Summary of the 1st Week

It has been about a week since I started field and things have been pretty difficult with the language barrier and cultural differences. I feel as though I may have had a rocky start with KUMSN because I was unaware of some of the cultural norms regarding greetings, giving gifts, and even meal times.

Greetings and farewells are much more formal compared to my experience in the U.S. and is essential in the Korean work culture. In jobs that I’ve worked in the past, saying “hello” and “goodbye” to my co-workers and supervisors were not something that I normally would of as important or that I would spend time doing. At my current job as a case manager, employees arrive and leave the office on different schedules depending on their own agendas, so It has never been a priority for me to greet or say goodbye to everyone.

Despite these struggles, I have been learning so much more about the social environment that has led to the unwed mother’s perception of not having any other choice than to give their child up for adoption. I also am beginning to identify and better explain how the discrimination and struggles that unwed mothers experience are related to several other dynamics in Korean society which I hope to go more into later.

Family Ties by Lee Jun-il

Family Ties by Lee Jun-Il

On my second day of field, I stayed afterwards to attend a study group that KUMSN holds at their office once every other week. The participants are all KUMSN members and are in various professional and academic fields. There is a lawyer, an accountant, two in PhD programs for women’s/feminine studies (including one male), an international tourism professor, an unwed mother, as well as other KUMSN employees including my field educator, Seunghee.

The group’s focus is to study and learn more about unwed mothers and their experiences to gain a better understanding since most study group members are not unwed mothers. Currently, the study group is reading Family Ties: According to the change in the concept of family: the rights of unwed mothers and adoptees by Lee, Jun-il.  Click on the book for more info.

Although my understanding of Korean language is very limited, I can understand the conversation topic and can somewhat gather the position and some thoughts of the speaker during discussion. They also distribute handouts or an outline of the discussion as a guide, however it is also in Korean.  In the past the study group has also reviewed research and academic journal articles about other relevant issues such as the status of women in Korea and international adoption.

Shinhan Bank book

so cute!

With the help of KUMSN, I also established a Korean bank account with Shinhan Bank so that I could transfer money more easily between my bank in the U.S. and Korea since the foreign exchange and ATM fees are very high. It is also more convenient to add money to my mobile SIM card and my T-money card. Even before coming to Korea, I have always liked their cute stationary and office products. I was even more excited to find that even their bank books are cute!

Categories: Field Experience, Korean Culture, Other Social Welfare Issues, Social Work | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Summary of the 1st Week

  1. That must be quite a relief to have this more convenient means of transferring money. These “small” tasks are very big accomplishments when you are negotiating them in an unfamiliar place! I helped someone here get their social security card this week…this person is from another country. We were practically cheering once the process was finally complete. I did think of you, and hoped someone might be assisting you in a similar way. VERY cute checks btw…smile.

    I really enjoyed your post. The study group idea is very interesting. Trying to bring in the perspective of the unwed mother is admirable, and calls to mind a trauma-informed approach; one that is more consumer focused.

    All my best, Laura

  2. Thanks for helping to educate us about what you’re going through, Katie. The language issues alone sound very challenging Katie. And the cultural differences in terms of gifts and greetings make it much harder, I’m sure. And the problem is you don’t know what you don’t know, so I’m sure this must feel overwhelming.

    The problem-solver in me is kicking in…..feel free to disregard any/all of these thoughts.

    While not the same as social work, I wonder about doing some web search to identify business practice etiquette for Korean culture, for example this: It seemed to me that the advice given in this article (and others that I have seen) was pretty practical.

    I was talking to one of our Korean-born faculty (Dr. Nam) about your placement and she observed that people will assume you know the culture because you don’t look different from them. it would seem to be important to find ways to let them know how much you don’t know by asking questions (“I’m sorry for my ignorance of your culture, but i’m wondering if you can explain to me the best way to greet another coworker”).

    Finally, Is there anyone who can advise you about what the best way might be to repair relationship faux pas that one makes? For example, it is acceptable to write a brief note of apology and explanation and to give a small gift?

    • Thanks for the feedback Dr. Smyth and for your insight. I actually have referenced the korea4expats website before coming to Korea and frequently throughout my trip. After the first week, I did indicate in my journal that I was open to any corrections or direction on how I learn and follow the cultural norms and expectations in the work setting.

      It was difficult to reach out to others living in the guesthouse about this because they are mostly studying Korean language in a university setting with other international students so they weren’t able to give me much insight on the work environment. But I have noticed that just being mindful of my interactions with people and attempting to use what little Korean I know, seems to help because they can see that I am trying.

  3. Katie, I appreciate your immersion in a new work environment – Your mindfulness and good intentions are helpful in this placement, I am sure. I wonder, what is your perception of how the societal response to being an unwed mother in Korea changing? Or development in the public’s views about the international adoption of Korean children? KUMSN is so new an organization – it can be both exciting and frustrating, I imagine, to be working with a new issue and its advocates. And, like Laura, I find the study group a very interesting idea and hope it is a positive learning experience for you.
    With best wishes,
    Pat Shelly, Director of Community Engagement & Expansion

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