“I got it!” It was 8am and I had barely gotten out of bed before checking my phone. “We’re going to Korea!” After four agonizing months of paperwork, my application to work with EPIK (English Program In Korea) had been accepted! A four-year dream was coming true.
It’s been nearly a year since then and Grace and I are now well established in our new lives here in South Korea. I love it here! The food, the people, and my job. Yet, the other day when someone asked me if I would ever go through the EPIK application process again, I had to think about it for a few moments and finally go with a hesitant, “I think so?”
This isn’t because I dislike working with EPIK. To the contrary, my experience has been awesome, the people have been great, and I love the teaching!
So why the hesitation?
Simply put, it’s because the application process for EPIK is a grinder! Is it worth it? Yes! But it’s still a near nightmare of paperwork and time.
Today, we’re going to talk about why that is.
My hope with this post is to give you a dose of realism so that you know what you’re getting into when you start printing out those application pages. Online, EPIK sounds like a lot of fun, and it is! But you need to be aware of the work that it takes to get there.
Okay, let’s get to it! These are:
6 THINGS I WISH I KNEW BEFORE APPLYING FOR EPIK
1. It’s expensive!
Like most people, you’re probably not in the habit of paying to apply somewhere. Bad news, you’re about to.
No, you don’t have to directly pay EPIK to apply, but get ready, because the application journey will nickel and dime you every step of the way. Here’s a quick look at some of my biggest expenses:
- Background check $50
- Back ground check apostille $48
- Diploma apostilled $15
- Sealed transcripts $30
- Shipping costs $120
In total, I spent just under $300 on my application, which, according to conversations I’ve had with other teachers, is about normal. The lowest I’ve heard of someone spending was $200, while the highest was over $500. Odds are, your costs will fall in the middle.
PRO TIP: Don’t make any errors on your paperwork. Triple check everything! Having to resend your documents through expedited mail is where the cost really piles up.
Of course, the true expense comes in getting your TEFL, passport, visas, vaccinations, and so on. But these aren’t related to EPIK and I would consider them “travel expenses” that you would need to pay regardless of where in the world you go. Nonetheless, make sure you consider them, as travel expenses and set up costs in Korea can run well into the thousands of dollars.
2. You can’t choose between elementary and middle school.
First, in case you don’t already know, there’s nowhere on the application for you to write your school preference. This is a decision EPIK makes entirely on their own and as an applicant, you won’t actually know what kind of school you’re going to work at until the last day of orientation. Heck, you won’t even know what city you’ll be living in until then—more on that later.
Second, there are some rumors going around online that if you submit a middle school lesson plan with your application, then you will probably get a middle school position. I tried it, and even though I also had experience teaching middle schoolers, I got placed in an elementary school. So no, this hack doesn’t seem to work.
It worked out though! At first, I was worried about teaching elementary students because of their low English level and short attention span, but I’ve come to love it and would now choose elementary over middle school in a heartbeat!
So, don’t despair. Apply with an open mind and if you must have expectations, expect to be teaching outside of your comfort zone.
3. You can’t choose where in Korea you’ll live.
As mentioned above, EPIK doesn’t tell you what city you’ve been placed in until the end of orientation. This means that there’s nowhere on the application to put city preference and that when you get your contract (once you’ve been accepted) you’ll only learn what province you’re going to be in, not what city. And hey, some of these provinces are huge! So you really won’t know what to expect until the last day of orientation.
Now, what you do have some control over is what province you get placed in. On the EPIK application there is a space for you to write down which province you’d prefer, as well as a box where you can check whether you’re open to being placed elsewhere should your selection be unavailable. Myself, I didn’t care where I was as long as I was in Korea, and so I didn’t write in a province preference.
PRO TIP: If you want to be near Seoul but not in it, ask for Gyeonggi-do province on your application. Gyeonggi-do is shaped like a donut with Seoul in the middle, so you’re never farther than an hour and a half from the city. As an exciting bonus, this province also borders North Korea, so like one of my friends, you could literally be teaching English inside the DMZ. How’s that for bragging rights?
4. You will know NOTHING!!!
Brace yourself. Your friends and family are going to be asking you a lot of questions during this time, but for most of them you’ll only be able to answer with: “I don’t know.”
“Where in Korea will you be?” “I don’t know.”
“What kind of school will you be teaching at?” “I don’t know.”
“What kind of apartment will you have?” “I don’t know.”
“You applied for this job five months ago. Why aren’t you hired yet?” “I don’t know.”
“South Korea? Isn’t that the bad one?” “What?? Are you being serious right now? No!”
Some people thought it was a little crazy that I was signing a contract with so many unknowns, but hey, you don’t move across the world because it’s easy.
If you get tired of always saying “I don’t know,” alternatives include:
- It’s a surprise!
- Who knows?
- I haven’t the faintest.
- Your guess is as good as mine!
- That’s not my area of expertise.
- Oh, look at the time!
5. Soooo much waiting.
Applying for EPIK takes between 5 and 6 months. The application for either the spring or fall intake will get released 3-4 months before the submission deadline, but! This doesn’t mean you can take your time getting your application submitted. EPIK hires on a first come first serve basis and the urban placements are the ones that fill up first, so if you plan on writing in a province preference then you need to hurry and get your application in right away.
Sounds easy, but just completing the application takes a good amount of time. You’ve got to write in all your resume stuff, write a few essays, design a lesson plan, and gather a couple letters of recommendation.
The big wait comes after you send off your application. You’ll spend this time completing your background check, learning what apostilles are, and watching the calendar pages slowly turn over.
Anywhere between one and three months later will come the Skype interview! Followed by a couple weeks of waiting for that exciting email telling you that you’ve passed (because hey, we both know you’re going to rock this thing).
Once you pass the interview, you send in all the hard copies of your documents—apostilled diploma, apostilled background check, letters of recommendation, signed application, smoking declaration, etc. This is the part where EPIK tries to find you a school in your province preference, or elsewhere if it’s already full. As you may have guessed, this process can take a long time as well, between 1-2 months.
Then one morning it will happen. You’ll roll out of bed, check your phone, and see those big beautiful words, “Congratulations! Welcome to Korea!” And just like that, all the waiting will abruptly end. Next comes the mad dash! And I’m not exaggerating. I got my contract two weeks before I had to be in Korea, giving us 14 days to pack up the house, quit our jobs, get visas, and find plane tickets!
Don’t worry, you’ll get everything done in no time! You’re going to be so excited to get to Korea, and orientation sounds like fun! “Finally, a place where they can give me solid answers and I can actually know things about my situation!”—you, probably.
6. “IT DEPENDS.”
You’re going to hear this phrase a lot at orientation. Usually after you ask ANY question.
You: “What kind of rewards can I use in the classroom?”
Them: “That depends on your coteacher.”
You: “Will I have one coteacher?”
Them: “That depends on your school.”
You: “I’ll be teaching at one school?”
Them: “That depends.”
Even during orientation, you still won’t know what city you’re in or what kind of school you’ll be teaching at. You’ll only get this information on the last day of orientation, when EPIK passes out all the official contracts.
The contract signing is obviously the best part of orientation. All the new teachers are gathered together, your new friends all around you, everyone nervous and excited—at last, you will be able to know things.
Finally, they call your name! You walk up and EPIK staff hand over your official contract. The moment of truth! You flip through the pages to find the name of a town you’ve never heard of and the name of a school you can’t yet pronounce, so you turn to one of the EPIK staff and point at the name of your new city, “Is this good or bad?” They shrug and wave a hand through the air, “It depends.”
And really guys, it does.
I live in a small one bedroom and teach at a school of 800 kids. Another teacher lives just a few minutes away from me but has a massive apartment and teaches at two schools for a total of 125 students.
I have two coteachers, while others have four, a few have one, and I know two teachers who don’t have any!
Getting to work is a ten-minute walk for me but a lot of other teachers have to take the bus. For extreme examples, I have one friend who lives across the street from his school and another who has to ride the bus for an hour to get there!
All that to say, the only thing you should be expecting when you join EPIK is that your situation will be VERY different from everyone else’s. Literally everything “depends.”
Should you do EPIK?
So would I do it again? Of course. Would I recommend you do it too? If you’re someone who is okay with jumping into the unknown, yes!
The program has been around since 1994 so any question you have has already been asked and can be answered with a quick Google search. Also, since it’s been around so long, there’s a massive online community made up of current and ex-teachers who you can go to for advice and insight.
As for the application process itself, there are limitless online resources for those who want to apply directly to EPIK, and dozens of awesome recruiting companies who can streamline the process for you, should the piles of paperwork appear too daunting.
All these things make EPIK ideal for people who don’t have a lot of experience with international travel but who want to live abroad for a while.
Just remember that it will cost you several thousand in application and setup costs. You won’t know anything about your living/school situation. Be okay with waiting a long time to hear back from EPIK. And never forget, EVERYTHING depends.
Do you have questions about applying for EPIK? What would you add to this list?
Let’s talk about it in the comments!