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What is it like teaching for EPIK?

 

EPIK is a Korean government program, and the letters stand for English Program in Korea. They send foreign English teachers to pubic schools all over Korea. I had a contract with them for one year the second year I was in Korea. I am an American, but they don’t recruit in America. They recruit in places like Canada, England, and Australia. However, since I was already teaching in Korea, I got constant emails from them when I came here trying to get me to come teach for them. For potential EPIK teachers, you wonder what it might be like, so I will tell you what I know.

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My certificate that I worked for EPIK.

To begin with, it sounds really nice. They offer a decent salary, health insurance. free furnished lodging, orientation to teach you about Korea, a free round trip plane ticket, EPIK back up, small settling fee, transportation to school and back, and severance pay. The contract looks good, but how does it all work? Do they come through? My answer is yes and no. They have good intentions, but can’t control your school situation.
The salary is decent. There is health insurance. There is free lodging. However, in my negotiations with them, they promised me a three bedroom apartment which I asked for because I had two teenage kids with me, and EPIK agreed. My kids and I took a bus from Seoul south to Seosan in Chungnam province where they had given me a pubic school teaching position. We were met by the Korean English teacher of the school where I was supposed to teach. He took us to our apartment which was two dirty unfurnished rooms with no refrigerator and a stove that didn’t work over a bar. I had been tricked! Before I knew it, the English teacher was telling me how to get to school on Monday, and he was gone.
We were almost out of money. I tried to contact EPIK, but there was no one in the office. We were lost, and we had been cheated. There were no beds, and the floors were dirty. We had no idea where a store was. We decided the first thing we needed to do was find a store where we could buy food, cleaning supplies, pillows, or whatever else we could find so we could rest for the night. We went out and began walking, There was a small convenience store across the street where we could buy food, and after we walked for a bit, we found a small store where we could buy a broom, a mop, and other cleaning supplies. We went a little further, and we found pillows. We were lucky because we each actually had a blanket with us.

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An English newspaper article about me coming to the school

Over the weekend, we cleaned the apartment up. On Monday, I caught the bus I had been instructed to catch and went to work and called EPIK again. EPIK was unhappy that the school had given me two dirty rooms and no furniture. They said they would get the school to give us what they had promised. The English teacher at the school said that the people in Seoul didn’t understand and that it was too expensive to give me a decent apartment, I felt stuck because I had no money and needed a job.
EPIK told the school they must at least furnish my apartment. They brought three beds. My teenage daughter and I got one room, and my teenage son got the other room. We set up a computer in my son’s room because my kids were being schooled online. They brought a TV and a washing machine. They brought a tiny refrigerator, but the stove still didn’t work, and we didn’t have a table and chairs. We bought rods to hand our clothes on and plastic chest of drawers in the local stores. I complained again, and EPIK made them bring me a little bit bigger fridge and a small table and chairs that barely fit in the kitchen that was no bigger than a hallway. They had a technician come and work on the two burner stove and got it working. Finally, the apartment was under control even if it wasn’t big enough and even if we could hear the drunks downstairs to the wee hours of the night, and then be woken up by organ music from a church building behind us early in the morning. At least the organ music was nice.

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A promotion photo for the school. The girls here were good students. I had to work with the boys to make them good students.

At school, I had a cubicle in the teacher’s room with the other teachers and was given a schedule of classes. There was also a teacher’s lounge where the teachers went to drink coffee and a cafeteria where they served barely palatable food every day for lunch. Going to class was a nightmare. The law stated that the Korean English teacher was supposed to keep order, and that I was supposed to teach, but the students were out of control, and the Korean English teacher refused to go to class with me. In Korea, teachers have to handle discipline problems with the students in the classroom. They can’t send them to the principal. The teachers were spanking the students, but I had heard they were trying to make a law in Seoul that teachers in Korea could no longer spank their students.

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a picture of me with some of the students

The teacher from England who taught before me didn’t teach everyone. They students were so out of control that she had made the decision just to teach the students who wanted to listen and ignore the others. She hadn’t spanked like the Korean teachers were doing, and the students were completely out of control in the English classroom. They were cutting themselves with razor blades, lighting fires in the classroom, screaming, walking around the classroom as if I wasn’t teaching, jumping out windows, flipping one another the bird (if you know what that means), and smoking. I couldn’t teach under those circumstances. I called EPIK again telling them the Korean English teacher had to be in the classroom with me, but the Korean English teacher wanted to sit in his cubicle. I talked to the other teachers. They all said the only way to control these students was to spank them, and they carried around switches.
I am a mother, and I know the rules of spanking, but I didn’t want to spank. I decided that I would just get a switch and carry it like the other teachers and threaten to spank them if they didn’t shut up, sit down, give me the lighters, give me the razor blades, stop jumping out windows, stop flipping one another off, and listen. Needless to say, no one listened. The tyrinical mop continued. I knew that if I could just get them to listen, I could get them to enjoy learning English, but getting them to listen was seemingly impossible. I tried doing special things to get their attention. I gave out candy to students who learned or did good things, but when they saw the candy bad, they mobbed me and took all the candy. I finally began spanking. For example, if they were just walking around the classroom while I was teaching, I would tell them to sit down, but they would refuse, so I would threaten to spank, but they still refused, so I backed up what I said and gave them a swat. If they still refused, they got another swat. They got swats until they listened. I didn’t back down. It didn’t matter if these students towered over me. I stood up to them and didn’t let them bully me. I got them under control, but it shattered my nerves doing it.

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A picture of me with my students from the Seosan Education Center, another class tacked on top of the middle school and elementary school I was teaching at in Seosan.  I went out to eat with them. I did yoga with some of them. Some of them followed me to church.

After I got them under control, I began playing English games with them, and they decided it was fun to learn English and began cooperating without a problem. I spent many hours making up fun games for them. I wrote a play especially for them, and we performed a play in English completely pleasing all their parents. I was arriving at school at 7:00 in the morning and not able to get on the bus to go home until 7:00 at night. I was happy because my students were cooperative, happy, and learning, but I didn’t like the hours.

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A picture of me with some of the students with one of the English games I made for them to play.

In the summer and winter, the other teachers had a vacation, but I was expected to hold winter and summer camps to pump extra English into the students. In the winter, it was bad. There were heaters in the classrooms, but the school refused to turn them on because they were electric, and if you use over a certain amount of electricity in Korea, they double your electric bill. I was teaching in a coat, hat, and gloves, and the students were the same with blankets on their laps. They left the windows in the hallways and the bathrooms open. It was freezing outside! In the teacher’s room, the teachers had a kerosene stove they kept lit to heat the teacher’s room, but the students and the classrooms were freezing.

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the unpublished manuscript of the play I wrote and directed for the school

Needless to say, things were not as I expected anywhere, and the only way thing I could do was work at trying to make everything better. The school never listened to the people from EPIK even though the people from EPIK would talk to them and try to get them to do the right thing. Before I went to Seosan in Chungnam Province, there was a university in Seoul who had been talking to me about teaching there, so I went back to Seoul for an interview, and they wanted me. If I quit my job in Chungnam Province early, they could cause trouble, but there was a clause in my contract saying I could give them 6 weeks notice, so I gave them 6 weeks notice. When I left, the Korean English teacher chose to cry, but his refusal to cooperate, fulfill the contract, and help was a lot of the problems. The school also decided they needed to give me something that had come for me a long time before, but they were sitting on. I had received an award from the governor of Chungnam Province for the way I got the students to sit down and begin learning. However, that award didn’t last long because in my next school, it was stolen, and after all is said and done, I figured out who stole it, but they never knew that I knew.

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A picture taken of the group of EPIK teachers at the orientation.

When I went to EPIK Orientation, it was fun. I stayed in a dorm room, attended classes about teaching English in Korea, watched a Korean movie, and went to a type of Korean style Broadway show. I kept track of my room mate for a while from Orientation. She was a young Indian girl from England. They sent her to the middle of the country. She was scared to death! She also had no furniture in her apartment. She thought people were stalking her and was afraid to go out after dark. Even though her English was impeccable because she was English, because of her Indian heritage, the teachers at her school treated her badly. She was unable to make friends at all, and they made comments about her dark skin and black hair. I had made lots of friends in Seosan. It is a very friendly place. However, the country school and neighborhood where Anne Marie went treated her badly because she didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes like other English people. She was always calling me crying and lonely. Finally, her dad showed up from England, and she went home with him because he saw her circumstances and how unhappy she was.
I hope other people who sign a contract with EPIK have an easier time than Anne Marie, my roommate from orientation, and I had. It sounds like a really good deal, but you have to be young, strong, blonde, healthy, bold, and thick skinned to pull it off. If you do it and decide that it is much more than you signed up for, just remember, you have to give them notice because they could cause a lot of trouble for you if you don’t.

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