Sick leave is one of those points where the small crevices of differences in culture, becomes a canyon. What d’ya mean? you ask. Well.. back home, if you’re sick you stay home and everybody understands, sends their condolences and maybe even a flower or a candy bar. In Korea, if you’re sick, you still show up for work!
It has statistically been proven that Koreans work longer hours than anyone in the world and boast workers who almost never take off from work. As the saying goes: ‘Koreans are crazy about work and wouldn’t miss it for the world!’
Often Koreans who are sick will not stay home until they get better, but still show up for work and continue with a normal day of employment. How does this relate to foreigners? Well, this same attitude concerning sick leave is often transferred upon a foreign teacher. You can still stay home if you’re not feeling well, you probably just won’t get paid for the day.
I am of course referring to minor sicknesses like the cold or an upset stomach. I’m sure you’re Korean employer won’t expect you to show up for work if you just broke your arm or lost a kidney. When you have to go to the hospital it’s a different story and you’ll hopefully have the support and well wishes of your employer, but you still shouldn’t expect to be paid for the days your missing.
This is why you need to read your contract carefully and make sure you know how many days of paid sick leave you are given. In times of emergency you might be able to come to a compromise with your employer. Here’s an example: During my first year in Korea I was hospitalized for three weeks due to a motorcycle accident, but after discussing the issue with my boss, only had five days of salary deducted. This is NOT the norm though! I had a really nice boss, but most Korean employers will simply deduct every day you miss from your salary, and not consult you about the matter.
So how should you try not to be sick? No, I’m not going to run down a checklist of vigorous living like a health-guru, but I will tell you to stock up on medicine and vitamins before you come to Korea. The sudden change in season (if you’re travelling from the southern hemisphere) is always a shock to your body and most people get sick when they first land in Asia. That’s why it’s a good idea to make sure you’re healthy before you fly and maybe even get a flu shot (I did it and it worked great!).
Also, be carefull of all the strange and intriguing new foods. Nothing will give you an upset tummy like eating a bowl of spicy noodles if the strongest thing you had back home was toothpaste. Give you body and stomach some time to adapt to all the new smells and tastes.