Sunday, March 24, 2013

The GEPIK Orientation

(Warning: This is a long one.)

I knew for quite some time that I'd have to be coming to this GEPIK Orientation a few weeks after getting to Korea. (If you don't remember what GEPIK is, check my first post where I go into it in one section.) The orientation is basically this 3-day long conference where they put all teachers new to GEPIK up in this little resort and make us go to different seminars/workshops all day. It's also the real first (and biggest) way to make (non-Korean) friends in the country. But before I could start this journey, I had to get to the right place.


A little over a week ago, I had gotten an email giving me instructions and details on this orientation. So I knew I'd have to take a train and then wait for a bus that would take a GEPIK group to this resort place. The train to the correct station where I'd wait for the bus was easy to get to. It was just one stop over (in the opposite direction as work). But after getting there… that was the interesting part. I have to go to exit 6, but I don't see any signs for exit 6. And then when I finally do, it's hanging above a staircase… pointing left. So there's these two signs. One says Exits 1-5 go straight up the stairs. The other says Exits 6-9 go left… towards where the train pulls in. And I certainly wasn't going to take another train anywhere.

So I decided to just go up the stairs. And sure enough, I continued seeing signs telling me to go left. So I kept going straight. And eventually, the path split into two, and exit 6 was to the left. So it was more of a "keep left" than "go left" sign, I guess. I get down to the stop and see a guy and young woman already waiting there, so I wait there with them, and there's the usual awkward small talk. And it wasn't long before another guy showed up. This one Australian. He introduced himself as Tim, and we all started talking. (For the sake of this post, I will be referring to him as Tim #1.) More people started showing up, and Tim #1 and I began talking more. And when the bus eventually came and everyone boarded, he sat next to me for the 90-minute trip. We talked the whole way up, and he was pretty cool.

And then we get there. The place was nice. Pretty big. It was a couple buildings--one for bedrooms and cafeterias, and the other for the auditorium and all the seminar rooms. There were also free internet cafes (which I'll get to later), and a sports area for basketball, tennis/badminton, and a golf practice/hitting range thingy.

This was the view out the window on the fourth floor.

So anyway, we get our name tags and room keys, and make our way to our rooms to settle in (I think most guys were on the fourth floor) before going down for the welcoming ceremony.


I walk in, take my shoes off, turn the little corner… and this happens (OK, so I took this picture the next day, but still…):

Yup. Nice and cozy with a roommate. The made bed was mine.
I knew I'd have a roommate, but I wasn't aware we'd be in this close proximity to each other. Fortunately, it was only a few minutes before he came in. And it was an awkward introduction… because his name was also Nik (short for something else, though). And he was from Canada. He was really friendly, though we didn't talk much, and we both eventually headed back downstairs and went our separate ways.

The bathroom... an actual shower door!

We had to keep our keys in this thing
to turn on the lights.

The TV across from the beds.

The window we had to keep open
due to the crazy heat in the rooms.


We get into the auditorium, and I end up sitting at a table on my own. I guess everybody else had either already met people or just nobody wanted to sit with me. (And as it turned out, about 90% of the people at the orientation had already been in Korea for at least 1-2 years, some even more. They had worked Hagwons and had now transferred over to public school with GEPIK, so they were new to the program, which is why they had to come. So it was difficult finding anybody who was a newbie like myself.)

We get a couple brief introductions from people before we're treated to a Samulnori dance/show. It went on for about 10-15 minutes, but I caught just a few snippets on video. I missed out on capturing some of the best moments, though… but here's some of what I did get.

After this, we get a string of introductions of the GEPIK coordinators for each district before they released us for lunch. But as I'm standing there waiting for the crowd to die down, a guy walks up to me and asks "Nick?" He has an Australian accent, and his name tag says his first name is Tim. But it's not the same Australian Tim as before. And I had an idea of who he actually was. Short version: I've mentioned before that my current neighbor/co-worker will be leaving now in a few weeks. I've talked to the person replacing him, Naomi, on Facebook a few times. And I knew her boyfriend had already come to Korea and was living in another town. Turns out, this was him! (For the sake of this post, I'll call him Tim #2. And probably any post after this that mentions him, I'll drop the number.)


We talk and hang out at lunch before going upstairs for a bit, and I get to try out one of the computer rooms for internet. These were some of the worst computers I've ever been on, and the internet was atrocious. And not just for Korea, but in general. Like, dial-up would have been better. That is, whenever you could even get to the internet with the computers constantly locking up.

So we headed to the first seminar of the day. It's a group one with everybody in the auditorium. This was probably one of the best lectures of the three days, so I guess they wanted to start with a bang. He talked about motivating kids, particularly through the use of PowerPoint. And this man could do some crazy things with PowerPoint I'd never seen before.

After this, though, we realized everybody was split into groups for some of the lectures, and Tim #2 and I were not in the same group. So we had to go our separate ways after the break that followed that first lecture.

You know who was in my group, though? Tim #1. And we got to sit through the next "lecture" together. Fortunately, the presenters decided to do away with the PowerPoint and just have a big Q&A. While I heard the other groups had a lot of whining about co-teachers and just general complaining, our group had a fairly good discussion about multiple issues (though there was some random complaining and whining, just not much).

The next break had us sign up for the "optional" session later on after dinner. I decided to sign up for "Intro to Korean and Useful Phrases," but I'll get to that later. Anyway, then we went to a lecture on teaching in multi-level classrooms. And it was interesting. The guy was around my age, and I found him pretty entertaining. And he kept using me as an example because I was near the front. He also introduced a really cool game called "Soldiers vs. Ninjas." I'd like to use it in class someday, though it's a bit complicated and takes a ton of preparation.

Finally there was dinner (if you're wondering about the food… almost none of it at any point over the 3 days was that great. The lines were always enormous, and there wasn't enough room for everyone to sit at tables. There was only one meal that was good, and it was cold by the time I got there). Oh, and only a few people are going to get this reference, but at some point, somebody actually said "Oh hi, Mark" to somebody, and I had to try not to laugh and look like an idiot.

So I go from dinner to my optional session, and it was a good one. The guy was really funny (and he had the greatest laugh--he sounded like a super-villain). The only issue was that it was a beginners class, and out of about 30 people, only 5 of us were beginners. So there were a ton of intermediates who kept interrupting and challenging the presenter, which got pretty annoying after a while. We even ended up staying 30 minutes late and still didn't get to finish everything he had planned. He moved pretty fast, too, so I wasn't exactly able to let things sink in by the time he had us practice. But I got some good notes.


By the time that was done, it was already 9:30 PM (yeah, these were long days). I met up with Tim #2 again at this point to try and figure out something to do. There were further options at this point--a movie in the auditorium or board games/cards. We went to go see what the movie was, but it was some weird Korean movie about ski jumping, and there were maybe 2 people in there. All the board games were pretty much taken by this point, too, so we ended up just sitting and talking for the next hour and a half before heading off to bed… because breakfast was at 7:30.

Soon after getting back to my room, my roommate showed up and was surprised I was already getting ready for bed. He decided to work on his laptop and watch TV and all kinds of stuff as I'm trying to go to bed. Oh, and it was also like a sauna in the room. They had the heat on full blast, and we had no control over it (and the front desk was no help). So we had to keep the window open all night. But I was finally able to fall asleep, though I woke up pretty much every hour. And let's just say it's a really interesting experience having a roommate.


At breakfast and before the first sessions of the day, I met some new people that I would talk to on and off for the rest of the orientation. They were pretty cool guys. Then I ended up running into Tim #2 going to the first big auditorium session of the day where we learned about working with co-teachers. Aaand… not very exciting. It wasn't terrible, just kinda dull.

Afterwards, we split into our groups to go learn about lesson planning. I sat with one of the guys from breakfast, and… I kid you not, we ended up doing an activity I did about 5 years ago as a student teacher during a teacher work day. So even in another country, it's all just the same old thing.

After lunch was a mixing of worlds. The rest of the sessions would be big group sessions in the auditorium… and this is where Tim #1 and Tim #2 finally got to meet, and we all sat together near the back. The first session there was a really fun one on "understanding Korean students" where we played a lot of weird games and talked about K-Pop. And the presenter brought in 4 of his elementary students to help "teach" us the games and stuff. And I unfortunately had to show off some of my epic dance moves on stage with some other losing members of the last game.

And that wasn't the only unfortunate thing to happen. The next session was hands down the worst. It was on classroom management, and the presenter was awful. He starts off talking down to us, and then goes into his qualifications of why he can discuss this topic (shocking result: He has none… I was more qualified to talk classroom management than this guy). And on top of everything, he was so… so… boring. He just droned on and on with blocks of PowerPoint text. No games. No pictures. No videos. No humor. And there were some mic issues, and he would just keep talking over them instead of stopping as they tried to fix things. It was painful. By 30 minutes in, the entire auditorium had mentally checked out. Some groups were talking quietly together. Most were on their phones. Quite a few even had their heads down. I'd be surprised if more than 2-3 people were still paying any kind of attention. And he didn't seem to sense this whatsoever. Not to mention the majority of what he was saying was flat-out wrong.

Thankfully it finally ended after what felt like 5 hours, and I got to sign up for the next optional session (PowerPoint, with the guy who gave the very first session on the first day). Both Tim's and some other guys also signed up for this one, too, so we were all in there together (it was a good one, though it was more of a quick overview of a lot of things than really digging deep into it). But before that session was the final big session of the day, which was… you know, I don't even remember what it was about. I remember the presenter, but not much about what he talked about. He was good, though. He just talked really fast and we actually got out a bit early.

People were lining up for dinner like 20-30 minutes early, so me and the Tim's went up to our rooms to drop some stuff off, and we ended up waiting out in the hallway and talking about stuff for a while. Unfortunately, conversation went downhill here. We made an off-hand comment about how people didn't like the Nationalism presented in Spider-Man 3, and that brought on some random guy who decided to start talking to us about American politics, which branched off into politics of other countries, and a whole bunch of other awkward and uncomfortable conversations that the rest of us really didn't want to be talking about. And he sat with us at dinner, too. He wasn't a bad guy; he just sometimes acted a bit snobbish, and he didn't start off with the greatest impression with the political conversations (and he didn't have opposing views or anything--just the way he came about the subject). Anyway…


After getting out the PowerPoint session, the Tim's and I went to look at what movie was playing (it was The Host--the Korean monster movie that came out around the same time as Cloverfield. I actually own this movie, and it's pretty good. Just not as exciting on rewatches). We passed on the movie and decided to check out the sports area outside, despite it being like 30 degrees or colder out.

Tim #2 and I found a second basketball and played a bit of soccer on the court for an hour. I totally destroyed him (…though if you ask him, you might hear a slightly different story). Our extremities were frozen after an hour, so we went inside and played Jenga (he'll tell you he won 2 out of 3 but… you totally shouldn't believe that). Then we just hung out and talked as another group in the room played Jenga. We left for bed after watching an insanely intense group battle that did some inconceivable things with that Jenga tower.

It was about 11 by the time we went to bed, and my roommate showed up again shortly thereafter. He was playing some games with some other guys and was gonna come back to shower and whatnot in 15 minutes, so I was to expect more lights on and stuff shortly. I just did stuff on my phone while waiting for him to return.

And when he came back… we talked. And talked. And it turns out, we had a lot in common. We talked superheroes, movies, books, graphic novels and comics, video games, anime, and everything along those lines. It actually wasn't until about 12:30 AM when he realized he still wanted to take a shower, and I needed to get to bed. And I slept practically all night through.


I found Tim #2 and some other guys at breakfast the next morning, and we went upstairs to get our stuff from our rooms to check out and eventually met back up in the other building for our last session. Our final session was on using technology in the classroom, and the guy shared some really cool sites with us. It was a pretty good final session. Then everybody said goodbye, and they shared a quick video they had compiled over the last three days of everything (I'll try to get a link to it on here once they post it up online). Then we went to go find our buses back. (They had sandwiches for us, but I was still full from breakfast, so I didn't bother.)

I sat and talked with Tim #1 again on the bus back to the train station, which was an easy ride back. And we all parted ways to our trains. At first I ended up waiting on the wrong train, and I had a nice conversation with another teacher who was at the orientation, too (in fact, it was the same young woman from the bus wait at the beginning of the journey). Fortunately the train was taking its time, so we eventually realized I needed to be in the next terminal over. So I said bye to her and went to wait for the right train, which I didn't have to wait long for. And… that was that!

I was originally going to post about the following night's adventure in this post, as well, but this is going on long enough, so I'll make that separate. Keep your eyes peeled in the near future for my first venture into Seoul!


  1. Wow...great blog post....So glad you are able to connect with people in the area that you can hang out with from time to time.
    I was laughing out loud at the thought of you up on stage dancing...hope they have that on the video post...hahaha
    For a directionally challenged are doing great manuevering your way around that country on all the busses and trains etc.... Good job.... keep the posts coming...we love hear about your adventure...soon you will have your ARC and have your own internet which will make it much easier! love the entertainment video too...very cool.

  2. Wohoo, I even got video!!!!!!!!!