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My Letter Home: EPIK Teacher Orientation in Korea

My  Experience of the Korean Public School System at Week 3:

I just finished my third week of co-teaching grade 3-6 classes with my native Korean teachers. I call my job co-teaching because  my  Korean c0-teachers want to teach primarily from the textbook/CD-ROM’s lesson plans.

I work with three Korean co-teachers, who are still learning ways to implement me into the class. Many of my students don’t know English or have little exposure to it. Some, I hear go to hagwons, but the majority of them don’t. The Korean co-teacher helps explain things I can’t.

So currently, my job is to explain activities and run students through exercise drills in speaking English. In some regards, I think they’re shielding me, thinking they’ll give me time to learn the system; afterall, they have years of experience teaching and i’ve only had a week’s orientation.

Occasionally, I teach and am allowed to contribute my own creative ideas to the staid lesson plan, but this has been a result of my own improvisation. My co-teachers and I are finding our way together. They are all fairly new to co-teaching, working with a native English speaker and one, even new to teaching English (until now she’s been a music teacher!)

My Korean 4th graders introducing themselves

I’ve met all my students at least once or twice now. My first week in my school,  I barely did a thing, but stare at the computer screen, browse the student textbooks/CD-ROMs for the levels I’m teaching- in an attempt to look busy.   My computer is all in Korean, which makes for an interesting challenge. While I know Microsoft Word and Powerpoint, the menus are in Korean.

I created a Powerpoint presentation to introduce myself to my students …and my teachers! And I discovered that most of my Korean students (3rd-6th grade), knew who Obama was! R

I will also be doing a video broadcast a few times a month, a storytelling session for lower-income students and an English class for parents.  My job isn’t set just yet; it is discovering its place.

But before jumping further, I wanted to share my EPIK Orientation experience, because it was a noteworthy event that I’ll always remember.

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Here’s a letter I wrote from orientation on the day before I left for my new location in Daegu:

My Letter Home from EPIK Orientation:

Hello Mom & Dad,

The 9-day EPIK orientation at Eulji University in “somewhere-Seoulish”. None of us have a clue where we are, but it doesn’t matter because so far, everything EPIK has provided has been phenomenal! We’re being treated royally well and the program has put much into preparing us to teach in the Korean public school system and to learn about Korean culture.

More Photos of my EPIK Orientation :

On the first day of arrival, we got an orientation packet and a bunch of gifts, from an EPIK sweatshirt, alarm clock, snacks, a solar calculator/mouse, etc…

epik orientation, teach in korea epik, epik vs hagwon

My dorm room reminds me of my old college room at U.S.C., with one exception~ it’s nicer, larger and comes with its own bathroom. I hope my apartment in Daegu is nice like this !  I’m sharing the room with a roommate from New York, Cherie. She’ll  be teaching in Sochko.

 

epik orientation, teach in korea epik, epik vs hagwon, college dorm room korea

EPIK community

What I’m additionally enjoying is the opportunity to meet other EPIK applicants and there’s an unimaginable ton. There are tons of folks from all around~ Canada, South Africa, U.K., Ireland, U.S, etc… I didn’t know so many countries with English as their native language.  We’re all grouped by the city we’ll be teaching in. We have classes together and it’s a chance to make friends. Of course, everyone is stoked to be there.

Just going to the cafeteria is an event. Filled with EPIK folks, we have kimchi and rice during each meal!   Okay, there’s few vegetarian options, but I can get by with what they have and the food is delicious.

epik orientation

As it’s February, it’s still winter here, so it’s cold. Korean public areas aren’t heated, if you can imagine.  That means hallways, lobby areas and restrooms. You’ll feel a bite and I now understand why in Korean dramas you see characters speaking with frost coming out of their mouth, even though they’re indoors.

Still, things are enshrouded in mystery–  we don’t know what grades or school we’ll be teaching in. I have no idea what type of school I’ll be in when I arrive in Daegu.

Workshops in teaching and Korean culture

Our schedule is intensive, from 9am – 8pm. If we want to watch Korean movies after that. But some EPIK folk prefer to go out to explore the local… bars.

Our days are structured with back to back seminars in things like Classroom Management, Listening and Teaching, Lesson Planning, Teaching English Camps, Survival Korean. It’s all good stuff to learn. I’m still worried that I won’t be a good teacher.

In general, the focus is on using interactive games for teaching English.  They say Korean children are very competitive but shy, so games give them incentive to learn and encourage them toward a social arena.  I don’t know what to expect or what s yet, expected of us as co-teachers…

EPIK Orientation

One day we had an excursion Icheon, to learn more about Korean culture, by visiting a ceramic park, traditional Hanok village, a historical museum and dinner at a nice Korean restaurant.   But EPIK’s been really awesome about exposing us to cultural stuff. They had a taekwondo performance, presentations on cultural etiquette and other good stuff, like expat speakers giving us tips about their school life as well as, how they explore Korea during their off-time.  You get the impression that EPIK is really spending a lot of money on this orientation and I’m so glad to be a part of it.

EPIK orientation

 

Health Checkups

EPIK takes these health checkups seriously. We all had to go to a room that they turned into a medical facility. Many Korean nurses and doctors there. Hearing and vision tests, blood tests, urine tests.. I even got my first X-ray exam!  They’re probably screening for drugs in part and if you’re caught with it in your system, they’ll send you home. Glad I don’t do ’em.

Health exams for EPIK orientation

 

Final day of Orientation

It’s a bit sad to say goodbye. I’m having a great time and wish this orientation were longer.  Our last evening, EPIK hosted  a banquet in the gymnasium.  It was a huge feast and a program full of Korean drumming, Korean traditional shaman (I think) dance and a talent show put on by some fellow EPIKers. Okay, some of the talent show was a little cheesy but you got an idea of what people could do and a chunk of them were in my city of Daegu!

Tomorrow, we’ll be told what school we’ll be getting and where it is in the city. We’ll leave the comfort of this university and EPIK and be shuttled off to our city.

 

How will our schedule run in our Korean school? 

Teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language) in public school there is about 25-40 kids per class and on average, I may have anywhere from 8-20 different classes a week. We work with our co-teachers from all those classes to prepare lesson plans. We might also be asked to help out with after school programs, winter/summer camps and teaching English to other teachers, etc…

Getting ready to meet our district POEDaegu’s District Representative

Dun, dun, dun… My EPIK assignment in Daegu! I’ll be teaching at Anil Elementary Public School.

We won’t know much more, until we meet our main co-teacher (and host person, whom they keep emphasizing will be the one person who may make or break our time here).

My school work hours are 8:30A-4:30P. There’s excitement in the air mixed with a bit of nervous energy and anxiety. I’m looking forward to finally settling in and cooking my own meals. While the program has regular meals and the food is delicious, I’ve been primarily on a kimchi and broth soup diet, as a lot of the foods have meat. I’m trying not to set any expectations or ideas of a vacation time until I get a better picture…

EPIK orientation

Packing our luggage for the 4 hour bus ride to Daegu

ePIK ORIENTATION

 

Tomorrow we meet our Daegu representative to find out where we will live and what school we’ll be teaching at, so we’ll need to dress nicely.  Then we board a bus and are off to Daegu to meet our co-teacher and our new lives.

Love,
Me

 

8 Comments

  1. Judy says:

    Hi there,
    I am wondering what exactly they tested for (the blood test) during the exams? Do you remember the results and what they tested for?

  2. amy says:

    I’m actually a bit reluctant to apply to Epik because of my age. I’m 42 this year and I know Koreans tend to want younger teachers. From your experience, are there older teachers being hired?

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Amy: I have seen teachers in their 40s being hired. I think chances might be better if 40’sish teachers want to teach intermediate/ h.s., have higher credentials in teaching or if you’re aiming for a more rural location. Yes, in a way, Asia idealizes youth. It’s only my interpretation but I feel they assume a younger teacher will possess a playful vibrance the children will respond to or be curious about. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. On the contrary, you should. If there’s something you want badly enough, you’ll find a way to get it and if you can give yourself a chance, then there’s no reason why someone else wouldn’t.

  3. alex says:

    Hi there,

    I am glad you seem so excited. I’m going to Korea in Aug. I have been accepted I know, but I haven’t rec’d a contract yet.

    I have a question: Did you pick Daegu as your first or second choice? How long in advance of the deadline did you get accepted?

    And finally, did you know you were going to Daegu before you left for Korea?

    These are important questions for me. I appreciate your help!

    • @Alex Congratulations on your acceptance! You must be thrilled. The BEST advice I can give you if your with the EPIK program is to get used to not getting the information that you think is important, at a convenient or early date. I didn’t find out what city I was placed in, the grade level I was teaching, school, how many kids, how I would be co-teaching…. until I got to Korea & some of that was the day before going to my city. Things are released when they know and generally in Korea, there are CHANGES at the last minute and you must simply make do. This is the biggest thing you will need to adjust to. You may or may not get the place you want if its a big city or a popular choice; whereas you’re more apt to get your pick if its a smaller city. I could give you my examples, but every story here has been different… really. Good luck.

  4. Laura Cancun says:

    Wow good for you!! I’m glad you’re incorporating fun activities to get the kids motivated (like hangman!).

    Can’t wait to hear more adventures.

  5. Papa says:

    We are all enthralled by your new journey into uncharted waters and wait for news with much anticipation. As an old skipper might say, hold steady to your course for new land lies fore. The sea rises high but ’tis the lulls for us mate’ey; so pull till your bones start breaking……love you lovy

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