EPIK Orientation Fall 2009 - A Review

Monday, August 31, 2009
Hey everybody, I'm once again blogging from a local PCbang in Daejeon. It's less than $1 per hour...but I still wish that I had my own internet. Oh well, hopefully I'll get that soon.

I just wanted to take another moment to write a bit about EPIK Orientation this year.

General Thoughts

First, an overview of how I thought everything was put together. In brief, I thought that everything was organized very well by EPIK. Before coming to Korea, I had read a lot of information about how EPIK wasn't a well organized program, and because of this I had pretty low expectations about orientation. Well, my expectations were easily surpassed. The week was well designed, with numerous lectures that were very useful, a field trip, and a "mock lesson" presentation on the last day to give us a bit of experience. I was very satisfied with how everything was put together. Yes, a couple of the lectures were terrible, and with four 90 minute lectures each day, it was occasionally a struggle to make it through them without a quick nap, but I persevered.

Jeonju City

I also thought that both the city of Jeonju and Jeonju University did an excellent job of hosting us. The Univeristy made most of its facilities (Gym, computer labs, etc) open to us, and the city put together a big picnic for us in the traditional part of Jeonju. Furthermore, the local businesses near the Jeonju University campus did a great job of dealing with a bunch of goofy foreigners invading their businesses. I'm sure we were quite a hassle for them, but I'm also sure that we gave them plenty of business in what is usually a slow time of year.

My Thoughts

Lastly, from a personal standpoint, I think I took away a lot from the orientation. From my experience with YFU Japanese camp, I've seen how these sort of short "10 day new country orientation" camps affect people mentally and emotionally, but in at those camps, I was still in my home country. This time, I was the one moving to a new country, so it was interesting to see how things went. Needless to say, I met a lot of people in a short period of time, and I'm curious to see how well I'll keep in touch with them. I'm notoriously bad about keeping in touch with people, but I think I met some people who will be in Daejeon that I can hang out with, as well as a few others who I would like to keep in contact with despite being further away. So, to any EPIKers who are reading this: I know I only met you guys for about 10 days, but it was a lot of fun, and I'm better off for it! Keep in touch!

Oh, and on a side note...lets just say I'm glad I made it through the week without being deported. I'm sure at least a few of you know what I'm talking about :P (Don't worry, nothing too bad!)

In Closing

I could probably write a whole book about EPIK Orientation if I set my mind too it, but I think I'll end here. If you have any questions about the orientation (either general or personal), feel free to ask me via comments or e-mail. Oh, one more thing, I do have a few pictures orientation, I'll put them all up on Facebook and probably upload a select few on here at some point. It will probably happen once I get internet either at my apartment or at my school, we'll see.

That's all for now, see ya!


Saturday, August 29, 2009
Hey all, I just made it into Daejeon 2 days ago, and so far, things have been going well.

I have my own place, but I don't have internet yet, so I'm currently writing from a PCbang, which is what the Koreans call a PC Cafe. It's probably a bit different than what you would expect though, because I'm basically surrounded by Koreans playing Starcraft and other games.

My apartment is a little small, but the location is GREAT! I am within walking distance of both of my schools, and about a 20 minute walk from a big bustling downtown area that is full of stores, bars, and shops. And there's a noraebang (Korean karaoke) place on the same block as me. So, things are so far so good in that regard!

I've only met one of my co-teachers, but she has been very friendly so far. I'm going to be teaching at two elementary schools, and in at least one of them, I am the first ever foreign teacher. My co-teacher said she was nervous about meeting her new foreigner teacher, but after meeting me, she is very relieved. I guess I made a good first impression! :) She and her husband took me out for food and drinks last night. It was a lot of fun, and I look forward to meeting the other teachers at both my schools and joining them for school outings.

Anyway, I'm going to end this here, but there are still lots of things I'd like to write about. I still want to make a post summing up EPIK Orientation, particularly. I'll probably write it up on my laptop and post it later.

'Til next time!

P.S. Watching Japanese anime dubbed in Korean is a total mindf***.


Monday, August 24, 2009
Today marks the end of my first week in Korea, so it seems like a good time to write something. I was hoping to write updates more often, but between classes and after-hours activities, I've hardly had time to relax, much less write on this blog. In fact, I'm skipping lunch right now to do so! (I'm pretty sick of the cafeteria food here.)

EPIK Orientation has been an interesting experience so far. The first few days were really really fun, just meeting all sorts of new people and experiencing the area around me. The past couple of days I've been feeling a little more blue though. I think my energy level is starting to dip a bit, and I think that has been affecting me a bit, both my mood directly and probably the quality of my social interactions with the other teachers here. Case in point: I'm in my room blogging and kicking out some jams rather than talking with people at lunch. Perhaps I just needed a little break today. In any case, overall I'd can say that I'm having a positive experience so far.

I think it's possible that it's also really starting to sink in that I'm going to be here for quite a bit of time. A few nights ago I was standing outside of a convenience store with some fellow foreigners, have some drinks (it's legal to drink outside here). I started thinking about exactly what all of the Koreans walking by us were thinking about this huge mass of foreigners, because we were obviously not Korean, nor following proper Korean drinking etiquette.

I kind of took a step back from the crowd to think about it for a bit, and also observe all of the "locals" passing by. Most of them didn't give us a second glance. I guess I was also just curious to see how they act in general and stuff. I don't expect to "become Korean" or anything like that, but I'd like to at least make an effort to fit in here, rather than completely rejecting the culture and separating myself from everything around me. I think that will make my life more enjoyable and run more smoothly.

Anyway, that's all for now I guess. Like I said, overall everything has been going well, and I hope they continue that way going forward! Peace.

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

Friday, August 21, 2009
I really haven't had much time to write here, unfortunately!

But, a quick update: I'm currently at the EPIK orientation held at Jeonju University, in Jeonju city, South Korea.

I'm meeting a lot of cool people, and enjoying myself so far. For the time being, I'm basically in an "English bubble", so I suspect my real battle with culture shock won't get started for a bit...but we'll worry about that when the time comes.

Anyway, I have to go out and enjoy Jeonju with friends, but hopefully I'll write a better update sometime soon!

And I'm Off!

Monday, August 17, 2009
Right now it's noon, Monday August 17th, 2009.

In about 6 hours I have to catch a bus from Madison to Chicago, and in 13 hours I'll be on a plane to Seoul!

We'll see how this all goes, stay tuned!

Excited? Nervous? Naaaaaahh...

Friday, August 14, 2009
Short post today.

Yesterday one of my friends asked me if it's sunk in that I'll be in Korea in a few days.

And the answer is a definitive no.

I really don't expect it to hit me until the plane starts flying over to land in Incheon. I had the same experience when I landed in Narita, Japan last year. It wasn't until the plane was landing that I started thinking "Oh crap, I'm gonna be in Japan for half a year".

It's not that I haven't been thinking about it; I've definitely been doing that. It's just that it doesn't feel "real" right now, and emotionally speaking that's how I'm acting. If you talked to me right now, you'd have no idea that I'm leaving the country for a year or more in 3 days.

I think the biggest difference in my mental preparation for this adventure compared to Japan is my expectations. Before I went to Japan, I had the idea that it was some kind of magical wonderland that would fulfill all of my hopes and dreams. Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but I had basically listened to all of the good things my friends told me and combined them into one glorious picture. Japan was good, but there pretty much no way it could've lived up to my expectations.

And thus, my expectations for Korea are positive, but probably much closer to where they should be. Also, this time around I have a better idea of what to expect as a foreigner dealing with a new environment. Whether that helps me adapt or not remains to be seen.

Oh, and I still haven't packed! I'm going to be busy most of tomorrow with a wedding, so packing may be put off mostly until Sunday...I guess it's just how I do things. Everything seems to work out somehow or another.

That's all, peace out!


Thursday, August 13, 2009
Right now it's Thursday, and my flight leaves at 1am Tuesday morning from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. I'm taking a bus from Madison to O'Hare though, so I'll essentially be leaving Monday night. This means I leave in about 100 hours! EGADDDDDSSSS!

I haven't really started packing yet, but I have been doing a lot of "prepacking". That is, making sure I have everything I'll need. Once I actually decide to pack, it shouldn't take too long. For the most part, I'm only going to bring clothes, a supply of toiletries, a few electronics and some souvenirs. Am I forgetting anything?

Speaking of electronics, I got 2 adapters today that will let me plug things into Korean power outlets. They were $3 a piece. Here are some pictures!

Notice that the prongs are round instead of flat, and that there is no third "ground" prong like in a US outlet.

Korea does use a different power standard than the US, so some things you bring from the US may fry if you try to use them in Korea without a power converter, but all of the things I'm bringing are already designed to handle the differences. So all I need are these little nubs! I'll probably want to find a few more once I get there, but the two I have will suffice for my PC and external hard drive, and I can always unplug one of those two things to charge my camera or whatever else when necessary.

That's all, just a little heads update on how my preparations are coming. Like I said, I leave in 4 days, so things should get more interesting soon! Hopefully I'll have enough time and energy to continue blogging regularly once I actually arrive in Korea. Cheers!

What Challenges and Limitations do I expect?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009
This is another post in my Questions and Answers series, this time from Ivan.

I see challenges and limitations as somewhat separate entities, so I'll break this down.

What do I expect my biggest challenge to be?
Well, I believe that I'll have many challenges. Living in the country you've been raised in is challenging enough. When you move to a new country, it becomes even harder. While I have 23 years of "life experience" and some "Asia experience", I don't have a whole lot of "Korea experience". And yet I'm expected to enter into this new society and act like an adult. That's the expectation, but the reality is that I'm really much more like a "Korean baby," so to speak. I don't know the language, and while I understand a few customs, I certainly don't have them internalized. It will take me awhile to adjust to these things, and "grow as a Korean," but they will be expected of me from Day 1. Yes, I do get some leeway because I'm a foreigner and I should have some support from my school to help me with things, but largely I will be on my own. It'll be a challenge, but one that I'm ready to face.

Additionally, I worry about how things will go at my school. EPIK doesn't tell me what age group I'll be teaching or where in Daejeon my school is located until near the end of EPIK Orientation. Like many people going off to Korea, I don't have any formal teaching experience. I think it may be a challenge for me to conduct a class properly. I do enjoy working with kids, but usually I've worked with kids in an environment where they're energized and motivated. English education is mandatory in Korea, so the motivation may or may not be there. To most of these kids, English will be just like any other boring school subject, yet it'll be my job to keep them engaged. We'll see how it goes.

What do I expect my greatest limitation to be?
I kind of answered this above, but I expect my biggest limitation to be my unfamiliarity with Korean culture and language. Right when I get over to Korea, I'm basically going to be like a deer in headlights...and there really isn't anything I can do to change that, at least initially. And since I don't really know any Korean, I'll be somewhat limited in who I can befriend, and who I can have meaningful interaction with. I'll also have trouble dealing with day to day things that would be simple in the United States. I've already had some experience with this in Japan, but it was a year ago and the memories are already a lot less distinct than they used to be. I'm sure they'll be revived soon enough...I suspect I'll have more to right about this subject once I actually get to Korea and realize I have no idea what the person behind the fast food counter is saying to me!

That's all I have! Hopefully those answers provided some satisfactory insight.

I only have one more question left to answer, and while I'm aware of the issue, I'm not sure if I know enough of the details to give it a good answer. We'll see.

Feel free to give me some more questions! Otherwise I might have to resort to answering my own, and we definitely don't want to see that! ;-)

Why Daejeon?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Well, it turns out that I did actually have some questions suggested for this (as seen here)! And that makes me glad, because it gives me some ideas to ponder, as well as the satisfaction of knowing that somebody is reading what I'm writing. So thanks!

Anyway, let's get started! I think it'll be easiest to break this up into a few parts.

Why not Seoul?
Frankly, I'm not sure if I have enough soul to live in Seoul! *rimshot* But seriously, I did consciously make the decision that I didn't want to live in Seoul. Last year, I spent 4 months studying abroad in Tokyo, Japan, and while there were certainly a lot of things to do, I felt that the city itself was little too large for me. Because of this, I decided early on that I wasn't particularly interested in living in either Seoul or Busan (the second largest city in Korea, on the south-eastern coast).

Additionally, one of the goals I have laid out for myself is to study Korean while I'm in Korea, especially if I feel early on that I'd like to stay for more than a year. Larger cities tend to be a bit more "English-friendly", and while I'm sure that's something I'd appreciate early on, I think a smaller city will be more beneficial to me in the long run.

So, then why aren't you going to live out in "the boonies" where there is even less English?
I did consider this, and actually when I filled out my application for EPIK, my second and third choices were provinces rather than cities (Daejeon was my first choice). That said, after giving it some thought, I'm happy that I'm going to a city. First of all, right now my Korean skills basically consist of being able to say "Annyeonghaseyo!" and a few other words, and being able to read Hangul (kind of). Because of that, I don't think it'd be best for me to be placed in a tiny farming village hours from civilization. Perhaps it would force me to learn Korean, but it's also possible that I would just go insane.

In connection, right now I'm still fairly young (23), and I feel like living in a city will provide me with more opportunities to meet and converse with interesting people my age. So while maybe there will probably be less need for me to learn Korean in a city, if I decide it's something I'm serious about, there will be more resources available to me. Also, from what I've read, I believe there is kind of an "age gap" in rural areas of Korea. There will be a lot of school age kids, and then a lot of older people who have moved back into the countryside to settle down. However, most people in their 20s and 30s are instead off in cities somewhere. (Waiting to meet me, I'm sure!)

Well, then why Daejeon?
Honestly, I don't have a particularly good answer for this. When I was in Japan, I took a trip down to Nagasaki for no particular reason, and it was great, so I guess sometimes I just like to do "random stuff". That said, there are some things about Daejeon that appeal to me:
-It's only 50 minutes from Seoul by train, and while I don't want to live in Seoul, I'd like to be able to visit
-Supposedly it has better air quality compared to many of the other large cities in Korea
-Wikipedia called it the "Seattle of Korea", and I've also been intrigued by Seattle, even though I've never been there (and we all know that Wikipedia is always completely accurate)
-Generally speaking, I get the impression that it's a young city that is still rapidly growing, which hopefully means that some excitement will await me there
-I'm sure I'll find more things to like once I get there too! I've found that there are interesting things just about anywhere, if you know where to look

So, in a nutshell, that's why I'm going to Daejeon! It seems like a good fit for me, but I suppose I'll find out if that's true or not soon enough.

Also, for Jud, the person who proposed this question:
While it was my choice to go to Daejeon, I also understand why people choose to go to Seoul as well. And if that's where you want to go, you should make sure that you don't let a recruiter place you elsewhere. While I'm no expert on ESL in Korea, from what I understand, while it is probably easier to find a job outside of the Seoul, there are still plenty of options within Seoul. It may just be that your particular recruiter doesn't have access to them. It's in your best interest to keep talking with different recruiters until you find one that offers you the location that you want, be it Seoul or otherwise. Don't settle for something that doesn't sound good to you! (Within reason, of course.)

Feel free to ask more questions here, or get in touch with me using the contact info on my profile page. Otherwise, the forums at Dave's ESL Cafe can be a useful resource, and the people there certainly have more first-hand knowledge than me.

Give me your tired, your poor...I mean your questions!
That's it for now. I have a couple more questions on deck, but if anybody else has suggestions, feel free to post it here and I'll probably get to it.


Q and A

Monday, August 10, 2009
So, apparently I leave for this "Korea" place in a week...

With that in mind, I think I'm going to dedicate this week to a little Q&A.

But, I'm not expecting questions from anybody, so I guess I will have to make up my own!

I mean, I could just write posts about random things...but putting everything in the framework of a question is so much more...sophisticated...yes...perhaps...not.

Anyway, I'll try to post something up tomorrow. If you do actually have any questions about what my motivations for going to or thoughts about Korea are, feel free to ask. Just keep in mind that I'm not actually in Korea yet, so I can't really say much about the country itself. I can only really talk about my expectations and stuff like that.

And make sure to play nice!

YFU Japanese Camp 2009

Sunday, August 09, 2009
After not being able to participate last year because I was studying abroad in Japan, this year I was once again a staff member at the YFU Japanese camp at UW-Richland (in Richland Center, Wisconsin). The camp is a 10 day English camp for a group of Japanese students who are preparing to spend a year in US high schools. So, the camp basically acts as a buffer between Japan and the United States for the Japanese students.

The participants can basically be divided into three different categories:
Japanese students - High school students from Japan who will be spending a school year in the US. After camp the get sent to high schools all over the United States.
American mentors - American high school students who participate in most of the same activities as the Japanese students. The idea is that they model how students in US high schools will act, and give the Japanese students an idea of what to expect before they're thrown into a true high school environment. I did this once a long time ago, in 2001.
Staff - Work "behind the scenes" to make sure that everything runs according to plan. Staff also have plenty of opportunities to work with both the Japanese and American students if they choose. This is what I did, and I had the same position in both 2006 and 2007 as well.

Camp was both a lot of fun and really interesting for me this year. In 2006, my first year, I was a little bit quiet and unsure of what my position was, so I probably didn't do the best job I could have. In 2007, I was better, but after camp was over I felt that perhaps I hadn't divided my time amongst all of the students as well as I could have. I made some good friends that year, but felt that I could've done better. And I really feel that I did an excellent job improving in that respect this year.

Before it started, I was actually a little worried about how things would be this year. At the staff meeting the week before, I discovered that besides the director, I was the only returning full time staff member. Sally (a YFU camp legend) had done a lot of the planning, but she had other obligations and couldn't help out this year. This put me in a position of more responsibility, which I was a little apprehensive about, but everything managed to work out all right. Also, seeing as it had been two years since I was last at camp, and I was two years older, I was a little worried about how I would relate to the students this year. I also didn't have any trouble doing that (I guess I'm still really immature!), so that made me happy.

Like I said above, this was an interesting camp for me. There were two big things that I think helped me connect better with the campers this year. First of all, during the past year I've spent a lot of time with international students and other people who aren't originally from the United States. I think this extra exposure made it easier for me to see to individual differences within the students quicker, rather than seeing them as a massive group of foreigners initially. (This might sound stupid, but trust me, it happens when you happen upon a group of people from a different culture.) Additionally, I also now had study abroad experience of my own, which meant it was easier for me to understand what the students were going through.

I'm intrigued to see how my experience at this camp will compare to my experience with kids in Korea. I'm pretty sure I'll have less individual interaction with the students. Also, camp is so short, there is no time for the initial excitement of it to wear off. When everybody leaves, people are still just getting to know each other. In Korea, I'll easily have time to reach the stage where the sheen starts to wear off of everything. And that's fair enough, it's part of life and experiencing new things. I know I can adjust and go with the flow.

Anyway, I guess I don't have a whole lot more to say. I just hope that I'll be able to see some of the people I met again sometime in the future. Many of them I may never see again, but if I ever go back to Japan for an extended period, I bet I can meet up with at least a handful of them. Also, I wish them all luck during their year in the United States!

A couple of pictures from camp to end with:

Until next time!