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
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.