Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

3 things I wish I knew about the EPIK orientation for future English teachers in South Korea

1. I wish I would’ve known that I could arrive at Incheon Airport anytime between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.

In the weeks leading up to our departure from recession-soaked Florida to South Korea, Chickpea and I were frantically contacting our recruiter and trolling forums trying to figure out what time we should arrive at Incheon Airport so our EPIK handlers could pick us up and take us to our orientation location. This was an important piece of information, because the flights from Florida landed in South Korea at wildly different times. Unfortunately, our recruiter was less than forthcoming, because the agency wanted us to wait until the last moment to buy our tickets in case there was some change in orientation dates or visa requirements. But in order to get the best possible price for our flight, we needed to know before the week prior to leaving.

See the problem?

We eventually just bought a ticket that put us in Korea at 7 p.m. We ended up waiting two more hours for the next EPIK orientation bus to arrive (and that wasn’t even the last one of the night). If I would’ve known this two weeks earlier, I could’ve shaved at least $200 from my ticket.

2. I wish I would’ve known how many times I’d have to lug my suitcase up and down several flights of stairs.

Before you pack those extra few teaching books or 10 pounds of American candy for your students (true story!), consider this: In the first 10 days after arriving in Korea will you have to lug your suitcases around at least eight times and usually up or down several floors. In reality, you probably can’t avoid this fact but make sure you have durable luggage (with wheels) that can handle your death grip as you alternately drag and throw your suitcase down seven flights of stairs (true story!).

3. I wish I would’ve known how packed the schedule was at orientation and slept better before my flight.

My fellow EPIK teachers may disagree with this, but Chickpea and I found the EPIK orientation truly exhausting. The schedule is packed from breakfast at 8 a.m. to a Korean language class that ends 12 hours later with little time in between to just relax. Even the hour-long meal times drained my energy; meeting new faces and holding conversations can be taxing after the fifth day straight. Add to this the dinners and various performances that can run until 10 p.m. And that’s not even taking into account the energy needed to acclimate to the food and just fully realize “Wow, I’m really half-way across the world.”

Don’t get me wrong: the EPIK orientation is a rewarding experience, and a good introduction to the fast-paced reality of Korea, but get your rest. You’ll need it.

Smack dozens of teachers into dorms, lecture at them for 10 days straight while feeding them quasi-Korean food and then smoosh them against a wall and some desks and tell them to pose while saying "Kimchi!" and this is the photo that you'll get.
Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Arriving in Incheon Airport

AUGUST 18 — Weary from a 16-hour plane ride — mind fried, legs cramped, butterflies setting up permanent camp in my stomach — we arrived in Incheon Airport. I followed the crowds blindly, first to immigration and then to baggage claim. We wheeled our 200-pounds of luggage to an area on the other side of the airport, roped off just for those of us headed to teach in Korean public schools.

I had just enough time to meet a few people, brush my teeth, wash my face and wait two more hours for a bus to pick us up and make the three-hour journey to Jeonju University.

Once on the bus, my eyes struggled to remain open, not wanting to glance away from the onslaught of neon lights and shadowy mountains. The guy next to me is drinking soju. The couple a few seats back talk about Jesus. The bus bounces along.

I’m out cold.

I awoke at 1 a.m. to the sound of a bus microphone. Thirty confused, crusty-eyed expats shuffle out of the bus and under it, grabbing luggage. I’m stumbling and barely miss the largest praying mantis I’ve ever seen. We’re herded into a lobby, names checked, roommates chosen, shirts presented and soon I’m in a hard bed barely bigger than me with a window nearby overlooking my¬† new country, my new home.