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FIRST WEEK IN KOREA & EPIK ORIENTATION

If you are reading this because you are preparing to come to South Korea to teach English through EPIK…Congratulations! You are making an awesome life decision!!!

It’s normal to be a little nervous prior-to coming here, I know I was. I remember sitting in my kitchen on my last night in the U.S. thinking, “What am I getting myself into? What if I realize that I can’t handle living in a country so different? What if I end up hating the one experience I’ve been dreaming about for so long?!!” Well, I will tell you right now that out of the hundreds of English teachers I have met here so far, I only know one who is miserable. And if you do happen to find yourself miserable, it only takes a month to save enough money to fly back to where ever you came from.

I will give you tips and tidbits on subjects in this order:

ARRIVING IN KOREA

BRINGING MONEY

THE DREADED MEDICAL EXAM

ORIENTATION ACCOMMODATION

ORIENTATION DAILY SCHEDULE

LEARNING KOREAN

ARRIVAL

Your first two or three days in Korea will feel like one super long, weird day. I highly recommend that you arrive in Korea at least one day before EPIK shuttles you to the orientation site. Firstly, because you will feel much more rested and ready to meet people. (Would you want to meet hundreds of other people right after stepping off of a fourteen to twenty hour flight?) Secondly, because you never know when a flight might be delayed and if you miss the last shuttle to orientation, you will have to figure out a way to get to Daejeon…by yourself…on your first day in a new country.

I arrived in Korea a day early, in the late afternoon and I stayed at the Kozy Korea Guesthouse in Incheon. It was a very nice place, but honestly you don’t need to travel all the way to that part of Incheon or to Seoul to stay the night, (which is what most early EPIKers tend to do). Now that I know better, I would recommend just staying near the airport so that you don’t have to lug all your shit to and fro. (I mean you are packing for a year, you’re going to have a lot of shit with you!) I met a couple who stayed at a Best Western which has its own shuttle bus from the airport. If you are looking for a cheaper option you should try out Incheon Airport Backpacker Guesthouse located 2 minutes away by car, 

When you get off the plane just follow all the other people through emigration to luggage claim. You’ll find that some people who work at the airport don’t speak much English, while others are fluent. If you need help you’ll be able to find someone…or someone who can find someone.

*Taxis are pretty cheap in Korea and it’s not like some countries where you have to worry about getting in a legit taxi, you will be fine here.

MONEY

EPIK will tell you to bring the equivalent to $1,000 USD in CASH. If you are coming from the U.S. you totally do not need to do that. (This will most likely be true for the other English speaking countries but make sure to do your research first and check with your bank.)

If you belong to a major bank such as PNC, Chase, Citi etc, and or have a major credit card like Visa…any business here that accepts cards will accept your card and ATMs will let you withdraw cash for a small fee, which will still be better than the airport’s exchange rate as long as you withdraw bigger amounts at once rather than frequent smaller amounts.

Yes, it’s good to bring some cash with you from home, maybe $300 or $400 USD at the very most, for things such as the $50 medical exam, taxis and the occasional bar/ restaurant/ street-food vendor that only excepts cash.

And obviously, let your bank know that you are jumping ship and moving to Korea! It can be a good idea to add a parent on to your bank account so that they can handle a problem for you, should one arise while you are over seas.

*Important Note: once you get your Korean bank/debit card, you actually can NOT use it to do any online shopping! That includes Korean companies such as Gmarket. That includes topping of your phone data with EG Sim. You will need to use a global card such as a Visa and you will be pissed that you don’t have any money left on your Visa…as you withdrew it all and converted it to KRW. Yes, you will need your American (or whatever country) card to pay for your Korean Phone…GAH WTF?! After a month of living in Korea you may apply for a global card through your bank, or open a remittence account to easily wire money back to your home account.

MEDICAL EXAM

It’s not as scary as it seems and they are not that invasive, they test for the bare minimum. I have some auto-immune problems and I was afraid the medical staff would notice calcium deposit bumps in my hands and deem me unfit to teach English! But no, they have sooo many people to get through in one day, each nurse checks you out for like 30 seconds and then passes you on to the next one. They will not notice anything that they are not specifically testing for.

If you are afraid of blood tests, the one I had during orientation was the most painless one I’ve ever had. FACT: Korean nurses are infinitely better and quicker at administering blood tests than American ones, it was almost over before it started!

This is exactly what was tested, straight from my medial papers, (which you will receive at the end of orientation).

I only heard about a couple of people getting sent home from my intake for medical reasons. One because of a problem discovered during the chest ex-ray and one because of high blood pressure….so I guess try not to be stressed out?!

ACCOMMODATION

You will be staying at a campus in Daejeon which seems to be used for business retreats, seminars and such. There are markets and coffee shops scattered around near the campus and it’s around a 20 minute walk to a fun area with bars.

You will share a room with one random person who probably won’t be placed in the same city as you. You’ll each get a twin bed that will most likely be the hardest bed you have ever slept on. Get used to it, because that is every bed in Korea. I remember the pillows being quite interesting as well…I looked inside and the filling material resembled little pieces of cut up plastic drinking straws. (You will be able to find normal pillows at E-mart though, don’t worry!) Your room will come complete with Air conditioning, (during the evening/night/early morning), Wifi and a nice TV offering you hundreds of shows you will not be able to understand. There are some common rooms in the dorms with wifi and there is a campus store that sells useful items such as umbrellas.

You will get your first taste of Korean showers. You can think of them as an annoying experience where your whole bathroom gets wet…or as an awesome giant shower/steam room that just happens to have a toilet for your convenience.

You will also get your first taste of Korean toilets, which can’t handle as much toilet paper, (they are really not supposed to handle any…but if throwing all your towel paper in the garbage after using it is just beyond you, you’ll be able to get away with flushing in increments…just don’t be like me and clog your toilet during orientation! THEY DO NOT HAVE PLUNGERS AND SOME GUY HAS TO COME FIX IT WITH THIS CRAZY THING!!!!)

Bring a light-weight bath towel! (Orientation only provides you with a mini hand towel…as do most accommodations in Asia…you will soon come to find).

They will however, provide you with nice shampoo and conditioner, a hair dryer with heart-shaped ventilation holes, slippers, light bedding and EPIK tote bags to carry your things around all day.

DAILY SCHEDULE

You may get the e-mail with the daily schedule and think, “Damn, that’s a lot!”, but really it’s not bad and it flies by. (The first month in Korea honestly flies by!) You get 3 cafeteria style meals a day, they’re not amazing but not bad. (The first couple of days I had no appetite and the first week or so my stomach was slightly upset). You’ll have lectures in the morning and afternoon, some speakers are hilarious and some are super boring. Some helpful, some not. After dinner you will have a Korean class. You won’t learn that much but it’s a great place to ask questions about what you have learned by yourself before coming. After 9:00pm you have free time, some people go to bars and you can see how miserable they are the next day. The first few days, your inner clock will be so screwed up that you probably won’t want to go out. The first half of the week I could barely make it to 8:00pm and I kept waking up at 4:00am not knowing what to do with myself.

LEARNING KOREAN

The last thing I will say is start learning Korean before you come! It’s honestly the easiest Asian writing system there is…I would rather teach someone how to read Korean than English! This website below breaks it down really well and if you study for 20 minutes a day you can probably be literate in 2 or 3 weeks.

Learnlangs.com

There are many words that are the same in Korean as they are in English…but obviously they are going to be written out in Korean letters. Once you can sound out Korean words; congratulations you can officially order coffee in Korea!

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