Dear new EPIK teachers: Everything is going to be okay (I promise)

It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?

I remember it well; that first time I decided to move to Korea for an EPIK adventure. I was 22, fresh out of university, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready …

“But, do you know where you’re going yet?”

“No,” I waved the silly question away, “I’ll find out when I get there.”

“But, is it safe? You don’t even speak the language!”

“Sure! There’ll be an orientation. They’ll tell us everything we need to know then, don’t worry.”

“But …”

“Don’t worry!”

Of course, at the time of this conversation I was beyond worry. The worst part was the interview; I’ve never been able to make a good first impression, and I was sure I wouldn’t get in. (Same fear the second time around, I need to stop making nervous jokes in interviews. In life, really.)

At 27, the conversation went something like this:

“So you’re going back?”


“Know anything beyond that point?”


“Oh, well. Enjoy.”

And that is my advice to you. Don’t worry. Enjoy the experience, even the uncertainties, and trust me, there will be many. Here are some practical tips to help you through the early days:

What time is it? Adventure Time!
1. Pack warm clothes.

I nearly died the first time I got here. I was wearing dainty ballet pumps with the socks they gave us on the airplane (that is until I found my wool-lined Crocs!) Our South African winter coats were no match for the Korean cold, we might as well have arrived at orientation in bikinis (don’t do that). But seriously, this place is cold. Bring warm clothes and shoes.

2. Just read the instructions.

Everything might seem overwhelming now, but chances are if you got the gig you’ve already gone through at least four years of university and a TEFL course, so you can read complex material and make sense of it. Read the stuff they give you at orientation. Read the list of documentation needed. I made mistakes with my documentation even the second time around, so it’s normal. Don’t freak out, take a deep breath, and read again. And then read some more.

3. But … don’t read the comments.

There are some really useful websites and blogs out there that can help you on your journey (like this one!) Likewise, there are some really terrible forums and online spaces that can become dark pits of negativity hell on burnt toast. Seriously, steer clear of those, for goodness’ sake. I know, there is nothing more satisfying then letting a good rant rip sometimes. Social media has made this way too easy. Back in the day, you would’ve thought twice before posting that scathing letter to the editor, or you would’ve been able to see from someone’s body language that they weren’t feeling your vibes. Don’t believe everything you read online and don’t add fuel to the fire. Not only is it bad for your mental health – negativity begets negativity; I’ve never had an online rant that made me feel better – it could also get you in trouble at work. Take a walk or find a religion. Also, don’t complain about your co-workers on Facebook. It makes you look like an asshole more than them. Trust from someone who’s been there, spare yourself the shame you’ll most definitely feel afterwards.

In the same breath, don’t compare yourself to other people’s social media accounts. A friend of mine once told me that my Instagram makes him depressed, because it looks like I’m really doing so much and getting the most out of this experience. He isn’t wrong, but he also doesn’t see the bad stuff. This life, like any other, is not a competition about who can be the best EPIK teacher. Just chill. You’re living your best life regardless of what other people are doing.

The many faces of frustration
4. Your money will last (if you let it)

One thing that really stressed me out on the way here was whether or not I’d have enough money to get through the first month. Remember, you only get paid at the end of March. You do get an entrance allowance, but when you receive the money is up to your school’s discretion. The first time, I didn’t have the suggested amount of US$1000. I think I had about $500, and that first month I didn’t buy anything. Not a thing. Luckily, your school pays your rent and you get a massive lunch, so I only had to worry about breakfast and dinner. My boyfriend (now my husband) fed me dinner and I bought the cheapest cereal I could find. For drinks, we had Soju. Cheap enough. I continued this trend even after the salary started coming in; I did, after all, have a student loan to pay off.

By the way, I paid off my very expensive student loan in a year and a half. I just sent home half my salary every month, and there you go. I’m debt free.

The second time, I was not so good with my money. I had the suggested $1000, but I spent almost half of it before and during the orientation. On what, you may ask? Well, on expensive coffees, massive dinners, imported chocolates and a fancy jacket (I had forgotten about tip number one, you know the thing about keeping warm?)

So, yes. Now I’m much better. I still save half my salary every month and I’ve stopped drinking the fancy coffees with the cream and the calories.

What NOT to do: Buy ALL the stationery!
5. Everything will be okay. Really!

People are always telling me, “Don’t sweat the small stuff!” But I can’t help it. When will I get my alien registration card? When will I set up my bank account? How will I send money home? How will I get connected to the internet? When will I get a phone? What do I do if I get sick? What if my co-workers don’t like me? What if it all goes to hell in a hand basket?

It’s so normal to freak out. Everyone does it, but all the worrying in the world won’t really get things done quicker, will it? If anything, it slows down the process. Trust that you will have a really nice co-teacher who is good at his or her job who will help you with the nitty-gritty details. Between my husband and I, we’ve had 18 co-teachers and all of them were really good with helping us whenever we needed them.

All the best of luck to you, EPIK Spring 2017 teachers!

Seriously though, you’ll be fine.
Visit EPIK e-Press for more stories on teaching English in South Korea!

3 thoughts on “Dear new EPIK teachers: Everything is going to be okay (I promise)

  1. Hey thanks for the article. Did you get in spring 2016 to the program?
    I passed the interview but I’m sitting in Canada, funemployed, twiddling my thumbs, wondering if and when I’m going to get my placement and permission to get my visa sorted out. Thanks


    • Hi Sean,
      I came in the 2011 spring intake and I was here for two years, and again in the 2016 spring intake. So I completely understand your position and I don’t envy you at all. The waiting drove me insane. The good news is though that if EPIK told you you’re in, you’re in. They’re pretty good like that. The waiting is just par for the course; they probably have a massive amount of logistics to get through before they can send people their final documentation. Don’t lose heart, you’re so close! 🙂

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