Before I moved to Korea last year, I spent hours and hours reading blogs and articles about working with EPIK.
What I read, along with my relentless optimism, painted an idealistic image of what it would be like living and working in Korea. While all this information was really useful, it left me unprepared for the less “ideal” aspects of the job.
I’ve now been working as an English teaching with EPIK for 7 months, and I definitely have lots to say about it. In the interests of providing a more balanced view, I have put into words what I consider the 5 worst things about working for EPIK.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Despite these drawbacks, I’m still glad I came to Korea to teach, and there are many reasons why I haven’t fled the country just yet. Check out my 5 best things about working for EPIK.
Anyway, let’s get to it.
In my opinion, the worst thing about working with EPIK is the loneliness, or the potential for loneliness.
Firstly, you will most likely be living alone, possibly in the middle of nowhere. This can be an intimidating experience for anyone. While most of my fellow teachers were placed in buildings with other EPIK teachers, some were plonked in the countryside, far from anyone or anything. I think this is quite a rare situation, but it does happen.
Secondly, unless you speak Korean, it can be very difficult to build any sort of rapport with your coworkers. At my middle school, only about 3 of the teachers speak English to a conversational level, meaning most of my time is spent in silence. This means I miss out on all the conversations over lunch, the school gossip, and the jokes that get thrown around the teachers’ room. By the end of the day I’m practically bursting to speak to someone (unfortunately for anyone who catches me immediately after school).
The Korean teachers are very kind and friendly to me, but it’s difficult to develop a meaningful relationship without being able to speak the same language – who’d have thought it!
This point is something that really gets to me. As a “guest” English teacher, you have different rights to the Korean teachers.
As I write this, I am sitting in my teachers’ room alone, as all the other students and teachers have been allowed a half-day to celebrate the end of exams. No such privilege for me! Unless your school is very laid-back, EPIK teachers must be at their desks from 8:30-4:30 every working day. No exceptions.
If you’re considering working for EPIK, you’ve probably already heard about the perils of deskwarming. Throughout Summer and Winter vacation, native English teachers must come to school for the entire day simply to occupy their desks. With no other teachers, no students, and usually no classes, this is a ridiculously pointless exercise.
How much deskwarming you do is at the discretion of your school. Some of my friends only had to deskwarm for 2 hours in the morning each day, some were giving the odd day or week off here and there, and some didn’t even have to deskwarm at all! I believe I was the only one of my friends who had to come in all day, every day for the whole vacation period. I hope you will be luckier than I was.
However long you are made to sit at your desk, my best advice is to utilise this time as best you can by doing something productive. Why not write a blog?! Occupying yourself is perhaps the only way to avoid going completely insane.
In your training for the EPIK programme, you will learn a lot about co-teaching. However, working hand-in-hand with your fluent English-speaking co-teacher to prepare and present your lessons is not a realistic expectation in this job. A far more likely situation will involve you preparing and teaching the lessons by yourself, with your co-teacher there to help if required.
Also, as with many aspects of this job, the English ability of your co-teachers is the luck of the draw. I really like all my co-teachers, but only 1 of the 5 can speak English well enough to actively participate in my lessons. While the other 4 teachers probably know the rules of English grammar better than me, their speaking ability is very limited which makes things quite difficult at times, particularly when I’m trying to explain a game and neither the co teacher nor the students can understand me!
In general, you might be pretty much on your own with teaching – which might be ideal for you! This style of teaching definitely gives you more freedom, but it is not as cooperative and relaxed as I had been led to believe.
4) Lack of Agency
Something that has bothered me since starting to work in Korea is the lack of control you have over what you do. This will resonate more with anyone who has one or two schools, where you are very much viewed as a full-time employee of your main school (and not as a guest teacher).
Countless times over the past few months I’ve been whisked away without notice for some meeting or meal after school. These gatherings often go on into the late evening, sometimes making the working day feel endless. I understand that these get-togethers are a useful (and boozy) bonding exercise for co-workers, but if you can’t speak Korean they can be pretty tiresome.
Also, they are very difficult to get out of without causing offence, and I have started to resent having no say in whether I want to go or not. I’m sure some Korean teachers feel the same way too.
Adapting to Korean social and workplace hierarchies in general can be pretty exhausting. Having to do whatever someone older than you asks is something I will never get used to. It took me months to pluck up the courage to reject some of the requests and invitations made to me, but being able to take back some control over my life has made me a lot more satisfied in the job.
5) It’s the luck of the draw
Perhaps one of the worst things about this job is how you have almost no control over your circumstances. Where you are located within your province, which schools you teach at, how far you commute and what your accommodation is out of your control.
To make matters worse, you are unlikely to learn the details of your placement until after you’ve arrived in Korea. As if traveling halfway around the world wasn’t scary enough!
In general, I’ve been very lucky with my situation. While my dream of living in Seoul died pretty quickly, I was placed in a fairly large city, living within walking distance of my main school and a short cycle from my second school.
However, many EPIK teachers are located outside of the bigger cities, in more remote areas. It is also common to have longer commutes, especially if you have multiple schools. My boyfriend, for example, teaches at 4 schools, all of which are between 30 minutes and an hour away by bus. There are hundreds of different possible outcomes, and you’ll never find two EPIK teachers with the same situation.
If, like me, you like to meticulously plan things miles in advance, this might be quite tough. But if you approach it with an adventurous spirit, it can be pretty exciting! Wherever you end up it’ll definitely be an exhilarating experience. A bit of uncertainty is just part of the package.
As with any job, there are good and bad things about working with EPIK. I’ve tried to be as honest as I can in this post, but it goes without saying that these opinions are based on my own experiences and won’t necessarily apply to everyone. I hope it’ll be of use to anyone trying to decide if a job with EPIK is right for them. I think it’s important to see both sides of the argument.
For me, the good things generally outweigh the bad. If you’re now on a bit of a downer, why not read about the 5 best things about the job.
For more articles about teaching in Korea, click here.