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Posts Tagged ‘Asia’

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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One of the first Korean sentences I learned was the proverb “시작이 반이다.” Roughly translated it means “The beginning is half.” The idea is that if you start something well, you’ve probably already gained the momentum to get you halfway through. Finally beginning the job search can be daunting, but I promise that if you give it your all from the beginning, you’ll be wondering why you waited at all.

It’s never too early to begin your job search. Whether you’re thinking about transitioning from your current career, still a student at university, and especially if you’re unemployed, it will never hurt to begin revising* your résumé and researching your field of interest. I know that if I drag my feet doing something, I might wait until the last-minute and stress myself out. I don’t know about you, but I hate being stressed out, so I began pushing myself to bite the bullet and basically just get over that initial hump. I’m not claiming that it will be smooth sailing from there on out, but once I started I was so motivated to continue and reach my goal that I almost felt like I couldn’t stop at times!

I began by giving my résumé a complete makeover. This was necessary because I hadn’t been on the job hunt for over two years, and to top that off, my résumé was tailored for an Asian country. (Not to mention some information required on my résumé for my job in Asia would be illegal for an American company to inquire about.)

Needless to say, it wasn’t an easy task, and even though I was pretty proud of my first draft, I have since found ways to improve upon it immensely. I started out by making a list of my experiences and writing down what I thought were note-worthy responsibilities and achievements. It helps to look online to find some examples, but like I mentioned, try not to get too attached to that résumé because chances are it’s going to change. One important thing to remember about your résumé is to make sure you have a summary section at the top, where you list your main accomplishments and specific skills.

I made a few mistakes at first for sure. One of my mistakes was throwing around too many basic phrases and keywords, without backing them up. Even though in my mind I was thinking, “Strong work ethic? Organized? Attention to detail? Yeah! That sounds exactly like me!” how would anyone just looking at your résumé really know that? Anyone can put a bunch of words on a paper and claim that they are true. Save your time and space and skip those basic phrases unless you have specific examples or accomplishments to back them up. Find the strengths in your experience and character and be sure to highlight those.

Another major mistake I made was once I “finished” my résumé and cover letter, (Yes, one cover letter. Yikes. That should tell you how many mistakes I actually was making!) I began to search and search for jobs. Once I found anything related to HR that I might be interested in, I applied. In my mind I was thinking, “Wow, I’m so productive; I just applied to 10 jobs today!” But the ratio of the number of jobs I was applying for to how many call backs I was getting was terrible. Basically, I was wasting my time and obviously doing something wrong.

That was the point when I decided to start putting a LOT more focus on educating myself, researching HR, networking with HR professionals, and asking a billion questions. I’m still in this phase, and honestly I feel like these are all excellent things to be doing, even after I get a job in HR.

My point is: don’t wait around for information and jobs to come flying into your lap. Unless you’re super lucky, it’s not going to happen. Your résumé is a good place to start. Just make sure you don’t stop there.

*I say “revising” and not “updating” your résumé because in addition to just adding your most current experiences and achievements, you should also be constantly trying to think of way to better showcase your skills and abilities, as well as tailoring your résumé to fit each position you are applying to.

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That’s what I’m searching for: my window.

My time working abroad in Asia is the door I have finally decided to close. I’ve enjoyed my time here and gained invaluable experience, but it’s time to  move on to what I’m most passionate about. In the case you haven’t guessed it yet, that would be Human Resources.

I’ve been planning my transition for over one year now, but only started getting seriously into it within the past few months. Since I can’t seem to go one day without researching, studying, networking, updating, revising, and job searching, I thought I would share what I have learned and what I will learn, as well as organize useful information for me, as well as other fellow HR enthusiasts, into one source.

Sometimes we get this odd feeling that we are terribly alone in our situation, whatever that may be. But once you actively reach out into the community and stop passively absorbing and consuming, you begin to realize how very normal your situation and worries really are. My hope for this project is to help and inspire others on their professional ventures into a new career field.

So my door is finally closing, and I’ve only caught a glimpse of my window so far. I’m doing everything I can to reach it sooner, rather than later.

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