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.


Mr. Toilet House

On Sunday, October 2nd, we started the day like any other day and took a bus to go to church. Our first bus was late to the bus station, which meant we wouldn’t make it to church once again. Sometimes we take the next bus back to Dangjin, but it was a nice day so we took a bus to Pyeongtaek and then took the train to Suwon. We went to Suwon in the spring and we weren’t sure what else there was to see so we stopped by the Tourist Information Center near the train station and found this gem:

We couldn’t believe someone actually made a museum about toilets! We were dressed for church not hiking so we thought the museum would be better and funnier. 

For the first part of the museum we were given a brief tour. It was really hard not to laugh while she was talking. The tour guide said that the bathroom in Mr. Toilet’s house was in the middle of the house. He would read his newspaper in his bathroom and was able to see his family from the door sized window. When privacy was needed, he would push a button to fog the window so no one could see in or out.

The museum had medals and information about Mr. Toilet. He was nicknamed Mr. Toilet because of the work he did to improve public toilets in Korea and around the world. According to a sign in the museum, his interest in toilets began as a baby… He was born in the outhouse at his grandmother’s house!

When we were leaving the museum, the tour guide asked us to fill out a survey and gave us souvenirs, two piles of gold dung.

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.

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.

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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Easter in Korea

No chocolate bunny, no jelly beans, no marshmallow cream eggs, or even candy in plastic eggs. No decorations to be found and no one running around wearing bunny ears. We could hardly tell there was even a holiday coming up.

The Koreans celebrate Easter in a way that probably all people should celebrate it. There is very little commercialism, but much meaning. For those who are not Christian, the day just passes as any other day. There are no days off from work or federal holidays. But for those who are Christians the Easter season is a time to remember what Christ did. People actually intentionally avoid celebrations or festivities on Good Friday. Instead they remember Jesus dying on the Cross. Then on Sunday they celebrate the Resurrection with friends and family at church or at home.

On Sunday we made it to church and they had a really nice meal afterward. It was really nice to be able to stay and talk with people. We took the bus back to Dangjin after the dinner. When we arrived at the Dangjin bus terminal, some members from a church that one of our students attends were handing out fliers and actual eggs to people. They recognized us because we had seen them around so they gave us some. They had even written something in Korean on them which I assume was “Happy Easter” or something. It was until a few days later when I tried to use one of them that I found out they are actually hard-boiled eggs. 🙂 Good call on the church’s part for hard-boiling them so they do not break after handing them to someone.

I was craving jelly beans or a chocolate bunny or something but had no luck with the sort. So we ended up going to the grocery store and buying a bag of Hershey kisses. The Hershey bags were all different springy colors like sky blue, pink, light green, etc. The Koreans were probably wondering why Hershey changed their bags. 🙂

We were going to have an Easter egg hunt on Friday at our Kindergarten. But we found out they avoid celebrations like that on Good Friday. So we moved it to Monday. The idea seemed pretty foreign to the Koreans, so we had to explain it to them. They do not sell plastic eggs near here for putting candy in, so we ended up having to hide plastic balls from the ball pit. Rachel helped the students make an Easter basket out of paper and string last week so we filled those baskets and gave those to them at the end of the day. The students really enjoyed it! They also do not sell Easter egg dying kits so we had to try to make our own. The dying process did not quite work out as well as expected so we had them put stickers on and draw on their eggs. I’m not sure if the eggs made it home alive because we did not have anything to send them home in…..

The students had a great time and most importantly they were all able to listen to the Easter story throughout the week. I am very thankful for a chance to be able to work at a Christian school where they encourage us to share the Gospel with the students. If only they would buy us a chocolate bunny too… 🙂

Valentine’s Day in Korea

Koreans celebrate Valentine’s a bit different from the US. Apparently not all Koreans have gotten into the Valentine’s celebrations yet. On February 14th, women are supposed to buy candy for all the men in their lives. That can range from co-workers to bosses to more special people. And then on March 14th, or White Day, the men are supposed to buy candy for the women who bought them candy. And then on April 14th, or Black Day, all those who are single or did not get candy go out and eat black noodles.

We decided to celebrate the American way by getting each other gifts, which actually turned out to be a very interesting story. When we went on our lunch break, I walked to the flower shop and Rachel headed back to the apartment. I had seen the flower shop before, but had never been in. When I got to the store, I was not sure which door to enter because they had a lot of sliding doors, but none of them really looked they were entrances. Eventually I saw people through one door so I entered there. The flower shop was more of a greenhouse. I started out looking at the small plants and the Koreans were trying to talk with me and help me out. I ended up walking past a display of rose bouquets. I figured a whole bouquet would be like $100 because Koreans are crazy when it comes to gifts. But I did see a whole bucket of just roses. So I tried to tell the lady that I just wanted like 5 roses, and not a whole display. Well my zero Korean and her zero English left us confused. Sort of funny watching us stand there pointing at flowers. She was able to call someone and I talked with them to explain what I was looking for. Two older Korean ladies walked in with a little dog while I was leaving and I am pretty sure they all laughed at me while I was walking out.

It wasn’t until I was walking down the street with flowers in hand that I realized how funny I looked. Probably not many guys buying flowers on a day when the women are supposed to be buying things for men. O well. I stopped a convenience store on the way back to buy some Ferrero Rochers. Of course they had their display thing outside which just happened to be on a main street. Double awkwardness holding flowers and buying chocolate for everyone to see. Rachel had bought me chocolate as well so we enjoyed our spaghetti for lunch and chocolate for dessert.

After work we decided to go out to eat. So we went to Sorrento’s to get some Italian food. Just about every booth was full at the restaurant by the time we left so apparently Koreans do the whole taking people out for dinner on Valentine’s. We ordered Shrimp Alfredo, which rivaled Olive Garden’s but unfortunately the Koreans are not quite Italian Masterchefs. We also had some Bruschetta as an appetizer which came out different from we expected but still tasted good. All in all we had a romantic first Valentine’s together overseas.