One of the biggest cultural differences I have noticed so far here has to do with planning and advanced notice, or more specifically, the complete lack thereof. In Korea, people are very comfortable with just going with the flow, and expect you to be able to do the same. Though this will take some adjusting, I am actually happy about developing a better ability to be spontaneous.
I work from 3 PM to 10 PM Monday through Friday, and Monday I was really pretty exhausted by the time 9 rolled around. With only one hour left in my first day of training, I was very much looking forward to heading back to my apartment and passing out. It was right around this time that my supervisor Jenny informed me that when the work day ended at 10 PM, we would be driving to the school's headquarters in another town so I could meet the principal and vice principal.
Teachers here work very, very late at night. The native english teachers at my academy get off work at 10 PM but often times the Korean English teachers are working until midnight or later. A position as principal is no exception from the long hours. I later met Jenny's husband who seemed not entirely thrilled that his wife worked until midnight 6 days a week, and I got a sad glimpse into the very work driven life many Korean's lead.
We arrived at headquarters and I was told that I needed to be very energetic with a huge smile on my face when meeting with the heads of the academy. I first met with the Vice Principal, and was a little surprised when Jenny said, in front of the VP, "Our Vice Principal is very handsome, isn't he?" I smiled and agreed, and the introduction lasted for less than two minutes. I was then brought upstairs to meet with the principal. In the staircase on the way up we came across a lady who was introduced to me as the supervisor, Jenny's counterpart at that location. Once again Jenny asked me, "Our supervisor is very beautiful, isn't she?" Again, I agreed with her, not used to commenting on the physical appearance of my superiors in the workplace. When we met with the principal, once again, I was asked to comment on the beauty of my new boss. During the two minutes I spent speaking with the Principal, she called me fat, "you look very full", was shocked that I was only 22 "you look so old!", and laughed hysterically at my last name. I considered explaining to her that, no, the name actually works out well because of the pun in my blog title, but figured I should probably just laugh along with her. I guess being from the West with a last name of West is quite funny in the East.
As it was explained to me from my new English Teacher friends, Koreans are very, very obsessed with appearance. They do not hesitate to bring up any aspect of your image, no matter how offensive it may be to a Westerner. Fashion is everything here, and people are always expected to look their absolute best in any situation. I have come to the conclusion that during my stay in Korea I will either gain a very thick skin or a nasty bout of anorexia, but I am leaning towards letting these comments roll off my American back.
I am still so happy to be here, this has been a great experience so far and I am really excited to see what comes next!