Everything Korea: What’s Different? What’s Similar?

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By its very nature Korean facing business is the interaction of worldwide teams.  This necessitates colleagues of different cultures working together on a daily basis.  How we see others culturally is often in the differences and similarities.

The Differences
Particularly for western teams in Korean overseas operations, I believe in the importance of learning about the workplace in Korea—the norms, practices, and day-to-day life. These insights allow us to better understand our HQ-assigned Korean co-workers and their expectations. Recognizing “true differences” can dispel stereotyping, prejudices and ethnocentrism.

The Similarities 
Adjusting does vary with an individual. Factors can include distance from the home country, scope and responsibilities of the new job, local social support, and duration of assignment. I would also add frequency of visits to new counties or regions is also a strong influencer.

For example during my recent trip to Ireland, I found that adapting to local culture was exceeding fast. Maybe no more than 24 hours. I found a number of similarities such as language, a well-educated middle class, and even a close-by Starbucks.

Recognizing similarities is one of the most powerful cross-cultural bridges. In other words, to what can you relate in routine day-to-day life? This requires identifying  the local beliefs, values, expectations, and traditions of host culture.

That said, as a best practice and to avoid issues I deal with often in Korean business expatriate teams need to defer to local norms — this includes Tripartite Socialization—the local culture, the host nation’s business culture, and the company’s corporate culture.

Outcomes
Although there is bound to be friction between home and host country cultural values, a successful model accomplishes:

• Awareness and appreciation of both the home and host country with the ability to gain an insight into one’s own personal traits, strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, and interests.

• Realization of similarities and shared values, along with an awareness of and respect for the cultural differences

• The ability to adapt quickly to the new workplace cultures, ideas, and challenges on the job and in the home.

In closing this week I have a request-

How do you see this applying to you and your own experiences as well as working with Korean expatriates?

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

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