Before coming to Korea, I researched as much as I could about cultural differences. I tried to prepare myself for what I could face, but as much as we try to prepare ourselves, things can still catch us off guard and cause some stress.
I knew about these cultural differences, so I thought I was prepared to deal with them, but I was not. Here are 3 cultural differences that still occasionally shock me:
1. The Korean Surprise
Before moving to Korea, I had read many blogs and watched many YouTube videos that talk about this common occurrence. At school you may be told last minute about changes to class schedules or activities, or sometimes you are simply told about these changes as they are happening, or maybe you aren’t told at all and you just have to figure out what is going on. All three scenarios have happened to me in the seven months that I have been here numerous times. I always read and heard about the need to be flexible when teaching in Korea, and it is extremely true. I learned to be somewhat comfortable with feeling lost, which I think is inevitable when living in a new country. It’s also important to have plenty of backup activities and games, in case you find out about a class change last minute.
Me and my empty classroom wondering where my students are.
2. Alone Time
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Korea is a collective society, and within that collectivism, eating together and sharing food is very important. One of the best ways to bond with your coworkers is to bring in snacks and have a little snack/coffee party together in the office. This is great, but sharing snacks once in a while in the office isn’t the end of it. You also are expected to eat lunch together, walk together, take breaks together, and basically do everything together. This can be nice, as it helps you become closer to your coworkers, but as an introvert, sometimes I enjoy eating by myself or taking a walk on my own. Depending on how close you are to your co-teachers, simply walking to the copy room by yourself may prompt questions about where you went. Hweshiks (회식), or teacher dinners, and school teacher trips are also important for bonding. From this, I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone and definitely grown as a person.
Valuables left on the stairs in my apartment building…Whose is this??!?!!
3. Leaving things out in the open
I knew Korea was a safe country before I came, and I definitely told my parents this repeatedly before coming, but even today, it still slightly shocks me when I see people leave their bags, wallets, laptops, etc. on the table in cafés without someone to watch over them. Just last weekend, I came home to see a lone Louis Vuitton bag and a present sitting in my apartment’s stairwell. I couldn’t imagine doing that in a shared space back home. I’ve heard many stories about people losing their wallets or debit cards, and then receiving them back with nothing missing. I also forgot my wallet once at a busy café and went back an hour later after realizing it. My wallet was sitting in the exact spot I left it with nothing missing from within. I’m still not comfortable willingly leaving my belongings without me or a friend present, but I wouldn’t feel too panicked after losing something here.
No matter how well you research and prepare for the inevitable cultural differences you will face, something will probably still shock you and might even cause you a little stress. The important thing is to remember to be flexible and try not to worry too much!