Monday, October 5, 2009

Cultural differences

At my uni, there are a variety of programs that the foreigners teach in for extra money. Some of them are volunteer, while others are an ask a certain few people kind of thing. Some of my coworkers spend a lot of time and effort worrying and wondering about why there weren't picked for a certain thing. To me, it's just futile because what matters to a Westerner doesn't necessarily matter to a Korean.

Example: appearance. Westerners have kind of a minimum standard of appropriate dress that they would wear in a professional environment and as long as you meet that minimum standard, you're in the clear. However, appearance is much more meaningful in Korea and the best dressed=the best teacher in some cases. And of course, every Korean has an opinion about what skin or eye or hair color the "best" teacher has. And how old they are. You never know what is running through the minds of the powers that be in regard to this.

Example 2. Qualifications. A Westerner would think that the person with the best qualification to teach a certain class should get a job, regardless of almost all other things. However, Koreans seem to consider a wider array of factors such as if they know you and have a personal relationship already, if you smell bad, reputation among students, if you speak slowly and they can understand you, etc. A multitude of things that makes me head dizzy and leads me to not even try to figure it all out. In general, it won't really matter to the people you work for what kind of and what level of degree that you have.

Example 3. Positive attitude. Korea is a top-down kind of society whereas in the Western world we like to be all warm and fuzzy and pretend that organizations can be run by consensus. So any appearance of being a complainer, demanding extra things, or just being plain difficult to work with will lead to being taken off the list of people they ask to do the extra things. The person in charge is the person in charge in Korea and they don't like to be approached by you, thinking you are their equal whereas in the Western world, having a little heart to heart with your boss about an issue at work might be kind of acceptable and/or encouraged.

So realize these things and try to stay in the clear by dressing well, realizing there is more to you as a teacher than your degree and ALWAYS having a positive attitude when around the higher ups (and coworkers too...since it will usually get around who likes their job and who doesn't).

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