The Big Wait

Every blog I’ve read about the EPIK process invariably has a post about the dreaded Wait – that period of time between your paperwork getting accepted by the main EPIK office in Seoul and the day you actually get confirmation that you have a school placement in a province. That wait can stretch to a couple of months or more, especially if you get all of your paperwork done and submitted on the early side. Submitting your paperwork as early as possible theoretically ups your chances of actually getting a placement, but gosh does it make the wait seem interminable…

In the meantime, I’m trying to distract myself with prepping for my big move as much as possible. I’m slimming down my closet, getting rid of old knick-knacks with no nostalgic value, and reducing my collection of books to a quarter of its previous size (anyone who knows me will know that this was the most painful process). I’m also attempting to prep for the experience of actually living in Korea, and thought I’d share a list of things I’d found useful in case anyone else is looking to do the same:

  • Coursera is currently offering a “First Step Korean” class taught by a professor from Yonsei University in Seoul. I’m going to have to do a lot of reviewing as it’s pretty fast-paced, but the teacher does a great job of explaining the pieces that are most likely to trip you up, and I’m printing out the worksheets so I can study on my own.
  • Talk To Me In Korean (that podcast that you’ve probably already heard of) is a fantastic site with a free app as well as books and audio lessons you can buy. I haven’t invested in any of their paid materials yet, but I love the podcast and I’m probably going to be asking for one of their textbooks for Christmas.
  • Trying to come up with some very basic lesson ideas while I’m still here in the States. It’s true that in Korea I’ll be expected to work out of a textbook, but I figure it never hurts to have some ideas for the first day, or for camps that I’ll be expected to teach during school breaks.  Sites like Waygook, ESLPrintables, Dave’s ESL Cafe, and Googling/stalking current EPIK teachers blogs can be great starting points. 😉
  • Reading up on Korean news. I’ve got several English-language Korean news sites like Korea Times, Chosun Ilbo, and Busan Haps bookmarked and I try to at least read the headlines every few days. It’s helped me to move past the international headlines (hello, President Park’s current drama) and get a sense of what else everyday Koreans are paying attention to.

 

Other random things I’m trying to make sure I get done before I leave:

  • Finishing up any necessary vaccinations (some of these are multi-shot series that need months between them, so sooner rather than later)
  • Getting all of those pesky annual check-ups (GP, optician, dentist, etc.) done while you’re still Stateside. Also important – ordering any meds/contacts/glasses you may need (remember to check if you can find it in Korea, otherwise order a year’s supply).
  • Letting banks, credit card companies, student loan providers, etc. know that you’re going to be traveling (so you don’t suddenly have your bank account frozen while trying to buy a coffee in Incheon Airport after stumbling off your 16-hour flight).
    • Somewhat along these lines – switch every account that will let you over to electronic statements only (you should already be doing this for the environment, but it will also prevent your poor parents/whoever lives at your permanent U.S. address from being overwhelmed with mail).
  • Making sure you’ve got a relative in the U.S. with a power of attorney, just in case there are financial issues that need to be dealt with in person back home while you’re gone.
  • Cancelling any subscription services you have (I’ve still got my hopes up for managing to make Netflix work in Korea, but I’m canceling a bunch of other services).

 

I’m just hoping if I concentrate on these things enough, my placement will be here before I know it…

 

 

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Truly EPIK amounts of paperwork

As anyone who has taught overseas knows, the amount of paperwork it takes to even apply for a job is stunning. Up until this year, all of the jobs I had applied for had taken just two pieces of paper – both able to be printed from home:  a resume and a cover letter.

Let me just say, thank goodness for all of the other wonderful bloggers out there who have posted long and in-depth lists of the necessary EPIK paperwork, and detailed descriptions of what the directions on various government forms actually mean! I couldn’t have done this without you folks…

Once you have passed your interview, EPIK will ask that you send in physical copies of all of the documents that you’ve (hopefully) been feverishly collecting. This documentation will be passed on to the actual Offices of Education which will hopefully choose to employ you.

Step one is to collect all of the pieces of paperwork that EPIK requires:

 
1)  A copy of your EPIK application form signed in ink

2)  A photocopy of your passport information page

3)  An FBI Criminal Record Check that has been apostilled at the federal level

4)  A photocopy of your university diploma that has been notarized and apostilled at the state level (if you’re lucky, your university may have a service to do this for you)

5)  A sealed copy of your university transcripts

6)  Your original two (2) letters of recommendation, signed in ink

7)  One (1) passport-sized photo

8)  A photocopy of your TEFL/TESOL certificate (DO NOT SEND THE ORIGINAL)

9)  The signed Smoking Sworn Declaration (which just says that you won’t smoke in school, and you realize that your apt may be non-smoking as well)

10)  The signed Information & Image Consent Form (which just gives EPIK permission to use any photos they take of you during Orientation)

[Those last two forms will be sent to you by your coordinator after you pass the interview.]

After you have assembled all of that paperwork (in the order listed by your coordinator), make photocopies of everything except for the sealed transcripts (obviously, because they’re sealed). I also made a separate set of copies to keep for myself, just in case.

I then took that packet (originals and photocopies) into FedEx, who charged me $57 to ship it to South Korea (and yes, they did ask me if I meant South Korea – I tried not to laugh). I definitely splashed out for tracking and delivery confirmation, and you’d better believe I’m going to be watching that tracking page like a hawk until I see that my documents were delivered to the EPIK office in Seoul…

 

 

UPDATE:  Hurrah! My paperwork arrived in Seoul a mere three days later (thank you FedEx!) and my coordinator informed me that it had been approved and sent out to the individual Offices of Education in each province. Now we begin the Big Wait, as we won’t get our official provincial placements until late December… *sigh*

I passed!!!

The subject line of this post just about covers it, haha.

After only a few days of running through every nightmare scenario in my head – what if I’d answered such-and-such questions differently, should I have expressed even more interest in Korean language/culture, did I wear the right outfit – I finally got The Email from my coordinator. I passed the interview portion! *fireworks*

Now, as any of you know who have gone through the EPIK process, this isn’t the end of the suspense. Passing the interview process “just” means that I’ve been approved by the head office in Seoul as a good candidate for hire. They take all of these provisionally-approved candidates and farm them out to individual Offices of Education (there’s one for each city or provincial area in Korea) and the Offices get to pick and choose the candidates they extend offers to.

BUT, passing the main EPIK interview is a huge step. Back when I was starting this process, I realized that I was going to have to step off the cliff of committing to Korea before I got that final contract (since my current job ends before the point in December when EPIK folks generally get their placements). I decided that if I passed the interview stage, I would make that commitment – even if it means running the risk of not getting accepted by an Office of Education and living in my parents’ attic for the next few months while I scramble madly for a new job. *fingers crossed*

So, my next step is to gather all of the documentation that EPIK requires (plus the extra Smoking form and Photo Release form that my coordinator emailed to me), get my passport photo taken, make multiple photocopies of everything, and promise my firstborn to FedEx to get it all to Korea quickly and safely.

 

화이팅!

 

 

The Interview

So, after worrying for no reason, I got my interview email right in the midst of the first presidential debate. Of course, I’d stopped checking my email while watching Clinton and Trump square off, so I nearly fell out of my chair when I hit Mail on my phone and the email from EPIK popped up! The email informed me that my interview was scheduled for 2:00am my time on Monday night – and believe me I am not one of those people who can wake up at the drop of a hat and be totally compos mentis.

 

What this meant was that I went to bed basically as soon as I got home from work yesterday, trying to pack in as much sleep as possible before waking up at midnight. I took a shower, dressed up in a blouse and blazer (but with more comfortable pants), got all my paperwork in order, and practiced my interview questions for a bit before settling myself in front of my laptop. I made sure that all of my Post-Its (with helpful points that I wanted to remember) were in place around the screen of my laptop and that I had both my printout of my application and my pile of paperwork in case my interviewer wanted to see it.

At exactly 2:01am, I got a Skype contact request from EPIK, immediately followed up by a video chat. I accepted and spent the next 30 minutes trying to act as calm and competent as possible while the coordinator bounced back and forth between going through my application form and normal interview questions. It was a bit like whiplash from time to time (going from “so, do you have any food allergies?” to “tell me how you would manage a classroom of screaming 12-year-olds”) but I think I managed to stumble my way to relatively coherent answers. There were a few that surprised me – I definitely didn’t expect to get asked to explain why I had chosen the college I did! But overall, the coordinator seemed to be businesslike but friendly – and I even managed to make him smile a few times. Fingers crossed that’s a good sign!

Anyway, he told me that I should be hearing back about whether I passed the interview in the next few days. Back to the waiting game…

 

 

The Suspense

Almost two months since I hit “Send” on my application email to EPIK and the suspense is kiilllling me. I was able to ignore it for the first month and a half, since there was no news and all of us applicants were in the same boat. But at the beginning of this week, folks started to post to the EPIK Spring 2017 Facebook group that they had gotten The Email – the one inviting them to interview and letting them know a date and time.

It’s one thing waiting for the interview process to begin, but now that some folks have gotten interviews and some haven’t, it’s all too easy to let the panic start to creep in. What if I don’t get an interview? What if they think I don’t have enough teaching experience, or that I’m too old for their program, or my essays weren’t perfect, or my background doesn’t fit what they want their teachers to be? I’ve put all of my eggs in this basket in terms of what I do next year – what if I’m taking too big a risk?

But then I tell myself to breathe – that it’s only been four days since the first folks got their interview emails, and that I might very well get mine tomorrow when I wake up.

Fingers and toes crossed…

 

 

The dreaded apostille

Having worked for the federal government in one capacity or another over the course of my career, I have a deep understanding of how frustrating bureaucracy can be. Therefore, I like to highlight moments when things work not only quickly and smoothly (so far), but I walk out of the office with a smile on my face.

Long story short, I went to drop off my FBI background check to be apostilled by the State Department this morning. The process takes about 72 hours, so today’s trip was just part one. I dropped off my precious letter from the FBI (after all those months of waiting, I was loath to let it go), along with a completed DS-4194 form, and got my receipt which stated that I should return in three days to pick it up. The entire process took about 15 minutes – a minor miracle.

For those of you who live in the greater Washington, DC area and are planning to use the Department of State’s walk-in service like I am, here’s how it goes:

  1. Complete your DS-4194 form and print it out. It’s a fairly straightforward form, but there are instructions on the last page of the form if you have questions.
  2. Bring that form and your FBI CRC to the State Department’s Office of Authentications (600 19th Street NW) – they are conveniently open 8:00-9:00am, Monday – Friday. Even though it didn’t take me that long, I would recommend getting there as close to 8:00 as possible. The waiting room was already full when I got through the security check, looking depressingly like the DMV. Not everyone is there for the same service, of course, so you’re not in line behind all of them, but still…
  3. At the Check-In window, the staff will give you a 2-page form to fill out and a number slip showing your place in line. The two pages have identical information – one of them will be attached to your papers while they are processed, and one will be given back to you (this is your receipt, so DON’T LOSE IT).
  4. Wait for your number to be called and go to the appropriate window. The staff there will do a cursory check of your documents and give you back your receipt page with instructions to come back in three days.

 

That’s it! Just hold onto your receipt and hopefully three days later you will be picking up your lovely apostilled background check.

 

UPDATE:  I’m so excited to say that I successfully picked up my apostilled background check this morning (Sept 1st)! I got there a little later than I had on Monday (around 8:30), so I had to wait a little longer to be called to a window, but after that it was a quick process to hand over my receipt, receive my apostille, and pay the $8 processing fee. Now to safely tuck it away in my documents folder for January…

 

 

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!