Landing in Korea was a whirlwind of sights and sounds. Everywhere I turned there were bright and colorful signs in a language I have yet to fully learn. I got to experience this shock twice in the span of twenty-four hours. When you go through EPIK they give you some rules you have to follow in order to get to the orientation. The first rule being a specific time you have to get to Korea, the second being the airport they want you to fly into. Unfortunately for me there were no flights that landed in the time frame they wanted, so I had to get a flight that landed the day before. So, round two of Incheon international airport came after a slightly restless night’s sleep, meaning that I was still just as goggled as I was the first time around. When you meet up with the EPIK counter you are assigned a bus that will take you to the orientation location. Each year orientation can potentially be in a different spot, so as much as I would love to say how long or short the drive is I cannot.
When we first arrived, they assign us our rooms and we do a cursory med check. It’s basically just a sheet that says your temperature and you sign saying, “yo, I’m alright, not sick.” After an hour or two of settling in, be sure to say hi to your new roomie this will most likely be the person you eat most of your meals with, they send you to your first class meet up for a campus tour. Pretty easy and quick, don’t worry about not remembering all the buildings by the weeks end you will be a pro, then it was back to our dorms to get ready for the welcome dinner. Dinner was fun we got to see a K-pop group, a local singer and traditional Korean orchestra performed for us. Queue a slew of local higher ups giving a bunch of speeches that were actually really nice and full of excitement for the rest of the week, but jet lag is real and I could feel myself already dragging.
The rest of the week was a mix of Korean class (or in my case a K-pop class), lesson planning classes, and Korean survival classes. In general the lesson planning/ education classes are straight forward. They are designed to help you be the best teacher you can be. I got to take classes on storytelling, networking, having a communicative approach to teaching, and how to cooperate with a co-teacher. K-pop, was a whole different animal, but it was SO MUCH FUN! MY group did a dance number to Twice’s Cheer up. While everyone else was in mandatory Korean class I was able to go to the gym to work with my group.
Halfway through the week we get a bit of a break from classes. First because we have to take the mandatory medical check (like the real one where they draw blood and you have to pee in a cup). The other because we get to take a field trip! Now for the medical check, it’s not as bad as it sounds trust me. They are super efficient in getting all of us through as quickly as possible. It is $50, so be aware of that fee coming in, they will remind you beforehand. If you are squeamish or don’t like needles just let them know and they will help you through it, there was girl in my group that was super freaked out by needles and even she was able to get through it. The field trip was super fun! Each orientation is different based on where it is but our group got to do some fun unique to Korea things like making local sweets, dying with natural dyes, and getting to see a tower that is literally in the center of the country! Fun fact rowing is a huge thing here and that was one of the little competitions we got to have (My team won with a 6:22, we had to row 2,000 meters).
The last day of orientation is an exciting and scary day all in one. The last day of orientation is they day you are FINALLY told where you will be placed, you meet with your whole province in a room and each person is called up to get a contract packet that has their placement, until this point you only know the province you will be in. Until this day there are no official placements, some people do get reached out to by the person they will be replacing, I was not so lucky. That being said, it is stressful either way, just make sure to dress up nicely and be positive about where you get placed. There are so many things about where you will be placed that are unique to that place and you would not get to experience them if you were somewhere else. Even if you are in the middle of nowhere, you will still have people close enough to meetup even if it’s just once a week or every other week. I would not stress too much. Once you get your placement and sign your contract it's time to PARTY!!! Just kidding, but it is time for the closing ceremony. For my closing ceremony my K-pop group and the other one got to perform in front of all our colleagues and it was such a thrill! A few closing remarks by local officials and a speech from a peer elected representative and we are free to eat, take pictures, and go pack because tomorrow we leave.
It seems like this is a really long post, but I swear this is as condensed as I could make such an amazing week. My hope is that this gives you just an idea what an opportunity the EPIK orientation is. I can’t say for sure what your experience will be, but I can say for certain that you will be challenged, that you will overcome those challenges, and that you will have a blast! Good luck with your placements and I hope to see y’all embrace what your location has to offer.