atsman (atsman) wrote,

Советы бывалого учителя английского: Как, если не стать корейцем, то сладить с ним

ЗАШЁЛ в поисках нужного в "Miscellaneous" (там я храню свыше 5 гб книжной информации - словари, монографии, статьи), увидел один файл, некогда скачанный из Интернета*. Припомнил недавние жалостливые истории российских спецов, работающих (работавших) на корейских работодателей, и подумал: выложу-ка я файл, пусть и поздновато, для всеобщего обозрения, возможно, кто-то найдёт в нём полезное для себя, да хотя бы отшлифует английский перед тем, как мигрировать в Австралию или Канаду...

Вставил в паре мест русское написание искорёженных американским учителем корейских слов... Приятного чтения!

* * *

If you're like most people, the first thing you did when you started thinking about teaching in Korea was check out the web. So you've probably seen all the negative pages (most of them on the "free" ad-supported hosts). The details vary, but they generally come down to "I taught in Korea for a year and all I got was ripped off."

Margaret didn't. She had great relationships with her hagwon director, the other teachers, and her students. Everywhere she went, Koreans treated her, as she says, "like gold." She made lots of Korean friends. She still keeps in touch with several of them. So what did she do differently?

A couple of things. First, Margaret's basically pretty optimistic. She came to Korea expecting to enjoy the country and to be treated well. She trusted Koreans and expected the best of them. They delivered.

Margaret is also interested in other cultures. She's read about them (especially Asian ones) and had already traveled some before she went to Korea. Instead of wondering how she'd cope with all the differences, she started off keen to learn more about Korean culture.

She really wanted Koreans to like her and be comfortable around her. So she did some extra studying before she left home, to get familiar with the major issues (most of which you'll read here). It worked. She didn't avoid all the cultural difference traps, but the ones she fell into were pretty minor. And once her Korean friends had told her what the problem was, she didn't repeat that mistake. She had a wonderful time.

So, is Margaret a rare case? I don't think so. Since the mid-1990s, when the laws regulating private teaching were relaxed, probably hundreds of thousands of westerners have taught in Korea. I suspect that most of them are fairly well satisfied. You don't hear from them much because they're busy working and enjoying life, and don't have time to write about their experiences.

Anger is a powerful motivator. These days it's pretty easy to throw up a quick website on one of the ad-supported servers, and that's why you get a lot of negative hits when you type "Korea English Teaching" into a search engine.

That's not to say that unpleasant things never happen. Sometimes teachers just run into bad situations or bad employers. This could happen anywhere, but in a foreign country the language barrier makes the situation worse.

And while I don't want to get into a round of "blame the victim" here, I think that some of the teachers who come home hating Korea are just incompatible with working overseas.

Remember I said that Margaret expected to enjoy Korea? Some westerners come here with the exact opposite idea. They think it's a backward country, full of poorly educated, primitive people with no manners. I don't know where they get that idea, or why on earth they come to Korea if they think that, but apparently they do.

For whatever reason, these people seem to be convinced that their culture and their country is the absolute best in the world, and that Korea can't have anything worthwhile to offer. Nothing can change their minds. They don't have much interest in either learning or practicing Korea's cultural rules. I've literally heard them say, "I'm a foreigner -- they shouldn't expect me to act like a Korean." Koreans read this attitude as condescending. They're right -- it is.

Koreans are pretty tolerant of foreigners who don't know their social codes. What Koreans don't tolerate well is foreigners who won't learn those codes. This usually surprises these westerners, even though they'd probably be some of the first to raise a fuss if a foreigner came to their country and refused to adapt to their culture.

In order to succeed in a different culture, you have to at least try to live by its rules, even if you think yours are better.

People who have a history of getting in trouble at home or in school, and those with an "attitude," may not be quite ready to apply themselves to this. If that describes you, I suggest that you wait a few years more before trying English teaching overseas. Give yourself some time to settle down and mellow out. Take a few vacations in Asia and/or Europe. Discover how to be happy. Develop a perspective on your place in the world. Then think again about teaching overseas.

Korea definitely doesn't need or want people who'll look down on the country, its culture, or its people. But if:

• You can accept the idea that, at least in some ways, Korea might be as good as or better than your own country
• You like the idea of learning about a different culture
• You're willing to behave in ways you wouldn't at home, even if they're not as much fun
• You're OK with letting your Korean friends tell you when you've made a "faux pas"

— then read on. I think you're going enjoy Korea as much as Margaret did.



In western society we have rules for getting along that we all learn as kids (or at least we're supposed to).

• Age. We learn to respect our parents and other older people. We also learn how this changes as we grow into adults ourselves.
• Economic relationship. We treat the auto mechanic and the restaurant waiter differently from the way they treat us. In a job, we're usually on the other side of this formula when dealing with the boss.
• Authority. We're expected to show respect to government officials (even those we didn't vote for). We don't talk back to traffic cops.

These western conventions are still important, but maybe not quite as rigid as they were 50 years ago. The rules of behavior in Korea and other Asian nations have also softened in recent years. And since they share some common ground with ours -- like the points I named above -- it's tempting to think the rules are more similar than they really are.

OK, to some extent the differences are less than they used to be. Korea is becoming more westernized. But you're going to see the effects of that mostly in younger people -- in their teens and twenties. And probably your boss will be older. He will not be thrilled if you treat him like a western boss. So listen up and take notes, because the final's coming up -- it's your job.



Korean ideals derive mainly from Confucian traditions. I don't want to turn this into a lecture on Confucianism, but I think it's worth looking at the Five Codes and the Three Bonds or Principles. These define relationships among people.

The Five Ethical Codes (Oryun):

1. Righteousness and justice between governors and the citizens.
2. Distinction (different roles) between husband and wife.
3. Order (respect and protection) between young and old.
4. Closeness (love) between parent and child.
5. Trust between friend and friend.

The Three Principles (Samgang):

1. Loyalty to government and country.
2. Filial piety toward one's parents.
3. Fidelity and chastity in marriage.

What these boil down to is this: almost every relationship, except between friends, is based on the idea that one person is of higher status. The person of lower status is expected to respect and obey, and the person of higher status is supposed to look after and protect. This idea of protector / protected is so thoroughly integrated into Korean society that it extends beyond families to regional relationships and university classmates. A 1982 graduate of Korea University who's in trouble can count on getting help from a class of '78 grad -- even if the trouble is the younger person's own fault.

These relationship rules developed during the Choson Dynasty, a period when Korean Confucianism took a radical direction, The Chosun Dynasty ended in 1910 (not exactly in a positive way; that's when Japan occupied Korea) and today Korean society is much more open and relaxed. But the fundamental principles of Confucianism still influence people's behavior.



Koreans will sometimes introduce themselves to you by not just their names, but their job titles and employers. If they're students, they'll be sure to tell you the names of their universities, the departments, and their years. What you're seeing is the Confucian emphasis on status and order, or jang yu yuseo (чанъю юсô 장유유서 - ВА).

There are all kinds of rules of order:

• At the table, wait for the oldest person present to begin eating first. You also shouldn't eat faster than he does, because he's supposed to finish first too.
• Don't smoke in front of a person of higher status, like your boss (this must be tough, since so many Koreans are smokers).
• Don't drink in front of a higher-status person. At least turn your head to one side and shield your mouth with a hand, so he doesn't literally see you drinking.
• You can't be friends with a person too many years older or younger.
• You don't argue with the boss, period. This one can be really tough for westerners. (This does not mean you can't negotiate, however. More on this later.)
• You show respect for teachers. As a hagwon English teacher, you aren't quite a teacher, so this means that you have to act properly around public school teachers and university instructors.

The list goes on -- that's just a sample.

The rules of social conduct are related to status, and the respect that people of lower status have to pay to those of higher status. In the west, status doesn't mean such rigorous rules. Also, to be blunt, western status is mostly related to things -- what you own, where you live, how big your house is, what kind of car you drive, how you dress, how much money you throw around. Well, those are also important in Korea -- but age, marriage, number of children, and job authority are at least as important.

And sex. That's a big one. Remember that Oryun code, "distinction between husband and wife"? That's sexism in action. Confucius pretty much institutionalized sexism. In his world, men always had higher status than women.

In the Chosun Dynasty days, almost a century ago, it got pretty bad. Men literally locked up their women in the family compounds. They let them out once a year to visit their birth families, and that was about it.

Women have made tremendous progress in Korea in recent years, but men still have higher status. The glass ceiling is very thick in Korea, and women don't often rise above middle management in the professions. They're still seen mainly as wives and mothers, although nowadays their husbands think they ought to get a job in addition to their chores at home (sound familiar?).



Teachers are highly regarded (because education is). But hagwon teaching is thought of more as a profession, so it carries lower status. That status hit is one reason that so many Korean hagwon instructors are women. On the other hand, if you're old enough, you may be able to score "status points" on your age. (Not that your first grade kids will behave any better for this.) Also, if you're American, you're automatically bumped up a few notches because your home nation is wealthy and influential.

Within a few days of your arrival in Korea, you're pretty likely to be surprised -- make that shocked -- when a new Korean acquaintance begins asking questions that you might consider pretty personal. What's your job? How much money do you make? Are you married? If not, why not? Do you have children? If not, why not? How many are boys?

Personal questions? Not in Korea. The grilling is part of the way your new friend figures out how to behave toward you. You're expected to ask the same questions of him or her. If you don't, how will you know how you're supposed to act? You may actually make your friend uncomfortable by not asking.

Of course your relationship with your hagwon director will be different from what you'd expect with a boss at home. More on that later.



This isn't an exhaustive list by any means, but let's make a start:

Bowing: Learn to bow. Koreans bow when they meet and when they part. They also bow when they conduct business. (One morning we saw two rows of employees outside an insurance building, bowing customers inside -- a Korean version of the Wal-Mart greeter, I guess.)

A Korean bow is sometimes not much more than a bob of the head, but how deeply you should bow depends on the status of the other person (this is one reason Koreans ask so many questions when they first meet you). When it's a shopkeeper, taxi driver, or other service provider, just duck your head and shoulders a little. Bow more from the waist for older people and rich business people. Elderly men get the deepest bows -- if you ever meet a Korean friend's grandfather, you might want to hit the floor. Seriously.

I know, "all men are created equal." That's not even really true in America, and this is Confucian Korea. Deal with it.

Names: Don't call anyone by his or her first name unless you're long-time friends (as in years). Here are some rules for addressing people in social situations:

• Address your hagwon director by his or her title (ask what he or she prefers). The usual is wonjang nim ("director") (вôнчжанъним 원장임 - В.А.).
• Call all the Korean teachers in your hagwon sonsang nim ("teacher") (хагвôн сôнсэнъним 학원선생님 - В.А., except the ones who ask you to use their names.
• Address friends and acquaintances as Mr. Lee or Mrs. Kim unless they say otherwise. The titles Mr. and Mrs. have made their way into the Korean language, so you can use them when speaking either English or Korean.
• But: you don't use Mr. or Mrs. when meeting your Korean friends' or students' parents and other relatives. You usually address them by making reference to the person you already know: "mother of Lee Han-so," "father of Kim Sang-hee," or "aunt of Park Il-jung." When you're about to meet a student's or friend's relatives, ask him or her to teach you how to address them. If that's not possible, ask your hagwon director or a Korean teacher.
• A generic term of address for a adult woman you don't know is ajomma ("auntie") (ачжум(м)а 아주마~아줌마 - В.А.). In the US you might hail the waitress with "Excuse me, ma'am?" but in Korea you'd say "Ajomma?".
For a man, use ajosshi ("uncle") (ачжôсси 아저씨 - В.А.). The term for a young, unmarried woman is agasshi (агасси 아가씨 - В.А.). You can call young kids komaya (комайа, форма вокатива, звательного падежа - В.А.). An elderly man is a halabaji (grandfather) (харабôчжи 할아버지 - В.А.),and an elderly woman is a halmoni (grandmother) (хальмôни 할머지 - В.А.). Curiously, the word sonsang nim (teacher) (сôнсэнъним 선생님 - В.А.) also works as a generic respectful title for someone with authority -- a policeman, for example.
• Brothers and sisters never call one another by their given names. They say "older brother" or "younger sister." There's a long list of Korean words for these relationships, depending on the relative age and sex of the siblings.

You're probably thinking, "Why are you telling me this? I don't have any Korean relatives." Well, at some point you're going to meet a Korean who's a fair bit younger or older than you. Confucian custom makes friendships between people of different ages just about impossible. The way they get around this is to call a friend "older brother" or "younger sister." Don't worry about the terminology; they'll either have you use the English, or they'll tell you what to call them.

The exception to all these naming rules is English nicknames. Most of your students will already have them. If any don't, help them pick their nicknames now. If you have to, assign them, because English nicknames are a Very Good Thing. For your students, they're a way to practice English pronunciation. For everybody, English nicknames let you address Koreans in a way that's comfortable and familiar to you, without making them uncomfortable by using their given names.

Excuse me (not): We westerners seem to have bubbles around us, the way strangers stay away. You always see people in lines standing a few (or several) feet apart. Put us in a situation where we can't keep our distance and we get oddly quiet (witness standard elevator behavior). We don't even have to bump into someone to say "excuse me." Just pass someone too closely and you mumble it automatically.

Not in Korea. Koreans elbow their way through crowds and cut in line without a word. In fact they usually don't bother to form lines at all. You never hear "excuse me" (chaesong hahmnidah) (чвесонъхамнида) 죄송합니다 - В.А.).

So why don't they apologize? Ask a Korean, and he'll probably say that Korea is crowded, and nobody wants to have to excuse himself every few seconds. He might also point out that Koreans, like Japanese, are taught not to reveal their emotions to strangers. Ask a western behavioral psychologist and he'll probably tell you that it's because strangers don't fit into any of the five oryun, so effectively they don't exist and don't have to be acknowledged. None of these reasons quite rings true for me, but I don't have a better one, so take your choice.

The good news is that Koreans don't expect anything different from us. After a while you'll learn to push and jostle as well as they do. You may even get used to not apologizing.

That doesn't mean that anything goes, though. You'll run into some Koreans (almost always men) who sneeze or belch or fart in public without a word. I do not recommend that you imitate them.

Closeness: Be ready to accept less "personal space." It's pretty common for Koreans of the same sex to stand close together when talking or walking. Koreans aren't comfortable with PDAs (public displays of affection) between men and women, so you'll seldom see husbands and wives kiss or even hold hands in public. (Yes, this applies to you and your girl/boy friend, if any. Save it for the bideo bang [video parlor], Romeo.) But Koreans are pretty uninhibited about touching other people of the same sex. Holding hands is normal for friends. If you're a woman, don't be too surprised if one of your adult female students, or one of your Korean friends, takes your hand when the two of you are walking down the street.

It's also not that uncommon for Koreans of the same sex to compliment you on your skin or hair, maybe even stroke them or marvel at them. They're not gay, and they're not hitting on you. They're just curious and uninhibited. Especially in smaller towns and rural areas, where there aren't all that many tourists, Koreans are fascinated by us and the ways we look different from them. Add in poor English skills, and, well, you might get the wrong impression. Please don't over-react to this.

Speaking of such things: most Koreans, especially older ones, declare flatly that there are no gay people in Korea. In think that, ironically, this belief frees them to behave in ways that relatively uptight Americans never do (see above).

But attitudes are gradually changing. Since 2000 a few prominent Korean entertainers have "come out," notably comedian Hong Suk-chon. And Korean films are starting to deal with the subject. From 2001, Bungee Jumping of Their Own (a title which should dispel any remaining doubt that Korea needs English teachers ;-) dared to look at a gay relationship and Korean society's reactions to it. And 2002's Road Movie is even more explicit and daring in its depiction of gays. I hope that increasing acceptance in popular culture means that Korea is taking its first steps toward a more positive attitude toward gays. And I also hope it doesn't lead them to become more inhibited or lose their innocence.

Giggles: If a Korean friend laughs or giggles and seems embarrassed, smile and gently laugh along. This is your friend's way of apologizing for his social faux pas, and by joining him you're in effect accepting his apology.

Gestures: Don't point at anyone; this is considered impolite. If you want to beckon someone to come to you, don't use the usual western gesture. That's the way they call their dogs. Instead, hold your hand palm down with the fingers bent downward, and sort of flap your fingers toward you. I know this sounds weird, but trust me, after you see someone do it, it'll make sense.

Speaking of gestures, some Koreans habitually point (at objects) with the digit that Westerners usually reserve for a rude one. Repeat after me: "Cultural difference. " If you're interested, your students will no doubt be quite willing to demonstrate Korea's equivalent rude gesture for you.

Offering: When handing something to a Korean, offer it with both hands. Never offer anything with the left hand (even if you're left-handed); it's considered rude. This includes payment at shops and restaurants. When offered something by an older person or one of higher status, such as your hagwon director, always accept it with both hands. (Someday I'm going to research the origins of this custom.)

Hosting: Koreans are gradually getting the idea of "going Dutch," but it's still pretty rare. Usually you'll be either host or guest, especially with Koreans older than their 20s. Your Korean friends will be downright eager to treat you for the first month or two. You're expected to return the favor later.

Status: When you're in a group entering a room or a building, the person of highest status (probably the eldest) should enter first. The oldest person present at a meal gets to start first (and finish first). Don't drink around an older person, or your boss, unless you turn your head and shield your mouth with a hand (watch your Korean friends to see how this is done). Don't smoke or wear sunglasses around an older person or your boss. (I have no idea why wearing sunglasses is a big deal.)

Introductions: If a friend arrives while you're with a group, you're obliged to introduce him to everyone present unless he's already known to them. But after you introduce him, don't be too surprised if you're the only person he talks to. The rules about who can talk with whom are complex, and some people will ignore other people in a group situation. They're not being rude; they just don't know each other well enough for conversation to be socially acceptable.

Compliments: If someone pays you a compliment, refute it. As in Japan, modesty and self-deprecation score politeness points.

Colds: Don't blow your nose in front of anyone else. This is considered terribly rude. Excuse yourself and find a restroom, or at least a private corner. Like the Japanese, some Koreans wear paper face masks when they have colds. This is supposed to protect others from catching the cold.

Pens: Don't write anyone's name in red ink. That would mean the person is dead. Death is a highly emotional issue in Korea. It's probably best to just avoid red pens entirely.

Numbers: The number four sounds like the word for death. Younger Koreans don't make such a big deal of it, but some buildings still don't have fourth floors. (Before you sneer at this, remember that some US buildings don't have thirteenth floors.) Also, nothing comes in fours. The sets of four place settings of dishes or silverware that we expect in the west just don't exist in Korea.


Invitations: Don't enter anyone's home or office (including your supervisor's) until you've been invited in. Don't sit down until you're invited to do so.

Gifts: When visiting, you're expected to bring a small gift. A few pieces of fruit or flowers will be fine. Little trinkets or household items from your homeland usually make a hit. Remember to present your gift to the host with both hands, never the left.

Don't go overboard. If you give too valuable a gift, you'll create an obligation in your host to repay you. That makes him or her uncomfortable.

Don't be too surprised if your host puts your gift away or sets it aside without opening it. This is a polite way to spare you embarassment in case your gift is too small. You should do the same if someone gives you a gift.

Compliments: It's all right to remark casually on your host's belongings, but don't admire them too much -- he or she may feel obliged to give them to you.

Cards: Koreans like to exchange business cards. If your hagwon doesn't give you any, have a hundred or two printed by a local printer. Don't keep your business cards in your back pocket (that is, don't sit on them). When you exchange cards with someone, offer your card with both hands, just like anything else. Accept the other person's card with both hands, just like anything else. Study it for a few moments (even if you have no idea what it says). Don't write on it. Don't put it in your back pocket, and don't put it in your wallet if you will put the wallet in your back pocket.



Seating: Western tables are becoming more common, but you're likely to still encounter the short tables which require you to sit on the floor. Most people sit with their legs crossed, but sitting on your knees with your legs under you and your feet behind you is apparently considered more formal. Women may sit with their legs to the side, and men can sit that way for a break from cramping. Don't stretch your legs out under the table, unless the Koreans with you do so.

Tableware: You'll get a metal spoon and metal chopsticks (some restaurants use disposable wooden ones like those in US Chinese restaurants). The spoon is for your soup or stew. Korea's custom differs from Japan's -- Koreans sometimes use the spoon for their rice, and they don't pick up their rice bowls while eating from them. If you find that you can't get the rice to your mouth with chopsticks, use the spoon.

You may also want to carry a pair of wooden chopsticks with you: they're easier for most westerners to use. These will be all right in restaurants, but you should probably use the metal ones provided if you are in someone's home. Be careful not to remark that wooden ones are easier for you to use, or your host will be obligated to find some for you, regardless of how long it takes.

On the table: There's generally a main dish and several side dishes. Except for rice and soup or stew, which are served in bowls to each diner, the dishes are used communally. Consequently you should be aware of how you use those chopsticks. Just as you were taught when you were a kid, if you touch it, you eat it.

Chopsticks, spoons and fingers: When you're not using your chopsticks, place them across a dish. When you've had your fill, placing them on the table indicates that you are finished. Never stick them in the rice -- that's the way rice is served when making symbolic offerings to one's dead ancestors. (Koreans are very touchy about anything suggesting death.) Once you've picked up your spoon, don't lay it back on the table until you're finished with the meal.

Koreans seldom eat with their hands. Even when they dine on Western-style burgers, they hold the sandwich by its paper wrapper. This means you use chopsticks for everything except soup or stew and possibly rice, for which the spoon is acceptable. (It's OK to use your chopsticks to pick the solid stuff out of your soup.) Watch your Korean companions for cues. You'll be absolutely amazed at what they can do with those chopsticks (and at what you can do with them, after some practice).

One of the advantages of Korean metal chopsticks over Japanese and Chinese wooden ones is that they have a narrow edge. Although they're not exactly knives, it's actually possible to hack at things with them. However, kitchen scissors, usually wielded by a waiter or your host, are much more effective for processing excessively large hunks of meat or whatnot. Otherwise, if you find yourself struggling with the quantity you've seized in your chopsticks, lay it on top of your rice or noodles and deal with it there.

During the meal:

Don't force too much conversation; let things proceed naturally. The guidebooks say that Koreans eat faster and talk less than westerners during a meal. Maybe our Korean friends are unusually chatty, but we found they were about as conversational as anyone we know anywhere. Remember that speaking English is extra effort for them, so don't be offended if much of the table talk is in Korean.

Surprises: Your Korean companion will slurp his noodles or suck the meat off the stew bones and spit them on the table. He'll probably pick up his soup bowl and drink from it, too. These aren't considered bad manners in Korea. Go ahead, you can do it too. Have fun.

Koreans don't eat as much meat as most westerners (though their consumption is increasing), but when they do eat an animal, they generally don't waste any part. You'll see chickens fried whole, head and all. They serve chicken feet the way we serve chicken wings. You may get a whole fish or other creature, again complete with head. Your Korean friends will tell you that the head and eyes are the best parts. Hard to tell whether they really mean it, or they're just saying that to see how you'll react, but they sure don't hesitate to eat them.

This may not sound too appetizing, but Koreans don't suffer any ill effects, so I doubt that it will hurt you. As mom used to say, just eat a bit to be polite. Then you can pass it over. No one is going to force you to eat anything. Korean meals usually have such a variety of dishes that you can't possibly go hungry.

Miss Manners: Korean meal etiquette is probably a product of times during and after the war when few Koreans had enough to eat. The objective is to stuff the guest to the gills -- it's standard for your host to invite you to manhi duseyo (eat much). He means it.

Warning! If you finish something, your host almost has to refill it. Scraping the bottom of the dish may be a compliment some places in the west, but in Korea, it's almost an insult. You're implying that your host didn't give you enough to eat. Always "leave a bit for Miss Manners." And be sure to tell your host jal mogoss, sumnidah (thank you, I've eaten well).

Drinks: Often you'll get barley tea (pohri-cha) right at the start of a meal. Black tea or coffee, if you get it, comes at the end -- that's dessert. Some Koreans, particularly men, drink soju (rice liquor) or makkoli (rice wine), with their meals.

When someone offers you a drink, take it with both hands (do you see a pattern emerging here?). The Korean way with booze is much like their way with food: never allow your companion's glass to be empty. You fill the other person's soju or makkoli glass by holding the bottle with your right hand, with the left hand grasping the right forearm or wrist. He'll fill yours. You don't fill your own glass. That would be considered rude.



In climate, Korea is a lot like the midwestern US -- hot, humid summers (particularly in the south) and moderately cold winters. Temperatures will sometimes exceed 35 deg Celsius (95 deg F) in the summer and drop below -10 deg Celsius (15 deg F) in the winter. Take clothes you can layer. Air conditioning is more common than it used to be, but it isn't yet universal. You will sweat. Pack deodorant. It tends to be expensive and somewhat hard to find, because Koreans don't sweat as much as we do. You might also want to take along 100% cotton bedsheets -- you'll want them in July and August, and they can be hard to find in Korea.

Koreans tend to dress neatly. Jeans are all right for a hike in the mountains, but chuck the ones with holes in the knees. Sweaters are fine. T-shirts are mostly for kids.

If you're a woman, pack fairly conservative business attire. Tops that expose shoulders are considered racy and unprofessional, so no tank tops at work. Bare midriffs are right out. Very short skirts are thought of as the mark of a "loose" woman, but skin-tight pants seem to be acceptable (no clue why). Wear skirts of modest length for teaching. Pantsuits are probably OK too, but check with your hagwon director.

If you're a man, take dress shirts, neckties, and jackets. Your hagwon may not require you to wear them, but don't be surprised if they do. Korean men wear suits anytime and anywhere, even on the beach. Nice khakis, sport shirts, and sweaters will do for less formal situations.

If you're about average size, you can probably pack lightly. Western clothes are easy to find. At the department stores quality is high and so are prices (for her birthday Margaret got a slip priced at 28,500 won -- about US$24). But at the traditional markets and street vendors you can get pretty much the same clothes you'd find at Target or K-Mart in the US, at comparable or lower prices. As for fit, younger Koreans are taller these days thanks to more meat in the Korean diet, so it's easier than it used to be to get the right sizes. If you're unusually tall or large, though, you may still have to shop in the expensive boutiques in Itaewon (the Seoul military and foreigner's district).

Men: If you usually wear an earring, leave it at home. If you have a beard or mustache, get rid of it. Koreans aren't used to anyone but old men (and sometimes blue-collar workers) wearing beards. The Korean man who wants to be a success in business will be clean-shaven.



Korea is often called a "we" society. Koreans consider the good of the group more important than that of an individual, and harmony more important than innovation. You might want to keep this in mind if you're considering making a suggestion to your hagwon director.

Personal rapport is more important to a Korean boss than legal agreements. Contracts in Korea are a starting point, not an ending one, and you can fully expect that your director will ask you to do things that aren't in the contract. Some teachers will say "Never give an inch," but this just doesn't fit the Korean way. Unlike western employers, they won't respect you (not even grudgingly) for standing on your contract.

Instead, try to find a way to accept at least part of what your director is asking for. Compile those brownie points. Building up your relationship with the director this way will repay you later, when you have to negotiate something that's much more important.

When you're in those discussions, realize that your director's silence doesn't necessarily mean he or she agrees. Sometimes it means the director doesn't understand, but doesn't want to lose face by admitting it. Prevent this by bringing along a Korean friend with excellent English. It could even be one of the hagwon's Korean teachers. Tell your director that the other person is there to help negotiate, not as a translator, so you don't imply that the boss's English stinks.

Don't forget to bow, even if you're not 100% happy with the outcome. Use all the gestures of respect we've talked about. No smoking! No sunglasses! Your boss's status is higher than yours.



This is a big subject, probably bigger than I should try to deal with here. But briefly, it appears that it's more acceptable for western women to date Korean men than vice versa.

Koreans get their ideas of what Americans are like from our films, so some of them are sold on the idea that all Americans are promiscuous. This may be one reason that some Korean men are opposed to Korean women dating western men, but think that they might like to date a western woman. The double standard is alive and well in Korea. If you're a western woman and you want to date Korean men, watch out for signs of this attitude.

Whether or not it's real dating, female teachers need to be a little careful how they dress and act. (If we were talking about the west, I would never say this, but this is Korea. There are certain cultural facts of life here, and we just have to deal with them.) Coy behavior may be OK. Suggestive is not. And as mentioned above, revealing clothing can say things about you that you probably don't mean.

Spending too much time alone with a Korean man can lead people, including your hagwon director, to question your virtue. I know, it should be none of his business, but this is Confucian Korea. Your director, especially if he's a man, will see himself in a parental role toward you. And don't think he won't find out. You're a foreigner; you stand out. Sometimes it seems as if the entire city is watching you. Someone will tell your director.

The good news is that this attitude is changing fast. Koreans used to be very matter-of-fact about marital sex and rather prudish about premarital sex. That's not so true any more -- Korea is experiencing something not entirely unlike the US sexual revolution of the late 1960s. In 2001, the Chollian Internet Service asked its users what they thought of living together before marriage. A sample comprising Internet users is probably not (yet) representative of the general population. Still, the vast majority -- 85% of men, and 90% of women -- said they thought that premarital cohabitation was a good idea.

Other surveys report that over 10 percent of high school students have had sex. This may seem low compared to the US and most European nations, but it's high for Korea. Maybe because of this, the Korean goverment has recently undertaken an expanded sex education program in the hopes of increasing contraceptive use among young people.

No question about it, western influence is changing Korean society. But the rule of thumb has always been that Korean men tend to be jealous of other men's attention to their wives, and that hasn't really changed. If you're a man, it's probably still safer to avoid being alone with a married Korean woman. You may also want to stay away from public situations that would look like a date. Most exasperating of all, when her husband is present, you're supposed to pay more attention to him than to her.

Speaking of marriage, you also should be aware that, for most Koreans, marriage is a very big deal and a major life goal. A Korean who's over 25, male or female, is most likely looking for a permanent relationship. If you aren't, be careful.



Drinking is a major part of Korean social life. Especially if you're a man, you'll be invited to a bar with other male teachers, your male students, or even your boss.

If you like to party, watch yourself. You want to avoid those ugly situations you've read about on the other web sites. Drunken men can be pretty unstable, and the current (mid-2003) uneasy relationship between Korea and the US military personnel there has made things worse. Just as in any foreign country, losing your temper and socking a Korean is not a good way to make yourself welcome.

If a fight breaks out, the police will get involved. Korean police are helpful to foreigners in many situations, but this isn't one of them. You're subject to Korean law, which usually doesn't work like western law. Besides, you can't count on being run in by officers who speak good (or even any) English. You can bet that the Korean(s) you scrapped with will tell the police their side of the story, but unless you're lucky enough to have a policeman with good English (or you're really fluent in Korean), you'll be hard-pressed to defend yourself against their claims. So getting into a fight in Korea could not only land you in a hospital, it could also get you fined and/or deported -- even if it wasn't your fault.

The best way to stay away from these risky situations is to just stay away -- that is, don't go drinking. But sometimes you can't avoid it. Or maybe you just like to go out with friends, and where's the harm in that? So drink lightly and stay calm. Make sure at least some of the people in your party are Koreans. They'll be able to sense potential trouble, and help you defuse situations before they get out of hand.



I'm giving you all these suggestions here on how to behave in Korea. I don't mean to suggest that you have to adopt Korea's values, or even agree with them. But I think you need to understand how those values differ from ours and how they affect life in Korea. That's the only way you can live for a year or two, following their social code, without violating your own principles.

For example, you obviously shouldn't leave behind your ideals about sexual equality. If you're a man, you should treat women as you would at home. But remember, you're a guest in Korea. You're going to make yourself unwelcome if you criticize Korean men for the way they behave toward Korean women.

Regardless of the situation -- listen, nod, and make neutral agreeable-sounding noises. Save the debates for later. If you're a chronically cranky, argumentative, aggressive person, you're probably better off just staying at home. But that's the way it is anywhere in the world.


* Оригинал находится здесь.


    Драг-ая тм объявила: "Сварю рис с чёрными бобами". Рис с бобами, фасолью мы едим часто - как заправские ямайцы или корейцы. Он полезен для здоровья.…


    - Хочу для вас двоих пожарить котлеты. - Прекрасно! - Тогда съезди за свежим фаршем. - Ммм... Окей. - Заодно купи круассаны. Только купи не тех,…


    ПОД КОНЕЦ, помню, сформулировал. "Русский вопрос и еврейство". Или нет. "Русские и еврейский вопрос". Нет. Не так. Кажется, было "Русскость и…

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    Драг-ая тм объявила: "Сварю рис с чёрными бобами". Рис с бобами, фасолью мы едим часто - как заправские ямайцы или корейцы. Он полезен для здоровья.…


    - Хочу для вас двоих пожарить котлеты. - Прекрасно! - Тогда съезди за свежим фаршем. - Ммм... Окей. - Заодно купи круассаны. Только купи не тех,…


    ПОД КОНЕЦ, помню, сформулировал. "Русский вопрос и еврейство". Или нет. "Русские и еврейский вопрос". Нет. Не так. Кажется, было "Русскость и…