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Jo's Korean and Other Crazy Adventures Jo is coming back to teach in China for a second year that is sure to be filled with new crazy adventures!

Advice for Newbies coming to Korea

SOUTH KOREA | Tuesday, 11 June 2013 | Views [2875] | Comments [1]


Are you ready? It is hard to believe that in August, lt'll be almost four years that I have taught in the 'Land of the Morning Calm'. Not four years consecutively mind you. I first started teaching in a private 'hakwon' in 2005. Now eight years later, I am finishing my fourth contract. I wouldn't take back my Korean experience for anything. I feel like I have learned so much over the years since I started in Korea (my second international teaching job after teaching in England in 2005).

I want to share some of my observations with my readers who may be thinking of coming to teach in Korea. I have recently read that a few school boards (Busan) are starting to cut middle public school positions. Perhaps elementary will be next, but who really knows. Things change here on a daily basis and sometimes we don't know till the last minute. Which brings me to some observations about Korean culture.

Koreans don't usually know things until the last minute. You as a foreigner are usually the last person to know about things. For example: changes in schedules, cancelled classes, meetings, or open classes (classes taught in front of the parents). Sometimes it could be because your co-teacher forgets to tell you, doesn't bother telling you or doesn't know herself until the last minute.

Koreans are very group oriented. They will ask the group before giving an individual answer. Korea operates like the beehive mentality in the sense that it is a hierarchy. Age means a lot here. If you are older you are automatically respected and revered. You aren't suppose to challenge people that are older than you. And oftentimes, as foreigners you don't really fit into the hierarchical order of things. In my experience, if you try to talk to people that are older and get them to see your side of things, you will often lose out. The older generation are very set in their ways. Trust me on this.

I'm sure you have heard the stereotype about Koreans being Racist, Nationalistic and Xenophobic? Well, all I can say is that I have experienced all of it, but not all Koreans are this way. Koreans are very nationalistic in that they do feel like 'Korea' is the center of the universe. I have really felt racism and general unfriendliness in my time here. On the other hand, Koreans can be very, very kind and giving people.

When you first arrive, you may feel like Koreans are cold, rude and unfriendly. It is true that the people here can be pushy. Often, if you live in a big city you will have to learn how to deal with people shoving to get on the subway and pushing in the supermarket lines. I find that Koreans are always in a rush. Koreans have grown up to be competitive people. People move from all parts of the country to Seoul (the capital), where most of the jobs are and then they have to compete for the good jobs.

Koreans for the most part are hard workers. Korean parents will send their kids to afterschool academies to learn English and other subjects because of this competitiveness. Korea has developed so rapidly economically in such a short time, that they need to compete and work hard to keep up with the times. More and more students are going abroad to study English and go to school.

You may be lucky and meet a few good Korean friends. If you know some Korean people who speak English and want to be your friend, then you can really see how kind and generous they can be. If you live in a neighborhood and the Koreans get to know you, they will say hello, and be very open to you. People say, 'hello' to me all the time in my small neighborhood and will go out of their way to be helpful. I have experienced so much kindness from some Korean people, which at times has really moved me.

I have felt very safe in Korea in all of my time here. As a single female, I have walked alone at night, talked to Korean strangers, and I have wandered around unknown areas. I know a few female foreigners who told me they wouldn't walk alone at night. Of course you wouldn't walk into rough areas or do anything stupid as you wouldn't do at home either, but don't stay inside at night because you are afraid.

You need to learn patience. If you thought as I did, that you had a lot of patience before you moved abroad - then guess again. My patience has been tested so many times over the years, that I have learned to pick my battles. If you know how Korean society works, you can often learn how to better deal with the frustrations.

I let many things roll off my back now, and I am not one to be stepped on like a doormat either. You have to learn how to 'go with the flow' in so many aspects of life in Korea. Sometimes you will feel like you have no support or rights as a teacher in a foreign country, and you could be right in feeling that way. Build friendships with people outside of work and find something to do if you get down or miss your home country.

Things do get easier over time, so don't give up too easily. You will learn more about yourself and the world than you thought possible. Best of luck!






Tags: advice, culture, psychology



Thanks for the comment. I guess you being a Korean American could have a different spin on things. I've seen all sides and being away for a few years, you do miss certain things about the place and the friends that you made.

  miss_traveller Jul 2, 2015 12:41 AM

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