Something I would have found extremely helpful during the EPIK application process would have been a very specific timeline of how long every piece of the puzzle took. I am going to try to remember (by referencing saved emails) how long every document took. Hopefully this helps some individuals out there wondering just how long an FBI background check takes to get back. Get ready for a pretty boring, but informative post.
All dates are from 2016.
January 10th or so – I asked my two recommenders to write my Letters of Recommendation. I gave them each the deadline of February 7th. I figured that after the application became available, I would need at least a week to look through everything and make sure it was filled out to the absolute best of my ability.
February 1st – The Fall intake Application for 2016 becomes available through EPIK and I download it through Greenheart Travel (my recruiter). The application deadline was May 15th.
February 3rd – I received my first Letter of Recommendation.
February 17th – I received my second Letter of Recommendation. I know. Over a week after I requested it to be done by? Well, actually turning in the application turned out to be way harder than I thought. Firstly, I was using an old computer with a brand new Windows 10 update. My Microsoft Office 2016 would not work properly! I had to have my dad dropbox me the application under a different document type and then I had at least 3 or 4 different issues crop up with formatting. Lesson learned: Fill out the application on a brand new computer with the capabilities to handle new the Microsoft Office 2016.
February 23rd – I submitted my application which included a Lesson Plan and two Letters of Recommendation to Greenheart Travel for official screening. The next day, I scheduled an interview with Greenheart Travel.
March 2nd – My interview with Kara at Greenheart Travel. Since I used a recruiter, they do an informational interview where they can get to know the applicant better and answer any questions before the interview with the EPIK interviewer. My interview lasted about 45 minutes and she asked me about why I want to teach, what experience I had, how I would deal with culture shock, and if I had any questions. We also chatted about her time teaching abroad in Thailand.
March 3rd – I called Oxford Seminars, the company I used to get my TEFL certification, in order to receive a Letter of Completion or “Proof of in-class TEFL Hours.” This form is just a verification that I did complete the in-person portion of the course since EPIK wouldn’t receive an actual copy of my TEFL in the application process and they need to know that I had in-person training. Oxford Seminars emailed me the letter that day and also sent a copy of the letter in the mail which came a week later.
March 14th – Got my fingerprints taken for the FBI Background Check at the Sheriff’s Office in downtown Minneapolis.
March 15th – Sent my fingerprints to Accurate Biometrics which is an expedited service for the FBI Background Check.
March 28th – I received my FBI Background Check in the mail. It’s expensive, but so worth paying for the expedited Accurate Biometrics. I heard Background Checks can sometimes take months to receive back from the FBI, but mine only took 13 days.
April 2nd – Super awkward, but EPIK changed the application a tiny bit, so I had to change one portion of the application and then resubmit the whole thing. This included messing with the format yet again. *cue headache*
April 12th – I find out I passed the first stage of the application process and that my interview with EPIK is in TWO days. They really do tell you only 3 days ahead of your interview when it will be, so don’t expect more time to prepare. It turns out, 2 days was a good time to prepare for me. Greenheart sent out a list of about 30 talking points and to prepare, I went through each question and point and wrote down my answer. Then I rehearsed how I would answer if asked those questions.
April 14th – Apostille Day! I notarize my diploma and I get the notarized copy of the diploma apostilled at the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.
– This day, I also sent in my FBI Background Check to Washington Consular Services. They are a federal service which apostilles the Background Check on a national level. I sent it expedited.
April 15th – My EPIK interview took place at 10:20am Korean Standard Time, in other words, April 14th at 8:20pm Central U.S.A. time. What can I say about this interview? For one, it was jarring. The woman on the other end was in some sort of call center and I had a very difficult time understanding her. When I asked her to repeat a few questions, she leaned closer to the camera and keyboard, so I couldn’t see her face for half the interview. She seemed to focus a lot on the fact that I’m allergic to cats and dogs and told me that Koreans love animals and what I would do if I met a dog on the street. At the end of my interview, she told me I needed to revise two of my three personal essays because the language was not very Korean. I used too strong of phrases, like “terrified.” Another thing I had to submit was a picture of my tattoos. Luckily, I didn’t need to change anything with my lesson plan which is what usually gets torn apart by EPIK interviewers. She also commented on my enthusiasm and how she could tell that I was excited about Korea! My only selling point, really, since I don’t have teaching experience.
April 18th – I get an email Monday morning telling me I passed the interview!! Let me tell you, I cried. While I was at work. I had my interview on a Thursday night our time, Friday Korean time. I had to wait all Friday, then all weekend, and on Monday morning, I was certain I failed and my dreams were dashed. It was awful. Especially going on the Facebook page and seeing these two other girls say they found out they passed within 24 hours. But by 10am, I had the good news email! Sometimes, the time difference between Korea and America really messes with when emails get sent out, so beware of that!
– On this day, I also resubmitted my corrected application and a picture of both of my tattoos.
– Also on this day, I got a confirmation email from Washington Consular Services that they received my FBI Background Check and they estimated the completion to be April 22nd.
April 28th – Kara tells me that she received my Background Check. Since everything was 100% complete and accurate, I’m told I can send in my documents to Kara and she will hold on to them until EPIK approves my final changes.
April 29th – I send my life away to Chicago. Well, kind of. With all my documents gathered, I send them to Greenheart Travel. I should mention now that some documents that are required that I didn’t mention earlier are transcripts from college and a passport-sized photo. I had 5 still valid transcripts from 6 years ago laying around, so that was taken care of, and the passport-sized photo takes a 20 minute trip to Walgreens.
May 3rd – Kara receives my documents at Greenheart Travel. Now to just wait for that final word from EPIK.
May 19th – EPIK approved my corrections and my documents are on the way to Korea! Everything at this point is out of my hands.
June 1st – EPIK received my documents and everything was approved. Here’s the fun part, the WAIT.
June 14th – I have minor freak out and email Kara sure that I didn’t get a placement and I’m a wait-list.
June 21st – I receive my placement!! Here I come, Ulsan! At this point, I need to wait for my contract to reach Kara at Greenheart, so I can then apply for my Visa.
July 5th – I fill out and send in Tax Form 8802 or the Residency Certificate to be exempt from Korean taxes while I’m living there.
July 12th – My contract arrives at Greenheart and is sent out that day. They also send a Greenheart Travel t-shirt.
July 15th – My contract arrives at my house.
July 16th – I read over the contract with my aunt who is a lawyer and everything looks hunky-dory. I buy my plane ticket and book a hotel in Busan for the night before I’m supposed to arrive at orientation since my plane comes in at 7pm the night before. I also send in my Visa application with all the required documents. Expedited.
July 18th – I’m given log-in information for the EPIK pre-orientation online course, which I’m supposed to finish before orientation on August 18th.
July 27th – I receive my Visa! At this point, the only thing I’m waiting for is my Residency Certificate . . . which arrives later that day!
August 3rd – Greenheart Travels puts on a pre-departure webinar that explains some arrival logistics, talks about culture shock, and answers any last questions we have before we leave.
A few things to know if you are looking into doing this process.
- The most important advice I could give is to GET YOUR DOCUMENTS IN AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Turn your application with a few weeks of when it’s released (which for the Spring 2017 intake was August 1st, so get on it!!) and make sure to gather your documents while you’re waiting to hear back about your EPIK interview. This process went extremely smoothly for me and I think I was in the first group of people to get an EPIK interview and the first group of people to get a placement. (This is according to following the Facebook groups when people were writing that they got interviews and placements and such.) But seriously, if you’re debating, just do it. The application is free and yes, you have to get passport photos taken, but it’s worth not having stress if you finally decide to take the plunge 2 months later. I think the majority of applicants wait about 2 months to get their app in. This is just a feeling and guess, though.
- It really gets expensive. The application itself is free. Using Greenheart Travel as a recruiter is free. But keep in mind that you are paying for each document (with the exception of the notarization and the proof of in-class TEFL hours if you happened to do the TEFL course) AND each mailing. I went by way of expedited EACH time I could. And I mean I overnighted every time I could which turned out to $45 for each envelope (sometimes there are two envelopes required for the agencies to send documents back to you). I was working at the time and had money saved up, but do not take this process on lightly because it does add up over the 5 months. Luckily, it wasn’t all at once.
- Use a recruiter. Seriously. The only downside to using a recruiter is that you hear a day or two later on certain things; like whether or not I passed my EPIK interview. This is just due to the time difference – Korea is 14 hours ahead of Minnesota. Everything else about using a recruiter was SO WORTH IT. It was sooo nice having a person answer my (many) emails during the process. She was prompt and friendly and got to me within 24 hours each time. Granted, I have no idea what the process would be like just applying through EPIK, but it was immeasurably awesome to have a person go through every document and the application and make sure everything was perfect before sending it to Korea. And then they are the ones to send your docs to Korea (and you don’t have to reimburse them!). Did I mention it’s free to use Greenheart Travel??
- You need to bring about $1,000 USD with you to Korea for when you start out, so make sure to start saving for that once you have a handle on the finances for the documents. My bank doesn’t have a conversion fee, so I ordered that amount in won (Korean currency which will be maybe 1,200,000 in won) and will be picking it up tomorrow. I also plan to have $100 or so USD on me if an emergency pops up at the airports for some reason. Also, check if your bank has a fee for making your checking account into an everyday checking account. This means that if you had a deposit coming into your checking account with your home country’s job, you need to convert the account to an everyday checking because while you’re abroad, you won’t be putting a deposit into the account. At my bank (Wells Fargo), you need to have at least $1,500 in the account at all times. If I dip under that amount while I’m living abroad, there is a fee. I didn’t do this, but I wish I had: Get an American Express international credit card which waives any conversion fees. Wells Fargo credit and debit cards will work abroad, but there is a 3% conversion fee EACH time I use my card.
- Read blogs written by people that have been through the process. This was really helpful for me to know what to expect. Greenheart did a good job of preparing me for broad strokes info – contract stuff, arrival info, living in Korea, etc. – but the blogs have been helpful in knowing what it’s like working with Korean children and in a Korean school and with a Korean co-teacher, how to deal with culture shock, how to spend time when you’re not at school, and most important to me right now, deciding what to pack, plus a lot more. Seriously, find as many as you can and soak it up. They also give you ideas for touristy stuff.
- Join all the Facebook groups once you are accepted into EPIK, but keep in mind that everyone has different timelines. I’ll remind you of the time I freaked out when I found out some girls got their EPIK interview passes within 24 hours. One of those girls didn’t get placed until July, though, and I got my placement in June. It totally depends on when you get you documents in and what you put as your preferred Office of Education. I put the less popular Provincial Office of Education, not the Metropolitan Office of Education.
- I made sure to quit my job at least 3 weeks before my departure date. I did this because I needed time to gather my thoughts and to see people before I left and spend some quality time going through my belongings deciding what to pack. Honestly, there is no way I could have done this packing up my life process without those essential 3 weeks. It also helps that my job pays out for any unused vacation days and because of this, my last paycheck was tripled! That helped a lot.
That’s all for now!
Good luck in your decision to teach abroad in Korea. I will be leaving in 5 days and I am humming with excitement and nerves which I hear is normal!