If you had asked me in January 2020 if I thought I would be an EFL (English Foreign Language) teacher in 18 months’ time I would have honestly said I hadn't even given it much consideration.
As we all know - two months after in March 2020, COVID-19 really hit the UK shores and I found myself furloughed and with a LOT of spare time. Over the next six months whilst on furlough, I caught up on long overdue blog posts on here, spent time with my family and explored new hobbies. Amongst all of this, I also started to consider new opportunities and ventures as the likelihood of retaining my current position got smaller. Being at home made me confident that I had not yet satisfied my travel itch so I researched various possibilities for jobs outside of the UK.
Which is when I started considering teaching abroad. Not only did it sound like a good fit but would allow me to get creative, share western cultures and embrace the challenge of working in a country that doesn’t speak my native tongue. I loved working with kids in the past, once with Camp America and once as a nanny so felt teaching was just one more step. My initial research into EFL led me to the EPIK Programme which I thought sounded right up my street.
EPIK (English Programme in Korea) is a public-school teaching scheme which allows native English speakers to teach in South Korea. The contract is one year with the opportunity to extend. You will be placed in one of the metropolitan or provincial areas of South Korea and teach at either one or multiple schools depending on your placement. Your own apartment is provided by the school as is a decent wage and many other benefits such as health insurance.
You will teach with a Korean co-teacher in the classroom and teach in either Elementary, Middle or High school. The programme accepts a few hundred new teachers twice a year and it also means you have a large support system with you when navigating through the process as well as in the airport, through quarantine, orientation and finally getting to your schools.
Although I did look at other countries to see what their EFL programmes offered, South Korea appealed to me because I already had an interest in the culture, and as I researched more, I found myself fascinated with the language, history and geography too.
South Korea has a rich and varied history that includes ancient dynasties, tragic colonial periods and war and in the last 50 years or so, a rapidly growing economy and society. Despite this growing movement to a fast-paced and modern lifestyle, Korea at heart holds onto centuries old traditions and ways of life.
My EPIK Journey started over a year ago now. Once I knew it was the path I wanted to go down, I signed up to complete my TEFL qualification. I did this from June-September 2020 whilst I was furloughed. I really enjoyed having something productive to do with my time and doing the course cemented in me that teaching would be something I would really enjoy. In August 2020 I applied to EPIK with my application form that consisted of three essays, one lesson plan and letters of reference from previous employers.
I spent the next month or so obtaining all the various documents that I needed to submit if I was to pass my interview. These included DBS checks, apostilled birth certificates and degrees and transcripts. I won’t go in depth into the application process here as there is plenty of advice online although the process can be confusing with a lot of hoops to jump!
By October I had secured an interview. This was nerve wracking, but my recruiter helped loads with practice questions that made the real interview actually laid back and enjoyable. I found out a few days after that I had passed through to the next round. I sent my documents off and had to wait another two months to hear where was I was going to be placed in the country. I got this news in December, just before the New Year and found out I would be in Daegu which was my first choice!
I chose Daegu as I wanted to be in a busy city but didn’t fancy the huge metropolis of Seoul. Daegu is in the south west and is surrounded by mountains with a population of 2.5 million people. It has plenty to do including incredible hikes up the nearby mountains such as Palgongsan, hundreds of cute and quirky cafes and a large downtown area which even features an amusement park with a Ferris Wheel over the city. It also has great KTX train connections to both Seoul and Busan so I hope I’ll be able to get out and about a lot.
From December I started the process of preparing to get my visa until bad news came a few days after my placement news arrived. Due to the Alpha (Kent) variant of Coronavirus, South Korea made the decision to suspend visa issuance. This wasn’t resolved until April 2021 and as a result the UK and South African intake for Spring 2021 had to defer to go in the Fall. At the time I was devastated and the idea of waiting another six months felt like too long. Luckily, my job allowed me to stay on and I was still living with my parents which meant I was safe and comfortable until we were able to fly.
I used these six months to save more money, spend time with friends as restrictions eased and also learn more Korean. I took a 14-week Korean course with the Korean Embassy in London online and was able to get a head start on learning the language. I’ve really enjoyed language learning again and hope I’ll continue to improve for as long as I am here.
By May we had confirmation of our placements once again and by July were applying for our visas. Mine luckily came really quickly and meant I could also book my flight making it feel a lot more real! The final hurdle was to test negative for COVID prior to the flight which was a really anxious time for me and my family as cases continued to rise across the UK. Luckily our sacrifices were worth it and we found out 24 hours before the flight that I could board! COVID certainly made the process more stressful but it was all worth it.
After flying into Incheon International on the 7th August 2021 we took a taxi to Seoul where we are quarantining for 14 days. From here we will have a 5-day orientation and will then move to our cities or regions to meet our co-teacher, schools and where we will be living for the next year.
I’m so happy to be travelling and exploring again and look forward to sharing more about my new life here in South Korea with you! I’ll share more about day-to-day life as an EPIK teacher, what to see, do and eat in Daegu and hopefully blogs of my travels around this beautiful country.