Koreans are Busy!

Within two weeks of arriving in Korea, I learned that Koreans are always busy. My students studied all day long – usually more than twelve hours on weekdays. My fellow teachers rush through the halls, frantically playing catch-up. My Korean friends – mostly grad students and young professionals – are perpetually too busy or tired to hang out.

For my first six months here, I operated under the impression that Koreans are the busiest and hardest working people on earth. At some point during my first semester, that illusion fell apart.

In the west, image is important. But we’re taught that being dependable and producing quality work are the way to cultivate a positive image at the office. In Korea, image is everything. Quality of work and efficiency are relatively unimportant here. Convincing others think that you are a hard worker is far more important than actually working hard.

A recent post on an expat teaching forum perfectly articulated what I’ve come to understand about working an studying in Korea.

[Korean kids] “study” a lot. But the way they define studying is very different… Sitting at a desk is “studying” in Korea, no matter what you’re doing. You could be sleeping, playing games, texting, talking, staring off into space – it matters not. If you are sitting at a desk and there are books in the vicinity then you are a master “studyer”. It’s the same with work here…Sleep at your desk all day and occasionally wake up and run around with your arms flailing screaming, “SO BUSY!”.  Koreans are very good at making things look much harder than they really are.  -Source

EPIK coteacher sleeping in school

My coteacher last year was always busy. Fortunately, he found time in his busy schedule for morning and afternoon naps.

As I prepare to leave Korea, my thoughts are filled with all of the things that I will miss when I return to the US. This isn’t one of them. I look forward to working in a place where I’m judged by the quality and consistency of my contribution and not my ability to look busy.

Until next time.


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5 thoughts on “Koreans are Busy!

  1. ExpatTabitha says:

    Ah, when are you returning to the States? I am currently home in North Carolina for my winter vacation visiting my family and friends. I just got here a few days ago. I love when I run into other natives from my home state and even fellow ECU alums in Korea. Truly, it is a small world. I wish we could have met outside of cyberspace. I have enjoyed reading your blog and insight about life in Korea.

    • wtl0715 says:

      Wow, no kidding – it is a small world! I’ll be heading home on March 5, but I won’t be going back to NC. My family is in CA now, so I’ll catch up with them there. Thanks for reading the blog. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it. I plan to keep it up as I return home…but I doubt it will be as interesting without Korean stories.

      • ExpatTabitha says:

        California is very nice and there is so much to do that I am sure will inspire more blog posts. Yep, I’m from Eastern North Carolina. I went to graduate school at ECU and finished up in 2010. I have met several expats who are alums in Korea, including a couple who graduated the same year I did, yet we never bumped into each other in G-Vegas.

      • wtl0715 says:

        We definitely wouldn’t have run into each other, then. I went from 2002-2005 and ended up graduating from a different school (but my heart is still at ECU). Greenville never felt very big, but I’ve also met lots of grads who I never saw when I was there.

        I think CA will be awesome! I don’t know much about living there yet, but my family seems to love it.

        So will you head back to Korea soon?

      • ExpatTabitha says:

        Yes, I fly back on the 21st.

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