Open Letter to Prospective and Current Epik Teachers,
If you’re anything like me, the closer you come to getting on that plane, sending in that application, or whatever step you’re at, the more freaked out you are. I get that feeling. As I recall, my entire last month in Seattle was split between frantically trying to see everyone I knew, and obsessively looking up such seemingly inane yet vitally important things as “Can I buy toothpaste in Korea?” (Answer: you can, but it tastes odd) Because I know where you’re coming from, my biggest advice to you, in the timeless words of Douglas Adams, is this: Don’t Panic.
More likely than not, Korea will not be what you expect. Your school will not be what you expect. Your house? That’s right, not what you expect. Hopefully, everything will be better than you imagined. Korea will seem too good to be true, your school will be a shining beacon of educational glory, your house will feel like a palace. But if that’s not the case? I said it once, and I’ll say it again: Don’t Panic.
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t been here long, but as of yet, I haven’t had more than the barest hints of culture shock. What’s my secret? Besides having the chance to fall in love with Korean food and the Korean language before I even left Seattle, it’s this: attitude. Sure, I could focus on how annoying it is that cars don’t stop for me, or my school’s tendency to drop schedule changes on me at the last minute, but how is that going to help anything? Different doesn’t have to mean bad. Embrace the differences. No matter how much you either love or hate it here, Korea will never be your native country. If you don’t expect it to be, I think you can be much happier. After all, if you had wanted to stay home and live the same life you’d always lived, wouldn’t you have just stayed home?
I have been incredibly lucky so far—Gangwon is a beautiful province, Wonju is the perfect size city for me, and not only is my co-teacher near my age, she speaks great English and is always willing to point out ways for me to improve my teaching. But to mangle a scientific suggestion, for every amazing class that reminds you why you wanted to teach in the first place, there is an equal and opposite class that nearly leaves you hiding under your desk, crying tears of frustration.
My momma said there’d be days like that, and while I didn’t want to believe her, she was right. I’m no expert—I’ve only been teaching for two months—but from my limited experience, the best way to deal with the worst of times is to never take them personally. Your students aren’t playing around in class because they hate you, or because you’re a failure—they’re playing around because they’re children. Learn from the experience, ask for help, and make your next lesson better. If it’s not, try again. And above all, my advice? I’m sure you can guess: Don’t Panic.
With warm regards from Wonju, Andrea “Ana” Dennison