Culture Shock: Education Edition

I would like to begin this post by saying that I am very grateful for my job as well as the opportunity to gain experience working abroad. I love it, but like any job, it is not without difficulties.

With that said, there are some issues with the education system here that are very hard for me to wrap my head around and I feel compelled to write about them.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, there are generally two ways for a native English speaker to become an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher here in Korea. One is by finding work at a public school, which is run by the government. The big programs are EPIK and GEPIK. The other way is by finding work at a hagwon, or a private school. These schools are businesses (“academies”) that parents pay to send their children to after they finish public school.

I work at a hagwon. It happens to be a chain; the closest comparison I can make is something like Huntington Learning Center in the States. I found my job through contacting a Korean recruiter who was based in Seoul.

Anyway, my first class begins at 3:20 in the afternoon. I have to be in the office 30 minutes prior to start planning my lessons and activities. My first part of the day is spent with my elementary students who are, for the most part, absolutely lovely. They are adorable and energetic. They love reading and speaking. I have students who hug me, hold my hand, and give me stickers. It fills me with complete and utter joy to be in class with these kids and watch as they learn new ideas and concepts about the English language. I genuinely believe they enjoy being there.

After dinner, though, around 7:30, the entire dynamic of my classes changes. The evening is when most of the middle schoolers come in for lessons. The majority of them are terrified to even look me in the eye, let alone speak or participate. They literally sit in their chairs with their hands in their laps and their heads resting on their desks. It is like pulling teeth to get them to answer questions. Others are defiant. I’ve had some call me a bad teacher and tell me how horrible their days are because they are in class with me. It’s not fun.

The other day, I had one class where only two students showed up. Since it was so small, I let them play games on the board and practice answering questions with each other. At one point, I asked them how long their regular school day is. Eight and a half hours was the answer. Then, I asked how long they come to “academy” for. Four hours was the answer. These are 12, 13, and 14 year olds who have a 12+ hour day. I don’t know adults who work that long! It was so sad to hear this because you can really see the exhaustion on their faces. For most classes, I start off by asking how they spent the night before or what they did over the weekend. The answer is almost always study or sleep.

I know that there’s nothing I can do about this. I know that this is part of Korean culture. I just wish that my older students had the energy and enthusiasm of my elementary kids. Many of them are so bright, but they don’t make any effort because they are tired and don’t want to be sitting in a classroom at 9 o’clock at night. On the other side, though, it also makes me sad to know that in a few short years my lively youngsters will be in the same position as my middle schoolers. There is no winning.

That was my rant.


Apostilles Apostilles Apostilles

Getting a document apostilled is probably one of the most frustrating things I have ever experienced.

As an American, I had never even heard of an apostille before I began this process.

So, my advice for anyone wanting to teach English in Korea is this:

Prepare your documents before you even start applying to positions. You will want to rip your hair out less.

The apostille (or lack thereof) was my downfall in my EPIK application.

It was not explained properly by my recruiter and as the deadline was drawing nearer, I decided to pull my application.

I’m not going to go into detail about my strife, but please see below for what you ACTUALLY need to do:

1. Obtain an apostilled copy of your BA diploma. This can be done through your state’s Department of Treasury (I went to Trenton since I live in NJ). Your diploma copy also has to be notarized before it can be apostilled. Additionally, if your diploma is not in English, you must also obtain a translation of it (my diploma is actually in Latin because I went to a private Catholic University).

2. Obtain an apostilled copy of an FBI background check. I used VetConnex for my background check. You also need to get two sets of fingerprints from your local police station and VetConnex charges $45 to process. You have to send your fingerprint cards, the application, and the payment. After, you will receive your background check in the mail. THEN, you must send your background check to get a FEDERAL apostille, not a STATE one (this is what I did. Don’t make the same mistake, kids).

You need these documents for your E-2 Visa!!

Here is the mailing address for the Office of Authentications in Washington, D.C. (notice how it’s not actually in Washington):

Office of Authentications
U.S. Department of State
44132 Mercure CIR PO BOX 1206 Sterling, VA 20166 1206

The federal apostille only costs $8 and you have to send your payment, along with your document, and this form to the address above.

It will take about 5 business days to process in VA before actually getting sent to the Washington, D.C. office. Once it arrives there, it should take about 10 business days. (I just called the office to check on the status and this is what they told me.)

Also, here is the phone number for the Office of Authentications: 202-485-8000

I really hope this is helpful to some of you, because I totally wish I knew all the proper steps to take when I started this process.

Just go for it!

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

After my interview with EPIK on Thursday, my interviewer told me that my recruiter would let me know if I’ve been accepted in two to three days.

My recruiter just e-mailed me and all she said was “Please print out this final application form when you submit all your documents =)”

Does that mean I’m in? Or will it be determined after I submit my documents?

I don’t know. I was expecting something more formal, I suppose?

I e-mailed her back and now I’m sitting here, waiting for a reply, even though I was to get up for work in five hours.

Post-Interview Positivity

I just finished my EPIK interview.

I feel relieved. And, to my surprise, very confident.

My interviewer added me on Skype several minutes late, but called me as soon as I accepted his request.

We did our introductions, and he gave me a run-down of how the interview was going to progress:

1. Go over basic application info (full legal name, DOB, birth place)

2. Go over application essays/lesson plan

3. Additional questions

I didn’t have a difficult time answering questions about my essays/lesson plan. I spent all day reviewing them. During the section on my lesson plan, he asked how I would deal with students who might be at a lower level than the rest of the class as well as how I would deal with rude/insensitive students.

My interviewer asked why I would be a good EPIK teacher. I discussed my experience working with children at my current job (I do a lot of children’s programs at the museum where I work) as well as the fact that I recently started tutoring non-native English speakers via Skype.

He also asked why I wanted to teach in Korea. I talked about an Asian art history class I took in college that really influenced me. I learned a lot about the Silla Dynasty and the art I admire from that period.

My interviewer also asked questions like if I had any tattoos, if I ever did drugs, if I ever took medication for anxiety/depression, etc.

At the end, he thanked me for my time and told me my recruiter will notify me in 2-3 days to let me know if I’ve been selected.

I feel pretty darn good right now!


EPIK Interview Tonight!

Tonight at 9PM (EST) is my official EPIK interview.

I’ve been going over my personal essays and lesson plan from my application, as well as brushing up on some Korean history/culture.

I’ve taught myself “hello” (안녕하세요) and “thank you” (감사합니다) while I continue to work on my hangul (한글).

I plan on wearing a black suit and a blue button-up shirt to keep it simple and professional.

Please send good energy! I’ve made it this far and I want this opportunity more than anything right now.