ass weekend. We stayed up really late (weekend record 7 a.m.) and met some pretty great people. One of those great people happens to be a guy that we agree is one of the top 3 funniest people we have ever met.
One of the greatest moments was doing Gangnam Style in a club in Gangnam surrounded by Koreans. We shopped a whole lot, got our hair cut by a master of hair in Itaewon (we highly recommend Jay’s Hairdressing), and ate a lot of street meat (aka BBQ chicken on a stick). The only touristy thing we really did was go to Namsan Tower (North Seoul Tower). We’ll never go again. It was beautiful and a great experience, but the effort and energy exerted to get there was a once in a lifetime sacrifice. You must go at least one time. That was our one time….
Overall it was a great Chuseok holiday. We plan to go back to Seoul often because our bucket list will require multiple trips.
Ah, where to start. Maybe our first night in Korea?
Educon had us arrive a day early (the greatest idea EVER!) We were able to round up a group of Educon applicants who were on the same flight as us. Together, we were able to locate a phone to call for the van to pick us up and take us to the hotel. By the time we arrived at the hotel, we were hungry, wet, tired, and excited. Side note: if you are arriving to Korea in August bring a raincoat, umbrella, and rain boots. They will come in handy.
When we finally got to our room, we faced a huge problem: How the hell do we turn on the lights? Apparently, you place the key in a slot and it turns on the lights. Pretty fancy, huh.
It’s human nature to step in to your hotel room and automatically just throw your entire body on the bed, right? Well, that was a big mistake. Beds in Korea are different than beds in the U.S. There is no plush mattress to sink into. Instead, there is hard, stiff “mattress” that will surprise both your ass bone and your back if you ever decide to heave your entire body on to its sturdy surface. This was not the only time we crossed paths with the Korean mattress. The Korean mattress also met us orientation and our apartments. Surprisingly, we enjoy the Korean mattress more than mattresses in the U.S. It’s actually helped our backs.
After settling in, we met up with some fellow teachers to find food. As we walked the streets of Korea, you could totally tell we were foreigners. As cars passed by, we were completely splashed with water. Walking in the restaurant, you’re hit with that, “Ooh, I get to take off my shoes and eat on the floor” moment. Did we know how to read the menu? Hell no. Did we know how to order? Hell no. So, what did we do? We turned our happy butts around and found a white man with a Korean girl to help us. That’s how you do it!
The food was amazing and super cheap. We had hot noodles and sea food pancakes. After eating, we headed back to our hotel and passed out.
All in all, it was a great first night!