TaLK and EPIK are two Korean government scholarship programs for foreigners who wish to teach and learn in Korea. They are similar in terms of their mission to support public English education in Korea and to offer an opportunity for Korean students to meet native English speakers. Participants of both programs teach English at Korean public schools and in return they get the chance to experience Korea.
One distinct feature of TaLK program is that it is designed to teach practical English at primary schools in rural areas, while EPIK scholars are more involved in secondary schools placed in cities. TaLK has attracted over 1800 people from various English-speaking countries in only three years since the beginning of the program in 2008. In comparison with EPIK, TaLK is more culturally-focused, with cultural experience activities arranged by the organiser. Megan Frazer, who is Australian, initially planned to be in Korea for six months through the TaLK program, but has been staying there for 14 months now. “I have no plans of leaving this amazing country any time soon,” Frazer says. She states five reasons why she fell in love with Korea.
“The four seasons of Korea can truly be witnessed in nature”
The beauty of nature in Korea
As a person who was born in the country where “most of the native floral is evergreen”, Frazer says that she was first sceptical of Koreans’ statement that Korea has four distinct seasons. “The four seasons of Korea can truly be witnessed in nature,” she explains. “I was never a person to stop and take in the beauty of nature, but I have truly come to love the landscape of Korea.”
The kindness of people
Frazer reveals that her concerns of having no knowledge of the Korean language and culture were deepened after learning confusing Korean polite customs at the orientation program. She was invited to dinner several times by Koreans who were “genuinely concerned that, as foreigners in Korea, we couldn’t possibly be eating properly”.
The mindset of the students
Unlike Frazer’s presumption that Asian school children are quiet, studious and respectful towards their teachers, she explains that the first encounter with students began with a mutter of “so noisy”. After seeing a girl who would not speak a word of English now getting over that fear, she comments, “I love coming to work in the morning, and never knowing what to expect. It makes life fun and exciting.”
The friends she has made
As a systemic advantage of TaLK program, Frazer puts up a point of being able to meet other TaLK scholars from all around the world whom she can share common stories with.
The excitement, unpredictability and new lessons learnt every day
Frazer finally claims that all the experiences she has had in Korea made her to “look at the difficult, the troublesome, and the weird experiences in a positive light and learn to appreciate them for what they are”.
“The more I see and learn about Korea’s past, the more I can understand and find meaning in the present culture I live in”
EPIK is another scholarship program for foreigners in Korea. It is more centred on teaching and the educational aspects than TaLK. All scholars are expected to have finished bachelor’s degree in their home country and make contributions to the development of English textbooks in Korea. They are also strictly required to engage themselves in class preparation and the Korean educational system. Such qualifications are reasons why EPIK provides their foreign scholars with benefits, including housing, allowances and payments.
Participants of the EPIK program have a tendency to challenge themselves and seek to accomplish personal growth through the tasks required of them in the program. One participant of the program, Alexander Grevett says, “one of my proudest teaching moment in Korea came at the end of a lesson early in my second semester. Ten or so of the students gathered around me after the bell had gone, and asked, ‘teacher, what are we doing next week?’ This may not seem a particularly unusual or notable question, but this was the first time that these students seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of next week’s class.”
Many EPIK scholars do not have any prior teaching experience. “Getting your students motivated is one of the biggest challenges you will face as a high school teacher, and having a motivated class will remove a lot of the possibilities for conflict. This is a case of listening to your students. Find out what drives them,” says Grevett. Every participant of the EPIK program is somehow faced up with many obstacles in their experience and feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction after overcoming them successfully.
Apart from the teaching part of the job, participants of the EPIK program are also confronted culturally. In contrast with TaLK, where various activities and programs for participants are devised by the organiser, participants of EPIK are anticipated to experience Korean culture at their own will. This is usually done by being involved in school events and dining out with fellow teachers, and with help from co-workers.
“The more I see and learn about Korea’s past, the more I can understand and find meaning in the present culture I live in,” says Laura Hughes, another participant. With assistance from her Korean co-workers, Hughes reveals that she could also learn from Korean dining culture. “I have learned how to act socially-presentable on a variety of other levels since moving to Korea,” she says. “As with any life experience, the outcome and lessons you gain from them is a choice. With new cultural experiences, this is no different. Every experience, good or otherwise, has the potential to enrich your life.”
Si Eun Clare Choi