Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some advice for newbies to Korea

Some good stuff from Chris in South Korea, and definitely worth a read:

"OK, personal and professional advice for a new teacher:
  • Embrace the culture - but maintain your own culture at the same time. When you first arrive, carve out a little taste of home in your apartment. It's a fine line to balance, but most people find their balance after a few months.
  • Accept incongruity at every turn - 300 km/hour trains exist near squat toilets, recreations of centuries-old palaces within throwing distance of fast-food restaurants, bad English in a country that spends untold billions of won trying to learn the language, and so on.
  • Be proactive in your personal life, and reactive in your professional life. Koreans do not especially value underlings telling their bosses what's what.
  • The Confucian mindset is visible and viewable in virtually every level of Korean society - "(1) ruler to ruled; (2) father to son; (3) husband to wife; (4) elder brother to younger brother; and (5) friend to friend." (see this page for more on Confucianism). I think of it as a system of totem poles, ranking each person as 'above' or 'below' others based on the current situation. I might be 'below' an older person while on the subway and thus be expected to give up my seat (hahahaha); in the classroom where I'm the teacher and he's the student. That same older person, from the perspective of the other students, would be viewed as senior by the younger students.
  • Competition exists in virtually every aspect of Korean society. Getting in line to get on the subway? Get ready to get cut off by Koreans of every age. At the grocery store? Watch out for the older person trying to cut in line. They're senior to you - or so they think. Kids will freak out if their test score isn't an A, or when you announce a test.
  • Koreans spend a fair amount of time primping and looking through the mirror - and not just the girls. While this doesn't mean you have to wear make-up, most people will look good more often than not.
  • The locals don't do much by themselves. You may hear a story or two of someone wanting to see a movie, go to a restaurant, travel somewhere - but not do it because they're by themselves. Sure, it's a little weird to hit up Olive Garden or watch 'The Expendables' by yourself, but being by yourself probably wouldn't stop you from going."

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