ESL South Korea

Transitioning into Korea

Be super friendly.  Smile, laugh, bow and say hi to everyone.  First meetings between people who speak different languages are awkward enough, so break the tension with a disarming smile and genuine interest and friendliness.

Talk.  Know the expression ‘awkward silence‘?  Well Koreans hate them; they get nervous when you aren’t talking.  By talking, and making conversation, especially in the early stages of a new relationship, you’ll put your Korean friends at ease.

Be open and honest. Your Korean colleagues will usually really want you to be happy.  In other words they’re not just pretending, they sincerely want you to enjoy your new job, house, pay check etc.  So they’ll sense when you’re upset about something.  Best bet is to politely explain when something is bothering you.

Be polite.  Formality and politeness rank very high on the Korean ladder of socially acceptable behaviour.

Language differences.  Thing in the Korean language are often said in a way that an English speaker might consider very rude.  So try and dig deeper to understand exactly what is being meant before taking offence.  For some good examples of miscommunications that can easily lead to a fight.

Be flexible.  This is so important that I cannot overstress it.  You will be asked to do weird and uncomfortable things at times, and often at very short notice.  The aspect of last minute changes and decisions that are so common in Korean culture, but so weird and ineffective from a Western viewpoint, means you will have to be very flexible and try to prepare yourself for the unexpected at your job.

You have an open class today for our students’ parents at three” your boss might say one morning.  Your first reaction will be “NOW!  Now you tell me!  With only hours left before this unannounced and unwelcome interruption commences!”   I don’t blame you, I’ve had it happen a few times.  But trying to be flexible and afterward explaining (calmly and politely) to your boss that you would like more advanced notice for this kind of thing, will get your further in life.

Don’t be demanding.  Upon starting a new teaching job, foreigners often want to start by sitting down with their new employer and going through each point in the contract.  This might seem demanding to a new Korean employer who’ll think to himself: “This guy wants all this stuff, but hasn’t proven himself to me yet!”  So forget about the contract when you start at a new school and don’t complain and demand things from your new employer.  It might give the impression that you are a negative person.

Say ‘Yes’.  A good rule of thumb, especially in the beginning is to accept requests from fellow Korean colleagues or your boss.  You will probably be invited to lunch, dinner, noraebang or small outings.  Don’t decline, it may appear rude.  These invitations are aimed at getting to know you better and by declining you might be sending a message that says “Leave me alone”.