Socialising in Solitude

The general consensus in Korea is that you will spend time outside of work eating and drinking with your coworkers. It’s habitual that these nights are funded by the boss. These social outing are practically a written clause in your contract, and those who don’t participate will find themselves somewhat isolated in work. From the moment that the companies finish work, hoards of employees will stream into local bars and restaurants. Generally, you will hear their raucous discourse from 7pm and it will continue deep into the night, no matter what day of the week it is.

This dogma persists within the hagwon world. It tends to vary dependant on the academy how much time you will spend socialising outside of work, but the idea remains the same. This is a great opportunity for foreigners to come to terms with the various Korean dishes. Because most restaurants only provide a Korean menu, the naïve foreigner may find themselves ordering something that they do not want to try (such as chicken bum, which I had the misfortune to order!) Therefore, venturing out with the locals is always a much safer option. Not only do they tend to order delectable Korean cuisine, but you can decipher what various items on the menu are for later reference. Even better is the fact that you don’t even need to put your hand in your pocket.

However, these expeditions do come at a small price. You may find yourself sitting through a whole meal where the conversation is predominantly in Korean. This is not the most enjoyable experience; in fact, many people would find it distressing. To feel excluded from the conversation at a dinner party which you have been invited to sounds absurd. Maintaining your composure during the course of the night may also prove to be tricky. Unfortunately, if you are a quiet person you will feel as though there is not much that you can do to swing the conversation into your own language.

Initially, I was immensely offended by my coworker’s continuous Korean chatter. Paranoia gnawed at my brain like a parasite and I was certain that they were bitching about me whilst I sat with them. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that their actions are not malicious, but the result of a long day teaching English. It must be tiring for them, so who could blame them for reverting to their mother tongue when they get the chance? Not I. Actually, I don’t believe that they are even aware of how they make me feel. Consequently, I’ve learnt to handle these outings in a professional manner; I enjoy the food and try to ignore the conversation.

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