We received this email from a future EPIK teacher, enquiring about giving a gift to her co-teacher.
Q:hi jimmy and rachel! my name is [removed], and my boyfriend and i have been recently accepted as teachers starting this fall. we applied through the embassy in Washington DC, and the consulate there told us we will probably be getting placed in Gyeongbuk province (which i’ve heard is pretty rural, but it’s ok). we’re still waiting for our contracts, which makes me kind of nervous, as we are supposed to be in korea by august 15th…in any case, i wanted to tell you guys that we love your blog. i’ve been spending a lot of time recently reading up on your lesson plans, in order to get in “the zone.” i’m a bit nervous as i have no teaching experience and very limited experience with children. but i’m looking forward to it!
i was thinking of bringing a small gift for my future co-teacher from the US. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for the past 6 years, and thought maybe an “I <3 NY” tshirt would be cool. My boyfriend was appalled by the suggestion (b/c they are really just cheap touristy t-shirts, you can get 3 for $10 in chinatown). he thinks we should get them something nice, like a bottle of whisky. what do you think?
A:Deciding whether or not to give a gift is a tricky one. During the orientation it seemed to be a major worry for people; including us. Everyone wanted to get off on the right foot with the person they’d ultimately depend on the most.
people at the top of the hierarchy always come first.
Your number one aim should be to get the two people at the top, and your co-teacher, liking you as soon as possible. If the principal doesn’t like you, you could have a seriously hard time.
On the other hand, one of the EPIK staff, who was also a Korean teacher, said that she wouldn’t feel happy if someone she didn’t know gave her a gift. She said that since she wouldn’t have done anything to deserve it, she would feel uncomfortable in accepting it.
In the end, neither Rachel nor I brought gifts for our teachers and we have done fine. However, if I were to move schools next year I probably would bring gifts. You just never know what type of principal you are going to get, so you should do everything in your power to get on his good side.
Lastly, although this is about gift giving, it is really about painting a good first impression of yourself. When you meet your co-teacher, greet them with a big smile and open body language. When talking to them, be sure to ask about the school; make it clear you’re here to teach and not to have a booze-filled-gap-year.
When you meet your principal be sure not to slouch back in your seat; sit with your back straight and be attentive. Chances are, they won’t speak English so he/she will be having long conversations with your co-teacher. Although this can be painstakingly boring, try to keep interested. Try not to stare into the distance or fidget too much with your hands. Don’t be afraid to ask the principal questions. My school has a trophy cabinet outside of his office. I made sure to ask what the school had won. He seemed pleased at my interest and was very enthusiastic to run off the school’s list of achievements.
I think I’m rambling now. My point is, bringing a gift isn’t necessary but it can help. Most schools want you to be professional, well mannered, enthusiastic about teaching English, and willing to socialise with other teachers. If you’re not willing to do these, then no amount of gifts will put you in their good books.
Oh, and remember to give gifts with both hands.
I hope this helps
p.s. don’t worry about your contract arriving. We didn’t get ours until a month beforehand and it won’t take long to get the visa organized.