Culture Shock


Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

It happens to the best of us. There are days and times when even the smallest thing can make us want to pull our hair out and cry out for home.

While the vast majority of teachers have a great experience living and teaching in Korea, it’s important to keep in mind that living in a foreign country can provide real challenges. Some teachers experience significant culture shock, especially during their first few months in Korea. It’s important that you take this seriously and prepare yourself as much as possible for the challenges of living abroad.

Everyone is raised with a different set of values and beliefs that are ingrained into us whether we realize it or not. Often, people’s perception of what is right and wrong, acceptable or unacceptable is different depending on what country, social class or situation we grow up in. We all of us have subconscious filters that can cloud true open-minded thinking.

Initially, when we move to a place where the culture, lifestyle and language are so different from ours, we are usually excited by the prospect of experiencing a new environment. However, at some point, when our values and beliefs start to clash with the different viewpoints of others, culture shock may set in. Frustration, a desire to give up and go home, unwarranted criticism of the culture and people, and utopian ideas about your own culture surface in your mind, polluting your open mind and damaging your experience.

It’s important to understand, embrace, and openly interact with the new culture for your experience to remain positive.

Our core belief at Say Kimchi Recruiting is that positive attitudes create positive experiences. So just like our name suggests, smile—and roll with the weirdness.

Tips for culture shock:

  • Start a blog. Write about all the new things you come across every day and your reactions to your new home. Writing things down will help you keep them in perspective, and usually helps you highlight differences in a comedic way. (Check out two years of blog entries at our blog,Kimchi and Cornbread.)
  • Be physically active! Walk, swim, run, play tennis or do some other physical activity you enjoy often. You will feel better, meet new people, see new places, and keep in shape.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Try, no matter how hard it is, to see something of value in every new experience and challenge you come across. Laugh now, not just later.
  • Smile!
  • Get out and about, even if it is first in your immediate neighborhood. Explore the layout to become comfortable with your immediate surroundings.
  • Begin to learn a few local words or phrases. This will help you with signs, menus, and some services, and will be appreciated by the people of the country. Here is a good site to begin.
  • Find a club or social group to belong to. But be careful. Don’t mix with a group that gets together and complains about Korea and their jobs. Find a group that is active in the community somehow, through shopping, expeditions, sightseeing or at a local church. Don’t forget to check out our community and newsletter sites with loads of information on how to get involved in your community.