December 17, 2012

Moving Abroad: Not For Everyone

In my last article I discussed some of the differences between South Koreans and Westerners. The truth of the matter is I could probably write ten articles about the differences between the South Koreans and the Western communities. I could the turn around and write ten articles about how we are similar.

I was talking about manners and I came across a big one which I forgot to mention in my last post.

Something I find a bit odd as far as manners go is how two specific mannerisms are treated completely different than they are in America: blowing ones nose and spitting. In Korea it is poor etiquette to be seen blowing ones nose at the dinner table. A person should go to the bathroom or hide from the view of people so that they can blow their nose. Blowing your nose at the table is one of the most disrespectful things one can do in Korea.

Conversely, spitting on the ground outside is very acceptable and not considered rude. People will just hock a big loogie on the ground and not even think twice about it. An old woman almost spit on me once when I was rounding the corner of my building. I was rather shocked by this but she just shrugged it off and kept plugging away.

A notable difference between South Koreans and Westerners is that Koreans are more in favor of a common group mentality versus the Western (American) individualistic mentality. I am not saying either one of these is better or worse than the other. They both have their pros and cons like anything else. There are times when one system is superior but then other times when the other system of thought is better.

For example, many foreigners have a difficult time in dealing with their co-teachers (CT’s) who are Korean when they start to teach. Koreans have a different way of running the offices in South Korea. They do not communicate very effectively with the foreign teachers, assuming we know specific details about the school and when we will have days off. For example, I just found out that I will have the day off next Wednesday because that is the South Korean Election Day and people get the day off to go and vote. I am not complaining about having a random day off, but a little more heads up would have been nice. This is one of the exceptions where having little to no communication is not a problem.

At other times it can be a huge problem. For example, walking into class and finding out the class is in a different room, or the school deciding you should have a different class at that time and the materials you have are completely worthless for the class you now have.

Usually if you ask the co-teacher why you weren’t informed of this situation, the reply is usually, “I thought you knew.” The fact of the matter is that there is probably a good chance that they didn’t know about it either, and in Korea it is better to tell a blatant lie rather than lose face in front of someone.

I have friends who have been told they need to create a semester’s worth of lesson plans over a weekend. These kinds of deadlines are not unheard of in the South Korean school system. It can make it very difficult to work here.

These are some of the things I felt I should address as negatives in Korea. Yes, it can be difficult, but if you want the chance to make a good paycheck in a safe country, then South Korea may be the right place for you.

The Bad: Miscommunication is huge problem here in Korea, and people may even lie directly to your face to so they do not get embarrassed.

Image Credit: Becky Stares / Shutterstock

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