I'd like to take a minute now, just sit right there, and I'll tell you all about the English Program In Korea.
First thing you gotta know is that it's only available to people from countries with English as their native tongue. This means Canada, England, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and the US of A. At least those are the countries where everyone at orientation was from.
There are a number of steps to becoming part of the EPIK program, that is to say a Guest English Teacher or GET. The first thing is to either find a recruiter or download the application. I myself went through a recruiter which gave me guidelines for the process, making it easier. I found upon arriving in Korea and meeting the other teachers that many of the people who went without recruiters were hired first, giving them first dibs on locations. I don't really know much about the process, to be honest. I just did what my recruiters told me and I wound up where I wanted to be. As a side note, I must say, if you do find a recruiter they should charge you nothing or else they are brigands, vagabonds, scoundrels, criminals: I spit on them if they try to charge money for what the Korean government is paying them to do! But, even though it will cost you nothing to have help, if you want to pilot these bureaucratic ravines alone then you can find the info on it at the EPIK website. Look it up, it's not so complicated. If you're not interested in teaching English overseas, and are just enjoying the sound of my voice, which I can't blame you for, then continue reading because now I'm going to talk a bit about Korea but mostly about myself.
While I'm at it I'm going to ask you a question that you don't have to answer, but I'd like you to think about. Can anyone ever really be talking of something other than themselves? The answer will seem obvious first. Then you will think more deeply and realize that it is not so simple or I would not ask the question. Then the answer will come again, this time, again seemingly obvious. I'm not sure what will happen after that.
Regardless, I'm here more to speak of interesting things, like "why are they doing this?" "what's in it for me?" "what's it like?" "what am I doing with my life?" "how awesome is it?" I'm going to answer all of these questions and you may not even realize it. Then I'll be gone for a time.
So to answer the last question first, I will explain how awesome it is. It is very awesome. Sure, I have to work 9-5, and sure I will probably have to run a summer camp when vacation comes, and, sure, few people here speak English exceptionally well aside from other teachers, but even having said all of this, I will tell you it is awesome. Very awesome. Why? Because even though I work 9-5 every day, I only teach four classes on average, forty minutes a piece. With the rest of my time I prepare lesson plans. Like right now, what am I doing? I'm preparing lesson plans. Often I use a series of programs called CIV to do this. It is very useful and I accomplish a lot. I am at once learning the teaching and the working worlds. That is my job from nine to five.
In addition to this there are school dinners. This involves a bit of ceremony and happens at random. The only school dinner I have gone to so far I found out about when I thought I was being given a lift home. As it turns out, I was not being driven back to my place in the countryside village where I choose to reside as opposed to Jejusi, the big city here on the island of Jeju. I was being driven to a large and lovely restaurant to sit in a private room for twenty eating freshly grilled black pig (we grill it ourselves in the middle of the table) and drink beer and soju with the principal and other teachers. I literally had no idea this was going to happen until I was already in the car. After we ate we went and sang at a noribang (it means singing room, it is Korean for Karaoke and I learned through my drunken haze that it is not for singing sad slow English songs, particularly not off key). This was pretty awesome. The tab was either on the principal or the school. I do not know. I ate and drank a lot and did not pay a cent. Moreover, I am making a fair bit of change, enough that I will be out of my school loans within the year. So it's a pretty awesome program.
So what am I doing with my life? That's a good question. I am gaining valuable experience as a teacher and learning a foreign language (hopefully I am going to learn Korean, that is. I can read in Korean, but pretty much anyone who tries can). Every morning I get up at five thirty when my alarm sounds, go through another sleep cycle, wake up again, get out of my bed, which is a blanket on a heating pad over a softened bit of floor and do a qigong routine. Then I stretch a bit, dabble with some Korean books, and eat breakfast. Every morning I walk by one of the three schools I teach at, which is the school of the town where I live, say hello to the children, and either go to my office there, or hop a bus to my office at another school. Then I set about lesson planning until this is interrupted by children whom I speak to in English. On the weekends I usually go into town and play board games. Sometimes I go to the Southern part of the island where the other EPIK teachers get me extraordinarily drunk. I do not know why this never happens when I stay in the North. I have also recently joined the Yacht School in the town where I live. Four of my students have been enrolled here for a while, so I have eleven year olds teaching me to sail. There's also the writing. I write a lot. Or a bunch. I have the time and inclination.
In conclusion, as I seem to have run out of pertinent information, the Korean government is a fantastic and generous host, as are the Korean people. I am treated as guest here, lavished with gifts and smiles, and have the honor of working with some of the most intelligent people in the world. But this begs the question as to why the government of Korea should go to such expense to bring me, and a few thousand others, here to teach. Why not simply hire Koreans, experienced in teaching, who speak English to do this? Why put up with the hassle of housing and supporting so many foreigners? It is much easier to teach public school children, who do not yet speak very much English at all, using their native tongue... We're rude in so many ways intentionally and unintentionally. We're smelly. We look funny.
The answer I have come up with is threefold:
- One, they have a lot of money. Korea is doing very well for itself. One need only walk down the street to see this.
- Two, native speakers can teach outside of the books and lesson materials provided.
- Three, we spend most of the money they give us here, and we open Korea up to the world.
That last is the genius of it. Through this program, Korea endears itself to many people from literally all over the world. As it was said, the sun never set on the British Empire. English is spoken everywhere on the globe, and so there are people from almost every time zone in Korea right now, learning at least a little bit of the language, making at least a few Korean friends, and, perhaps more importantly, coming to love Korean food and the mountains and valleys of the Land of the Morning Calm. It may be our job to teach the children English, which we are doing in the same way that a river makes a canyon and perhaps English will be the second language of Korea within decades as it is in India, or perhaps moreso, but just by being here, we are making Korea a multicultural society. It's about the most symbiotic relationship I've ever been in.