Every job–even within the same field–will be different. And every orientation, even within the same company, can be different. Some throw you out there on your first day and watch as you sink or swim. Others hold your hand and hammer their way of doing things into your head, denying you any freedom to experiment and improve the system.
I’ve held a variety of jobs and participated in a range of activities over the last decade, and I’ve experienced countless orientations that fall all over this spectrum. When I came to Korea in August of 2014 to teach English as a second language, I didn’t know where our program’s orientation would entail or how much it would or wouldn’t help me in my new teaching job. Obviously even within the same orientation everyone’s personal experience of it will be different, but here is what I took away from mine:
DON’T EXPECT everyone to be on the same level. There were some people I met that I was incredibly impressed with. One girl spoke gorgeously fluent Korean (and blew away all the Korean co-teachers at our introduction!), and others still had years of teaching experience or were working on Master’s degrees while abroad. And others were new, just like me. In fact, you may even meet some people whose qualifications you strongly question, but at the end of the day, take everything as a learning opportunity. Pick up good tips from the more experienced teachers and learn what not to do from those who set bad examples. You have control over what kind of teacher you want to be!
DO EXPECT to meet some awesome people. Not only are you all in the same boat, but that boat is floating in a foreign sea, and you’re all feeling equally out of place. Orientation sort of feels like being a freshman in college all over again–friend groups are formed, everyone is a little awkward and out of their element, and no one wants to seem like they don’t know what they’re doing. But everyone is new to something–whether it’s teaching, or Korea, or both. Orientation is a huge opportunity to make friends…and go visit them in their respective placement cities later!
DON’T EXPECT to be told exactly what your individual school and teaching situations will be like. We had approximately 70 teachers at our orientation, and many of us are teaching at more than one school. As I later discovered, each of my three schools has a very different learning environment, and it’s impossible for me to teach in the same cookie-cutter way for each one. (Which you shouldn’t be doing anyway. Ahem.) Therefore, don’t expect orientation to hold your hand and tell you what exactly is in store for you at your school and how you should handle it. As excited as you will be to know, it’s impossible for your guides to cover each and every situation all 70 of you and your new coworkers will encounter! Gather what teaching tips you can from the lectures and use them as a guideline once you get to your school(s) and can assess each class and work environment individually.
DO EXPECT to learn a lot about Korean culture! If you’ve already been living in Korea or have a lot of Korean friends you’ve been drilling before coming here, some parts of this may be a bit redundant for you. But remember that many people are coming here for the first time and don’t have many local friends here–if any at all! Since it’s impossible to cover everything in regards to individual teaching situations, the best thing an orientation can do is equip you with the knowledge of the culture and people you’re going to be living around and working with. We had lectures on Korean traditions, music and dance, and history as well as modern day Do’s and Don’t’s. I’d highly recommend continuing to learn more by making some native Korean friends and reading up online!
DON’T EXPECT to learn Korean or Hangeul (or the language of whatever country you’re teaching in) overnight. This is actually the one thing I wish my orientation focused on a little more. When you come to Korea, you will very quickly discover that (duh) almost everything is written in 한글, or Hangeul, the Korean writing system. Fortunately for us foreigners, this character system is one of the most logical and intuitive alphabets in the world. You don’t have to memorize unique characters for each word like Chinese, and you don’t have impossibly inconsistent spelling/pronunciation rules like English. In fact, once you learn how to read, you’ll quickly discover that many things are in fact written in English, but with Korean characters. Korean grammar and speaking is an entirely different task on its own, but the very least you can do for yourself is work hard on learning the writing system ASAP!
DO EXPECT to make some lasting friendships. These are the people who are going to sympathize with you when you run into awkward, frustrating, and embarrassing situations. You’re living in a foreign country with a culture as deep and complex as your own–and it may be completely different! Get out of your comfort zone, don’t be afraid to make mistakes (just apologize for them!), and never stop learning.
Sometimes orientations are tedious and boring, and sometimes they’re so jam-packed with activities you’re completely burnt out at the end of the night. No matter what kinds of orientations you find yourself sitting though, just remember to take away from it what you can. And know that nothing is going to compare to living it and learning from the real thing!