Friday, March 28, 2014

English Club - Week 1

Last year I volunteered my time once a week to do an after school English club for a select few highly advanced students. This year my head teacher was kind enough to put me in charge of the English Club on Friday afternoons every fortnight and count it towards my contractual 22 classes a week. Happy Days ^^.

We met together for the first time today. I originally wanted just 8 students, but the demand was high and my arm was twisted into bumping the number up to 10. I felt terrible about turning some of the lower level students away, but I wanted to work with higher level students. It will allow me to try things I can't do in my normal classes and since I have no Korean co-teacher I have to manage the class without their translation assistance. 

Today I asked the students to choose a western name and I gave them the opportunity to ask me some questions. Since the students were drawn from many different classes I made them learn 6 things about another student and introduce that student to the class. It went well. 

Next up, prepositions! I've wanted to do this activity for a long time, but in my normal classes I have to be very mindful of not making it too difficult and keeping everyone involved. Students had to describe the secret picture I gave them to their friend, and the friend had to follow the instructions and draw the picture. We did a practice run together as a class on the whiteboard before I let them loose. I was presently surprised by the results. 

The small picture at the top is what they had to describe to their friend, below it is the student drawing. 

Ok, this one wasn't so good. But they gave it a go. 

Not a bad effort. 

A couple of great efforts here. 

I'm looking forward to the next class. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hand Gestures and Using Two Hands in Korea

Something that you will probably see a lot of in Korea is people doing strange things with their second hand when giving things to people. Just like bowing, this is used as a sign of respect. When you give something or receive something from someone who is older OR more senior you should use two hands. At my school when I hand out worksheets my students always take the work sheet from me using two hands. If you are in business and are accepting/handing out a business card, always use two hands. You can find more about giving/receiving business cards here.

You have a few options here.
1) You can accept/pass the object (i.e. piece of paper) with both hands as you receive it.

2) You can accept/pass the object with just one hand and touch any part of your arm between the wrist and the elbow with your second hand.

3) You can accept/pass the object with just one hand and bring your second hand in to wrest on the side of your rib cage just below your armpit. You will look like you have stomach pains, but it is considered polite. Personally, I go with option 1 or 2. 

If you are unsure if you should use two hands, then use two hands. You will never offend someone by offering or receiving something using two hands. Worst case they might think you are a little strange.

Here is a video from EatYourKimchi on hand gestures.

Receiving a Business Card in Korea

I won't reiterate the rules about using two hands, but I felt I should add a couple more important notes when giving/accepting business cards.

Even though many Korean businesses litter the sidewalk with business cards (either by high speed scooter or someone walking and randomly dropping piles of business cards at your door), if someone hands you their business card and you would like to do business with them someday you need to be super respectful.

1) Use two hands
2) Treat it like they have given you something amazing. Spend some time looking at it and maybe even comment on how nice the design is.
3) Make sure they see you put it in your wallet.
4) When you put it in your wallet, don't stuff it in the back with all the other cards. Put it in the front in the high use zone (where you stick things like credit cards). 

These rules may sound silly, but they can go a long way to building a successful business relationship with someone. 

Now... up until now it all makes sense right? It is a little over the top but you can see where they are coming from. This is the crazy thing. In Korea (I am unsure about other Asian countries) businesses will often pay scooter drivers to drive around the streets with huge wads of business cards to ninja throw at doors. 

The picture above is the front door to my apartment building. I have never seen anyone pick these up to do anything other than throw them in the bin. Why on earth would someone pick something up that has been on the filthy ground? It is a huge waste and frankly I view it as littering. Not only that, but given what I said about treating business cards like they are something special, this seems highly illogical doesn't it. Welcome to Korea. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Korean Workplace and Productivity

I've been thinking about posting my thoughts on the Korean work ethic, office productivity and politics for a while now. I spotted this excellent article that discusses many of the things that frustrate me about working in Korea, so I thought I would share it. I should point out that my school is not as bad as the workplace discussed in the article, but I definitely see most of the topics discussed on a daily basis. Below are some select quotes. You can find the full article here. A Korean translation can be found here.

I definitely see top-down management which could be likened to an army division. Everyone has their place in the hierarchy. As a westerner I'm at the bottom of the hierarchical structure. As for the short notice on doing things, anyone who has worked in Korea could attest to this. But as Koreans will tell you, Korea is dynamic and things change at a moment notice. 
Korean corporate structures are notorious for their top-down approach and rigidity. Some experts even compare corporate Korea to an army division, such is the influence of military service and authoritarian leadership on the corporate landscape. A byproduct of such rigid corporate structures is constant and unnecessary reporting to senior directors, as soldiers to a superior officer. Teams will brief department heads weekly, and sometimes even the board of executives on a regular basis. Also, if a director wants to know about something, regardless of whether it is of concern to their project goals, a team leader will be forced to present a report to the directors, usually within a very short timeframe.
"We don't need English in Korea". I've heard this from both students and teachers. Most of them (even those who can speak English) never venture outside naver (a popular Korean search engine) when looking for information. There is no Korean equivalent of Youtube or the English version of Wikipedia. There is so much information on the internet in English. One day google translate will do a good enough job that they won't need to learn English, but until then English is essential. 
English communication is also a major issue at Korean corporations. Many Koreans, frustrated with the emphasis on English in their country, will question the necessity of English when they never use it in the workplace. Most Koreans think that learning English is only useful as a means to communicate with foreign business partners, or for use in business emails. But they overlook the fact that a world of resources and knowledge (case studies, annual reports, professional tips) is available to them via the Internet predominantly in English, and only a fraction of what is out there has been translated thus far into Korean. Foreign workers will always have the advantage of a simple Google search, which can provide hundreds to thousands of alternative information sources to what is available to a Korean limited to searching in Korean on a portal such as Naver.

All too often I feel like I am the only person in Korea who asks "why".
Often did I witness co-workers blindly repeat “yes, yes, yes” to a senior employee’s orders without the slightest query as to “why” or “how,” leaving them with little understanding of the work they were agreeing to do
Who scans your groceries at the supermarket? It's not the kids with part time after school jobs. They are busy studying for a test at a Hagwan. Your groceries will be scanned by a middle aged woman, guaranteed.
Korean graduate employees, despite extreme competition for jobs, are under-prepared for the workplace, and come with poor research and reporting skills. This is a side effect of an education system based around testing and lack of practical applications. Many young graduates come into the workforce with next-to-zero work experience, bar a few obligatory volunteer activities.

This is my biggest pet peeve about the Korean workplace. I am lucky in that I have fixed hours at my school, but unlucky that during vacation (when there are no students at school) I am forced to come to school and sit at my desk, regardless of if I have any work to do. I'm sure we (westerners) are forced to do this to give parents the impression that they are getting value for money from their foreign teacher. 
In business or social situations both, Koreans have a penchant for giving off the impression of being busy. Rarely will you meet a Korean that will say they have relaxed recently. Being busy is the desired state and worn as a badge of honor.

This leads to Korean workers staying late, much later than any of their OECD counterparts, to give the impression of being busy. Unfortunately, staying late at the office does not equate into greater productivity, and although Korean work colleagues will claim to be very busy at work, the reality is that most are over-exaggerating their workload, which brings Parkinson’s law of time into effect.
Parkinson’s law is the adage which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The Korean workforce all know that they will be expected to work overtime hours whether they have work or not - it’s again another test of perception, loyalty, and social pressure. So what naturally occurs is the application of Parkinson’s law. Why finish your work by 5 o’clock when you know you will be at the office until 10 or 11 anyways?

My workplace is on the better end of the workplace spectrum in Korea, but even so working here has been a learning experience and taught me a lot about what doesn't work well in the workplace.  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Jihyeon's new job

Jihyeon (my wife) started her new job this week. She is teaching an after school English class at a public elementary school. She had to drop by there on Saturday to pick up some stuff, so I decided to tag along and see what her classroom and school was like. What did I think of it? Truth be told, I'm rather envious. lol. 

The classroom is pretty big and has a nice view out the window from the 5th floor. 

It also has themed corners. Below is the snack bar.

A supermarket/clothes store. 

And a doctors clinic. 

There is also a 2nd adjoining classroom. It is smaller, and has no PC/projector/tv.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Visit to the Dentist

The inevitable has finally happened. It took 29 years, but I found a cavity on one of my chompers. It was a sad day for me. A sad day indeed. 

I asked around online and found a dentist in Daejeon who spoke English and wouldn't try to rip me off and push me into doing work I didn't want or need done. Turns out there is a highly recommended dentist only 30mins walk from my place, Berkeley Dental Clinic. I definitely recommend Berkeley Dental. The dentist spoke good English and took the time to explain everything to me. She told me about the different filling choices (they don't use silver due to the mercury), was up front about the price differences and didn't apply any pressure to me either way. 

To get there take exit 4 a Tanbang station and walk straight (50m) until you hit the main road. Turn right and walk about another 60m.

On the 5th floor, you will find Berkeley Dental Clinic.

It is nice and quiet. I went in what I thought would have been the busy time (late in the afternoon after work), but I arrived to find no one else in the waiting room. The friendly staff handed me a form (in English) to fill out about my health and dental history before we got started. 

The dentistry is modern and clean. They even have this cool tool which my dentist in Australia doesn't have. They take a photo of any teeth they suspect as being problematic so both you (the patient) and the dentist can get a good look at them on the computer screen. 

I actually went to this dentist twice. First time was for a checkup, cleaning and fluoride treatment. That came to 30,000 won (about $30). The second time I went back (a couple of days later) to get 6 small fillings. That came to 37,000 won (about $37). I was rather shocked to hear that I had 6 cavities. My dentist in Australia always told me I had excellent teeth and never hinted at any cavities, but I could see from the photos she took of my teeth that there were small cavities. She told me that some dentists don't worry about small cavities which may be why my Australian dentist didn't say anything. Cheese. 

She was pretty quick doing the fillings. All 6 of them only took 40 minutes. As I said, I definitely recommend Berkeley Dental.