Before I continue with the monthly wrap up posts, I thought it would make sense to explain what the hell I’m doing in South Korea. Everything will make much more sense afterwards. This post is about the program itself, but I will address my motivations for doing it in another post.
Who Is Eligible? (The Official Version)
I’m currently working on a one-year contract as a Guest English Teacher in three elementary schools in Korea. I came to Korea in August through a program called English Program in Korea (EPIK). EPIK is part of the Korean Ministry of Education and its goal is to recruit and place native English speakers from the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand into public schools in Korea so as to improve the quality and the depth of the English-language curriculum.
In order to be considered for the program, participants must be native English speakers from the seven countries previously listed. EPIK is incredibly strict about these guidelines. Even if you come from one of these countries, you have to show that you’ve done your schooling from 7th grade onwards in English. Applicants from Montreal and South Africa have to submit special proof of these requirements. In addition, applicants need a bachelor’s degree (in any subject) from an English-speaking country and a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate.
Who is Eligible? (The Unofficial Version)
Aside from those requirements, I can say that allegedly the program looks for a “clean” look. As part of the application, participants have to disclose if they have tattoos or body piercings and if they smoke. Tattoos and non-ear body piercings must be covered at school and participants sign a statement saying they will not smoke anywhere where a student might see them. The application also requires a federal background check. Upon arrival and each year teachers renew their contracts they must submit to drug testing. HIV testing used to be required but was recently discontinued.
I’ve also heard that the program favors young (under 30), white, North American females because they have the same accent as the teaching materials, they are seen as “models” of what foreigners look like and they’re non- threatening. Obviously there’s no way to confirm that, but from personal experience I can say that my colleagues make a lot of comments about how my predecessor was black.
What’s the Application Like?
If it sounds like a lot of work just to apply, it is. The application is 10 pages long and requires three essays, a lesson plan, a personal health assessment and details about past education and employment. Plus two letters of recommendation, one from an academic source and one from a professional source. If you make it past the first round you’ll wait at least a month before knowing if you pass to the next stage: the Skype interview.
Some see the interview as more of a formality, others get super stressed out. I was kind of in the middle. I figured my chances were pretty good even my experience living in France and working with kids. A few days after the interview, you’re informed if you passed or not. If you passed, you have to send your diploma (and proof of its authenticity), a federal criminal background check and proof of enrollment in a TEFL course.
Once all of the paperwork is submitted, you’ll wait again to receive final approval and to find out where you’ll be placed.
Guest English Teachers (GETs) work in public schools, some middle and high, but mostly elementary due to budget constraints. Teachers contracted to teach 22 classes a week with the help of a licensed Korean teacher. For elementary schools, each class is 40 minutes, so technically teachers only work 15 hours a week. However, the contract stipulates that teachers are on the clock for 40 hours a week, which means lesson planning, YouTube viewing and blog writing are just some of the activities GETs participate in to fill the hours.
Teaching conditions vary from school to school and even from teacher to teacher. Some completely involve the GETs, other prefer to use them solely as pronunciation models.
What’s the Draw?
Money and benefits, folks. Pure and simple. There are certainly people here who love Korean culture, who have studied Korean, who want to live here forever, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Most participants are young college graduates looking to pay debts or to build up savings for travel or grad school. I fall into the second category.
After seven months, I was able to pay off the remaining debt on my school loans, explore Seoul and other cities in my province and travel to France during the winter vacation. Not bad, eh?
Pay is about $1,800 a month (this varies according to experience and currency fluctuations). The program pays for flights. We are provided a free furnished apartment and a settlement allowance to buy anything to make it more homey, (nearly free) comprehensive medical care, a contract completion bonus (or renewal bonus for staying another year) and a pension. Oh, and for the first two years, your income isn’t taxable.
The cost of living in Korea is affordable (fresh produce and imported food aside). Teachers can still go out on weekends, travel in South East Asia during vacations and still easily save at least $10,000 (for those who are more careful, saving around $17,000 is completely doable).
Kind of a no-brainer, right?
Do you have experience with EPIK? Would you consider doing this program? Comment here or on Facebook!