1 year sum-up of working in Korea


Upon graduation I came back to South Korea and started working. All of sudden I realized it has been about 1.4 year since my return and about 1 year since I started work for the current job. So while drinking with my friend tonight, I felt a spontaneous need to do some summarizing/documeting/note-taking of what is it like to work in South Korea.

1) Seniority, seniority, seniority –
do not mess with older men or your boss, even though it seriously hurts the efficiency and practicality.

– Everything is about seniority, looking nice and important and keeping your boss’ face. You don’t dare to point out your boss’ mistake and make a correction. Even though he says to do so, don’t: he’s probably faking it and doing so will piss him off. Really.
– You don’t dare to tell him to do something. Ask it, and if he/she says no,you are screwed, suck it up.

2) Speak up your voice, and that will make you an impolite bastard.
– When with older ppl, all you have to do is shut your mouth, listen, nod.
Try contributing your thoughts, and you will get looks.
– In USA, when apologizing, you usually use this formula:

[words of apology]+
= [happy ending]
If you just keep apologizing without giving an explanation, you are a weirdo. But in South Korea, giving an explanation to the person is accepted as a lazy excuse. When your client is pissed, in South Korea, you just stfu and keep bowing and apologizing forever.

3) Somehow people love whatever that looks cool and high in position and “international (by international, usually these people mean US of A)”
– Not too many people knows what exactly is CEO and what is their role. People just sees CEO as “the hightest guy” and endeavors to get the chance to use the title, so they can be “the highest guy.” Unfortunately, many Koreans think once you have the title everyone needs to hail them, bring out the red carpet and serve them like a slave.
– Same for MBA. When you look at the curriculum, it’s not really MBA but they want it to be called MBA because it sounds pretty cool and makes you look like you are international (again, “America”) and smart.

4) Looks are more important than its base/philosophy/contents.
– For some reason, it is sooooooo important to have this vice president, director, whomever to come over, show up and do nothing-important chat.
– Often the official letters don’t really mean anything. All the “real” business is arranged by non-official meetings and dinner table, and the official documentation is there just because it looks nice.
– Korean people think it is too cold and unaffectionate when it comes to documenting and contracting. Many of them try to cover it up by saying “oh well we know each other,” “oh, come on.” Well, then usually you will get the back of your head slapped hard.
– When launching a business, no one really gives a big hard thinking on its scaffolding, base works and how that certain thing can be applied to a different surrounding. It’s like they start building fron the facade, and when the walls start to crack THEN they start working on scaffolding.

5) Group mentality…Argh.
– Even if you want to wear certain things or take a vacation, you have to make sure you are doing so under right circumstance. Otherwise your coworkers will start bashing on you on your back.

It is good to know how the decision is made and how the business is done in South Korea. I know that knowledge will do me a good. It is not like I abhor everything about Korea – most people are nice, smart and well-educated. They get the job done quick. But the whole system is pretty screwed up and unable to take advantage of these smart people to do their job!!! Secondly, on average, and in terms of general common sense, responsibilities as a citizen and value of life, I really don’t think South Korea is a healty society (No I am not talking about health insurance). Speak up something different then anyone else, and you are practically dead, buried alive, burned at the top of stake, etc. Everyone has to be on the same track. There are so much of black-or-white-and-nothing-in-between mentality.

So yes, it is a good experience to live and work here. But do I want to live here forever, as a full member of this community, paying tax? No. If I happen to go grad school to somewhere that is not Korea, I do not think I’ll come back.

…Maybe I’m just really annoyed by the fact I am busy, there are 2 people who already left the office, and the workload has increased, consequently. Or maybe I’m just pressued to fit in a bit more than other expats because I do look like Korean, I speak good Korean and have Korean nationality.


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