One of the best parts of any job is having great co-workers. Teaching in Korea is no different. Whether your ChungDahm school is big and you have 15-20 co-workers, or small (like mine) with only 5 other co-workers, you will certainly be able to bond with the people you see every day.
An important thing to remember though, especially for people coming straight out of university, is that making friends at work is a lot different than making friends at university. There, you live in dorms or apartments filled with university students, have classes, attend sporting events (with 110,000 of your closest friends), and overall have a ton of free time. While making friends at work is easy, the process is just a little bit different. Just follow these simple steps and you’ll have no trouble making friends with your coworkers.
1. Be outgoing! This may seem a bit obvious but it’s an important thing to remember. When you get to work, pop your head in all your co-workers classrooms to say hello. If it’s Monday, ask them how their weekend was. If it’s Friday, ask them their plans for the weekend. It may feel awkward in the beginning but once you establish connections it will be completely natural!
2. Drinking is a huge part of the work culture in Korea. If the teachers at your school want to go out for dinner and soju one night, you should go with them. In Korean business, it’s considered fairly rude to say no if you’re the only person not going out to dinner. While teaching is more laid back, you don’t want to be that person that never goes out with everyone. Getting to know your co-workers in a non-working environment is key to becoming closer friends.
DISCLAIMER: If your co-workers are ordering bottle after bottle of soju and you aren’t entirely familiar with how your body reacts to it, try to go slow. You don’t want to be like one teacher I know and fall asleep at the bar the first night you go out together (hmm I wonder who that could have been…)
A night out with fellow teachers is a great way to get to know your coworkers and to blow off some steam after the work week!
3. Get to know the staff that works at the desk. All ChungDahm schools have part-time Korean staff that works at the front desk and deals with administrative issues. While many of them may only work stay for a few months while on vacation, it’s good to get to know them. See if they want to go to noraebang (private karaoke room)! Go grab a coffee! Even though they’re not teachers, they’re still people you see every day and help you out behind the scenes. And having friends that are Korean is more helpful then you realize.
4. Be yourself! Maybe another obvious tip, but it’s something that a lot of people forget to do when thrust into a new environment. Your co-workers want to be friends with you not an idealized version of you. Do you love art? Share that! Do you play an instrument or are a fabulous singer? Let them know and go to a noraebong! Whatever it is that your friends from home love about you, share that with the people you’re going to be spending the next year with.
Moving across the world alone is not the easiest thing to do, trust me. But making friends with the people you see every day is one of the best ways to make it easier. And you can bet that your co-workers know other people in your area and will be more than happy to introduce you. If they’ve been in Korea for a while, they can show you the best places to visit, best nightlife, best places to find Western food, etc. Don’t isolate yourself if you miss your friends and family, but reach out to the people who are nearest. It will make your year here unforgettable.
Melissa Bellish has been an English instructor at an April English branch in Bucheon since January 2011. After four fabulous years at Pennsylvania State University studying International Affairs, she decided the best way to expand her knowledge first-hand was to live and work abroad! She decided to go to South Korea to teach English as a way to experience a completely new culture and try to figure out her life. Melissa loves meeting new people, taking crazy pictures and shopping, which makes living in Korea a perfect fit for her. Have questions about teaching in South Korea? Follow Melissa on Twitter at http://twitter.com/aclipsemelissa or send her an email at Melissa.firstname.lastname@example.org!