Archive for the ‘International Experience’ Category

Life after college can be tough. If you don’t have a position lined up you could be job searching for months. If you’re not ready for your typical 9-5 experience, or if you have no idea what it is you want to be doing, there are other opportunities out there that will help you find yourself and your passion. It takes a lot of courage and initiative, but if you’re willing to take that step it will change your life forever – guaranteed.

To learn more check out my guest post over at University Ave:

Extending Your Education By Working Abroad.


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I always joke that while I am conversational in Korean, I am completely fluent in Konglish, a mix of Korean + English. Konglish can refer to a number of language styles adopted by Koreans, one being the adoption of English words into the Korean vocabulary. These “Konglish” words may be English, but unless you’re familiar with them, it would be hard to recognize due to the difference in the sounds of the English and Korean alphabets.

서비스 (seo-bi-suh) is one of my favorite Konglish words. Can you guess the English equivalent? It’s “service” and when used in Korean the meaning changes a bit. When we refer to “service” we might be thinking of an act that helps us, something provided to help us, or something useful. The Korean “service”, however, is referring to freebies given to the customer out of gratitude for their service. It’s like a “return the favor” deal. It’s so popular that places that don’t offer “service” would be looked at unfavorably.

Here’s a scenario for you. Korea is littered with beauty shops selling cosmetics, nail polishes, hair products, and the like. Many times there would be an employee standing outside offering customers a free gift for just coming in the store. You didn’t even have to buy anything! And if you did buy something, be ready for a TON of samples thrown in your bag. The more you buy, the more freebies you receive, but occasionally I walked in to buy one nail polish and walked out with the freebies totaling more than my actual purchase.

Not only do they offer freebies, but these shops would be falling behind their competitors if they didn’t offer a point card that could be redeemed for coupons, discounts, and even more freebies.

The larger organizations make sure they’re not falling behind in the service department. Particularly larger stores and banks make sure a greeter is in place to welcome the customers and help them in any way possible from the beginning of their experience all the way to the end. This has proved to be useful many times when visiting the bank, since the greeter will also assist you with the ATMs and other machines in the lobby. Ever walk into a bank and feel out of place and like you don’t know what you’re doing? Not in Korea.

The grocery stores in Korea also have their own special touches when it comes to service. They take being on sale to the next level. It’s not uncommon to find extras taped to your favorite products. Not only is it good incentive to buy that product, but it’s exposure to a new one as well. I used to say that I wouldn’t buy cereal if it didn’t come with something free attached to it – and I was only semi-joking.

Now, does all this happen in the USA? I believe it does, but not to the extent to where we’re really taking note.

Not to say that there aren’t problems with the service in Korea. The main complaints I’ve heard have been that the employees feel the need to lurk or follow you around while you’re browsing, sometimes pressuring you to buy and getting angry if you don’t. It stands to say that making your customers feel uncomfortable isn’t good for business, even if they do end up buying something.

If I could sum up Korean service to you, I would have to emphasize the attention to detail and respect for the customer. Show interest in a certain product? You get free samples of similar ones. Need something gift wrapped for free? A professional couldn’t do a better job. Look even a bit lost and confused? Someone will be there for you in a matter of moments. And you can always expect a friendly hello and goodbye every time.

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한국어: 대한민국의 나라문장 English: The coat of arms of S...

한국어: 대한민국의 나라문장 English: The coat of arms of South Korea Español: escudo de Corea del Sur 日本語: 大韓民国の国章 中文: 大韩民国国徽 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This blog is mainly for transitioning into HR, but today I’d like to write more about cultural transition. I’m a huge advocate for working abroad and I truly believe that without global knowledge you are limiting your professional and personal opportunities.

I’ve been back in the States for just over a month now, so between job hunting and trying to stay on top of all things HR-related, I’ve had some time to think about the transition from Asia back to the USA. While the big move has been smoother than I thought it would be, there have been a few unexpected challenges along the way.

In the beginning, the hardest part was getting over the jet lag. They say it takes one day per every hour in the time difference – and they were right. (South Korea is 14-15 hours ahead of Chicago, by the way.) Despite being awake at odd hours it felt almost too easy to get back into a few old routines. Some were nice, like driving to the mall while listening to the radio or spending a weekend with my family. Other habits needed to be restricted, like eating CHEESE for every meal and watching reality TV. I wouldn’t want to further enforce the typical “American” stereotype I’ve fought against for the past 3.5 years.

Everyone had warned me about the reverse culture shock, which I had experienced during previous visits back to the US: the momentary surprise when hearing little kids speaking English, seeing non-Asian employees at the airport, and even the terrible customer service at shops in the mall. Coming back this time around will be even worse, I thought. But the culture “shock” hasn’t been so shocking at all. Maybe I knew what to expect, so this time it’s more like small realizations that pop up now and then that remind me how every day life is very much influenced by our country and culture.

I’ll give you a couple of examples.

One of the “challenges” I found myself facing is the ridiculous amount of CHOICES I have here in America. I was so excited to go to the grocery store once I got back, but when I stepped in and looked just at the cereal aisle, I knew I was in over my head. Likewise, my choices at the movie theater have now increased at least x10. I’m not saying I don’t like having all these choices, but now I wonder how much more of my time will be wasted researching what product I’m willing to spend my money on.

Koreans have just as many wants and needs as Americans, but our economy is less dominated by particular companies and organizations, increasing competition. In Korea, the winners are clear.

Another challenge was every time I came back to the States from Korea I would get a little “shock” or sometimes a bit nervous about social situations. It took me a little getting used to, but after a month or so in Korea I had pretty much gotten all the acceptable social behavior down, e.g. bowing when greeting/saying goodbye, handing something to another person with two hands, facing away when drinking in the presence of elders, etc. So after doing all these things for months and months on end, I had to remind myself that it wasn’t necessary in America.

I remember worrying about accidentally shaking someone’s hand using both hands during a job interview in America, since it is a sign of politeness and respect to do so in Korea and I had done it for so long. While I might still hand something over using both hands, I realized practice makes perfect. And honestly, I’d rather be too polite than not polite at all. Thank you for that, Korea.

Overall, like I mentioned before, the transition has been a smooth one with very few bumps. But this is coming back to my home country, where I spent most of my life. The transition to Korea was much more challenging than anything I’ve ever done in my life. But it was also the best decision I’ve ever made. Sometimes the hardest decisions to make turn out to be the ones that are impossible to regret. I can only hope that my decision to move back to the States and pursue a career in HR will be as rewarding as the one I made 3.5 years ago.

So far, so good.

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We said our final good-byes today. My students’ graduation had come and went, and as I sat at my teacher’s desk for the very last time, looking around the classroom that contains so many memories from the past two years, I found myself reflecting on what this unique experience as a foreign teacher has given me.

I can honestly say I didn’t give teachers enough credit before I became one and realized first hand the dedication and diligence required of the position. Being a teacher is being a leader, a manager, a supervisor, a counselor, a mentor, and a representative all in one. 

Consistent Leadership

As a teacher, I quickly learned the importance leadership plays in the classroom. A good leader will take the time to understand those who look up to them, create positive moral, and value and appreciate others. Just like anyone in a leadership role, a teacher cannot expect or demand immediate respect; it needs to be earned and mutually nurtured. This also applies to relationships with fellow teachers and colleagues. If co-workers or students sense a lack of leadership, they will not trust you to lead them.  I’ve seen the classroom full of students who don’t respect the teacher as a leader and trust me, it’s not a place you want to be.

Flexible Management

Flexible management are essential skills a teacher must learn to maintain order and facilitate success in the classroom. I say “flexible” when referring to management because even though a teacher might have a particular way of managing the lesson, it is sometimes necessary to adapt to a situation if the “usual” way isn’t working out. What works for one person might not work for another, so we can’t expect to use the same tactics for everyone. If a teacher isn’t flexible in classroom management, the success of his/her students will not be consistent since some will be left behind. By changing and adapting to our environment, we can become better managers, prepared for all types of situations and people.

Perceptive Supervision

Perhaps perceptive supervision is even most important for teachers, since they are trusted with the care and safety of children, who many times cannot take care of themselves. A teacher must know what is going on in the classroom at all times, lest a child gets hurt or does something dangerous or inappropriate. This could be compared to how a supervisor or manager of a company must be constantly aware of the workplace environment, carefully monitoring the employees to maintain a safe, comfortable, and productive environment.

Objective Counseling and Mentoring

As the person who spends the most time with children other than the parents or guardians, a teacher must be prepared to provide support to the students if tough situations arise. The students should view the teacher as easily approachable and easy to confide in. This can be a challenge at times since the teacher should do their best to remain objective and fair, which the student might have a hard time understanding. I found the best way to handle this kind of situation is to explain to them very simply, in a way they also can agree is fair. This explanation is vital if the student will continue to look up to the teacher as a role model.

Respectful Representation

As I just mentioned, a teacher is a role model not only to the students, but possibly for other teachers or co-workers as well. During my time as a teacher, my role as a representative was very unique as I was also representing my country, my culture, and other foreign teachers for my students, my co-workers, my school, and my company. I quickly learned the best representative must first SHOW RESPECT to others’ cultures and traditions, and remain neutral in debates on the subject. I’ve seen too many teachers in my position abuse this role and talk down on the Korean culture while talking up theirs. I took this as a challenge to show my students and co-workers that not all stereotypes about foreigners are true. I made sure to listen to what others had to say, as well as ask appropriate questions to express my interest in the subject. By doing my best to learn about the Korean culture as much as I was sharing my own, I was able to portray myself as a credible representative not only at my school, but FOR my school as well.

I realized while writing this post that all of these experiences and skills I have been lucky enough to take away from my teaching experience can 100% be transferred into a successful career in any field. I can’t wait until I get the opportunity to learn and teach again as a Human Resources professional.

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Anyone who knows me could tell you what a huge advocate for international experience I am. Whether it’s for work, study, or pleasure, I’m always telling people to just do it — get yourself immersed in this world and its various cultures. But even though 99.9% of the people you talk to will recognize this as a wonderful and beneficial opportunity to grow as a person and expand your social network, very few will actually take the next step.

It’s not easy to go abroad for an extended period of time, and it certainly isn’t cheap, but your international experience isn’t something you will likely regret. My own personal experiences abroad have completely transformed the way I view our world and those who live in it. Did I spend a ridiculous amount of money? Yes. Did I pass up opportunities in my home country? Sure. Would I change anything? I think you already know the answer to that.

International experience will provide you with a highly transferable skill set useful in ANY job. Globalization is a real thing and more and more companies are expanding their businesses beyond national boundaries. Even if your company isn’t international, your fellow employees will come from diverse backgrounds. Your experience abroad will prepare you for interaction with people who share different cultures, customs, beliefs, styles, etc. In order to succeed in your profession, especially one as people-focused as Human Resources, developed cross-cultural communication skills are essential.

Many of the attributes gained from international experience that enhance your professional ability, will provide benefits on a more personal level as well. Through my interaction with people from various backgrounds, I have been able to assess and evaluate my character and how others view me as a person. In order to be successful in building and maintaining professional and personal relationships, I had no choice but to adapt to my current environment and remain flexible and accessible to my peers. As a result, my initial, tiny network now reaches several continents, with contacts in several different countries. (Friends from around the globe also can help you cut back on hotel costs when visiting the area. But don’t forget to return the favor!)

Not everyone can get the chance to go abroad. But the good news is, you don’t always have to travel to gain international knowledge and expand your global network. Getting a position where you work directly with foreign clients or companies can help you build successful international relationships. Also, most companies maintain a diverse staff, providing the opportunity to learn from your colleagues. Just remember to keep an open mind and remain respectful and sensitive to cultural differences and customs.

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