EPIK Orientation Recap

Long overdue, but here’s my recap of orientation in Busan! Talking about airport arrival, dorm check-in, lectures, activities, and more.

  • WHO: ~250 EPIK teachers (placed in Busan, Chungbuk, Daegu, Daejeon, Gangwon, Gwangju, Gyeongnam, Jeonbuk, National Schools, Ulsan)
  • WHAT: Mandatory 45 hours of orientation training – intensive lectures, cultural activities, and survival Korean lessons
  • WHERE: Busan University of Foreign Studies (BUFS)
  • WHEN: August 18-26, 2016
  • WHY: Required as part of EPIK, and super helpful for any new teachers like myself

Note: More photos (and better quality photos) can be found on my Instagram here.

Airport Arrival:

I arrived in Busan two days early to adjust to the time difference and do a little exploring (nothing intense – I am teaching in Busan and will have plenty of time to explore later). I stayed at the Airport Hotel which is one metro stop away from Gimhae International Airport and there is a free airport shuttle. (Bonus: ~40 EPIK teachers staying here made it an orientation pre-party for those of us who arrived really early.)

Being at the airport mostly involved standing around and waiting. We arrived well before the first shuttle was scheduled to leave at 11:00am, and so the international arrivals area was quite chaotic and crammed. Some EPIK and Korvia staff walked around talking to people and making general chit chat like, “Welcome to Korea!” and that they would be set up soon. Blending in with the locals, I was mostly passed over despite standing with EPIK teachers, but I was fine with that. While we waited, some of us exchanged money and charged our phones.


Once everything was organized, we each had to take a slip of paper with a number on it and some information like orientation rules and what would be happening on the bus ride. We were called up by these numbers to check in at the registration desk, so if you want to be on the same bus with your friends, definitely get papers with sequential numbers. We messed that part up by getting papers in small groups, and so we were split up. Once called up individually, we had to show our visa page to the EPIK staff member to be checked in. Then we had to wait for our bus to arrive. Each bus fit ~20 people after luggage was factored in. We dropped off our luggage, boarded the bus, found seats, were then moved to seats in the back so that luggage could be loaded on the front seats, and then we were off.

The buses were DEFINITELY karaoke buses. Curtains, colored lights on the ceiling, and speakers on the shelves… I can only imagine what happens on these buses during longer drives! Our drive fortunately was not very long, maybe around 40 minutes. After a lot of uphill driving at the end, we arrived at our destination: Busan University of Foreign Studies (BUFS), our home for the next nine days.


Dormitory Check-In/Unofficial First Day

We unloaded our luggage and brought them into the dormitory lobby, where we then had to check in, pick up our goodies and LAN cable, and have our temperature checked by the nurse. Our plan to room together also failed despite lining up together, since you’re called up to whichever staff member is available next. I guess the only way to room together would have been to ask for the same room, but who knows if it would have worked. I was the first person for my room, but the last female of my bus, which meant that my roommate hadn’t arrived yet. I know, it’s nice to make new friends, but I already had my group of friends (as did my roommate) so it would have been nicer to room with my friends. (Separation anxiety already kicking in.) Luckily some of us were on the same floor, only a few doors apart.


Goodies from EPIK: name tag, canvas tote bag (not pictured), orientation handbook, water bottle, reusable water bottle, snacks, pen, pack of post-it notes

After lunch, which was a welcomed surprised as I thought the early arrivals would be left to fend for ourselves, my friends and I explored the surrounding area. Great time killer, but also a major leg killer. BUFS is located on a hill (mountain?) and you can easily see by the campus layout that it was built around the terrain, with a lot of stairs everywhere. It was about a 15-20 minute walk downhill, trudging along due to the humidity. I swear, it was harder to breathe and that made the walk much slower (especially uphill) until we acclimated over the course of orientation.

We stopped at a convenience store to grab snacks and forgotten items like sunscreen and adapters. We continued on our way for about 10 minutes. Some of us decided to turn back due to exhaustion, myself included. It wasn’t a very exciting walk but as it turns out, the exciting stuff (aka nightlife) was on the left side whereas we’d turned right. Others continued on and we met some teachers also headed back up the hill who said we didn’t miss much in the direction we’d been heading in.

Dinner was served buffet style and wasn’t very crowded since people were still arriving until that evening. After dinner, my friends and I went out to the terrace which has a lovely view of the mountains, and we just hung out chatting and goofing off. I was still exhausted and called it a night around 7:30pm while others went to explore the campus a bit.

Orientation Venue: BUFS

I’ll write a separate post with orientation tips, some related to the university itself, but here’s a description of what the facility was like.

You won’t be able to use wi-fi on campus except in the dorm lobby. You can use the LAN line in your room but Mac users may have trouble with this if you don’t have an ethernet port on your laptop. While inconvenient, it was nice to have a limited time when we could use wi-fi, and it forced us to socialize downstairs.

All teachers were housed in the same dormitory building, separated by gender. Members of the opposite sex are not allowed to visit. This means married couples will not get to room together. For mixed gender teams for lesson demos, work in the lobby, computer lab, or at a nearby café.

Rooms are double-occupation with twin-sized beds. We were provided a pillow, blanket, Korean version of a bed sheet (it’s more like a thin blanket that goes on the bed), soap bar, and two rolls of toilet paper. Each room has its own bathroom which is a single room, meaning that when you shower everything gets wet if you’re not careful where you point the nozzle.

BUFS campus.jpg

Campus is beautiful, surrounded by mountains. I heard there are some hiking trails nearby but I didn’t do any hiking (that involves waking up even earlier). There is a convenience store downstairs in the dormitory, as well as a laundry room. Laundry takes forever so do it early with enough time for your clothes to hang-dry.


All meals were served in the cafeteria during the designated times, buffet style. Everyone lines up (two lines splitting into four lines to get food). Lunch and dinner are the most crowded since everyone is let out at the same time.

Grab your utensils, plate, and tray at the beginning of the line. Water and napkins are off to the side next to the men’s restroom. Water cups in Korea are small so it’s more convenient to fill up a water bottle.


Food was a mix of Korean and Western. For cafeteria food, I thought most things tasted great! Definitely eat early as food can run out. One morning we left 15 minutes later than usual, and the pancakes – my favorite – were already gone, and were not replenished. There is a separate section for the vegetarian dish. You must have declared to EPIK that you are vegetarian to get a special sticker that (supposedly) allows you to take these meals, although I don’t know that anyone was enforcing this rule. Drinks may include milk, coffee (typically at breakfast/lunch only), traditional Korean drinks, or juice but there is usually only one offered per meal. The welcome/farewell meals were much fancier and larger buffets. Don’t make the rookie mistake of loading your plate with everything at the beginning of the line, as the better stuff like ham and salmon were later down the line.

When you’re finished eating, you bring your tray, plates, and waste to the rotating belt near the kitchen. Separate the utensils and drop them back into the designated spot, put your food waste into your soup bowl if you have one (makes it easier to clean I guess) and your waste items like napkins and juice boxes will be put in the trash. EPIK staff will be there to remind/help you with this. Cups go back in the section where you found them.

After lectures, we had some Korean snacks on a few nights: tteokbokki and hot dogs (corn dogs) with traditional rice drink.

Day 1: Campus tour, homeroom, welcome events

First day = campus tour! The starting times were different based on group number (larger group number means later start time). Your name tag has your placement and group/class number. My class, Class 4 (Busan/Chungbuk) was around 45-50 students by my guess. Basically, all the people placed in the same location will be in the same class unless you are in a very large city/region and there is overflow. There is an “A” and “B” part to the class, which comes into play for lesson demonstrations (more on this later).

The campus was beautiful, and as I mentioned earlier very hilly. The tour was mostly to show us the location of the medical check-up, our classes, and the larger lectures/ceremonies. I’m sure there was more to campus than what we saw, but the tour was kept brief.

epik class 4.jpg

After the tour, we had our first class meeting with our EPIK staff, Sara and Joshua! This time was spent going over the orientation schedule and rules like bringing your orientation book everywhere and signing in for attendance checks, checking our contact info, the placement test for survival Korean classes, and lesson demo grouping based on the seating chart (your partner for the demo will be seated next to you).


After lunch, we went to Memorial Hall for the opening ceremony. This included welcome and congratulatory remarks, a performance by a local youth choir, introduction of EPIK staff, and an overview of orientation. We then had a lecture on Korean History & Culture, followed by a special lecture from The Northeast Asian History Foundation (NAHF). I’ll admit, the second lecture was not as exciting as the first, and we were already tired from sitting in the hot auditorium for hours. We lastly had an unexpected (but quick) speech from the US Embassy’s consul general, to discuss the STEP Program (registering your presence with US Embassy in Korea) and the benefits.


welcome dinner.jpg


The last part of the day was the welcome dinner and then we back to the terrace area to hang out.

Excursion day

One of the more relaxed days was the field trip day. We visited the UN Memorial Cemetery which honors those who fell in the Korean War, went back to campus for lunch, and then went out again for a performance of traditional music at the Gugak Center. The cemetery was a nice, somber experience, but honestly was not the best way to learn about culture because I felt like I only learned about one particular part of Korean history.

un cemetery.jpg

Excursion day part 2: watching performances of traditional music and dance #epikprogram

A video posted by Jennifer (@busan365) on Aug 22, 2016 at 4:20am PDT


Medical check-up

On Saturday morning, we had our medical check-up. This was supposed to happen on the first day of orientation but it had been moved; my guess is that it was due to late arrivals because of cancelled flights. Similar to other activities, the line-up time was based on our class number. You can’t eat or drink after a certain time the night before, so we were all starving. The earlier you go, the luckier you are because then you get your snacks after the x-ray, yay!

The check-up was very quick and efficient, but overwhelming and confusing because of the language barrier. The medical check included: height/weight check, vision and hearing test, blood test, chest x-ray, and urine sample.


  • For those with needle-phobia: you can ask to go early (something like 6:30am) without the pressure of everyone being around, but you have to talk to EPIK staff about why you need to do this.
  • Ladies: For the x-ray, wear a sports bra. Even if your bra doesn’t have an underwire, you may have to change because of the hooks in the back. There are gowns that you can change into if you didn’t plan for this.
  • Urine sample: We were told to “hold it” in the morning, especially since we weren’t allowed to have anything to drink after midnight. I met some people who didn’t do this and they were in the bathroom for a loooong time trying to give a sample. So really, hold it if you can.

Lectures (aka everything in between)

Once lectures started, it finally felt like we were training to be teachers rather than hanging out at summer camp. Lectures are intense, and there are some days where you have two lectures back-to-back, lunch, and then two more lectures.

lectures - kor test.jpg

You will go from lecture to lecture with your class group and your class leaders (EPIK staff). There’s a 20-minute break between classes but it’s only enough time to refill water, get coffee from the vending machine, and/or use the bathroom. If you’re really desperate, you can probably make a run back to the dorms to grab something, but it would be a very tight squeeze especially with going uphill back to class. Everyone needs to be seated 10 minutes before lecture starts, and you WILL be seen if you’re late.

Lecture Topics:

  • Co-teaching
  • Storytelling
  • Lesson planning
  • English comprehension
  • After school classes/camps
  • Elementary and secondary English curriculum
  • Teaching students with special needs
  • EPIK duties and regulations
  • Cooperative learning
  • Korean language and Korean today
  • Classroom management

If you’re an experienced teacher, some of the topics might not be as interesting or useful to you if you already have the expertise. For a new teacher like myself, I learned a lot in every class. Some lectures are more engaging than others; it’s entirely up to the lecturer and how s/he has planned the class.

Survival Korean classes: Class meets for three times, each class is 1.5 hours long and late at night after dinner (7pm-8:30pm). Ten levels are offered, although they are all quite basic. The levels include greetings, brief self-introduction, the alphabet, work place terms, casual conversation, talking about various topics, and k-pop (for advanced learners or those interested in k-pop). To get your placement, you do a brief test in one of the first classes. The entire test is in Korean and asks you about vocabulary (I think). There is a dictation section where you have to write the phrases you hear. I didn’t know anything so I was put in Level 1. Some of my friends placed quite high in Levels 7 & 8, but don’t be alarmed if this happens to you – there is a small degree of difference between the levels in the content you learn and how quickly, but it is all at the beginner level. In Level 1, we learned: introduction phrases, numbers/money, and the alphabet.

Lesson planning/demonstrations:

On the last day of orientation, everyone will do a 15-minute lesson demonstration in groups of 2-3 teachers. Lesson topics are assigned randomly during one of the first days of lectures. Most topics are for the elementary level, but there are some lessons for middle school. Our topic was “What’s this?” for Grade 3, teaching phrases like, “What’s this/that?” “It’s a _____.” “Thank you.” We planned our lesson around animal vocabulary.

Lesson plans are due on the second-to-last day. There is designated class time to work on demos, but you will definitely need time outside of class so prepare accordingly and work on these ASAP! It takes a lot more time than you think it will to agree on the activities, write out the plan, and then practice your time management to make it work in 15 minutes. If you have a laptop, bring it. It is much more convenient to work on your own computer, although wi-fi in the lobby can be slow. There is the computer lab that will be open the day before lesson plans are due, as well as the day that plans are due, but the lab will be extremely busy.

Last day (lesson demos, MOE/POE meeting, closing ceremony)

The last day goes by in a flash. Lesson demonstrations take the entire morning and most of the afternoon, with a break for lunch.

How do demonstrations work? You teach your entire lesson in 15 minutes. In order to condense a 40- or 45-minute lesson into this time frame, you speed through your activities. For example, you give your instructions and say that the class has 5 minutes to do the activity. Give it 10 seconds and then say, “Great job everyone!” Of course, you would vary the time that you give in the demo, like actually singing songs or doing chants. One of the lectures will explain how to do the demo, so don’t worry too much about this as long as you plan enough time.

Demonstrations are done in the order of the chapters, so my partner Liz and I were first. I was very stressed and nervous because we didn’t have a lot of time to practice. We did one run-through on the morning of. Aside from forgetting some of the beginning dialogue to introduce the topic, we did really well and our evaluator’s main feedback was to work on how we explained instructions (some of our instructions were muddled at the end) and to not be so nervous, but that for the first group, we did a great job especially with time management!

The nice thing about being first was that we could sit back and relax while watching everyone else. After each demo, everyone fills out a feedback sheet. We were asked to not work on this sheet during the demo so we could pay attention and act like good students, but I wish I’d taken some brief notes about activities. After a while, all of the demos blended together and it was hard to remember what feedback I wanted to share.

After lesson demos, we broke off into separate rooms to meet with our MOE/POE. The Busan meeting was not as intimidating as I thought it would be. I imagined older men in power suits who didn’t speak English, and a lot of awkward handshaking and nodding and smiling. Instead we were greeted by three older women who spoke good English. We received envelopes with our exact school assignment(s) and learned some things to know about being employed by the Busan City Metropolitan Office of Education (BCMOE). Our meeting only lasted about 45 minutes but I saw other groups that were going more in detail about things like days off for special circumstances.

busan group.jpg

The final events of orientation were the closing ceremony and farewell dinner. At the closing ceremony, we heard closing remarks, a farewell speech from one of the class leaders, received our orientation certificate/medical check report, watched a performance by the k-pop class, saw the EPIK summary video. The farewell dinner menu was the same as the welcome dinner, and this time I made sure to pick only a little of the things I wanted to eat.


Leaving orientation

Buses left early on Saturday morning. Some provinces had to do early luggage loading the night before because there were so many people and they were the first groups to leave in the morning. Busan teachers were picked up individually by our co-teacher and taken directly to our housing. There is no breakfast this day, only snacks when you check out.

Final advice

I will make a separate post with tips, but here’s my advice: Orientation will be overwhelming and exhausting – mentally (sitting in long lectures), emotionally (minor culture shock/homesickness), physically (so many hills to climb), and socially (you have to be “on” all the time meeting people). Days are long and nonstop, from 7:30am-6:30pm or later on Korean class nights. Do what you can to mitigate the exhaustion. Drink the coffee if you need it (a necessary evil), keep in touch with folks back home but don’t overdo it, stop and take a breath when climbing up all the hills, and it’s OK to retreat back to your room early sometimes! FOMO (fear of missing out) is real but know what your limits are.

naked crew.jpg

I left orientation with a close group of friends and it’s been so helpful to have them as a support system – someone to receive encouragement from, someone to talk about your day with. Once you leave orientation, culture shock will really hit once you’re no longer speaking English all the time. Enjoy it as much as you can.

Lastly, here’s a fantastic video made by one of the EPIK teachers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBV5r5kcaLM



One response to “EPIK Orientation Recap

  1. Pingback: EPIK: Orientation Tips | I who wander·

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