Waegukin - living and teaching in Korea

An example EPIK application essay

blue dot
Sep 23 2012

I often get people coming here looking for an example EPIK essay, due to Google’s misunderstanding of what another blog post is about, and I suspect due to there apparently being not very many such essays on the internet. (As seems to often be the case these days, Scroozle’s Sanctuary delivers the goods.) Being short of inspiration since my experience with the Shinchonji cult, I thought I’d post mine, as yet another supplement to the ever-expanding Waegukin Guide to teaching English in Korea.

If you’re not currently in the process of applying to EPIK, this is probably not very interesting. Sorry.

The question for me was the same as for Zackary at Scroozle: “We are interested in your ability to succeed as an ESL teacher in a public school in Korea. In the space below, please share with us your reasons for wanting to teach ESL in Korea, your educational philosophy and your thoughts on encountering cultural differences.” Like him, I also had the advantage of having taught English in Korea before, so that gave me something to write about.* *I did also manage to track down my TaLK application essay, but that had a few too many biographical details for me to feel comfortable posting it here. If you don’t have teaching experience, I’d suggest talking up anything else you can think of that seems related – babysitting, nephews and nieces you enjoy playing with, tutorial groups you led, boy scouts, anything like that.

Regarding cultural differences, obviously you are keen for the challenge and open to new things. It might be worthwhile mentioning some specific Korean cultural things you find interesting. As for your educational philosophy, it should be inclusive, friendly and dedicated, I would think. Try to make it literate and free from spelling and grammatical errors.

This is certainly not wonderful writing – the intent was to convey a tone of positivity and enthusiasm, while squeezing in things like having familiarity with Korean language and culture. It worked for me. Obviously, you shouldn’t copy this, but if it gives you some ideas for things to cover in your own essay, that’s fine.

In August 2009 I left Australia for Korea to spend a year teaching as part of the TaLK program. Looking back, I would say that I was very ignorant about Korea, and what to expect from my time there – I remember writing on my blog at the time that I wasn’t sure whether I would be living in “a boxy high-rise apartment, or a rice field somewhere” – but although I was ignorant, I did have a good attitude towards it. I was keen for the experience, and open to it, and wanted to learn.

I was lucky; with me on the plane were some Korean-Australians who were doing the same program. They quickly adpoted me and in my first couple of weeks in Korea gave me a crash course in Korean culture: they taught me about Korean food, gave me some survival language skills (greetings, numbers, how to ask where the bathroom was), taught me about K-Pop, noraebang, and the importance of age in Korean relationships, and many other things, too.

When I went to my school I wasn’t sure of what to expect from teaching; it wasn’t something I had done before. I had heard that the Korean education system placed a higher emphasis on rote learning, and while this was true to a certain extent, my head teacher was very supportive of me using other methods, and patient in assisting me in learning how to be a good teacher. I never thought that Western methods were necessarily superior, and I quickly realized the value of a trained memory when I saw my kids’ abilities to absorb new vocabulary; I used other methods mostly as a balance. While their vocabulary was strong, they were not practiced at using it with a native speaker; they couldn’t quickly turn their thoughts into English words and sentences. I found that I increasingly structured my lessons around not only teaching them vocabulary and grammar, but encouraging them to use it; when I could provoke them into using their English because they had thoughts they really wanted to communicate with me, I felt I had succeeded. I spent a lot of time re-inventing the wheel, but I’ve never been more happy or surprised as when I realized, after a few months, that my kids were speaking with much more ease and fluency; that they had actually learned.

I enjoyed being a teacher, and enjoyed all of my time in Korea. I made great friends with whom I’m still in touch. I found I enjoyed the regular pattern of my days and weeks: walking to my bus stop, buying food for dinner, talking to the owner of my local convenience store in our very limited shared vocabulary of broken English and Korean. Encountering cultural differences was occasionally frustrating, but far more often rewarding, or even revelatory: so many things are better in Korea! I wish Australia had service buttons on every restaurant table, noraebangs, pool halls and cheap motels in every city and town, efficient and clean busses and trains departing regularly to all corners of the country.

At the end of my contract in Korea, my school asked me to extend again, and I was very tempted to do so; I’d loved my time there so much. But many of my friends were leaving, and there were things about home I missed, although I knew there were many things about Korea I would miss, too. Since returning home I have completed my CELTA certificate to improve my skills as a teacher, and I still miss Korea very much, so I feel that now is the time to return to Korea, hopefully with EPIK.

Waegukin wrote these 965 words on September 23rd, 2012 | Posted in Teaching |


4 comments on “An example EPIK application essay”

  1. Scroozle says:

    Nice to see someone else pop their essay into a blog post.

    “EPIK application essay” has been one of the top search results for my blog. People have been hungry for examples.

  2. The Waegukin says:

    Well, people were coming here looking for it anyway, so I thought I’d help them out.

    Which reminds me, I’ve been meaning to add your blog to the blogroll on my about page – done that, now. Nice work on the Shinchonji thing, by the way.

  3. Janelle says:

    Hi, I’m in the process of applying to the TaLK program and saw that you had gone to Korea with it in 2009. I’ve already graduated with my Bachelor’s and have been told numerous times that EPIK would be better for me financially. However, because I don’t have any official teaching experience, I’m more interested in testing the waters with TaLK. Were there a lot of graduates when you did the program, and since this is a program more geared towards current undergrads, will I be viewed as the old person (I’m 27)?

    Any information/advice you could share would be great! Thanks!

  4. The Waegukin says:

    Hi Janelle, it’s sometimes difficult for me to give advice on TaLK, because when I did it, it had only been in operation for one year, and I presume things have changed. At that time there was a sizable minority of graduates; even the odd “older” (middle-aged) person. But it was easier to get into in those days; I’m not sure if they’ve narrowed their selection criteria.

    Is someone who is 27 likely to stand out as old amongst a group of 22 year olds? I wouldn’t have thought so. You sometimes feel it when the conversations veer towards pop culture, but other than that I don’t think it ever bothered me or my friends that I was a little older.

    I too was suggested towards EPIK, but it wasn’t the experience I was looking for at the time. Do what feels right for you.

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