A not so EPIK week.

I have been quite busy of late with my time torn between school, teacher training courses, sport activities and trips. A routine is something that has been missing from life over the summer and beginning of the autumn so far. Time has been littered with holidays, public holidays and enforced attendance events and the more enjoyable self chosen activities. Fortunately, most of this has been of the desirable kind.However,  it was inevitable that my body would eventually let me down and give into the germs spread by the legions of children that surround me five days a week.

I spent the 21st of September through to the 26th in Seoul. I had been sick the previous week at school (due to excessive kimchi intake) and  I came into my week of EPIK orientation (English Program in Korea) in a weakened vulnerable state. As soon as I arrived in Hyehwa in Seoul I felt the unmistakable pain in my throat that could only be self-diagnosed as tonsilitis.  EPIK training is usually encountered before you begin your public school contract, but due to my arrival at Myungho elementary school mid-semester it was delayed until the end of September. EPIK orientation has a reputation as a bit of a party week for the hordes of teachers who arrive in Korea when they are scooped up from the airport. You could consider it to be a freshers week for people who should know better. As with many things in life the freedom of the early days leads to the oppression of the latter ones. EPIK orientation now has a strict midnight curfew at the NIIED (National Institute for International Education) dormitories to control the potentially reckless educators to be. In many ways I respect their decisions, we are guests in this country and should be respectful oof the privelged position they have offered us. Alternatively, we are also adults who should be trusted to behave. If idiots want to misbehave they can and should not be surprised when they are on the next plane home…

Anyway, I was genuinely looking forward to my EPIK training. It was an opportunity to make some new friends, discover some interesting new teaching practices, improve myself and understand more about the education system that my energies are invested in.  When I arrived in Korea I lacked many basic teaching skills, had an absence of cultural knowledge and had no opportunity to learn things any other way than the hard way. Jumping off a plane and into the classroom with skills you believe are transferable was an indication of my naivety. A year and a bit down the line I can consider myself a teacher. I have invested my time in learning, learning heavily from my mistakes and accepting the guidance of my peers,  Korean co-teachers and occasionally my students.

Our EPIK orientation began with a welcoming ceremony and an interesting performance by a kick-ass tap dancer who was equally supported by a traditional Korean orchestra who played a mixture of traditional music, K-pop interpretations and oddly the Beatles. Later, we were given an “Introduction to Korea” lecture by a man (or voice) familiar to me. Hyun-woo runs a website called talktomeinkorean.com which I have used on and off in a disappointing attempt to learn Korean. The disappointment comes from my efforts rather than the quality of his educational podcasts and online workbooks; all of which are free.

The following three days would continue in the following manner:

Wake-up/disappointing breakfast/two one and a half hour lectures/disappointing lunch/two one and a half hour lectures/disappointing dinner/learn Korean or plan presentation with group/try to gym it or socialise/attempt to sleep through room mates insane snoring (sorry Rob!).

Thankfully, I met some great people at orientation who looked after me. The nurse sorted me out with free drugs, JK and Ellie (the Busan class group leaders) always made sure my confused and sick body was in the right place, Andy who had life saving ear plugs and of course the rest of the Busan class who cheered me up in the evenings in the bars and restaurants around Hyehwa.

On the final morning we completed a mock lesson presentation. In groups of three we were tasked with presenting a mini 20 minute lesson to the rest of our class and an EPIK assessor. The teachers generally and unnecessarily stressed themselves out throughout the week, creating elaborate lesson plans and Powerpoint presentations for what was essentially a competency test. My group craftily kept it simple and was voted in the top two in class. Shout out to Nav and Andy who killed it! It was quite a fun event and I think our class showed they had learnt something from our lecturers throughout the week. Some people came into the week believing this to be a waste of time as most teachers had been here for a few months but everyone seemed to walk away satisfied and having learnt a thing or two.

During the final afternoon we went on a cultural field trip to Deoksu Palace and to see a Korean musical called Miso. Deoksu Palace is one of Seoul’s smaller royal palaces but was equally interesting as Gyeongbukgong which I visited in April with Kate. I was highly dubious about Miso. I have little desire to attend musicals. I was relieved to find that the performance was more dance based. Miso turned out to be a quality production, colourful, vibrant and eventful. I still won’t be attending any musicals, but you might get me to a dance event if it is accurately described!

I hung around in Seoul to do some winter clothes shopping. With the lack of western shops that cater to a man of my height every trip to Seoul has to be considered an opportunity to stock up on clothes…I don’t think t-shirts will cut it this winter somehow!

On a sad note I received some devastating news in Seoul. In Korea when you make a good friend it is a moment to be cherished. Half way round the world and away from the comforts of home and the ability to talk with anyone around us, expats hang on to their friends tightly in Korea. Equally, we suffer the sadness and disappointment as our friends move away when their contracts end, but we know we have a friend that we look forward to seeing again as we work and adventure around the world. Sadly, with one of the best mates I made in Changwon, I will not have that opportunity. Andrew Humberstone passed away shortly after he returned to Korea in a motorbike accident. I learnt of his passing in Seoul on the Thursday evening. Ironically, I had been detached from the world of social networking and had only heard of his recent passing when I logged on to send a message to him to see when he would be visiting Busan after his recent relocation to Geoje Island. Andrew was one of the first people I met in Korea. A true Englishman who I had instantly got on with. I won’t forget the numerous Saturday nights I spent in Changwon’s foreigner bars, trying to adjust to my new surroundings, playing pool (English rules!), darts and hearing about his poker fortunes and misfortunes. Andrew had a fantastic outlook on life and always gave me great advice and ideas about what to do in this world we live in. I know he was loved by so many people and I was disappointed to be stuck in Seoul while the people of Changwon celebrated his life and mourned his premature death. I had a drink in his honour in Seoul and I’d like to thank  the people who gave the time to talk to them about him while I was there; they definitely made his passing easier to deal with. I hope wherever you are Andrew you are having as good a time as you did on Earth!


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