Drinking with your boss and staff social events in South Korea

Drinking with your boss and staff social events in South Korea

If you’re already in or are planning to come and teach in South Korea you’ve probably heard all the stories about how you’ll more than likely have to go out with your Principal or Co-Teachers (or both) for a Welcome Meal type dinner, possibly some Noraebang (PROBABLY some Noraebang) and, the most important part, have copious amounts of soju. Interacting socially outside of school is a large part of Korean culture so you can get to know one another, and after experiencing it first hand I am all for the idea. It’s best to be able to relax around the people you’ll be spending an entire year with, and nothing helps more with breaking that barrier internationally than alcohol.

Our “Welcoming Dinner” included our entire staff, even our Center’s Director who is actually housed in the Chungbuk Office of Education. All 8 EPIK and Native Korean co-teachers, along with our Supervisor, Head Teacher and several others went to have Korean BBQ together. Admittedly, I was very nervous. As with most things in Korea, there is a certain protocol to your behavior at meal times, especially with your higher-ups in attendance. I could list all the millions of unspoken rules and expectations, but I’ll just tell you the common few: Never pour your drink for yourself as someone else is supposed to fill it, never let your counterparts go with an empty glass, if you’re taking a shot, turn a little to the side, and always accept your drink (or food) with two hands. I literally just gave you three of what feels like millions, but for the most part those were my most pressing fears.

I was actually a little disappointed (but certainly relieved) when all of the teachers were seated at one long table together. I was actually the furthest away from our Director so he didn’t get a chance to check out my absolutely sub-par chopstick skills…The atmosphere at our table was much more casual since they weren’t expecting us to know every bit of table etiquette. Instead, it felt much more like a family dinner where you finally get to move up from the Kids Table and sit at the Adult Table. One of our co-teachers graciously showed us how to cook all of our samgyeopsal (pork), then how to make a samgyeopsal sandwich with our side dishes, even made sure our pieces were cooked all the way through before handing them over to us. He also helped us to pick up things with our chopsticks when we were having trouble (we’re not very good with chopsticks yet but we’re practicing diligently!) The others were constantly making sure we didn’t need anything to eat or drink, sending pieces of meat down the table to those of us on the other end. They are not too much older than us, 3 of them 29 years old in Western age, but it’s hard not to see them as older siblings, borderline adopted parents at times. This was definitely an example of our burgeoning relationship.

The soju also helped.

Drinking was the one thing I was slightly nervous about. Soju is notorious for sneaking up on you when you least expect it, and because it doesn’t really taste like anything, you don’t really notice that you’re kicking it back until you’ve emptied a whole bottle. We didn’t get as crazy as some other Welcoming Dinner’s that I’ve heard about, just took a few shots. Still, those few shots were all most of us needed to loosen up a bit and be able to speak to each other without fear of saying the wrong thing. And you certainly don’t have to actually take the shot, you can just sip it. Most of our co-teachers, especially the female ones, were surprised when we tossed ours back. I will go ahead and say that two of us are Texas (Yee-haw!) so when we’re handed a shot we’re expected to take it and love it no matter what it is. This is apparently not always the case in Korea, thank goodness.

We’re also going hiking this afternoon with our office staff, a much less formal environment and it’s something that Chungbuk is famous for. While at first I was very anxious, I now look forward to all of our staff social events. I want everyone to be comfortable with each other, especially since we are in such an intimate setting and I’m sure climbing a mountain together will do just that!

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