Travel, Teach, Live in Korea
In order to understand this section, you need to know that there's a secret society trick that you can use, even though you're not Korean. In fact you're probably very familiar with this strategy, only you've never thought of doing it yourself.
If you use this strategy, you're instantly perceived as "one of us" at your work. Koreans think in terms of "us" rather than individually. The more you try to understand this way of thinking the more you'll be considered a part of the team of teachers at your public, middle, kindergarten or elementary Korean school.
While this strategy worked very well for me it may not be as prevalent in the culture of your co-teachers. I taught in Seoul, and this secret I'm about to reveal to you has done wonders for me. Take the time to observe how your Korean co-workers show their gratitude and appreciation to each other if you want to be able to:
Mend mistakes you've made with your co-teachers.
Make up for not going out drinking every second night of the week.
Bonding with your co-workers.
Make in-class co-teaching go smoother and be more amusing.
Say you work at an office in Toronto and you finish work at 3:40pm. You leave. In Korea however, everyone at the office must wait until the last person finishes working so they can leave together. This of course varies depending on what kind of school you are teaching at. Some private schools in Seoul let you leave once the cleaning is done and the boss is ready to leave the school and lock the doors. Other schools, particularly public schools where there is a janitor always on site let you come and go as you please.
When Koreans at both private and public schools living inside and outside of Seoul or Busan celebrate an event, they give to everyone. If I just got a promotion, I would take my boss out for drinks with some other co-teachers and "it's all on me". Normal, right?
Recall the first day of school, there was a rice cake on your desk. Who gave it to you? Well let's say MR Kim has a son who is getting married, to celebrate Mr. Kim will buy something for everyone in your office. Notice how he gives one small thing, to everyone in the office, and sometimes everyone in your school.
Don't think this is just a Korean thing you can't use. You should have a reason for giving a bunch of things, and you should also do it at a time when your co-workers will see that it's from you. Again, if this is not the custom at your school because your co-workers usually gift a bottle or water or a water bottle, do that. Do what everyone else is doing because as a foreigner, you don't always know what certain gifts mean.
What can you give?
You can give anything that costs between 500won and 3,000won. If there's 24 teachers in your office, well, yes, you're going to pay about 74,000won on gifts for them. You should have a reason why you're doing it. You could use any of the following:
It's been really cold out lately, so I'm giving hot packs to everyone so you stay warm.
I just resigned on a second year, so I'd like to give everyone a "Ferrero Rocher" chocolate.
In my country we celebrate Christmas, here is bottle of water ~ Merry Christmas.
Giving green tea in South Korea means you're wishing the person receiving it good health and wellness. These acts of putting everyone in your office as "we" and seeing yourself part of a bigger picture will give you instant brownie points.
You don't have to limit yourself to the people in your office. You could give a gift to all your English co-teachers. Since you're working with them, you really want to show them preference over other co-workers. I'd recommend giving the principal and vice-principal something too.
Do this, and you're golden in the eyes of your co-workers. They'll see that you're making an effort to understand South Korean culture in the workplace. You'll be perceived as someone who 'gets' the culture in Korea and is willing to try new things. Empathy is very important when you're surviving in a new culture like South Korea and don't really feel like you fit in. And if you don't understand the culture, by all means just look at the gifting strategy as a way for you to give first. When you give, it always comes back.
Dan teachers Native English Teachers how to survive in Korea by cooking, giving and being loving at their schools. Join his free newsletter: http://www.survivalinkorea.com.
[Edited by Administrator (admin) Wed, 06 Jul 2011, 07:20 PM]