Culture Shock

Culture shock happens to every one who visits a new country. It even happens to some people who visit a new part of their own country. No two individuals are the same, so when two different people interact, misunderstandings occur. As I was thinking about our experience teaching in Korea, I was wondering how our interaction with the Korean culture has compared to others. I found a graph that generalizes culture shock for people of any culture visiting another culture. Most of the time culture shock does not set in while visiting as a tourist, though incidents still do happen. It usually takes 2 or more months before you start to notice culture shock.

As I was looking for a graph or picture to use for culture shock, I did not find one that matched perfectly with our situation. Again all people are different, so each person will have a different experience. So I will try to elaborate a bit about this graph in light of our experience.

Stage 1 (Honeymoon Stage)–The initial excitement and interest in Korea lasted for a few months. Though there were ups and downs, we enjoyed having a job, being in a new culture, and being able to travel to new places. Some foreigners really like Korean food. We are not a huge fan of Korean food so the new food excitement died out quickly. Traveling was fun, until it became too much of a hassle to travel with 10 million other people. And our city is small, so the list of new things to do ran out quickly.

Stage 2–We researched as much as we could about Korea before coming here, so we knew some of what to expect as far as differences. We noticed the differences immediately and were able to handle them pretty well. Communication has certainly been one of the biggest cultural frustrations.

Stage 3–This stage is certainly the hardest for people to understand unless they have gone through it. At times you feel like you are stranded on an island with no friends and no communication with the outside world. A person can become depressed and want to leave the culture. Many teachers in Korea have quit after only a few months because of culture shock and other factors.

Stages 4, 5, & 6–These three stages blend together for some people. Like I mentioned earlier we have adapting to many of the changes in culture. We have not embraced much of the culture because I personally have not found much worth embracing. Since we teach in a smaller city, we also have not been able to make many friends either Koreans or foreigners. Therefore, we do not see this as our home and will not be as sad to leave friends. We certainly are excited about returning to America, but we will miss one or two things about Korea.

Stages 7 & 8–Though we have yet to experience these stages, they are the most surprising stages to see. I have heard much about theses stages and have experience them on a small level. Visiting new places gives people excitement and experiences that they want to share with others when they return, but often that excitement does not carry over to the listeners. The people who did not travel do not understand this excitement. They have been living their lives and they often are not as interested in the other person’s experiences. Though we may miss a few things about Korea, we will probably not have any desire to return.

Stage 9–We certainly learned a great deal about business, teaching, traveling, and interacting with people. Incorporating these new lessons into our life will help in many areas. For better or worse, we have learned many valuable lessons.

I found these helpful tips online for helping to lessen culture shock in Korea:

1. “Know what to expect”–Do research. There are thousands of books and websites to learn about Korea.

2. “Learn the language”–Learning how to read Korean characters is actually pretty easy and allows someone to learn basic Korean words. Learning Korean grammar is almost impossible though from what I have heard.

3. “Find a hobby or something to do in your spare time”–Most English teachers actually have quite a bit of times on their hands.

4. “Make a network of friends”–This is hard to do in a small city, but is worth looking into at least.

5. “Meet Korean people”–Most Koreans love having foreign friends and want to help out as much as possible.

6. “Take advantage of Korean’s unique traits”–There are many unique things in Korea, try some new things.


Facial Hair

As we enter the last 4 months of our current contract, we would like to share some posts about what life is like in Korea. There have been a lot of fun experiences as well as bad experiences, but I thought I would start this out with a more comic post about Korean culture.

Those who know me will attest to the fact that I look about 5 years younger without facial hair than I do with facial hair. When we arrived I did not want to look like a young, inexperienced teacher, so I thought I would keep my facial hair to make me look older and more mature. Turns out Koreans, and most Asians, do not grow facial hair as well as Westerners, which I thought was odd because in most Asian Kung Fu type movies the actors always have facial hair, especially the bad guys.

Shortly after arriving our boss’ mother-in-law told our boss’ wife that she was really concerned why they hired me because she said I looked like a drug addict with my facial hair and all. Now, to her credit, I did have shaggy hair and my facial hair wasn’t maintained very well because I don’t have a beard trimmer here. So in the interest of not scaring away all our students, I decided to shave and stay clean shaven. (Which is both sad and rather difficult.) Plus I didn’t want to make all the Koreans jealous of my studliness haha.

Side Note: As opposed to popular misconceptions, there actually is a plethera of shaving razors and shaving cream in Korea. I had read online before coming that I would need to pack my own stuff. But they have razors and shaving cream in almost all supermarkets for the same price as the states.

Well after 6 months of staying clean shaven I finally decided to start growing my facial hair back. And it was an immediate hit. I even had mother’s writing notes in English in their blue books saying that I looked more handsome. I should probably clarify two things about that. To the best of my knowledge, Koreans are very blunt and say what they think about a person’s appearance. So saying someone looks nice or handsome is more of a statement of a fact than flirtation. People tell Rachel all the time how beautiful she is and I want to punch them for hitting on her. But it’s a different culture. And the second thing is that each student has a blue notebook/journal that gets sent home everyday and returned. It’s an easy way for parents and teachers to communicate. We can tell the parents how their students are doing in class and the Korean teachers can tell them what is happening in school. It is always interesting and entertaining when the parents try to write notes in English to us.

So the moral of the story is, don’t stress too much about facial hair in Korea. Most of the Koreans love and are kind of jealous. It’s more of a non-issue here than anything.

Hong Kong

I know it has been almost two months since our last post, so I apologize for that. The good news is that we have started a new Page for our trip to Hong Kong. We will have a lot of information posted so we decided to make a new page for it. Right below the picture on the main page you can see tabs for 4 different pages (Home, Hong Kong, Map, and About Us). If you want to read some really good stories and reviews about Hong Kong, then please check out that page. Not all of the pages on the Hong Kong page are finished, so please check back often as we finish writing. We will also be adding picture slideshows so you don’t want to miss those.

So, why no other posts the past 2 months you ask? Well, we have been much busier in the summer than we were in the winter and spring. Now that the weather is nicer we try to travel just about every weekend (mostly day trips on Saturday). Plus our school has added many students the past 3 months and that has opened up more classes and given us more work to do. So overall, the weeks between our trip to Busan and our trip to Hong Kong were not all that exciting. The month of August has actually been less busy as many of our students are on break.

I am not sure how busy things will be going forward, but we are hoping to get many more posts up on our blog.

A Tribute to Korean Fathers

Since Father’s Day came and went on the 3rd Sunday of June in the US (and over 70 other countries), I thought I would be kind enough to write about Korean fathers. And since I wrote a tribute to Korean mothers I guess it is only fair to do the same for fathers.

Unfortunately I have not met or spoken with many Korean fathers, so most of the information I have is just from watching them through a language barrier and from what Koreans and foreigners say about Korean fathers. In America where you would see a father and mother sitting on bleachers watching their child play baseball, here in Korea you would see the child at an institute, or hagwon, and the parents out working. Maybe the mother would get home early in the evening but most often the father goes out with his coworkers after work to get dinner and drink. We have had Korean fathers tell us that they work from 7am to 9pm, but most of the time they get done early but either by choice or pressure they go out with their coworkers. It almost seems that they’d rather just hang out with their coworkers instead of go home and be with their family.

Now I know that parenting in America leaves a lot to be desired in general. But I both grew up with good fatherly example and this post is written as much to praise him as it is to call out Korean fathers. And I’ve grown up in circles where the parents have been genuinely good in general. I guess the images I had of Asian fathers before coming to Korea were those martial art action films where the son keeps training trying to impress his father but the father just stands there with a blank stare–no concern and never impressed. Sadly I think that image has only been reinforced since being here. Except instead of the father standing there watching he is off working or hanging out with friends. And then when he comes home his expression is similar to the aforementioned image.

They can also snap really easily. We’ve heard that Korean men can be all calm and relaxed and all a sudden go off on something seemingly insignificant. I imagine it would be like walking on eggshells all the time being scared of that moment when he might snaps.

Certainly not all Korean fathers are that way. Our director, who is one of only two or three Korean fathers I have actually spoken too, seems to be a very good father. But you can tell from watching them at restaurants or public venues such as the beach or baseball game, that Korean fathers lack interest. The most telling aspect is how much the students are attached to me. They have told the Korean teachers before that their parents don’t play with them. So it’s fun to occasionally sacrifice my body as a jungle gym or wrestle with the students. I remember growing up how much fun it was to be tickled and thrown around. I guess its a universal aspect, kids all over the world want a dad that will play with them instead of just provide for them. They want to be loved and even thrown around a bit. Even if they hit their head, they bounce right back up.

As a teacher I am really glad they love me and I love playing with them. But it also saddens me that the students are depressed when they have a day off because they know they will just sit at home and be bored instead of having someone to play with. And as a potential parent, it scares me to think what type of summary someone would write about me. Would I prioritize my time well enough to be there for my kids? Thanks Dad for being a good example for me. And a late Happy Father’s Day to all reading this.

Starting to Grow

Over the past month we have about a 50% increase in attendance. When you start with a low number than it’s not too impressive to add that percentage, but we are happy to be adding students. Seems like everyday we are changing the schedule and adding new students. We have started a new afternoon class as well which I get to teach. And Rachel is now tutoring a girl 2 days a week in the evening.

Unfortunately with growth comes more responsibilities. Seeing the school get established and get it’s feet on the ground is incredible. It’s fun to be a part of. It will be fun to see how big KCIS Dangjin is 5 years from now and know that God let us be a part of starting that. But for right now, we are definitely struggling to not get worn out. When we first started, handling only a few students was manageable. But now being at school from 8:45 am to 7:00pm seems a bit stressful (we do get about 2 hours in total of breaks). Hopefully we are close to hiring more teachers. We continue adding students and the general vibe is that the increase will continue. So who knows, maybe we will get more help soon. On Monday I finished a 6-day on-and-off fever that never quite reached 103. We’ve had teacher’s sick quite a bit this year and even in the hospital. Didn’t realize helping to start a business was so physically demanding.

On Tuesday I did start teaching a Mom’s English Class. Don’t ask me how I got elected to teach the class. Believe me, I was terrified of the idea when I was first told. The class only runs for 50 minutes 2 times a week. It actually should be fun since I will be able to do cooking classes and art classes with the class. I will be teaching them basic English conversations they can have with the children as they do different activities together (i.e. cooking, cleaning, shopping). My afternoon elementary class also got pushed back to 5:30-7:00 because it worked better for the students and our school can open up more time slots for new classes. Sounds like we will be having an afternoon Kindergarten class that would bring in about 8 more students.

Lots of fun happening as the summer starts here. We now have 16 enrolled in Kindergarten and 19 in Elementary classes. All of us are definitely staying busy and trying to stay healthy.

3rd Continental Sports Game

On Saturday Rachel and I attended our first professional sports game in Asia. That now marks the 3rd different continent that each of us has seen a sports game on. In North America we both watch many different games. Rachel watched AC Milan play in Europe. I watched a Rugby game in Australia.

We went to Jamsil Stadium in Seoul to watch the Hanwha Eagles play the Doosan Bears. Before leaving on the bus to Seoul we were doing some shopping and an older Korean gentlemen asked us where we were from in good English. We told him America and he said we looked like we from “European.” Then he said we looked like we were from Switzerland. I am not sure whether to take that as a compliment or not. I’ll accept that as a good sign and hopefully prophetic. We ate lunch at a cute hamburger place in Dangjin before leaving. The cashier did not know much English but she asked us something about tomato, kiwi, and something else. I figured she was asking if we wanted anything else on our sandwich and did not want kiwi, so I said tomato. Turns out she was asking about drinks so we both ended up with Tomato Juice drinks. Certainly not the best drink I’ve had before.

A lot of people go to Seoul on the weekend so it is a good idea to get a ticket ahead of time. We bought our return ticket once we got to Seoul. After some shopping we went to the stadium. I had heard that getting off at Olympic Park stadium is faster than going to the Jamsil stop. But I figured the stadium is name Jamsil so we should get off there. Well, the stadium is directly outside the Olympic Park subway stop which we found out after going back to that stop. We bought some thunder sticks in the subway station before buying our tickets. We decided to cheer for the Hanwha Eagles because they are from Daejeon (instead of Seoul–going for the underdogs) and because they had orange uniforms. Doosan was ranked 6th and Hanwha 7th out of 8 teams in the league so we weren’t expecting too much.

Buying tickets was really easy. Usually you can just walk up at any time and buy tickets for anywhere. We got there about 40 minutes early and the infield was already sold out. So we ended up with outfield seats. When we bought tickets the lady asked which team we were cheering for. They actually divided the stadium up based on the team you cheer for. They do not have seat numbers for the outfield, so we just found some seats and waited for the game to start. By time the game started the stadium was completely packed! There were even people sitting on the stairs. The game was a ton of fun too. The fans get into the game more than in America. They have a guy that leads the fans in different chants. I tried to follow along, but it was in Korean so I was a little confused.

The game was really good too. The Eagles ended up winning 6-0! It lasted as long as an American game would but the tickets were much cheaper. I think we only paid 8,000 won ($8) each for our tickets. Getting on the subway was really easy afterwards as well. I figured we were going to have to wait a while, but we just hopped on and left. Apparently going to a baseball game in Korea is the thing to do if you are foreigner. We saw a ton of foreigners at the game. I hope we can go to another game before the summer is done because it was a lot of fun.

Good Surprises!

Dinner, chocolate, flowers, cake, fruit, presents, jelly beans, and letters. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we had some awesome surprises. The Korean habit of waiting until the last second to tell us anything actually turned out great!

On Thursday night I had a somewhat stressful meeting with the parents of one of my classes to explain some of the changes we were thinking of making. Rachel had gone back to the apartment and right after the meeting was over I got a call from one of our coworkers wondering where we were. One of the mother’s of our students had invited us over for dinner, but our director had forgotten to tell us. And the mother and other coworker were waiting for us outside our apartment. So I quickly walked home and Rachel and I heading over to their house for dinner.

The food was really good and they had a really nice apartment. We even got to watch a Korean drama show. Before we had even left the dinner table we had already counted 5 people crying. Pretty epic. While they were driving us home the mother invited us to go over to her parent’s place to go fishing. They either own a hotel or a country home that is right next to the Sea or a lake! That will be pretty sweet.

When the students got to school on Friday they started giving us gifts. Our director told us that Teacher’s Day is on Sunday so the students bring in gifts on Friday for their teachers. We ended up doing pretty well too. One students’ parents sent in a huge cake, some fruit, and the student had written a note in Korean that said “I love you.” He got the student of the week award. 😉 We got a bouquet of flowers and a real plant. Plus Rachel got a whole perfume body care set. And another student brought in some chocolates for us.

We had also received a yellow slip of paper from the Korea Post but were not able to go to the Post Office until Friday evening. We were not expecting anything to arrive so we were sort of confused. It took us a little while to find where our package was, but when we saw a USPS box in the sorting room we figured we were in luck. My parents sent us a package for Rachel and I’s birthdays! We got a box of Wheat Thins and 3 different bags of Starburst Jelly Beans. Surprisingly only the wrapping on one of the bags was ripped. Plus they got Rachel a handbag from Coach and I got a Packers Super Bowl Champion t-shirt!

The surprises continued on Friday night when we heard fireworks outside. We quickly ran to get a good view of them. The whole show only lasted about 2 minutes but I was able to get a short video of it. Thursday and Friday were definitely some good days. We had had some not so good surprises recently, but these surprises were the kind that keep you going.

Out of all the surprises we had this past week none were more exciting or more important than the surprise we got when Sam told us that he asked Christi to marry him! 🙂 I am so excited for you guys! I cannot wait to see your wedding. We wish you guys the very best.

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