Monday, August 23, 2010

Thoughts on Korean Business Culture (by Kyle) part 1

For those of you that have been following us for a while (wink to family) you may recall that a few of my posts from our time in Chile were simply reflections on some of the things that I found...interesting about Chile. The reception I got from you guys was quite good but more importantly I found it to be a very therapeutic activity. After this week, I am in desperate need of therapy. Furthermore, a certain female that I spend 98% of my time with who shall remain nameless has been pestering me to be more active on our blog. In fairness to said pest, I do always feel quite happy having posted something and in general I think you guys deserve to hear a bit more from me so without further delay here is Part One in my Non P.C. and Completely Biased Thoughts on Korea. Enjoy, I know I will ;)

Actually, I should probably preface this with a small disclaimer; I LOVE South Korea for all of it's beauty, it's quirky culture and rich past. No matter how many things I find about them that irritates the hell outa me, the people are truly amazing. They are welcoming, respectful and proud and no matter how backwards they may be doing something, they do it with vigor and know how to have a good time when the work is done. SO what follows is a series of rants but please bear in mind that it's all coming from a place of admiration and love of all the things they do right that make the crazy things stand out all the more.

On Korean Business Culture:

Of all the things for me to rant about, this one is rather unique as it seems to be the root source of some of the other things that irk me about Korea. Perhaps the reason is because Korean Business culture is not isolated to just the work place. As is true with a lot of Asian countries, socializing and more importantly drinking with your colleagues is an essential part of Korean Business life. In fact, most Korean men believe that you don't really know a person till you've gotten wasted with them. This perception is so permeating that it's rather common for potential employers to treat prospective employees to a meal just to decide if they're the right kind of drunk to hire. So this part isn't what irks me, but you can see how right from the start, things are very, very different from how we do things in the west.

Korea's Business culture and it's societal standards are very closely knit. The more important you are in your business, the more important you are socially. Not that different from the west in that regard, however the way Koreans conduct themselves in the office is vastly different. It is incredibly important to show your superiors the respect they "deserve" for being older and earning more money than you and you do this by never complaining and working long hours. Essentially, what this does is it allows Korean businesses to be inefficient, repressive, and marginally successful for a generally short amount of time. The few Korean companies that have managed to do well globally are the ones that have taken a more "global" approach to their business cultures. So why am I whining? As a coordinator I get to see first hand just how dramatically the two conflicting approaches to doing business can clash. Westerners expect issues to be brought up and resolved in a very timely and efficient manor. Koreans expect things to move slowly but in a very respectful direction through the appropriate chain of command. The way this plays out is as follows;

Mon. 8:35am - Teacher Brandon: Hey Kyle, our apartment has some mold growing that's getting a little out of hand. Could you please talk with someone to get it treated?
Kyle: Sure thing. Apparently we had the same issue this time last year so I'm pretty sure they won't be surprised.
(to director Peter): Hey Peter, some of the apartments are having mold issues. Would you please ask maintenance to come out and treat it?
Director Peter: Uhhhh, mold? Like behind the couch?
Kyle: Well, mostly near the ceiling. It grows on the wood trim around the ceiling, but some of us have it on the carpet as well and on some of our clothes. I think the rooms are too humid without the AC working.
Director Peter: Ok, well...did you submit a maintenance request on the website?
Kyle: ...Ya, Teacher Brandon put one on there about a week ago and the mold just keeps growing. Could you please call Maintenance and just ask them to go take care of it today? Katherine is in the apartment most of the day and I don't think it's good for a pregnant woman to be exposed to mold for long periods of time.
Director Peter: Ok, well you should leave the windows open and have the fans going in the rooms to keep the mold from growing.
Kyle: Uhh...I um... I'm pretty sure that the reason we have the mold is because it's so humid outside and we can't keep the humidity out without AC. The apartments that don't have mold issues are the ones with de-humidifiers and the ones with working AC. But anyways, can you call maintenance to have them come kill the mold that is already in the apartments please?
Director Peter: Ok, I will call.

ONE MONTH LATER....after multiple conversations covering the same information.

Kyle: (to director Peter): Peter, any progress on the mold?
Director Peter: You still have mold?
Kyle: ....Yes Peter, we still have mold. No one has come out to treat it. Every time we wipe it off it just grows back. The rooms are just too humid and we don't know what to use to kill it.
Director Peter: Are you keeping the windows open?

And this is no exaggeration.

Kyle: (To the President of English Village) Excuse me, do you have a second? We are having a serious mold issue in a lot of the apartments. (Shows the president our mold covered jackets, bags, etc.) Would you please ask the maintenance staff to do something about it today? It's been a month and a half and no one has come to take care of it.
President: Ohhhhh... that's a very bad problem you have.
Kyle: Yes, yes it is. Would you please help us get it taken care of. We are getting very desperate and it's very unhealthy.
Presidnet: Yes, that is serious. Are you on the first floor?
Kyle: Yes we are and the AC is set too high so our apartment stays humid and warm all the time now. Will you please do something about it?
President: Yes, I think you should move into an upstairs apartment.
Kyle:.....But MANY of the apartments have mold in them. Ours is bad but other people are having problems too, even the upstairs ones.
Presidnet: Other apartments have mold too?
Kyle: Yes, here's a list of all the apartments with mold.
President: Wow, this is a serious problem!
Kyle:......yes it will you have the maintenance staff fix it please?
President: Yes of course! Did you submit a request on the website?
Kyle: .....sigh.....yes, a month and a half ago.
President: Ok, you should keep your windows open.
Kyle:..............ok, thanks. (Walks away before loosing it.)

So I think I will stop here for now, but to give you a taste of whats to come, here's a list of the topics I will be covering in our series. Please comment to let us know which one you would like me to write about next. We might even have a poll on the side. We want to know what you are interested in learning more about.

On Korean Religious Culture (which could probably be extended to all Religious Culture but I'm railing on the Koreans right now):

On Korean Weather: That which may never be understood

On Korean Dollar Jumping, Penny Pinching: The new fad for Korean Businesses

On English Villages and their Koreanization: How to take a great idea and make it mediocre.

On Good Ol' American efficiency, God bless it!: Nuf said

On the Korean Generational Divide:

On Korean Food and a little thing called Variety:

The Stunning Secret World of Underground Fashion:

On Piracy in S.K. Arrrrrr they wrong to do it?:


Karen said...

Oh Kyle, it pains me to hear about and especially to SEE your mold problem! :( Booooo

I would love for you to write:
-On Korean Weather: That which may never be understood
-On the Korean Generational Divide:

Thanks for continuing to help me understand more about Jin from Lost's crazy career in Korea. It makes much more sense to me now.

Peter and Leslie said...

I didn't make it through the whole post yet but I assumed it was Vanessa writing and I was really confused as to which female she was spending 98% of her time with. Glad to hear from you, Kyle!