“What should I pack to bring for a year?” and “How are you finding life in Korea so far?” are just two of the many questions I had for Russell, and she responded honestly. I wanted to receive all of the information I could before leaving America to start a new life in a new land, what I like to call “my new normal.”
“When I was studying abroad in Tanzania, I heard some Americans talking about how a lot of people were beginning to teach in Korea,” said Victoria Robson, Russell’s classmate, who equipped herself to embark on the adventure of a lifetime by teaching at a hagwon in South Korea’s largest and capital city, Seoul. She left for orientation in August 2010, and I departed a month later.
While Russell and Robson were hired to teach at hagwons, I was hired to teach in the public school system with the English Program in Korea (EPIK). Those interested in teaching English may work towards attaining a TESOL certificate, an internationally recognized document.
Defining EPIK and This Thing Called Recruiting
EPIK is a government-sponsored program that hires and places one native English speaker in each public school in the country. The foreign teacher works with a Korean co-teacher to conduct English classes that emphasize conversation skills.
Running summer and winter English camps, judging English-related contests (e.g. pop song competitions), managing a supplementary class before or after school, and teaching a Korean English teacher training course are some additional duties of the Guest English Teacher (GET), an EPIK instructor’s official job title. Even though the three of us were offered different jobs in different cities (Russell worked in Pohang, Robson worked in Seoul, and I worked in An-dong) and for different employers, what we shared was our oneness as Immaculata alumni, and also the medium through which we applied for overseas teaching positions, which was Aclipse, a recruitment company “dedicated to connecting enthusiastic college grads with the best teaching jobs in [East] Asia (China, Korea, and Japan).” We all agreed that using a recruiter proved the best way to handle the often tedious application process, of which the most important aspect is securing the work visa in time for one’s scheduled departure.
The Sky’s the Limit
Korea has a rich, proud, and interesting history, and one can gradually pick up the language without much difficulty because it is based on phonetics and considered one of the most scientific languages in the world. Most foreigners who make the effort to learn Hanguel, the Korean alphabet, can read and write Korean within their first year in the country. I can read Korean, write my Korean name, type in Korean script, and speak a smattering of basic expressions. Those more serious about developing fluency may register for classes (some of them complimentary), and a variety of websites focus on developing Korean language skills for the disciplined autodidact.
Meanwhile, each of us embraced the culture in individual ways. Russell by learning belly dancing and martial arts, Robson by touring the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the world’s most heavily guarded border, and by attending soccer tournaments in Seoul. I’ve visited Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, the world’s largest Protestant church, and I have participated in a traditional Korean home stay (han-ok) in world heritage city Gyeong-ju. All kinds of experiences await in the “land of the morning calm,” which also happens to be a very safe country.
Festivals and Families
When I came to Korea I soon learned that it is a country of festivals: sand, strawberry, snow crab, fireworks, mask dance, international film and music, cherry blossom, and bull-riding festivals, attracting large crowds of tourists and locals alike.
Festivals are a common way for Korean families to bond, and I quickly noticed the family-oriented nature of Korea. Families take time to eat meals together, attend concerts, take in a movie or visit the art museum. Parents value higher education, so they create a college fund early on for their children; as a result, Korean college graduates do not have to bear the burden of student debt.
Social Networking a College Reunion
Facebook enabled us three Immaculatans to stay connected so we could coordinate our reunion prior to Russell’s departure in November. We met in the ethnically diverse community of Itaewon, Seoul for a Western-style dinner at a quaint diner. We enjoyed our brief time together and Russell gave newcomers Robson and me practical advice for survival in South Korea. I will forever cherish this event in my Korean experience. As Robson said, “I’m so happy we were able to meet up over here in Seoul. I’ll definitely never forget it!”
Don’t Delay… Pursue Your Adventure Today!
If you are interested in a career teaching English or simply want to see the world before entering the workforce or pursuing an advanced degree, I recommend aclipse.net to apply for a position; aclipse.ning.com is useful for networking with current or future overseas teachers. Interested EPIK candidates may apply directly through the www.epik.go.kr website. To explore Korean culture while having fun visit korea.net and adventurekorea.com.