Before coming to Korea you will have loads of questions. The problem is, most of these questions can’t really be answered. You will learn really quickly that everything in Korea can change at the last minute. Also, every single teaching job is different. Your apartment, classes, co-teacher, school, rules… everything! It’s really difficult to answer some of the questions, but here are the top 10 questions most newbies ask before leaving the EPIK orientation:
1. When will I know where I’m placed?
When your application is successful, you will receive the name of the province that you are placed in. Usually you will only find out the city you are going to, the day before you leave the orientation. You will meet with the POE (Provincial Office of Education) of your province the day before you leave to sign your contract. They will inform you of your placement as well as the name(s) of your school(s). Some of the POE coordinators or EPIK staff will also be present and you can ask them for more information about your town or city.
2. What will my apartment be like?
Most teachers live in big apartment blocks or “officetels”. Officetels are usually apartment blocks of 4 – 6 floors. Your apartment will most likely be a “one room” apartment (bachelors flat in SA). Your school should provide you with basic furniture (bed, desk, gas range, fridge etc). Usually schools try to get an apartment either close to school or close to public transport, so if you have a school in the rural area, you might be lucky and get to live in the city and take the bus to school or carpool with teachers.
3. When will I meet my co-teacher / principal?
After the EPIK orientation, all of the newbie teachers from your province or area will travel by bus to a pick-up point. Your co-teachers will meet you there. You will travel to your town with your co-teacher. Your co-teacher might take you to school first and you will get to meet your principal. After that you will be taken you to your new apartment and may show you where to buy some groceries. First-time grocery shopping can be quite overwhelming. You suddenly realize EVERYTHING is in Korean. I remember only buying toilet paper, oranges, yoghurt, water and juice. Found my way back to the shop the next morning for some proper inspections! This all usually happens on a Friday and you’ll have the weekend to settle in before school starts. Sometimes your co-teacher will only take you to meet your principal on the Monday when school starts.
4. When will I be connected?
Internet and cellphones – the two things we cannot live without. I understand your need for social networking is great. Really I do. But this is maybe the only bad news for new teachers. You can not get internet or a cellphone contract before you have your Alien Registration Card (ARC/Korean ID). Your co-teacher will take you to the local immigration office in the first week of school. After applying, you’ll have to wait about 2 weeks for your magic ARC card. Only then can you get internet and a cellphone contract set up. There are some cellphone companies who will give “pay as you go” cellphones to foreigners without an ARC, but not all. Some teachers may have apartments where internet is already available. If you have this, consider yourself lucky. If you don’t, don’t worry. Korea has more PC rooms than kimchi. They cost about 1,000won ($1) per hour. Look for a sign that says PC 방 (PC bang, pronounced Pishee bung in English!) or ask any student you see walking around – if you follow them I’m sure they’ll go to one anyways If you have a laptop in Korea, check for some wifi hotspots in your area. For calling, international calling cards are available at most convenience stores, however I find the cheaper option is to find a little shop called “Lotto Toto” – they sell lottery tickets – and ask if they sell a “Double card” (Duubbbl card-uh). These puppies are 15,000won (despite the 21,000 won price tag) and give you a few hours talk time to a landline in SA)
5. When will I have a bank account?
This should be set up for you at the EPIK orientation, however if you want to have an account at a different bank, or you choose not to set one up at EPIK orientation, ask your co-teacher to help you. It is not your co-teacher’s responsibility to take you to the bank or the shop or the loo, but most of them won’t mind helping you. Appreciate anything your co-teacher helps you with. Some of them are newbie co-teachers too and you’re just as scary to them as they are to you. If you want to have internet banking set up, or extra accounts for saving or organize the paperwork for sending money home, ask your co-teacher about that too. Most teachers will not know what you need to do when it comes to setting up overseas remittance, but I’ll try to get enough info from other banks to make a post about that too. You will definitely need your bank details from SA (duh) which includes: your bank name, bank account number, branch code, SWIFT code, bank’s physical address and a contact number.
6. When can I expect my flight reimbursement?
The EPIK entry allowance or flight reimbursement (same-same!) should be paid into your account on your first payday. Do not expect this money to be handed to you when you walk in the first day and do not put that as a budget for “Money-to-survive-the-first-month-with”. Your school should give you a settlement allowance of +- 300,000 won during the first week, however some schools also only give that to you with your first pay. The settlement allowance is for buying things for your apartment for example if you need extra bedding etc. Most schools will give you the cash (or put it in your account), but there are also schools who will take you shopping with the school’s credit card. Either way, spend the money wisely.
7. What should I prepare for the first week of classes?
The first week can be quite a blur. You will be whisked off for all kinds of things – immigration office, meeting people, lunch with the teachers and whatever else they need to do. Sometimes your classes will only start in the second week. Either way, Korea is dynamic (you will hear this 1 billion times) and you should be prepared for anything. Your co-teacher will give you your books and tell you what is expected of you during the first week. If they don’t, ask! For the first lesson (with all grades) prepare something about yourself. Students are infatuated with Westerners. Use PowerPoint and show them pictures of your house / family / pets / favourite foods etc. Jazz it up a bit with a multiple choice quiz about yourself – even if you haven’t told them a thing about yourself! If you want to ease your way into the teaching thing, or you find the first day a bit overwhelming, give them an activity to do where they introduce themselves to you too.
8. What should I wear to school?
This varies. The best is to wear really neat clothing to school for the first week or two. Guys, neat pants, dress shirts and ties. You don’t have to wear a suit but if you have one you can wear it. It’s not a must though. Ladies, cover them up. No underwear should show… ever. Cover your shoulders if possible. If you’re in the February intake, that’s awesome, cause it’s winter. The best advice for deciding what to wear to school is this: “When in doubt, throw it out.” (Don’t wear something if you’re not sure if it’s appropriate) and last but not least: Look great on your first day, find the teachers who are closest to the same age as you and see what they’re wearing. If they’re all buttoned up to the nose, then I’m afraid you’re going to have a hot summer. Take your cue from your co-workers. My boyfriend goes to school in jeans and a t-shirt. My friend goes to school in a suit. My principal wears a suit pants and a golf shirt. It really depends. Oh and shoes!! Don’t worry about the shoes!! They’ll give you slip slops to wear anyways! Worry more about the socks. Clean socks! And don’t giggle at your co-teacher’s cute ducky socks – You’ll soon be wearing cute animal socks with your suit too!
9. How much money do I need to survive the first month?
How much do you eat/drink/shop? This is a DIFFICULT question, but most people bring an average of $700 – $1000 for the first month and it’s more than enough for most people. The first month is crammed with settling in, exploring your new town, and the teaching will possibly exhaust you if you’re not used to it. So the first month *can* be pretty cheap. There are many debates about what is cheaper – eating in or eating out? Here is the basic answer: Western food is expensive. Korean food is not. Period. You can eat a decent Korean meal at a little orange Kimbap shop (they are EVERYWHERE) for about 2500 – 5000 won (R15 – R30) or you could cook your own meals for cheap as well. It all depends on what you eat. The kimbap shops are awesome, but if you’re not too keen on experimenting with ordering a random thing on the menu (cause it’s all in Korean!) or pointing to a picture and praying that it’s good, it might not be a good idea to plan your first month budget around kimbap shops! A beer draft is about R14, a liter of milk is R12, bread can be expensive (R12 – R18) and cups of noodles are magical for a budget. about 700won (Less than R5!!) and they come in a gazillion flavours. I’ve been here for a while and I cook my own dinners. My boyfriend and I visit each other every weekend and we travel loads and I can easily live off 500,000won a month. (R3000) So I’d say anything between $700 – $1,000 should be fine for the first month.
10. How’s the weather?
Ok it might not sound like a really important question, but it’s one I get asked a lot! And I have only one answer. Say goodbye to SA weather. You won’t be seeing it for a while… Korea’s seasons are really extreme. Spring is gorgeous with it’s cherry blossoms and “South African like” temperatures. The autumn leaves (nay FALL, get used to saying FALL) are stunning! But then there’s winter and summer. Winter is freezing, with January being the coldest month. I’m talking -15′C freezing. My-pipes-are-frozen-so-I-cant-take-a-shower-today freezing. The good news? ONDOL! Ondol is the underfloor heating systems in Korea. It can get pretty expensive if you leave it on all day (it uses gas), but it’s sooo nice and toasty! Like everything else in Korea, the price of utilities differ as well. I paid an average of 40 000 won (roughly R250) for gas in the winter, my friend paid 180,000 won (R1100! but that’s extreme!) and my boyfriend has never paid more than 4000won (R25!) Ask your co teacher to show you how the ondol works before they leave you in your apartment. I had no idea, looked at a random panel on the wall and asked “what’s this?”. He said “Don’t worry, don’t touchee!” Well I showered cold that day, in -13′C! The next day I braced myself for gas explosions (I’m paranoid about gas) and pressed the on switch on the “don’t-touchee” panel. It was my hot water. Urghhhh! Longest shower ever. Now on the other side of the extremes we’ll find summer. If you’re from Durban / the East coast, welcome (almost) home. If you’re from Cape Town/the West coast, welcome to hell. Korea’s summer temperatures are very similar to South African summer temperatures. Perfect 30′C beach weather, with one small difference. Humidity. Unbreathable, unbearable humidity. Luckily for us, our schools and apartments have air conditioning. Yay! In the beginning of summer (June / July), Korea also has monsoon season. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Hot and humid rain. It only lasts for about a month. Some typhoons or tropical storms can be experienced between July and September, but they’re usually not THAT serious. It’s not National Geographic Natural Disaster footage.
Soooo I guess that’s it! Feel free to post comments or ask questions!