This hierarchical thinking manifests most obviously in a professional setting where the differences between employees’ position and level are emphasised. The higher your rank (and the older you are), the more respect you are automatically afforded and the more authority you have.
Coming from Western countries, we are often used to the same system, the only difference being the fact that it’s often not so strictly enforced and is usually flexible. Your boss is your boss, but he can also be your friend or even buddy. That’s why in Western societies, it’s often acceptable to disagree with your boss or manager in front of other employees, but in Korea this is definitely not acceptable. In Korea, respect must always be shown to those in authority and to anyone with a higher professional position than you.
In a school setting this translates to: You principal is the boss; don’t make him/her lose face in front of other teachers by confronting him openly.
Behind closed doors it’s a different story. Your boss will normally be willing to listen to your opinions or complaints. Many of them realize that you come from a different background with different social concepts, so will be willing to hear you out and help find solutions to potential problems. But this should be done in private on a one-to-one basis.
If you’re an EPIK teacher, working at a Korean Public School, you will normally have little direct contact with your principal or vice-principal. The sole person in charge of your wellbeing will be your co-teacher. Though foreigners and co-teachers often develop a mutual friendship, co-teachers should still be treated as a superior. Discuss issues with your co-teacher in a respectful way without losing your temper or raising your voice. And jumping over his/her head by running to the principal or contacting the Education office should never be done. Also try to avoid the situation where your co-teacher/boss is placed in the position of ‘losing face’.
A special note to current/potential Hagwon employees. Your boss will determine wether or not Korea ends up being a joy or a nightmare to you. As far as is possible, keep up good relations with him/her. It’s good to remember that the majority of Hagwon owners are business men and not teachers per se. Their bottom-line (i.e. how much money is the school making) is
So you might be told to teach without being told how to. Your boss might even be surprised if you ask HIM about what to do and how to do it. In his eyes, you’re the teacher, he’s just the manager.