Friday, September 01, 2006

Indentured Servitude in Korea

I have often heard it said that with decreased high paying job opportunities that actually allow young Americans to live the American Dream, many of its citizens have traveled to points east in order to teach English in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. I think this is a great thing that allows students to pay off the student loans quickly, save for graduate school, see some of the world and help them decided what they want to do with the rest of their life.

I belong to a sub group of these people. You might say we are quite a bit more hard core than that. The group of which I speak speak the local language usually with a suprising degree of sofisitaction and fluency. Typically we are not involved in teaching English-that type of work tends to be for those that do not plan on staying indefinately like we do. For the most part we work for major local companies and do what in our own home countries would be termed real work as opposed to standing up in front of a bunch of bratty kids to dance around, make them babble a few words in English and laugh. I think most of us were told many times in our life that learning a foreign language would be very beneficial, that it would be a key to success, riches and glory.

But therein lies the problem with it all. You see, this butt-nugget of advice comes from people that have either never been out of the country or if they have, it was with the military so their point of reference is a) picking up on chicks (being able to speak their language helps); b) jewing down people in the market that sell something the traveler wishes to buy or c) have something to show off later. These people have never worked for a real company doing real work so they have no idea of what the situation they are asking you to put yourself in. In Japan, the business world seems accustomed to the idea of having non-Japanese people in positions of significance where they are actually responsible for performance and are given some free rein to do things the way they see fit. China and Taiwan, I suspect, are not that way, however, as I really do not know, I will not speculate. Korea on the other hand I am initmately familiar with.

I have a professional position at a very well known Korean company. The problem I have with it all is that because I am NOT Korean, I am treated significantly different, even discriminatorily. It is not just me: there are other non-Koreans that are treated the same way. Undoubtedly someone will say-if you dont like it you can always leave. Slow down. As much as I would like to do just that, companies that are not Korean look at the experience and tend to say wow all that Korean experience is nice... exactly how do you foresee it benefiting our company? Or they start asking questions about the type of work that you did and in the end decided that you do not have the specific enough specialized experience which we accredit to the fact that the Koreans were given those jobs to do-not because we couldnt do it-on the contrary, we could do it better than the Koreans. But it is this lack of trust that causes us to be unhappy and want to leave to begin with. If you sepnd too much time here than your chances of ever going back are nil because you are too specialized and have very little of value to offer the US job market.

My conclusion: stay away from working overseas unless you are sent as an expat with the full package of benes or go to teach English for a few years to finance chasing tail and swilling beer but otherwise, not unlike the zoo, the countries listed above can be fun to visit-but it is highly advised to return home after your visit.

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