Home Our Lives Our Travels Advertise/PR 50 by 50 Home Image Map

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Unexpected Challenge {The Expat Experience: A Link-Up}

Happy Monday Y'all! 

Today is the first week of the March Expat Experience link-up hosted by Molly over at The Move to America. One of my goals this year is to connect to fellow expat bloggers and really form a mini-strengthening community for myself and this blog. That being said- when I saw this link-up- I felt this series would be an amazing opportunity to share the reality of moving abroad, and I couldn't wait to start writing. 

Week one: The Unexpected Challenge - My Co-Workers 

My unexpected challenge was my relationship with my co-workers. I knew coming to work in Korea would be different, but I never really thought about my co-workers. I guess I just assumed that things would be similar to working in Hawaii. I knew there would be an introductory period of a little awkwardness, but I didn't foresee it would be so awkward or that it would last close to six months.

When working in Hawaii, I worked with a wonderful team of teachers that were welcoming and supportive of me from day one. I felt like part of the team. I helped make decisions about our team. I shared the problems I was having with some of my students. I received and gave advice. I was not just a random teacher- I was part of a team that worked together on a daily basis. I couldn't have asked for a better first year of teaching.

Fast forward to teaching in Korea. I never expected the relationship with my co-workers to be so frustrating… so upsetting…so -pretty much any negative adjective. In my first few months of work- there were days that no one spoke to me. The team experience I had back in Hawaii was completely gone. Here- I am just the foreign teacher. I'm not really part of the team. I don't go to the planning meetings. I don't plan my lessons. I am given a calendar and that is what I teach. My co-workers eat lunch or dinner together, and I have never once been invited to eat with them. It is definitely a different experience- it's a challenge. And it has been hard.

I'll be honest- the first few months were kinda sucky. It was a hard adjustment. Luckily, there was a new Korean teacher hired around the same time as myself and she is really friendly. She talked to me right off the bat, and she made the first few months bearable.

At this point, I had two options- 1. Try to make things better somehow or 2. Continue sulking at my desk and have a really uncomfortable next year and a half. I chose option one. Here is how I've made my working life a little bit better:

1. Bring in treats every once in a while, and for every holiday (esp. a big Korean holiday). For Chuseok, I bought each teacher a set of cookies from a bakery. Thanksgiving I brought in cake. Christmas cake. Lunar New Year cake. {Do you see a theme?} Food is a large part of Korean culture, so I try to make sure they know I am bringing something to the community of teachers every once in a while.
2. Talk to Co-workers- I've tried starting conversations with the ladies I work with. I've read that often the Korean teachers don't feel overly confident with their English, so they shy away from speaking it with the foreign teachers. To overcome this barrier, I try to start the conversations myself. One of my co-workers is pregnant with her first baby, so I'll ask her about that. I told her about my sister-in-law that is due around the same time, and that gave us something to talk about. I saw another worker watching Sherlock, so I bring up that every once in a while. Another one has a dog, so we talk about that. This has helped a lot in terms of how they interact with me.
3. Lean Korean at work- GUYS!!!! This is a miracle worker. I've been studying on and off for the last couple of months, but I've never brought it to work. But a couple of weeks ago I did, and I asked one of my co-workers how to pronounce something. Just something simple, but it completely changed our relationship. All the women started talking to me. They were asking questions about my life. They were taking an interest! Woot woot! Progress at the end of month 6!

{I swear by cake.}

Is my relationship with my co-wokers perfect now? No. I still haven't eaten with them. We don't share daily gossip about the students (yes, teachers love to do this). I don't go to planning meetings. We are not BFFs. But it's a lot better. I don't go days without anyone talking to me at work. I found common ground with most of my co-workers. But I had to put in a lot of effort. Day after day- I had to show that I cared. Show that I wanted to be a part of the teaching group.

Challenges will come up in every aspect of your life regardless if you are living as an expat or back in your home country. What's important is that you fight to overcome them. :)

Helpful Hints to Overcoming Expat Challenges:
1. Don't Give Up- Fight, fight, fight. The expat life is filled with challenges. Don't throw in the towel. Fight through whatever is going on. Give it time and I bet that challenge will get better.
2. Put the Effort in- Whatever the challenge- show that you want it to get better. Is your challenge the language? Study. Indifferent co-workers? Bring cake. : ) You'd be surprised how far a little effort goes.
3. Keep Perspective- Try to see the forest through the tress. Did your week go bad? Look at the month. Are you missing American food? Think about all the wonderful food your host country has. Perspective is hard, but it does make a difference.

So dear readers- what's been an unexpected challenge in your life? How did you overcome it?

Have a wonderful Monday!

{Linking up with Molly

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to comment- I appreciate and read each and every one of them. All replies will be in the comment section, please check back to read them!

- Alex