EPIK Orientation – Feb 2017

Again, there have been so many blog posts written about EPIK’s orientation process that I feel a little silly adding mine to the mix. However, this year was the first time that EPIK decided to split the orientation up into three different geographic regions, so perhaps it merits a surface pass just for the numbers:

I arrived at Incheon Airport a couple of days before orientation was due to start. Let me just say – I highly recommend this course of action. Admittedly, it’s not cheap to stay in an airport hotel like I did (I specifically saved up for that luxury). But if you’re a little more adventurous (and not coming down with a nasty chest cold like I was) there are plenty of AirBnbs in Seoul for much less. Orientation is a marathon and you’ll want at least one night to sleep and try to start getting over the jetlag before you jump in. Believe me.

On the day we were supposed to be picked up, I met up with some friends at Seoul Station and we took the KTX train down to Gimhae Airport in Busan where the EPIK pickup was. Sadly, you can’t take the train directly to the airport, so we had to get on the Busan subway and transfer to the airport light rail. Not what you’d call easy with five people and twice as many suitcases, but we survived. Once we arrived at EPIK’s check-in desk, they registered us, checked that we had the correct visa in our passports, and (eventually) loaded us onto buses to the orientation site – about a 40-min drive across the city. The buses held maybe 40 people, but we only had about 20 in ours, so we each got a double-seat to ourselves (bliss).

Once we arrived at the campus, we had our temperature checked by the nurse, were given a small snack (juice and a bun), and given our room assignments. Unlike what I’ve heard about previous orientations, our roommates were pre-assigned, and there was much guessing throughout the week about what formula was used to make those assignments. I totally lucked out in that my roommate and I were the same age and general energy level, and we both liked to go to bed around the same time every night. We also got a corner room with a gorgeous view over the city!

We were further broken up into Classes of about 40 people each, based on where we were going to be placed (Busan, Ulsan, Daegu, etc.). I won’t bore you with the details of our schedule, but from Monday – Saturday we had pretty much the same schedule of lectures with a break on Thursday for a field trip:

 

7:30-8:40:  Breakfast

9:00-10:30:  Lecture 1

11:00-12:30:  Lecture 2

12:30-1:40:  Lunch

2:00-3:30:  Lecture 3

4:00-5:30:  Lecture 4

5:30-6:40:  Dinner

7:00-8:30: Survival Korean class

11:00:  Curfew (everyone had to be back in the dorm building)

 

That schedule doesn’t leave a ton of time for hanging out, but tbh you don’t really have the energy for it what with running from one lecture to another. You also have to somehow fit in the time to plan out what you’re going to be doing on Sunday, which is a lesson plan demonstration with 1-2 other folks from your class. Still, we managed to get out to have a few drinks in the neighborhood a night or two.

Then, bright and early Monday morning you have to be packed and ready to leave as you’re either put on a bus to your city (for the non-Busan folks) or picked up by your Korean co-teacher in their car (if you’re staying in Busan). We all stood there feeling like puppies in a pet store window, watching hopefully as each car drove up. Thankfully, my co-teacher was very punctual and arrived just a few minutes after the hour. We loaded my insanely heavy suitcase into her trunk, and off we went!

 

 

 

 

 

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Packing for Korea

There are about a million how-to-pack-for-Korea posts out there, so I’m not going to try to reinvent the wheel. This is mostly for my own amusement when I look back at it in six months and think “Why on earth did I think I needed to bring that?!”.

So, my quest to fit almost everything I could need for a year in South Korea into one large 50 lb suitcase failed – but I did manage to fit in almost everything I think I need:

Clothing

  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 3 pairs corduroys
  • 2 pairs dress pants (I brought far too many pants)
  • 3 short-sleeve tops
  • 4 long-sleeve tops
  • 2 work-appropriate dresses
  • 2 blazers
  • 3 casual t-shirts
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 2 sweaters
  • 2 cardigans
  • Enough underwear and socks for 2 weeks
  • 4 bras
  • 3 pairs of tights
  • 3 pairs of Uniqlo Heattech leggings (school hallways aren’t necessarily heated)
  • 3 Uniqlo long underwear tops
  • 2 pairs pajama pants
  • Black boots
  • Flats
  • Heels
  • Sandals/flip-flops
  • Raincoat
  • Winter coat
  • Gloves/scarves

 

Other Items

  • Misc office supplies (post-its, paper clips, scissors)
  • Gifts for my co-teachers (I’m bringing maple sugar candies)
  • Extra toothpaste with fluoride (not sure how available that is in Korea)
  • A few DVDs (in case I can’t get Netflix to work)
  • 4 sticks of deodorant
  • Umbrella
  • Korean plug adapters 
  • Extra contact lenses
  • And probably a few other things I’m forgetting…

 

The real challenge for me was having to revamp most of my wardrobe around Korean dress codes. Most of my professional wear conformed to American standards of decency, meaning no cleavage but a modest v-neck or scoop neck. Apparently Korean standards around the neck/chest area are much more modest, and I heard stories of teachers being reprimanded for wearing a shirt that even showed too much collarbone. So I had to hunt (and I mean hunt) through American stores to find work-appropriate shirts/dresses that wouldn’t make me look unprofessional in the eyes of my coworkers. And since I won’t be able to fit into any of the clothing in shops over there (other than, perhaps, a few stores in the foreigner district in Seoul), I have to just guess and hope for the best!

Because I’m taking a somewhat circuitous route to Seoul (by way of visiting my cousin in France) I decided to ship my luggage rather than drag it through seven different airports. I priced out several options and read so many reviews that my eyes started to glaze over, but I finally settled on Luggage Forward. It’s a bit more expensive than I’d like, but they were wonderful at answering my thousand and one questions. Plus, they track my luggage and take care of any hangups that happen with customs, etc. so the convenience factor makes it absolutely worth it to me for this trip. I’m just crossing my fingers it gets there in one piece!

 

suitcase

My not-so-little suitcase, just before I handed it off to be shipped

 

 

 

Visa Application

Having received my packet of papers from the EPIK office, I can now move on to the next paperwork-intensive part of this process – the visa application! I swear, I feel like filling out the EPIK paperwork is a part-time job at this rate…

To apply for an E2 visa (Foreign Language Teachers) to teach with EPIK, you need the following things:

[NOTE 1:  If you are NOT teaching with EPIK, please check with your local consulate for requirements. These are specifically for EPIK teachers.]

[NOTE 2:  These instructions are for applying in person at your local consulate. If you’re applying by mail you’ll need to include a money order for the $45 application fee and include a SASE for them to mail your passport back to you.]

  1. A completed visa application form.
  2. Your passport (and a photocopy of the passport’s info page).
  3. A passport picture, attached to the form.
  4. Your original Notice of Appointment (NOA) and a photocopy of it.
  5. Your signed contract (make sure to sign at the bottom of each page).
  6. The $45 visa application fee (in cash, if you’re applying in person).

 

One thing that I’m so glad my coordinator warned me about is that the Consulate is going to keep the copy of the contract you give them. That is just a copy for the visa application process – you’ll sign two more copies (one for EPIK and one for your records) at Orientation in Korea. The consulate will also keep your NOA, so if you want a copy (and it might be a good idea just in case), make a copy of that as well!

I drove out to the Consulate in Boston (which isn’t actually in Boston at all, but in Newton) one morning and had my first experience with what it’s going to be like living in a foreign country. For some reason I assumed that the staff working there would be fluent in English – and while their English was loads better than my Korean, we still ended up with quite a few moments of staring at each other in confusion. But, in the end I got my numbered ticket, stood in line, went over my paperwork with the patient man behind the little teller window, and walked out with a receipt telling me to come back the following Friday. Success!

It was a little nerve-racking to leave my passport behind, but fingers crossed I’ll have it back in my hands with a shiny new visa page by the end of next week!

 

P.S. I picked up my visa 5 business days later with no problem! Just remember to bring the receipt that they gave you when you dropped off the application. Now I have my shiny new visa page pasted into my passport, I can breath much easier…

 

 

Global Entry

Let me tell you – I am so glad that I started looking into the Global Entry program early! For those of you unfamiliar with it, Global Entry is a program run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that allows you to bypass those loooong security lines when coming back into the United States by plane (it also comes with TSA PreCheck membership, which gets you past the lines when traveling domestically as well). The cost is $100 – but that gets you a 5 year enrollment in the program! Well worth it, if you ask me…

I had thought of waiting until closer to my departure date for Korea to apply (since I’d then be able to truly take advantage of all 5 years), but then got impatient and decided to go ahead and apply in August. I am so glad that I did! So, the process is described as follows:

  1. Create an online account on the GOES system.
  2. Fill out application form and submit for processing.
  3. Pay $100 (non-refundable) application fee.
  4. Schedule interview for fingerprinting and final identity confirmation.

In my head, that process would take a few weeks, 4-5 tops. The paperwork went smoothly, and about a week later I got an email that I had passed the initial application phase and was invited to schedule my interview. I clicked on the link for my local interview office, only to discover that the next available interview date was 7:30am in late October. Imagine if I had waited until November to apply – the next interview date might not have been until after I was scheduled to leave for Korea!

So for all of you out there who are considering applying to Global Entry – don’t wait! I’ll try to remember to update this post when I’ve actually used the program for the first time, but it certainly sounds like it’s worth its weight in gold for sheer convenience.

 

P.S. Another great feature for those of us going to Korea is that if you’re a member of the Global Entry program, you can apply to join the Korean equivalent (known as the Smart Entry System, or SES).  SES gets you expedited security screening coming into three main Korean airports (Incheon, Gimpo, and Gimpae), so that will come in very handy for any traveling I want to do in Asia while I’m over there!

 

 

Vaccinations

I can’t believe that it’s only just over 6 months until I ship out from DC! This milestone brings about one of the least fun bits of preparation – making sure I have all my jabs in order to not come down with the Black Plague (or worse, typhoid) while traveling.

The CDC recommends a number of immunizations for U.S. citizens traveling to South Korea long term, but the total for getting all of them would add up to over $2,000! So I’m choosing instead to be judicious about which ones I get here in the States – I figure if I decide to take a trip to somewhere more tropical, I can get shots for Japanese Encephalitis or anti-malarial drugs at my local Korean hospital (right?). I’m sticking to getting the Hepatitis A/B combo series and the Typhoid single jab (I’m going with the injection (protection for 2 years) rather than pills – even though the pills are good for 5 years – because I’ve read that the pills can cause nausea and I’m already dealing with some annoying digestive issues (yay job stress)).

If you’re looking for travel immunizations in the Washington, DC area, I’d definitely recommend the Washington Travel Clinic (really the practice of a single doctor – Dr. Akl). First of all, they have their price list prominently displayed on their website (these shots were definitely something I needed to save up for, so that was very helpful) and they are quite upfront about the fact that none of these shots are covered by insurance. Secondly, when I went in for my appointment, Dr. Akl listened carefully to where I was going and which shots I wanted to get – never tried to upsell me on any additional vaccines – and actually suggested that I get a blood test to see if I already have antibodies for Hep A&B. Based on my age, I should have gotten the Hep A/B vaccines when I went to college – but for the life of us, neither I nor my parents can remember for certain! On top of that, the medical practice I went to as a teen closed up years back and no one can locate my medical records from that time. It’s times like this that I wished I lived somewhere like the UK, where apparently they put all of your immunization records in a little red booklet (like a vaccine passport) that your parents keep and give to you when you’re an adult. Something like that would be SO useful right about now.

Thankfully, Dr. Akl told me that a $30 blood test is all I need to find out whether I’ve actually got the antibodies for the Hepatitides already floating around in my bloodstream. If so, I’ll be able to save almost $400! So I’m hopefully awaiting the results of that test – if it comes back positive for the antibodies, I’ll just have to schedule my typhoid jab for December (just before I move out of DC).

Fingers crossed!

 

 

UPDATE:  The test came back that I’m immune to Hep B but not Hep A (lord only knows how that happened). So I set up a second appointment at the Clinic and was in and out in 10 minutes with the first in the Hep A series of shots. I’ll just have to go back in 6 months (December) for the second Hep A shot and the Typhoid. Done and dusted – and still saving about $200!

 

 

Travel Blog Rec

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I’m planning a trip I spend a good deal of my free time cruising travel blogs and daydreaming/making spreadsheets. It gives me a chance to test-drive different places, side trips, and so forth in my brain and let them percolate a bit before I’m rushed to make any sorts of ticket-buying decisions.

One of my favorite blogs to dip into is The Nerdventurists, a blog run by two awesomely nerdy people – Kristina and Sora. Kristina I actually know through various nerdy groups (most notably the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), and I can say she has a great grasp on both the sublime and the ridiculous when it comes to travel. She and Sora do a fantastic job of both dropping practical tips and painting a picture of what it’s actually like to travel to a place. I can’t wait to try out some of their recommendations when I’m over in Asia!

I also can’t help but think a few of you would also enjoy reading about their adventures – for a taste, check out their latest post on 24 Hours in Hiroshima (& Miyajima!)