South Korea

6 Insider Tidbits for Prospective EPIK Applicants and New Teachers

April 19, 2017

Google populated all of the EPIK blogs out there with the best SEO and you’ve read all of them…am I right? I thought so! I did the same. And you’re feeling fairly confident, right? Yeah, I was too. As prepared as you may feel, you’re bound to realize upon arrival that you weren’t half as prepared as you thought you were, not even close. Now I’m not trying to shake your confidence or intimidate you, but it’s life! Life seems to follow its own rhythm here and experiencing it for yourself is the easiest way to learn. It’s a feat designed to aid your growth in all capacities, but it’s also designed to challenge you. Exciting, right?!

There are little and big discoveries you’re guaranteed to stumble upon on a daily basis and while I know you’re all fully capable of discovering them on your own, I’m here to hopefully make your life a little bit easier. Based on my own personal experiences and observations, I’d like to prematurely introduce you to some of these tidbits that will invite you to perceive differently and ultimately help optimize your adventures as an EPIK teacher.

Tidbit 1 | Rock, paper, scissors.

I’m telling you, they take this game almost as seriously as a game of chess…it’s actually quite intriguing! It’s used to make every single life decision and I bet you anything that if they were stranded on a deserted island, they would use it to determine who gets the last scrap of food. It’s most popular amongst the kids, but I also catch adults playing from time to time too. Oh and Koreans say 가위 gawi (scissors), 바위 bawi (paper), 보 bo (rock). And to make matters even more fascinating, there’s a fun, catchy tune that accompanies it! I have to say, I find it very cute and incredibly endearing. Embrace it from day 1, your students will love you.

Tidbit 2 | Teacher’s club.

Dinner, food, group bonding…these are all things I saw coming. However, the cost associated with teacher outings is something I never thought of. And when you think about it, it evidently makes sense, but it definitely came as a surprise and it’s not as simple as opting out to avoid these costs.

Teacher’s club is one of those things where Koreans will never vocalize the fact that it’s mandatory, but their actions prove otherwise. It’s an integral part of work culture in Korea and people just do it without questioning. Hypothetically speaking, you could pay and not participate in any of the outings if your concern is that it’ll interfere with your social calendar, but you wouldn’t really be liked or accepted by your colleagues as a result. And I can imagine you would want to take advantage of all that you’re contributing towards. What I’m trying to convey is that paying is not really an option. This is speaking from my direct experience working at small public schools in rural Korea.

At my school, we go out for monthly dinners (bimonthly on occasion) and play weekly volleyball games that are typically followed by some food. We pay 50,000 won (approx. $45 USD) per month. Not horribly expensive, but definitely an unforeseen cost and you should know that many of my friends pay less. It’s really nothing major, but when you’re not expecting to deduct 50,000 won from each paycheck, it can initially be stressful.

When researching myself, I never came across any blogger who wrote about this, hence why I’m choosing to share this tidbit with you. A heads up is always nice.


Tidbit 3 | Students have a pecking order.

Obviously this exists everywhere. However, as a first time teacher it’s just something I’ve tuned into. Especially when it comes to lunch, the students within each class unfailingly stand in generally the same order day in and day out. And we all know that every pecking order has a hen at the top and a hen at the bottom. In a way, it’s disheartening for me to witness.

Since I have minimal control over what happens beyond the walls of my classroom, I do everything in my power to harness control inside of my classroom. I do the best to ensure every student feels equally cared about and listened to. Most of all, I strictly enforce the need for students to respect each other.

So if you’re similar to me and witnessing your students engaging in this pecking order nonsense is saddening, then capitalize on the moments that are within your control.

And if you’re trying to figure out which students are ostracized by the others, just look to the end of the lunch line in each class. That’s generally a fairly strong indicator. Either way, you’ll figure it out.


Tidbit 4 | Teachers have a pecking order.

You guessed it, there’s a hierarchical structure that exists amongst the teachers, administration, and staff as well. This is also to be expected, but every school has its own structure and way of functioning; observant eyes will pick up on it quickly.

Lucky for us (sarcasm), we’re at the bottom of the food chain. You shouldn’t fret though, foreigners are treated well. But please keep in mind that it is situational and my experience will be different from your experience which will be incomparable to another person’s experience.


Tidbit 5 | Community is everything.

Korea is extremely communal in nature. Everything they do is together. Food, in particular, is always shared. And let me say, being someone who is overly protective of her food, this custom of sharing was very difficult for me to adjust to! Even when I have coffee in the morning, my students pop over and attempt to wiggle it out of my hands so they can take sips. These kids are relentless, I tell ya.

Although it is ingrained in their culture to share, I refrain from letting them drink out of my cup because a) germs, b) if I let one student, then I have to let all students, and c) I reiterate…germs.

Students swarm your space to begin with, but understand this: if you have any type of food or drink, they will invade every single inch of your bubble.


Tidbit 6 | Mix coffee will rock your world.

It will be your new best friend, I can promise you this. Mix coffee is a combination of ground coffee, sugar, and dried creamer all in one tubular pouch of deliciousness. Both of my schools have it and I down at least 2 dixie cups per day. And yeah, I said dixie cups. They don’t use regular sized cups, the mix is specifically designed for dixie cups, like the cups you would use back home in your bathroom for mouthwash. It’s different than what I’m used to, but it’s crazy good (and addicting)! You’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when you get here.

Insider’s tip: If you want a normal sized cup of coffee, then empty two pouches into your favorite mug and you’re good to go!


That’s it! These six should get you off on the right foot.

To those of you who are in the preparation stages or have recently arrived, I sincerely hope these tidbits are helpful! Comment if you have any questions. I’d love to help in any way that I can.

This article was created for EPIK e-Press.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Why I Moved to Korea and Why You Should Too – hippieseoul May 19, 2017 at 10:52 pm

    […] responsible for: minimal bills (cell phone included), likely teachers club (you can read about it here), food and groceries, transportation to and from work, whatever activities you choose to partake […]

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