The road to Korea hasn’t been smoothest one, with the mountains of paperwork, made more difficult due to me doing them from foreign countries. I was determined to try make my arrival as smooth as possible, so left plenty of time to get to the airport from Taipei, but unfortunately couldn’t account for the heavy mist that often settles over the city that left us sat on the runway for over an hour before we took off – meaning I landed an hour after the last bus departed from the airport for the orientation venue.
Luckily my fears I had whilst waiting for my bag of having to get to the outskirts of Busan with all my baggage solo were quickly dissipated with a lone smiley face I found behind the English Program in Korea flag
“You must be Toby!”
“Yes, am I last?”
“Actually we have one more arriving late”
Phew! I wasn’t going to be left to try trek across the city. And when the other latecomer arrived we were whisked across the city in a private car, feeling like we were arriving in luxury. The videos from the airport during the day showed how crazy it had been with hundreds of new teachers arriving and queues to have your visa checked etc, a very stark contrast to what us latecomers had. Arriving at the Busan University of Foreign Studies, our out of town mountainous location for the orientation, we were very quickly medical checked, given our arrival bags and shown to our rooms. My room mate, Tom, was already asleep so I semi opened my bag under phone flash-light and sank into bed.
The orientation was held over 7 days – with the first few days more a general welcome to Korea and the final couple more focussed on preparing us for the teaching we were going to be doing. The split in focus was marked by a day trip into central Busan to see a bit of the city.
They had based the orientation at an away from city centre university campus, high in the hills around 45 minutes from central Busan. The campus certainly had some of the best views I’ve seen from a university and the buildings were all very grandiose and impressive. On the one morning that we had free, we hiked up the mountain behind the university to a temple and cliffs to give us the full panorama before hurrying back down to make class. We had long packed days from 9am to 8pm, with around 6 hours of lectures a day and then either another 90 minutes of survival Korean or preparation for our teaching demonstration.
Being out of the city centre, and in such a large orientation group (just under 300), meant the culture difference didn’t really feel noticeable. You were constantly surrounded by other native English speakers and the delicious food, whilst being mainly Korean, was still served in a very Western buffet format with English descriptions. Whilst I knew that the lectures and classes were going to be helpful in the upcoming teaching, I was actually thinking that it was a lot more important to get to know people as within a week we will all be shipped off to our private apartments in various sections around the city. Having never lived alone before I didn’t want to shut the front door and be left wondering what I was supposed to do whilst not teaching, so the long days were made longer with drinking and karaoke in the evenings, before a power walk up the hill to be back in time for the 11pm curfew.
The opening few days were lots of introductions to Korea, its history, people and culture. The speakers were all fairly interesting and despite them all seeming to have the same opening to their talks, imparted some useful information, which I hope has resided itself somewhere in my sub conscience as trying recollect the particular facts of the talks is proving difficult.
It was a hectically busy week, so the mid orientation trip to central Busan was a welcome change from being talked at. We went to two UN sites in the city, the memorial ground and where a UN meeting was held. We also had time to walk through the city seeing Hyundai beach for some paddling and a bit of frisbee. Busan’s architectural highlight is probably its central bridge that sweeps across the river, with the modern skyscrapers clustered around the end of it. By the end of the day everyone was pretty exhausted from wandering around, and luckily in the evening it was just a cultural session which involved watching half a Korean movie before being allowed to go out.
The organisers had run the timetable to such long days to limit how much drinking time people could fit in before the curfew, so we never had an early finishing evening. I guess we also had quite a lot that we needed to get through, the evenings entertainment was usually are survival Korean class, with our fantastic teacher Stacey, who managed to teach us 4 basic introduction lines in Korea. Post class time I gradually started seeing the same group of faces in the couple of bars nearby throughout the week and these have become the people I’ve been messaging to go do things having now arrived in Daegu. It feels like a really good group of people and has me excited for when we can go out till post 11pm!
The final couple of days were in class lectures more specific to our actual upcoming teaching. The biggest downside was that no one really knew what it was they were going to be teaching when they left orientation. We hadn’t been given our placements yet, so it could be elementary, middle or high school and anywhere in the city. This meant you were just trying to take in everything from all the different levels and hope it would all come together. Overall these lectures were a lot more helpful for the teaching, though there were a couple of dud ones, but I was pretty impressed at most of them and picked up some helpful tips.
Our last evening at orientation involved meeting the office of education and signing our formal contracts. This also meant we would finally find out where and what level we would be teaching at. All the envelopes were laid out on the stage at the front when we entered the Daegu room and nervously we went to find ours. This envelope would have a huge impact on everything you do for the next year: Would you be with the little ones? Nice and central or out in the sticks? Near the friends you’ve spent the week making? Daegu is a huge city and so being placed on opposite sides of it would put you at over an hour away from others.
I found mine and instantly saw on the outside that I was going to be at a middle school. So no little cute Korean kids, but the teenagers for me, which turned out to be the case for an awful lot of people. EPIK has been traditionally placing most of its teachers at elementary schools, so we had been told to prepare for this, but during the education board’s speech they said it was almost a 50/50 split this year, elementary to middle school. Everyone was then searching the map to try and discover whereabouts they were placed, I found mine and had gotten extremely lucky – I was just a few subway stops from downtown Daegu – where everything happens – and close to a metro station. Sigh of relief. Most of my friends from the week had also been placed fairly centrally, enough so that the few that are a way out of the centre have plenty of choices of places to sleep when they come in for the weekends.
The final day was our teaching demonstrations followed by a goodbye ceremony and lunch. I haven’t mentioned the teaching demo yet as it wasn’t really a big issue to me, but I know for some others it dominated their week with worry. We were in groups of three and had to mock teach for ten minutes to the rest of the group on a chosen topic. The lesson was observed, but just commented on rather than heavily critiqued and having signed our contracts the evening before, the pressure wasn’t really on.
I was lucky enough to be in a really good group of other people relaxed about the whole process and so our lesson on prepositions and directions went smoothly and fairly entertainingly, I had the entire class get up and learn the ‘Preposition Rap’ – a song that I’ve used countless times in summer camps and it went really well. Our group ended up being voted as the best teaching demonstration, which surprised me as I thought the high school demo lesson had been better, but I guess people like pretending to be rappers!
So after the final free meal, we jumped on our buses – let’s go Daegu!