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What’s going on with EPIK these days? Changes, cuts, and Korvia

Students harvesting rice
blue dot
Apr 20 2015

For as long as I’ve been in Korea, the consensus has been that the public school programs are in terminal decline and will soon be axed altogether. This was true when I first came back in 2009, a time now looked on as a Golden Age of teaching in Korea. Today, it’s still what a one year veteran English teacher says to a newbie after two beers at the local foreigner bar.

I’ve learned to be pretty sanguine about it. People keep coming, despite the doomsayers. But the trend has always been towards budget cuts, higher standards, and increased competitiveness, and in the last six months or so there have been more provinces and cities that have experienced budget cuts (Daegu, Chungcheonbuk-do, Incheon). Jeollanam-do (not part of EPIK) has also had a budget crisis. It would be easier at this point to list the provinces and cities that have never had at least one round of severe cuts.

EPIK’s more competitive these days…. (again)

I wrote a while back that my educated guess was that an applicant’s chances of being hired by EPIK were between 1 in 3 and 1 in 4. EPIK, unusually, didn’t give even rough figures for their most recent intake, saying only that it was “approximately several hundred” – a vague number to be sure, although clearly a lot less than they have recruited in the past. Assuming that means approximately 300 (it could mean anything, really), it would follow that your chances these days are about 1 in 6 or 1 in 7, based on my earlier figures for the number of applicants each semester. That’s very approximate, but the best I can do. It’s still not impossible, but certainly it’s a higher bar to clear than it once was.

Of course, that assumes that the number of applicants has not changed, and I’m not sure that’s true. To remind everyone again – it’s a story of supply and demand, and there are good reasons to believe the demand for positions may be less than it once was, too. A reminder of my favorite graph:

That’s US searches for “teach English Korea” and “EPIK Korea”, and both have declined as US unemployment has improved. From the graph, it’s clear that interest in EPIK has declined more slowly than general interest in teaching in Korea, which probably makes sense; people searching for EPIK are further along the path to making a decision, and EPIK is considered a better option by most people, compared to hagwon positions.


The TaLK program seems to be in real danger of ceasing to exist altogether come 2016. This makes me a little sad. I first came to Korea with TaLK, and, along with the Fullbright program on which it was modeled, I believe it was the best program for anyone whose main interest was having a real, culturally immersive experience. It’s changed a lot since I and my fellow 3rd gens crossed our fingers and hoped we wouldn’t end up in a homestay in a rural village somewhere, and came to Korea.* *There wasn’t nearly as much information on the internet then, and the TaLK promotional materials made it seem like that was a real possibility. I’ve changed a lot, too. But from what I’ve heard from current TaLK scholars, it’s still a pretty good program for teachers. Whether it was also a good deal for Korean taxpayers – well…

Korvia announces a bunch of EPIK changes

Last week the recruiters Korvia put up a blog post outlining future changes to EPIK which got a lot of attention. The big double-take for me was: What the hell was a recruiter doing announcing changes on EPIK’s behalf? I don’t trust recruiters, even the reputable ones like Korvia, so I sent EPIK an email asking them if the changes were official policy, and if so, why they were being announced by Korvia.

They replied:

In regards to the announcement made by Korvia, 3 of the 5 (numbers 1, 4, and 5) have already been stated on our website. Number 3, we inform our applicants during the interview.  The only thing that we have issue with is number 2.  We have since spoke to them and they have edited their website.

(Korvia got rapped on the knuckles by EPIK.)

(I really don’t trust recruiters.)

So, let’s look at the changes announced (or re-announced) by Korvia:

1. TEFL is now compulsory for English and linguistics majors.

This policy was announced by EPIK in January. Previously, people majoring in those two subjects were theoretically exempt from doing a TEFL course. As an English major myself, I think it’s a good idea; being able to analyse the symbolism of the color white in Moby Dick has very little to do with teaching English as a foreign language. (Of course, online TEFL certificates are still a joke; more on that next.) Majors in Education, those with teacher’s licenses, and TaLK alumni are still exempt.

2. From 2016, TEFL courses will have to have an in-class component, or maybe not

This one gives me a headache. The fact is EPIK has changed their mind about this quite a few times, and I’ve had to update this blog an equal number of times to reflect their nuanced policy changes regarding this. Some history:

Way back in 2013, EPIK announced that starting from Fall 2013, they would “give a priority to the applicants possessing a minimum 100 hour TEFL or TESOL with at least a 20 hour offline, in-class component”.

Presumably, that didn’t work out too well, because they subsequently backed off. They updated their FAQ with the following:

Q: Will an applicant with an in-class TEFL component be offered a position over someone with a fully online course?

A: Not necessarily. However, having an in-class component is highly preferred by the Offices of Education.

Which, of course, directly contradicted what they had said previously.

So Korvia announced that from Spring 2016, only TEFL degrees with a 20 hour in-class component would be accepted. Then EPIK had a word with them, and they updated their article to something a bit arch: “EPIK has now commented this is not official but that they are considering it”. Those italics! I actually feel Korvia’s pain on this; they too probably wish EPIK would just make up its mind on this one.

So, what to make of this? I have the following observations:

1. EPIK has clearly wanted to make this policy change for a long time, and I agree with them. Online-only TEFL certificates are a joke. There is no recognised accreditation and they tend to be impossible to fail by design. Some provide auto-generated “feedback” on assignments; others grade on multiple choice tests, the correct answers to which can be found with a Google search. An in-class component provides some level of quality control, and hopefully at least means people will actually get some teaching practice.

2. That EPIK have never been able to implement this policy change tells you that getting accepted by EPIK is not as hard as people sometimes claim. If it was, EPIK would have been able to enforce this standard a long time ago, as they clearly would like to do (and I’m with them. Actually, I’d prefer the more stringent “CELTA or equivalent” standard, but I guess that’s impossible.)

3. Following from that, if you really want to ensure that you have the best possible chance of getting in to EPIK, you should probably do a course with an in-class component. It might be a requirement in 2016 – or EPIK might back off from it, yet again.

4. It’s worth noting that Korvia is not a completely disinterested party in this. They earn a commission for referring people to TEFL courses, and courses with in-class components are more expensive and earn them a significantly higher commission. It’s in their interest for you to do one of those expensive courses. (I really don’t trust recruiters.) (Also – I know this because I also refer people to TEFL courses and earn a little money from it. Read my recommendations here! But at least I’ll tell you what I’m doing.)

3. Applicants must now sign a document saying that they will refrain from smoking at their school, at school functions, or in sight of students or co-workers, and also at their home, if their landlord insists.

I’m a smoker (unfortunately – I wish I wasn’t), so you won’t get any rabid, all-smokers-must-die stuff from me. I think passive smoking should be avoided and kids should obviously not be encouraged to smoke or to believe that smoking is cool. That said, some people’s reactions to it start to resemble phobias, accompanied by a sort of gleeful self-righteousness at having a socially acceptable target for their contempt, and I’m not cool with that.

I worked at three public elementary schools, and all had a designated smoking area on school grounds. Some of the best friendships I made with other teachers were forged during cigarette breaks (there is a camaraderie…). None of my schools had a problem with me smoking; probably because my schools liked me, so it was seen as a foible rather than further evidence that I was a terrible person. I always did my best to hide my smoking from my students, and was never completely successful. My solution to this was simple: I lied. I lied in the face of all evidence to the contrary, and my students got a lot of enjoyment and English practice from trying to prove I was a smoker. (I mean, at one school I invented another foreign teacher, who looked a little like me and lived in the next town, who was a bad guy and smoker, to explain a student who had caught a glimpse of me smoking near a bus stop while driving by. I even photoshopped pictures of myself to prove this teacher’s existence when my students demanded photographic evidence. All of which was in good fun, and hopefully communicated the message that smoking is not something to be proud of.)

That said, attitudes (and legislation) about smoking have changed a lot since I first came to Korea. More than that, I think what lies at the heart of this change is a fairly typical pattern with the foreign teachers here: things go on with a wink and a nod in the Korean manner, with superiors setting rules, either generous or strict, and expecting them to be followed; then someone causes problems and stands on their rights, and so it gets legislated (See: deskwarming). I suspect what happened was something like this:

“My school says I can’t smoke in town. What I do in my free time is my own business.”

“The principal smokes behind the school, but when I do it, I get told off. It’s unfair!”

“Terrible Teacher X, along with a bunch of other problems, comes to school every day stinking of cigarettes.”

“The landlord complained about me smoking inside. It’s my home!”

And so rules had to be made. I think EPIK has been pretty cool about this; you’re not banned from smoking, but if you do it in a way that causes trouble, you’ll be held responsible. You might still be OK smoking with the principal in the gardener’s shed at the back of the school (good memories…). On the other hand, if you can’t smoke in your home, anywhere near school, and you live in the same town as your school and there are students everywhere, you’re going to have a big problem. Best quit before you come.

4. Americans can now use approved FBI channelers for getting their criminal background checks

Obviously, a good change for Americans, who in the past have often had to wait three months or more for their background checks. EPIK says they announced this, and it does mention the possibility on their required documents page, but I can’t see where they made an official announcement.

As for why it takes the United States government three months to run a name through a computer and print out a piece of paper, I have no idea.

5. South Africans are now required to submit proof that their schooling was in English

EPIK announced in January:

South African citizens are now required to submit proof that their schooling from at least second grade middle school through university was conducted in English. Proof of the curriculum being conducted in English is required with the initial application submission. Proof can be in the form of a letter from the school’s administrative office.

This, to me, is the most dubious change. To be sure, I’ve met South Africans here for whom English was clearly not their first language. I’ve also met French-Canandians for whom the same was obviously true. Why one and not the other? If I can tell in a few minutes of talking to someone whether or not they’re a native speaker, why can’t the EPIK recruiters, who are mostly gyopo, do the same in the application interviews?

But go too far with that thinking and you’ll start to question why native speakers are privileged at all, and why EPIK doesn’t accept bilingual people from the Philippines. All good questions, but if you’re going to teach here, you’ll need to reach some sort of personal accommodation with that.

As for South Africans, you now have an extra hoop to jump through. If that means a ridiculously unfair result for your unique situation, I’m sorry. I have a TESOL master’s student at the moment who graduated from one of the world’s top universities, was educated in English and speaks it like a native. She’s Filipino. Maybe you can talk to her about it; she thinks it’s unfair, too.

6. Recruiters…

Not on Korvia’s list, but EPIK also seems to be pretty ambivalent about recruiters. When applications opened this term, there were no approved recruiters – you had to apply through EPIK, or not at all. My impression was that they weren’t going to use recruiters.

Later, for whatever reason, they announced that they were going to use recruiters after all. They had a particularly hurried application period, and selected four recruiters shortly afterwards, down from the 8 or so they had used in the past: Korean Horizons, Reach to Teach, Canadian Connection, and Korvia.

These four are probably the most reputable recruiters; that said, as I’ve noted previously, I don’t particularly trust any recruiter to have the best interests of applicants in mind. Recruiters’ clients are the programs and hagwons; teachers are the product they sell. EPIK, too, has long indicated that they would prefer people to apply directly:

Q: Is there a difference between applying directly to EPIK or applying through a recruiter?

People who apply directly through EPIK typically have a faster response time and are granted interviews quicker than those who go through a recruiter. In addition, the application deadline is a lot sooner for recruiters. Lastly, the recruiters we work with vary each application term, so you will want to check our ‘Application Procedures’ section to see which recruiters we are currently working with.

I don’t know why EPIK began accepting applications without recruiters this semester, then hurriedly selected four. It could be that they wanted to do away with recruiters altogether, then got overwhelmed; or it could just be that they left things to the last minute and then couldn’t get it done in time – hardly unusual in Korea. Regardless, my advice continues to be that you’re better off doing your own research and applying to EPIK directly, rather than using a recruiter. This advice is for EPIK only; for GEPIK and the other provinces that hire outside of EPIK, using a recruiter might be a good idea, as it’s difficult to find and negotiate with individual schools, particularly if you’re coming from outside the country.

 I’ll update my articles on teaching English in Korea and choosing a TEFL degree soon.

Waegukin wrote these 2631 words on April 20th, 2015 | Posted in Teaching |


21 comments on “What’s going on with EPIK these days? Changes, cuts, and Korvia”

  1. Nick Cowling says:

    Great article and thanks for sharing! I’ve applied twice to EPIC before and been turned down both times with no reason why. It’s strange to be turned down by them and then a week or two later be offered an EPIC job through a recruiter.

    I sometimes feel that it’s like the person in charge of EPIC is changed every year. With the new person comes new plans, and new ideas. And everything is ‘go’ until they realize they are out of time and things won’t work.

    There’s nothing we can really do about it. Supply is greater then demand for now, so we either have to take what we are given, or move on to greener pastures.

  2. teddy says:

    I’m Canadian and I had to submit high school and elementary school enrollment proof too.

  3. Waegukin says:

    Interesting, Teddy. However EPIK makes no mention of such a requirement in their required documents. Perhaps you were born in Korea, or educated at a foreign school? Those people also have to provide proof of English schooling.

  4. HF says:

    Hi there,

    Would just like to say thanks for this post. I’m currently in the process of applying for Spring 2016 intake and just wanted to say a word about recruiters. I contacted one to start off with, but I’m increasingly unsure as to whether it’s a good idea to continue through them. I know they’re busy, but they don’t seem to read or take in anything I say, even basic information. Best example of this? I got quite a few emails from them in May harassing me to have everything in and done within 1 week, despite the fact that I stated clearly that I wanted to apply for 2016.

    As far as I can tell from the actual website, application for 2016 isn’t even open yet..?


  5. tony says:

    Do you know if #2 applies to current EPIK teachers as well? If I plan to renew next year, I’m wondering if I will need to do the course with the in-class component. FYI, I have only completed the 100-hour online joke course. That 140-hour TEFL you mentioned seems like a good option If that’s the case.

  6. Waegukin says:

    As I said in the article, #2 doesn’t even apply to prospective teachers – yet. There’s no requirement for renewing teachers to do a course with an in-class component.

  7. Andrew Grogan says:

    Do you know of a classroom TEFL course in Korea?

  8. Waegukin says:

    Hmmm… interesting question. I couldn’t turn up anything on a quick google search.

    Why do you want to do such a course in Korea? The only reason I can think of is that you’re working at a hagwon and looking to transition to EPIK. One might hope, in that instance, that your real world classroom experience would be considered as at least equal to 20 hours of classroom coursework, but I can see why you might be worried about falling in to a bureaucratic gap.

    Perhaps someone else knows of such a course? There must be something, somewhere.

  9. Bebe says:

    your blog is great! thank you thank you thank you!

  10. ewjk` says:

    I’m shocked how much korea esl has declined, being familiar with the situation in the past. I always assumed the blatant racism and xenophobia would deter anyone beyond a year or two. The K-pop (Asian version of a Mexican soap opera) hasn’t made too much of a dent in increasing demand.

    As the creator of this site has cited, interest appears to be down–which posits that the main criteria for decreased labor markets is decreased demand?

    I never did EPIK but the similar program in Japan Korea copied. Cultural disputes, particularly with young people on their first work assignment, can be tense. Added to Korea’s xenophobia, I can only imagine how much more tough it could be.

    Which leads me to the last point: 100 million dollar ESL robot programs, recruiting Philipinos, gutting public foreign teacher school ESL, outrageous criminal background checks, juxtaposed with gangs of cockblockers, U.S. military curfews, Korean army detachments outside U.S. army nightspots, methodical Korean men–sometimes violent in night clubs, angry faces by passersby–this all reinforces my suspicion that the whole shift is just to cock block whitey.

    Korea was okay because the high turnover of foreign staff meant that remuneration was higher than other decent E. Asian locales, Korea had developed to the point where Seoul was fairly comfortable, and there were entertainment venues. However, if the remuneration goes down, there are a plethora of more friendly, less conservative places out there to teach.

    For instance, though Japan’s ESL market has been worse for decades, their version of EPIK still pays. It’s no longer in main cities, but if you are an hour away, the pay and experience will trump Korea any day.

  11. ewjk` says:

    Oh, and far as this Philipine promotion goes, being native is important. You wont understand the allegories, allusions, slang, colloquial language, culture, education points of a Western country. The point is to know proper English of a NATIVE SPEAKER.

    The bosses and nationalists would love to replace us with foreign cheap labor, hence the S. Africans and Philipinos, next will be Hindus. However, for obvious reasons, parents won’t have it.

    The Philipine’s main income is remuneration from Western countries. It’s time that place gets its act together. The mainstreaming of sub-standard Philipinos in ESL is the last day a Westerner works ESL. A friend recently inquired about health care work in the Mid East, a place people, for reasons much more severe than Korea, earned bank. Now, unless you are a physician, there are no healthcare jobs, the rest being given to South Asia or Philipinos.

  12. Waegukin says:

    “blatant racism and xenophobia”
    “the whole shift is just to cock block whitey”
    “The point is to know proper English of a NATIVE SPEAKER”
    “more tough”

    Are you trolling? Or are you really this stupid?

  13. Amy says:

    For the TaLK program is it just speculation that the program end or is it a for sure thing now?

  14. Waegukin says:

    Amy – an official announcement hasn’t been made, however it’s quite a bit more than speculation. I would be very surprised to see TaLK continue.

  15. Amy says:

    Do you know of any other programs similar to TaLK program where I didn’t require a bachelor degree in order to teach in Korea?

  16. sfd says:

    English high school education evidence is completely justified, and frankly generous, for South Africans. According to statistics, only 9.5% of South Africans speak English in the home. This isn’t 80s S. Africa. All the White people lost their jobs and are barred by law to get a new one. The Afrikaners (which speak Dutch) who were too low-skilled to get out, would not be great ESL teachers due to accent and non-native ENglish ability.

    Also, yeah, S. Korea is the most xenophobic society on Earth. It was known as the hermit kingdom, and even today foreigners are not uncommonly assaulted outside night venues. The attackers have complete backing of the authorities, and the ESL instructor has to fork over large sums of money (per their legal system) to be able to leave the country. (This is a country were tutoring is illegal with an E2 visa, and the immigration authorities have dedicated agents following English teachers to snoop.)

  17. elle says:

    sfd: “the immigration authorities have dedicated agents following English teachers to snoop”

    Not trying to be argumentative, but from the amount of teachers I know who are in Korea on E2 visas and tutoring, and the amount of coworkers who asked me to tutor friends and family,I honestly doubt this.

  18. imh says:

    Dear sfd,

    I am an (employed) Afrikaans South African who went to both Afrikaans and English schools. I went to an English (language) university where I studied English literature and International Relations; and I recently completed an MA in International Relations *in English*, with a distinction (and if this means anything, my thesis was externally marked by a scholar from Tufts University in the United States).

    Despite the fact that I scored above 90% on my IELTS Academic test and have a CELTA, I might now not be able to apply for jobs in South Korea because my last school (out of 8, of which 7 were international English schools) was an Afrikaans one. I agree that people should not be placed as second-language English teachers in South Korean schools if they cannot properly speak English, but I cannot agree with a rule that blocks someone like me from applying for a position. Language competency can be assessed with face-to-face interviews (or telephonic ones), as is already the practice when hiring teachers (or was when I was in South Korea in 2012).

    Overall I agree that there are many South Africans that do not qualify to teach English as a second language. There is actually some skill (apart from being able to speak the language) required. But of course that then applies to any first-language English speaker as well. However, to claim that Afrikaners speak Dutch (when in fact they can’t – they speak Afrikaans) and have been barred by law from getting a job in South Africa (I have a job – I teach at a public university (ie subsidised by the government that you claim has made it illegal for me to have a job at all), and all of my Afrikaans friends have pretty good jobs here too, actually); is ludicrous and unfortunately a reflection of your ignorance.

    Additionally, many Afrikaners (and other South Africans who are not first-language English speakers) can speak English well; because despite the fact that not many of us speak English at home, we have to speak English everywhere else. We have 11 official languages. This means that if we couldn’t speak English, we would not be able to communicate with each other. Again – this does not mean that we all qualify to teach English in South Korea. But it does mean that making general rules about people from certain parts of the world might make it (unfairly) challenging for those who deserve to be considered for these positions.

  19. Taylor says:

    Do recruiters take a percentage of earnings?


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