Dear Friends and Family – an FAQ for the loved ones of EPIK applicants

Hello friends and family.

As I’m moving to Incheon (as I’ve just found out) in February to teach English through EPIK, I felt it necessary to write a blog about the questions and response I’ve gotten when I told people I’d be moving to Korea. I have included here questions that other EPIK applicants have been asked, and included their responses along with my own.

If you can think of any other (general) questions, feel free to comment and let me know, and I’ll add them in a new post.

“Which Korea?”

Ah ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

“Oh! Gangnam Style!”

This might seem like a bit of  a strong reaction, but after the millionth or so time that someone had said this to, this seems like a fair response.
This might seem like a bit of a strong reaction, but after the millionth or so time that someone had said this to you, this seems like a fair response.

“Don’t leave!”

I’m never entirely sure how to respond to this.

There seem to be two main sentiments behind this statement. These are:

1. I’ll miss you!

This is the nice sweet version. It’s meant well, without the guilt trip. It’s not actually meant to make you second-guess yourself and your decision.

2. I don’t think you should leave!

There’s a problem with this version. This isn’t meant with quite as much love and kisses, and more with the intent of making you second guess yourself, or feel guilty.

Here’s the thing: moving to another country – away from your home, friends and family – is a not a decision to be made lightly, or on a whim. It’s going to be (for many of us) an emotionally difficult time. If you love this person, and care about them, support their decision. If you think that what they’re doing is ultimately harmful for them, or that they’re doing it for the wrong reasons, have a serious discussion with them and find out why they’ve decided to do this. Be calm, be rational. Don’t be hysterical and (I cannot emphasize this enough) do not guilt trip them!

Here’s what I have to stress – don’t try to manipulate this person’s emotions. Don’t try to make them feel guilty about what they’re doing. Don’t do this simply for the sake of making them second guess themselves. Don’t make them stay if they don’t want to, because that will only make them resent you.

If you love this person, do what’s best for them. Not you.

“Isn’t it scary?” and its counterpart“You’re so brave! I could never do something like that…”

Down the Rabbit Hole

Yes. This can be scary.

But the applicants I’ve spoken to have done a lot of research, and we know what we’re getting ourselves into. Also, thanks to social networking, we’re getting to know each other, and we’re making connections with people who are already there (some of the previous intake of teachers have joined the official group for my intake, and they’re doing a wonderful job of reassuring us and making us feel welcome).  Yes, it’s scary. Yes, this is actually quite a brave thing we’re doing, but we’re not sending ourselves out like lambs to the slaughter. Lambs don’t have the internet to help them out.

How can I put this better? We’re not seeing this in terms of fear and bravery. We’re seeing this as an adventure.

“Why Korea? Why not __________?”

Korea is recommended as a good place to start a career in ESL teaching.  The public school jobs offer an excellent starting salary, free furnished accommodation, a settlement allowance and refunded airfare. And so do most private school options. Additionally  EPIK offers an orientation program. This program isn’t something new, it’s something that’s been running a long time. They know what to expect. And, if we do our research, so do we.

For many new ESL teachers, Korea offers a teaching post that they couldn’t otherwise find. The standard of living and the cost of living are both good and it’s technologically advanced. As a bonus, it’s beautiful. Check out the photos. It really is.

“I’ve heard awful stories about teaching in Korea…”

I’m sure you have. So have we. All that research we’re doing it not for nothing. If you’ve heard the stories, so have we. We’ve also heard positive stories. Probably more positive stories than negative ones.

This may be why your loved one has chosen to go through EPIK, or one of the other public school programs, so that they know what to expect, and are protected by the law. Those who have gone other routes (through hagwons and such) have (hopefully) done their research and gotten second opinions on the school in question, and have chosen somewhere reputable. This is why many people going through hagwons work through reputable recruiters.

Furthermore, and it may be mean to say this, but some people are apt to whine. When you hear this information about how terrible it is, consider the source. I’m sure your loved one has.

“Are you looking for Korean husband/ wife?”

This really depends on your loved one. Most prospective teachers I’ve spoken to are not going to are not going spouse hunting. Or F6 visa hunting. In my opinion, moving to another country may not the best way to go about looking for a spouse.

But here’s a better answer – should your loved one go to Korea, fall in love with a Korean and marry him/her,  trust your loved one and their judgement. But I doubt that this is what people are actually looking to do.

“But you’ll be back in a year, right?”

This is a tricky one.

shrug

This depends on why your loved one is going to Korea. Are they going for some adventure, a different experience and a good salary to help them pay student loans? Or are they going to start a career in ESL teaching?

Also, a lot of EPIK applicants are aware that they have the option to renew (or to ask to be renewed) with the school they’re teaching at. They could also reapply for a new placement through EPIK. Or take up teaching at a hagwon. Considering all the benefits, it makes sense that they may want to stay. Also, with the job market being what it is, a paycheck and a flat may be preferable to coming back and facing uncertainty and a job hunt.

This is often a case of seeing how it goes. If they like teaching, they may stay. If they don’t, they may return. If they like it, they may return anyway. They may not want to stay in Korea, and may choose to go elsewhere. Until they’ve actually taught, they don’t know whether they’ll want to continue in it.

Various questions about food, including “You’re going to eat someone’s pet!”

I learnt this handy trick from my mother – when eating something unfamiliar, don’t ask what it is. Try it and see if you like it. If your loved one is fussy eater, they may have a hard time. If your friend is a vegetarian/ vegan/ something like that, they may have a hard time.

As for eating dog – from everything I’ve read and heard, dog is considered a delicacy and it’s very expensive. Not everywhere serves it. You’re not going to find it on your plate accidentally.

Various questions about the language

Korean is a difficult language to learn, but there are ways to learn some basic Korean before you leave. I would type it all up, but there’s a lovely blogger who’s done that for me already. Click here to see it. Basically, the author describes how she is teaching herself Korean before she leaves for Korea. There are easy ways to do it, and learn simple, useful words and phrases before you leave. Also, for lazy sods like me, there are options like this, where you can get bits of helpful Korean (like how to use an ATM or a washing machine) to help you out. As far as I know, you can get it as an app for your phone too.

Furthermore, the alphabet and writing system are absolutely fascinating (to me) and is quite logical. It’s quite easy to come to grips with it.

I hope that answers some of your questions.

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