I’m calling it. Remote working just doesn’t work in South Korea.
I’m a month into my remote working journey. I’m surprised, confused, proud and exhausted that I’ve made it this far.
Throughout the course of the pandemic, I have largely avoided working from home. I have had an odd couple of days at home here and a few half-day in-person meetings there. But mostly, it has been me at a desk in an office with endless supplies of sugary snacks and shit coffee.
There have been guidelines and ‘suggestions’ for keeping office capacity at a certain level… Buuut most companies are keeping their workers indoors. In offices. On subways. In restaurants, during lunchtime peaks. It’s preposterous. I am a Melburnian, and although I didn’t struggle through 2 years of lockdowns like my friends and family, reading the Korean social distancing guidelines actually makes me feel embarrassed.
The startup I work for is working entirely remotely. It’s not going well.
When I moved to my new company a month ago, I attended my orientation online. They shipped a laptop out and said “good luck”. Well, they implied it anyway. I had seen people do this on LinkedIn. I knew it was a thing that happened a lot last year but experiencing it for myself, ugh. I had a 9:30 am meeting to get introduced and then that was it. No email from my new boss. No mention of what I’d be doing or who I’d be working with. Just. You know… have a good day!? Yeah, cheers.
So what does working from home do for the Korean population? Ah, why it gives us more time to work of course. No commute? No worries! Just add on 2, 3 maybe 4 extra hours to your workday! You’re not commuting anymore so you have more energy to work!? You’re at home so work during your lunch break!
Behind Colombia and Mexico, South Korea have the longest working hours in the developed world. On average in 2020, South Koreans worked a total of 1,908 hours in a year. Back home in Australia, my homeland, people work 1,683 hours per year. If I lived in Australia, I could have an extra 200 odd extra hours in my year to sleep or eat a proper meal or actually complete the projects I start in my spare time.
While nobody in my company is forcing me to work overtime, the overwhelming majority of the staff in Korea are sending emails and slack messages at all hours of the day. Our teams in other global offices are also largely working remotely, but they are not replying to our emails and messages at ungodly hours of the evening.
So, the only conclusion that I can draw is…. working from home just doesn’t work here in Korea.
Staff are always going to feel pressure to work long hours no matter how they are working. It is the nature, the heartbeat of this nation. As I said, we are not being forced to work longer hours. It just sort of happens. But you can bet your bottom dollar that I clock out on time every day. I have way too many failed hobbies and sources of joy outside of my work to waste my life working overtime.
An emergency that requires immediate action? Overtime work, sure. A deadline that I have to meet or other people are affected? Overtime? Yes, I’ll do it. But normal Monday evening on a summer’s day with no obvious mishaps or deadlines? Overtime? Absolutely-fucking-not. I mean, *priceless*.
All I can say is, man, I really hope nobody from my company reads this.
Good luck out there people, and don’t let work get you down. Take care of yourselves, your brain does wonderful things when it’s fed and rested.
This was originally published on my Medium blog – go chekitout.
Walking through my neighbourhood this week, I captured the essence of what summer looks like in South Korea. Empty coffee cups everywhere. Empty packets of cigarettes. This area has a lot of office buildings and it is not uncommon to see office workers standing around smoking and drinking a LOT of ice coffee. Yes, even during this pandemic.
I don’t know what Korea’s obsession with iced drinks is, but it is obviously making sense during this heat wave here in Seoul. However, it is pretty common to see people drinking these in the winter. Any office I have worked in has had a pretty consistent background noise of someone fetching ice from a fridge or dispenser of some kind. People need their beverages iced and they need them now.
With the window illustration in the background of this image, I thought this moment was so quintessentially Korean. It’s as though the two characters are admiring all of the coffee cups that have helped fuel workers throughout their day. Like, ‘good job you guys, you’re doing good work here’.
Of course, the bigger question that this photo alludes to is a nation’s obsession with plastic. I haven’t really spoken about it on my blog but Korea is plastic-obsessed. Things are wrapped up in plastic, bagged in plastic and served in plastic. The problem is not the plastic, it’s that people don’t seem to care.
The day I see a majority of Koreans using reusable bags for shopping and reusable cubs for their coffee order will be a miraculous milestone. But spoiler alert, I don’t see it happening any time soon. As long as the consumers continue to demand highly efficient products and services, without any consideration for plastic consumption, the big conglomerates will continue to provide. It’s that simple.
A real change needs to happen on a day to day behavioural level and I honestly think it’s going to have to come from K-dramas, K-pop stars or some kind of social media movement. That’s a long way off in my mind considering that people are still trying to figure out that feminism isn’t about hating men.
Nobody likes furniture shopping, especially not when you are an ex-pat in a new foreign country. Unless you have a lot of money and boatloads of spare time. After this blog post blows up the internet, maybe I’ll have some of that. When I first came to Seoul, I had no idea how to buy furniture for our tiny apartment. Now that I’ve been here for two years, I know a thing or two about the best places to shop for furniture here in Korea both online and offline.
Last year, I briefly worked in a Korean company as an interior designer. We are all still scratching our heads and trying to figure out how that happened. I learned a thing or two about how not to buy furniture. I was a terrible interior designer. But here’s some advice that doesn’t suck.
Where to buy cheap-ish furniture in-store in South Korea
Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of furniture and homewares. If you are just after basics to get by with, check out Facebook groups and also Craigslist Seoul. But, if you are buying new bits, these are some of the places I have purchased cheap items from or dreamed of buying from (in no particular order).
You can buy cheap furniture in Korea at Lotte Mart, H&M Home (I like the one in Yongsan), IKEA, Emart Grocery Stores and Zara Home (My favourite location is at IFC Mall in Yeoido)
Special mention for homewares goes to…
Jaju is one of my FAVOURITE homewares stores in Korea. ‘Jaju’ in Korean means ‘often’, so they sell all of those items in your home that you use often. It is very much like a Korean version of Muji but with more colour and more of a Scandinavian feeling. If you are looking for storage solutions, textiles, cookware, kitchen utensils, rubbish bins and other small storage furniture, definitely check out Jaju. Most Emart supermarkets have a Jaju located in their stores. Jaju is owned by Shinsegae who also own Emart supermarkets.
So, if you are sick of buying cheap, low-quality items from Daiso, hit up Jaju! They also have cute pyjamas and clothing items which I am currently eyeing up!
Where to buy furniture in South Korea online
There are so many great sites in Korea for buying furniture online. If Korean is not your strong suit, I recommend viewing these sites in your browser. If you look at them in your browser, you can easily translate the pages into English to help you navigate to the products you need.
These are just some of my favourite places to buy furniture online in Korea. I have used most of these sites so I can definitely recommend them. You may need someone’s help ordering things online if you are new to Korea!
Where to buy mid-range furniture in Korea (in-store and online)
Muji – Great products but they are quite pricey and there are very limited styles
Hanssem – One of the top furniture brands in Korea and is kind of similar to IKEA. Hanssem has showrooms all around Korea with a range of low-price to mid-range furniture. Hanssem has amazing customer service in-store, I can highly recommend them if you are buying new pieces for your home.
iloom – I have never shopped with iloom but they are another top brand in Korea. I personally really love some of their designs but I have no experience with their website or customer service.
Casamia – I have never shopped here but I often go into their stores to gawk at their huge sofas and beautiful styling. Keep an eye out for their sales!
We bought our bedhead and mattress from Brandless last year and we absolutely love it. They are really affordable and have a lot of showrooms around Korea for you to go and test out their beds. Definitely my favourite bed store in Korea!
Want to see my house?
Last year, I made a video touring my house here in South Korea! A lot has changed since we filmed it so I’m thinking I might need to make another one.
More home content:
If you have some more tips and tricks about furniture shopping in Korea, help a girl out below.
This morning, I went into my office for the first time in a few weeks. We have been working from home for the most part due to the recent wave of covid cases here in South Korea. This week, we are moving to a new office on the other side of Seoul. Tomorrow is our last day in our Myeongdong office that sits right in front of the Cheonggyecheon stream.
On my morning commute, I decided to prolong entering our building to walk around the area, take pictures and enjoy a warm coffee. This won’t be the last time I visit this area, but I just wanted to soak it all in. I had so many good memories in this area in summery Seoul in September. Somehow it didn’t have the same charm on this particularly chilly winter morning.
This move has come at a great time, we can kick off our 2021 in a brand new space!
Hi job seekers, are you having a hard time finding a job in Korea? I’m sorry to hear that, but it’s also a pretty normal and common situation to be in as an expat. So it’s fine. It’ll be fine. You’re fine. BUT, just in case, I’m here to give you some handy tips on how to get started with what may feel like a never-ending quest. I have a degree in job rejection, but luckily I got a PhD in bouncing back. First, let’s break some things down with a series of questions to see where you’re at, and then you’ll get all of the juicy links to the sites and the things.
First things first, what kind of visa do you have in Korea?
The type of visa you have is the key ingredient employers are looking for in Korea. If a job description explicitly states the visa requirements you must fulfill, make sure you fulfill them! Wow, what great advice!
Do not bother applying for jobs if you don’t have the correct visa. It is a waste of time for both you and the employer.
Here is a good article that explains the different work visas here in Korea. Please note, it does not include F visas. Make sure you are aware of any working restrictions your visa has and whether or not your potential employer would be willing to sponsor you. Once you have sorted that out, let’s move onto the next step.
Why do you want to work in South Korea?
This sounds like a pretty simple question, but it is important for your job search. The answer to this question will help you determine where to look for a job and what to include in your applications and CVs.
Are you interested in the language? Are you interested in a particular industry that is unique to South Korea? Have you been studying Korean? Etc.
If your answer to any of these questions is, ‘because I love BTS and I want to be a professional ARMY member’, then it might be time to think seriously about what you want to do in Korea!
How should I write a CV in Korea and do people need Cover Letters?
It is okay to submit CVs in English to many jobs here in Korea. If you are a fluent Korean speaker, you will need to submit your CV in Korean as a Word document (from what I have seen). Additional documents like portfolios and cover letters can also be in English, in whatever format you desire (but just check what the employer wants). Make sure you tailor your CV and portfolio to the specific job you want to apply for. You should never use the same CV on jobs with different job descriptions. If you want to know more about this process, scroll down to watch a YouTube video that I made about starting your career overseas! Some jobs will ask for a cover letter, but it is not a common requirement in Korea.
Korean companies use these job sites to post jobs. *Shocking*. Most job postings are in Korean, but foreign companies typically post their listings in English. It is a good idea to turn on notifications for particular searches to get notified when the perfect job pops up! For example, turn on notifications on LinkedIn for ‘Engineering Roles in Seoul’. Make sure your profile is in good shape before you start applying for every job you see.
This is a FB group run by foreigners in Korea and is a great place to join during your job search. It has a wide range of jobs on there but they are posted sporadically. Foreign employers will often post about opportunities at their companies. You have to request to join, and make sure you follow all of their rules!
Sadly, Craigslist is the preferred method for hiring foreign workers in South Korea. Nobody is happy about it, but you can occasionally find a diamond in the rough, so it is worth checking periodically. Be careful about scammers and weirdos. If a job posting has a link to their website, that’s usually a good indication that it’s legitimate. I have been to several job interviews through Craigslist and have had multiple jobs through the platform. BUT be smart and don’t expect to find your dream job!
The Seoul Global Center is a great resource for foreigners living in Korea. They have multiple centers in Seoul and host Korean classes, cooking classes and other cultural events. The Jobs board is not updated frequently, but always keep your eye out for any opportunities that may come up!
Great place to find jobs in the Seoul startup scene. It is also worth joining their Slack group as people often post jobs and events happening in there. It is an amazing community and has been really helpful for me in Korea.
Another site that looks specifically for foreign workers in Korea.
When all else fails, find people on Instagram who work in your desired industry, and follow them. It is a good idea to build up a community on social media, no matter which country you want to live in. Not only can it help you network for your career, but it can also help you find friends, feel less lonely and learn about what’s happening around town.
This morning in Gyeonggi-do, we woke up to a magical snow-covered view from our window. It felt like Christmas morning, and the excitement was enough to get me out of bed on a Sunday. I threw on my warmest clothes and the rain boots I purchased during this year’s monsoon season and raced outside to walk in the snow. Two young children had already beaten me to it and were collecting snowballs from the car windshields. For a brief moment, I regained some much-needed hope in 2020 and felt like a kid again myself.
In less sunny news, today South Korea reported over 1,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day. This marks the highest number of new cases here since its outbreak at the beginning of the year. I am becoming increasingly worried about the virus here as we move into the holiday season. Koreans have had quite a successful year thanks to their cooperative citizens, avoiding any drastic lockdown measures. This has lulled us all into a false sense of security, allowing people to feel comfortable socializing and going out so long as they are donning a face mask.
These days, I have been staying home, cooking meals and finding small comforts in our cosy home. Today’s snow gave me all the more reason to have a quiet day in an attempt to finish off the pile of unfinished books next to my bed. The looming new year is a reminder that I have yet again failed as a reader!
I hope you are staying safe and taking care of your health. Today, I finished reading the book ‘Before the Coffee Gets Cold’ by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. It is about a cafe in Tokyo where you can travel back in time, but only to meet someone who has visited the cafe previously. The time traveller must return to the present before their cup of coffee gets cold, otherwise, an alternative fate awaits them. The book made me think about who I would go back and visit, if only for 10 minutes. It was beautiful how the characters were able to grow and learn about themselves from their short journey to the past. It was such a lovely story, and if you love Japan, you might enjoy it! Take care and follow me on YouTube or Instagram for more content.
Here is my latest YouTube video of a day in my life working from home in South Korea. I hope you enjoy my attempt at making Korean subtitles! It has very snowy, cosy vibes so I hope you enjoy!
The arrival of winter weather in Seoul means dusty air and chilling winds. A few weeks ago, I braved both the air and the wind to visit the Seoul Animation Center. Despite the smog-covered city, I managed to take some photos along the way. When pollution levels are high in Seoul, not only can you see it in the sky, but you can also feel it in your chest, your throat and in your head. Everything feels a bit sluggish and… bleh. The best way to take care of your health on polluted days is to stay indoors, try not to exercise heavily outside, invest in an air purifier for your home, wear a KF94 face mask and drink plenty of water. I use the app ‘Mise mise’ to keep up with the air quality levels in Korea.
I took some images, but I also managed to film some clips and put them into a YouTube video. I used to film these kinds of videos a lot when I first got my DSLR and was living in Melbourne. The footage is sitting somewhere among all of my hard-drives and memory cards. I absolutely loved filming these clips in the Myeongdong area of Seoul, and hope to make more videos like this in the future. I hope you enjoy!
To treat myself in Seoul, I love going to different coffee shops and sitting there for hours on end. I love getting lost in my writing or drawing among crowds of people studying or catching up with friends old and new. I usually try to save my trips to cafes for the weekends as a way of saving money on coffee during the week.
Because of my infatuation with Korean coffee shops, I managed to perfect my Korean coffee-ordering skills and can now waltz into any cafe with ease. My heart no longer beats uncontrollably when it’s almost my turn to order and I’m not scared of making mistakes. These ordering interactions are also a way to improve my language skills should our coffee-ordering dialogue go off-kilter.
‘So what does this have to do with customer experiences and translations?’ What a great question! Let’s discuss…
Occasionally, my Korean cafe trance is interrupted when a sales assistant at the other end of my aforementioned coffee-ordering dialogue responds to me… in English. Meaning: I’ve said ‘Korean Korean Korean’, only to then receive a response in English. ‘So’, I hear you ask, ‘what is so bad about this and why is it so concerning to you that you’ve written an entire dissertation (this blog post) about it?’
Living in a foreign country and sticking out like a sore Australian thumb has many challenges. I know that having people speak to me in English is a gesture of goodwill. I personally think that it is amazing that so many Korean people can speak English and are very willing to make foreigners feel at ease. However, pouring my heart out to someone by ordering a coffee in my very best Korean feels a little bit embarrassing when I am met with a response in English. This fuels the daily anxiety I feel as someone who has been living in Korea for over a year and has a rather long, never-ending way to go with their Korean language skills.
‘Okay, but where does the customer experience part come in? So what if you feel inadequate and angsty, we all do?’
As someone who slaved her university days as a customer service worker in both hospitality and retail, I am all too familiar with the language of good service. How to greet people, how to make people feel like they’re the most important customer in the world etc. It wasn’t a skill I was very good at, to begin with, but over time I improved my communication skills and my confidence in interacting with customers from all walks of life.
After several years of working jobs that I hated, I, in turn, became highly sensitive to customer service everywhere I went. Having experienced it myself, I became more aware of the struggles customer service workers face and gained a newfound respect for dish hands, Uber drivers, bartenders and everyone else in between. I started to show increasing respect to the workers who were kind and welcoming to me which made me want to be a regular customer.
With a bad experience, on the other hand, I would usually try and avoid ever going there again. That may sound petty, but living in Melbourne, there were plenty of places for me to buy a coffee, sandwich or a pair of shoes. Once you’ve worked the Christmas shifts in a retail shopping centre, you learn how to be polite to people with literally zero effort. It becomes a role that you must play to survive. It’s not that hard to be polite to someone who just wants a pair of jeans that won’t sag around her butt.
So, again… what does language have to do with your customer experience? Well, it’s not so much the use of English that I have a problem with, it’s the way the English is used that can dampen the experience.
Let’s say I ask for a hot latte in Korean (you always have to specify if you want a hot or cold drink in Korea which is a whole other blog post right there, the ‘assume hot unless otherwise stated’ rule doesn’t apply here). I’m standing there in front of the cash register, thinking my Korean skills are award-winning and I await a response from the sales assistant. If they then reply with a ‘hot?’, or a ‘take out?’, in English, this is where my fury ignites. Not only have I just spoken to them in Korean, and they have understood me, they feel it necessary to confirm my order in a different language. A language that they assume I speak because of the way I look.
I would be grateful for this as a traveller, but as somebody who now calls Korea their home, it feels disheartening. Furthermore, the English being used is usually formed as one or two-worded sentences. This can really negatively impact the customer experience, especially if you are like me and you are eagerly trying to improve your language skills. Let’s compare the English dialogue of a one to two worded sentence with a sentence used by customer service workers in a native English speaking country:
‘Hot?’ vs ‘Would you like that hot or cold?’
‘Take out?’ vs ‘Did you want that for here or to go?’
‘Membership?’ vs ‘Are you a member with us? Would you like to sign up?’
‘For here?’ vs ‘Whereabouts are you sitting? Did you want to have that here?’
‘Bag?’ vs ‘Do you need a bag? Will you be needing a bag?’
Korean is a complex language with many forms of honorifics, it is relatively easy to offend someone by accidentally talking down to them in casual form. As a language learner, I am taught to speak Korean politely in any given context. It’s the best way to avoid offending somebody because ‘when in doubt, be polite’.
English, on the other hand, does not have these same language rules. The nuances of being polite in English is something that can’t be taught easily with formulas or sentence patterns. When students learn English, they don’t learn levels of politeness the way learners of honorific languages such as Korean and Japanese do. Your teacher might correct you by simply saying ‘this way might sound a bit more polite’ or ‘that is considered rude in English’.
For example, when I was working as an English here in South Korea, I corrected my students any time they used words like ‘wanna’ and ‘gonna’. I told them they are not real words and they are only used by lazy people (I know, I’m literally the worst person but I wanted my students to annunciate, sue me). With younger students who simply yelled ‘teacher, bathroom’, I never let them go to the bathroom until the practiced saying ‘Teacher, may I go to the bathroom’. If you don’t try and break a student’s habit then and there, their cute language faux pas might stick around for the long run.
Considering this, imagine a Korean sales assistant simply saying ‘Hot?’ in Korean to a Korean customer. That customer would most likely be offended. This brash language translates as rude in English. If somebody simply said ‘hot?’ to me at a Melbourne cafe, I would probably respond with an affirmative grunt rather than give them a spoken response. Using single word responses is quite abrupt in any language. The language of customer service is very important in making the customer feel welcomed and valued for spending their $5 on a cup of hot milk.
This unnecessarily long blog post was inspired by an observation a friend and I made here in Seoul at a cafe. When she ordered her drink, they responded to her in English with one or two-word responses. When I ordered, they responded to me in Korean, which my friend overheard. She made the comment ‘wow, when they speak to you in Korean, it sounds so much more polite than when they speak to you in English’. She’s right, Korean customer service workers employ a very polite form of language because they must show respect to everybody. They wouldn’t even speak that politely to their own parents. My friend and I both shared very different experiences because of this one small language difference.
While I do appreciate people trying to speak to me in English, I always make a somewhat arrogant effort to respond in Korean. I am trying to integrate myself into this culture by speaking as much Korean as I can. I could simply respond to everyone in English because as a native speaker, it is the easier option. However, I would never improve my skills that way. I don’t want to become dependent on English and look back and wonder why I haven’t improved my language skills. I guess making such a conscious choice is the reason I am so passionate about this topic!
Furthermore, just because I am foreign, there really is no way of knowing if I speak English. South Korea attracts visitors and ex-pats from all over the world. Russia, France, Spain, Uzbekistan and America – nobody is immune to Korea fever. Are these scenarios I am describing any different from me trying to speak Chinese to an Asian-looking person in Melbourne as a cafe worker? If I did that in Melbourne, the customer would feel terrible, especially if it turned out that their mother tongue was Korean, Japanese or something not remotely similar to Chinese.
So I beg of you, if somebody, in any language or country, is trying their best to communicate with you in your native tongue, take it as an opportunity to help them, not belittle them. I have made so many mistakes from using only Korean, but those mistakes always help me grow and give me a funny story to tell my husband when I get home. Interacting in one or two words of English with somebody who is trying to learn Korean is not going to improve your English, nor will it improve their Korean. If you do want to speak English to your foreign customers, do the extra homework and improve your sentence structures. It doesn’t hurt to be too polite.
The places I do feel very grateful for English are places like immigration, hospitals, and sometimes banks. However, I recently successfully acquired a new credit card without using any English. Even if there is an opportunity to use English, I will always do my best to use Korean. I may stumble through conversations and get lost listening to native Korean, but I am always better off having tried. Having been put in that difficult position in the first place is a great way to learn, much like any other learning opportunity in life.
What do you think about this? Do you feel a little dead inside when somebody responds to your Korean in English? Or is it just me? I understand that this is quite a negative post, but I do acknowledge that many Koreans in customer service are able to communicate in English very politely. The fact that so many Koreans want to learn English and improve their skills is also somewhat miraculous. Australians should really follow suit. This was merely my observation as someone trying to call a different country their home and often feeling more and more like an alien than a local.
You can’t help but feel the sense of impermanence when looking down a road lined with cherry blossoms. They have bloomed quite early here in South Korea but they have been more than welcome given the current state of the world.
In the world of social media, it feels as though you have to capture the very best picture in your very best spring outfit before all of the flowers flutter down to the ground.
Don’t forget to take time to reflect on where 2020 has taken you so far and where you want it to lead going forward. If you don’t have the chance to get fresh air this week, make it a priority to get outside in the afternoon to soak in some sun and enjoy the April spring weather before the cherry blossoms disappear!
My husband and I had a yummy picnic along the stream near our house yesterday. Who knows when these beautiful flowers will disappear. Even though I was in a blahhh mood, picking myself off the floor, literally because I couldn’t find anything to wear and had a melt down over it, and going out was a great remedy. Don’t let a bad mood stop you from doing things that will help you look outside yourself. Getting caught up in your head is a bad way to be. When all else fails, stare at some sleeping geese in the sunshine!
Good morning! If you’re new here, welcome to my blog. My name is Johanna and I make blog posts and youtube videos about my life in South Korea! Lately, I have been making the most out of having a lovely new home to live in. I have been more or less stuck here since the outbreak of coronavirus here in Korea. I am a complete homebody though, so I am not complaining about having to keep indoors! Here are some images of said homebody action, followed by a YouTube video I published last week.
If you are in Korea, feeling a little bit of cabin fever, please don’t forget to get out of the house for fresh air. There are plenty of places to explore that don’t involve being surrounded by lots of people. Parks, hiking trails, rivers and playgrounds are all very quiet at this time, make the most of it! Alternatively, you could take up a new hobby like I did last year. I decided to learn how to embroider and I have really been loving it. I bought a “starter kit” from Amazon last year, check it out!