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

New airport train opens, Daegu to Incheon Airport in just under 3 hours!

Life just got easier for far flung expats and Koreans who need to fly out of the country via Incheon Airport. On Tuesday, the second phase of the AREX commuter train opened, allowing passengers to move from Seoul Station to Incheon Airport in 43 minutes. It’s truly a belated Christmas present from Korea’s transit authorities!

As Chickpea and I were preparing for our upcoming winter vacation in Southeast Asia, we ran into an unexpected obstacle: getting to the airport. We assumed that all major cities in Korea (Daegu, Busan, etc.) were linked to South Korea’s main airport, Incheon Airport (ICN), and moving ourselves and a few pieces of luggage would just be a matter of taking the bullet train (KTX) to Seoul and then hopping on a subway or some other easy form of transport.

Nope.

Before this week, travelers like us might have had several options, but all posed some logistical problem:

1. Take the Daegu to Incheon Airport Bus. Pros: Takes you right to the airport; no transfers; about 30,000 won makes it the cheapest option. Cons: Nearly 5 hour journey; can’t buy tickets online; only a few buses run each day (a problem since we want to leave right after we get out of school); possible traffic delays.

2. Take the KTX train to Seoul Station and hop on an airport limousine bus. Pros: Perhaps faster; not a bus; order train and bus tickets at the station for a discount. Cons: While the KTX may be fast (2 hours from Daegu) the times for the bus vary between 1 hour 15 minutes and 2 hours and that’s not figuring in any traffic delays.

3. Take the KTX train to Seoul Station, hop a subway to Gimpo Airport and then an express train to Incheon Airport. Pros: According to blogs and forums this is the best value; takes a little over 3 hours. Cons: 3 transfers (you have to transfer on the subway twice to reach Gimpo; big possibility of getting lost and confused and taking a few extra hours.

4. Take the KTX train to Seoul Station and hailing a taxi. Pros: Arguably the fastest. Cons: Over $100US in total; possible traffic delays

Of course, you still have these options, but now travelers in Daegu can board a comfortable KTX train to Seoul Station (just under 2 hours) and then hop on this express train straight to the airport (45 minutes). The cost? Roughly 39,000 won for the KTX ticket and 13,000 won for the express train ticket ($45US total). The price is even less if you take the slower commuter train to the airport (3,700 won) that will make 10 stops and delay you about 10 minutes.

What’s more, you can even check in with your airline — luggage and all — at Seoul Station.

In a few more years, the trip will get even easier. Korea has already started work that will allow the KTX trains bound for Seoul to go to straight to Incheon Airport . For those in Busan, this would cut a trip that takes roughly 6 hours now to only 2 hours 40 minutes. Wow.

The only downside is I cannot find where you can buy tickets for this train on an English website. If anyone finds out, please leave a comment with the info. I plan on just getting my ticket at Seoul Station.

Here’s a guide to getting those AREX tickets at Seoul Station. See you on the train!

UPDATE: A fellow English teacher reminded me there is another way to get from Daegu to Incheon Airport: by air. There is one flight each day from Daegu Airport to Incheon. I’ve read prices are 50,000-70,000 won. Still a bit expensive and not very useful, but could work in a jam. Here’s another site detailing all the ways to get to/from Incheon.

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.