EPIK orientation was a mixture of information overload and an awesome time. 

We met some great people and made friends with other EPIK teachers who are placed in Gwangju.  We were fortunate in that there were three guys in the class that had lived and worked in Gwangju previously and were only now shifting over to work in the public schools with EPIK.  They were a fount of information about what sorts of things to expect.  Day-to-day orientation was a bit of a slog. Breakfast started at 7:30 followed shortly by two lectures, a break for lunch, two lectures, supper, and then Korean class ending a little before 8:30.  Throw in jet-lag and preparing a sample lesson plan and you have some very tired EPIK teachers.

Our first foray (possibly) off-campus involved walking down the very narrow streets of a nearby neighbourhood. As yet, it remains unclear if we were unwelcome there, or if people gave us strange and unpleasant looks (and derisive snorts) for some other reason. The exception to this response was one woman on a balcony who waved cheerfully at us. The community itself had a bit of an odd feeling to it, nothing like the other areas of Korea we have briefly seen thus far.

However, Saturday was field trip day.  They piled us all on buses by class and drove us to a traditional village area within Jeonju.  For those Canadians who have been, this was like Barkerville in the preservation of historic buildings and the active demonstration of arts such as traditional paper (hanji) and wine making (the wine was a little sweet, like sherry).  Much of the morning was spent looking around the village and being taken to some of the highlights.  Eventually, they turned us loose to look through an old shrine that contains one of the original paintings of the king who founded the longest standing dynasty of Korea.  You could tell that the grounds had the potential to be gorgeous, but when we were there it was early spring and the grass was dead.  That being said, there was a really nice bamboo grove that was pretty cool to wander through. B&T in Babmboo forest

Possibly one of the most interesting parts of the field trip was after lunch when we were taken to participate in cultural activities.  We managed to establish that neither of us has any talent with drums or in traditional dance, but a great laugh was had by all.

B&T at drumming classT-Orientation Wed-Sat 045Blake Learning to Dance

We also had the opportunity to play a few games, including one where two people alternately jump on opposite ends of a wooden see-saw, centred on a rolled-up carpet. If performed correctly, this action results in some kind of cross between a trampoline and a catapult. Other games included guiding a rolling metal hoop with a hooked metal stick (also very challenging), and throwing slender, two or three foot-long batons into metal tubes from approximately ten feet away. Tamara played this game with a young Korean girl, and promptly lost, two (“i”) to one (“il”).

B playing darts gameT Playing hoop game

Incidentally, Tamara also got left behind by the group when she tried her skills at speaking in Korean with another group of Korean children. When one of the EPIK leaders found and retrieved Tamara, she also managed to leave behind the backpack (which may or may not have contained a few rather important items). Thankfully, as we have been reminded several times thus far, Korea has an incredible culture of honesty, meaning that Blake was able to relocate the backpack in short order.

How Tamara got left behind

Following lessons in traditional Korean mask dance, the next activity involved making a pencil case by covering a cardboard box in hanji (traditional paper) and watery glue.    …

The final days of orientation were jam-packed with lesson-planning, lectures, and little adventures, including several taxi trips into town. The first, being with a classmate to run an errand. The second involving Blake and Tamara hastily heading back into town the next day to retrieve a USB left behind at a photo shop.

Oh, and Tamara finally broke down and ate kimchi at breakfast on the second-to-last day (please note that she dutifully ate kimchi at every meal besides breakfast throughout the orientation). 


Arrival and Orientation

We are into our second full day in Korea and still trying to catch up.  Our arrival was a little odd to say the least.  Customs was a breeze but once we found the EPIK (English Program in Korea) booth in the main arrivals area of Incheon airport, things started to seem surreal.  We were handed a sheet of paper with a number at the top, herded into a group with about 200 other jet lagged GETs (Guest English Teachers), and told to wait until our number was called to sign up for and board a bus.  In total, this amounted to about two hours of shuffling, waiting, and trying to stay awake by chatting with our new program mates.  Just to keep it interesting, we were all pushed back away from the arrivals area and toward the wall to make room for reporters and a “celebrity”.  Five minutes later we watched Arnold Schwarzenegger bolt through the airport!  The rest of the evening/night felt a bit like we were being smuggled to some secure location.  We were herded onto a bus and spent the next several hours driving through the dark towards Jeonju, with no idea where we were or what was around us.  Our one stop was at a random all-night convenience store/ restaurant, where we selected a few recognizable items to snack on for the remainder of the trip (during which we slept instead). When we finally arrived at the University of Jeonju, we registered and crashed just before midnight.

Because we were in class one with the rest of the Gwangju teachers, we were the first to get our medical checks the next morning.  We were not allowed to eat past 10:00 or drink past midnight and we had to be at the medical check-up by 7:30am.  Jet lag came to our rescue and we were wide awake before 5:00.  The medical check was a very odd tableau.  We registered, and then entered an auditorium. On stage there was a series of stations set up from height and weight to drawing blood.  We waited in the front row and watched the others until it was our turn, and then we entered the assembly line ourselves.  The whole thing culminated in getting a chest x-ray in a bus outdoors.  February temperatures in Jeonju are not something you want to be running around in without a jacket.

Orientation really started at 2:00 with opening ceremonies that included several forms of traditional dance and a taekwondo demonstration that was pretty impressive.  Regardless of your view on the usefulness of the martial art, it was certainly an awesome display of agility and athleticism to see them kicking boards held above the head of a guy standing on another guy’s shoulders!  The remainder of the day was filled with class introductions and discussions of the upcoming schedule.

Overall, day one was a bit of an eye opener and, as we are still suffering from the effects of jet lag, parts of it went by in a bit of a blur.