Try looking at the world through a pair of Korean glasses Part 5

As guests to this country, we need to adapt to the new culture not the other way round. The following may help us to understand  how Korean people think in regard to their business  relationships.


Western Culture = Never mix business with pleasure.

Try looking at the world through a pair of Korean glasses Part 5

Asian culture = Mix business with pleasure.

I mentioned before that in Asian cultures, when you join a company or a team, your Asian boss considers you as a much more binding team-member than you see yourself as; in our western culture, we are very loosely bound, except where the law binds us, but in a Korean culture they are bound together as one big family, emotionally, and they often expect you to think the same; also, in traditional stoic-Confucianism, you are a cog in a number of other cogs, who does not tend to show your emotions or your individual-spirit in meetings, so you are expected to “toe the line” and keep your eyes on the big picture rather than your western style individual picture (this is the Western = individual spirit versus Asian= Collective spirit);  therefore, if you want to get on, you need to exchange your glasses from western to eastern glasses before you set foot in the company or even any institution here. You must also be aware of the cultural differences in a real Korean family. If you are invited to live with a  Korean family for the purpose of you teaching a member of their family, be aware, that this can be a “minefield” of cross-culture misunderstandings. Be aware that, if you mention money, keep it low-key and do not mention it many times but only initially and when necessary for adjustments, because, unlike Western cultures where relationships can be driven by  business first, here in Korea, relationship comes first before business.

For example, you can mention that you want an increase in your pay because the mother has increased the times of teaching her son, but do not mention that your friend gets more pay, and so you want more pay, otherwise, if you “count” too much (with your western glasses on) without putting relationship first ( as you would do with your Korean glasses on) you would probably be invited to a restaurant and gently asked to move out of your room. Of course, if your arrangement is purely on a business arrangement, in Asian culture it is more than just business but also pleasure. I mean, for the Asian mind, if you want to succeed in business, first you need to develop a good relationship and that is why they mix business with pleasure.  Of course, they want to feel and see evidence that they can trust you. But be careful, if you are a sincere Christian, do not go along with their drinking binges or “kareoke” (singing rooms) dancing, drinking and singing  binges as well as other side-frolicking, when you realize the next day you have compromised your beliefs under the influence, the night before.

Also, please remember, if you are joining a Korean company here from abroad, unless you change your citizenship and become Korean and speak the same language and culture, you will never be promoted! And  remember, when you join a company or a “hagwon”, (a learning academy), you are not just “getting another job”which you can stop “at the drop of a hat”  – you are not loosely uniting yourself but uniting emotionally as well – that’s why Korean bosses may get their own culture-shock when we tender our resignation.  And remember,  in a Western country, it is perfectly acceptable to join a company because of the financial rewards, but, in a Korean culture, if we keep harping on about our bottom-line is money, and keep “counting our time as money,” Koreans will look upon us as strange, or worst, with contempt!  We, as Westerners, come from a culture which expects to be paid for any extra time we do. But in an Asian culture, it is viewed as an opportunity to show “your self-sacrifice  for the sake of the family” and when bosses are considering team-members for promotion, they consider your history of self-sacrificing (but remember, the bitter pill to swallow is foreigners are hardly ever promoted because they speak a different language, both different in tongue as well as in their hearts).

These are some of the various cultural nuances we need to consider before we charge in like “a bull in a china shop” with our conditioned western glasses on!

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