As we got off of the 13-hour flight from one of the best airlines (Korean Air), one of the first things we saw was a Dunkin’ Donuts! But, it definitely felt like we were in Korea because everything else was in Korean. We were starving after we got our luggage and after meeting some fellow English teachers, so we stopped by a convenience store to get a bite to eat. A small meal with stir-fry pork, rice and kimchi cost only 1,800 KRW, which is equal to about $1.50!!!
We then boarded the bus for another four hours to go to the place where we attended orientation
at Jeonju University. There, we met the most diverse and interesting people who we would embark with on this adventure for the next year. The teachers in the English Program in Korea (EPIK) came from seven countries, including Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom including Wales and the United States of America.
For the next 10 days we will be at Jeonju University, “A Place for Superstars,” which is their slogan, and a place that we consider to be a bubble while we transition into the Korean culture.
The EPIK staff, who is mostly Korean, has introduced us to many customs of their culture and have treated us like kings and queens. They have provided a very nice dormitory for us to stay and they fed us every meal, which consists of at least five different servings, including their staple dish, Kimchi. We never go hungry here. We have learned that education is very important in South Korea and that is why teachers are highly regarded and why the government provides us with such luxury. Just FYI, about 98 percent of Korean high school students graduate, making South Korea the country with one of the lowest illiteracy rates in the world, according to the Korean government.
We are very lucky and privileged to be an EPIK teacher. They have done an exceptional job preparing us to be great English teachers and for the real Korea. But, they have sheltered us here because we are surrounded by 500 other EPIK teachers who speak English. We have only a handful of experiences interacting with native Koreans. But, because we have somewhat studied some basic survival phrases, we were able to order food at a restaurant. In Korea, servers at a restaurant don’t immediately come to your table to take your order. You have to call on them or push a button for them to come over to take your order. In addition, the entire menu is written in Korean. Thankfully, the first restaurant we went to had pictures. We were able to say “this, please” in Korean, which sounds like “ega, chusayo.”
The count down has begun. All 500 EPIK teachers will be dispersed into their corresponding locations in South Korea in T minus four days! We will be faced with the real Korea and being on our own, learning the language, understanding the culture and getting acclimated to our new home for the next year.