Question from a reader: EPIK, Ukraine vs. Korea, and grad school?

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I love questions from readers! Look through the archives first - if I haven't answered your question, e-mail me at chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com.

A question from a reader:
My name is [C.C.] and I am and American considering teaching english in Korea. I came across your blog and some posts you made concerning EPIK. It seems much of the feedback on EPIK is extremely negative. I have an opportunity to work for EPIK in August 2010 and am strongly considering taking this opportunity. I also have an opportunity to work in the Ukraine. I would likely only stay in whatever country I am in for a year, (hopefully enough time to learn a fluency and get a good offer from an American graduate program). Do you have any experience with EPIK? And what are your thoughts on Korea in general. Is the money they pay enough to live on? Any help on this issue would be greatly appreciated. Thanks
I should state up front that I have never worked for the English Program In Korea, so all of my knowledge comes from second-hand stories and official sources such as EPIK's official website. One recruiting company (among many) has an excellent set of pages helping you with what to expect, as well as a forum specifically about the EPIK program. Please understand that while I can't speak first-hand, I can put together a number of stories to come up with an opinion.

While most stories you'll read about teaching English in Korea are negative, there's a reason for that. As I wrote in response to a previous question:

Reason #1 is psychological - it's a lot easier to rant on about something really crappy that's happened to you today. 'Good' days don't always merit stopping the presses. Reason #2 is relevancy - as websites age (as eslcafe is one example of) the information contained inside become less and less helpful. Seriously, a restaurant review from 2003? Advice about immigration from before the new changes took effect in late 2007?...

Reason #3 is the grand size of the internet - for better or worse, finding something specific can be a challenge if you don't know what to look for. Reason #4 is time - the people not enjoying their time here have all afternoon / evening to complain about it. The people enjoying their time are usually too busy to write pages on mostly-negative websites about it. We're too busy traveling, meeting friends, taking Korean classes, or - gasp! - enjoying our jobs. The fact is there are plenty of positive things going on about Korea...

If you talk to 100 English teachers in Korea, you'll get 100 different stories. Most complaints I've read or heard about EPIK are common amongst any teaching jobs in Korea - bad relationships with co-teachers / co-workers, things not as expected, contract not being followed / honored, not being paid on time, not knowing what's going on or if there's changes, etc. I can't say that EPIK is any better - or worse - than the other public-school programs in Korea (SMOE, which hires for Seoul, and GEPIK, which hires for the province surrounding Seoul), or even better than the hagwon (private schools) they're trying to make obsolete. Be on your guard, learn the system, learn the culture, and remember the employer is not necessarily your friend.

I also have an opportunity to work in the Ukraine. I would likely only stay in whatever country I am in for a year, (hopefully enough time to learn a fluency and get a good offer from an American graduate program).

It should go without saying that I can't speak knowledgeably about a teaching job in the Ukraine. From a limited amount of research (please please please do your own!) it seems teaching in the Ukraine is a viable option. You won't make as much as you might in Korea, but the standard of living is quite a bit lower in Kiev than it is in Seoul. Let's set your expectations now, though - if you're looking to teach, make money to live on, study a language to become fluent, AND get into grad school, you'll either be Superman or will neglect one of the aforementioned tasks. I'd guess the language studies would go first, unless you're seriously committed to an institution - coming for a year and becoming fluent would be very difficult unless you've had some prior study in that language.

As for grad school, no first hand experience - I suspect the biggest challenge there might be coordinating the applications and making plans to start that while half a world away. Since most of the application process can now be done online, the few off-line activities might constitute the majority of the issues. Be sure to have a friend in your home country / state that can help with any possible leg work (getting transcripts, paperwork, signatures, recommendations, etc.)

Thoughts on Korea? I love the country - the people and culture drive me crazy sometimes, but it's no different than where I'm from. As I answered another question:

The "whole deal? The big enchilada? The view from the ground up?" It's fairly safe to say that coming to Korea is a crapshoot. On one hand you could do all the research in the world and still end up with a crappy job. On the other hand, you could just go with the first recruiter and job you hear about and have a great time. More experienced teachers than myself have complained about how they were treated at the school they presumably vetted to some level of satisfaction. I'm sure it's the same way in Thailand, along with other countries - jobs are rarely exactly as you expect them, although few are crappy to the point of making you want to leave. Of the "good decent employer in Korea and a nice place to live and a rewarding job", you'll usually get two of the three.

Best of luck.

Readers, any experience with the EPIK program? Comments are open. Try to stay positive / neutral to avoid the whole 'libel law in Korea' thing.

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe - 2010

This post was originally published on my blog, Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.



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