So as you know, I lived in South Korea for a year and a half teaching English. A question that always comes up when I tell people about it is, ‘what is it like over there?” Well, of course it’s going to be different in many ways from the Canadian way of life. You’ll find things that remind you of home no matter where you are, but there will always be those things that stand out and make you re-evaluate. Something that is important to note when reading about this country is the extensive recovery efforts that have taken place and still continue to this day from the Korean War. After suffering a devastating impact to their economy and way of life from this war, they fought back to rapidly rebuild and establish themselves as a leader in the commercial world.
Working as a teacher for a major South Korean company like Chungdahm was an amazing opportunity because I was exposed to and participated in the efforts for marketing the franchise. I worked at a very well-established branch with an incredibly busy-savvy manager. Every decision she made was about further expanding her business and revenue. This lady knew what she was doing. She was a hard-working Korean woman who always aimed for success, and she knew how to achieve it.
While being educated on how success is achieved in Korea, I quickly learned the importance of image for a company and I’m not just talking about branding. In countries like South Korea, Japan and even China, the way a man or woman looks impacts their ability to find a good job. Many women get plastic surgery on their eyes, noses and jaw lines to create more ‘beautiful’ and feminine features that employers like to see. Even in societies like these where men hold more power, they too face hardship about their looks and constant scrutiny of the media’s perception of what a man should look like.
Sure, due to my ‘ideal’ Western facial features I was deemed ‘beautiful’ by many. However, I was constantly surrounded by such stunning women everywhere I went that it was hard to comprehend their way of thinking. These women didn’t see themselves as equal to someone of perhaps a Canadian, British or French background. Therefore they had a heightened sense of what beauty was compared to our typical way of thinking. After living in a world of fancy for a year and a half, I felt fantastic being able to walk around in sweats and not feel like a homeless person once I got back home.
Both of these aspects of life abroad taught me very valuable lessons. First, the incredibly hardworking nature of South Koreans, derived from past hardships that only inspired the citizens to push onward and upward. Second, that the high expectations employers put on beauty would never work over here…Or would they?
Looking at these two features of my time abroad, something that no one can argue is that Koreans know how to get things done. Yes, maybe the way they go about things seems often unconventional, but it works for them. Seoul has a population of 9.7 million people, has an incredible transportation system including light-rail transit connecting all parts of the country and 14 subway lines and counting within the city itself. It’s not easy being a Korean and finding a job, but their economy is only growing while ours seems uncertain.
I could go on about all the things they do right and what we’re not doing enough of, but thats a whole other story. I won’t ever be the woman who can look perfect everyday for the office, but I understand the importance of an image in the workforce and that is something that I grew further aware of while abroad. Its not just about hard work and looking good, but it’s about the confidence you bring to the table. I like to think I have a new set of ideals now moving into the workforce…
Work your ass off and show ’em what you got!