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.
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.
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!