When working overseas, research goes a long way….so does learning the language. Do your homework, read travel blogs, network and try to learn the language and the culture before moving. In my case, I picked up an old-fashioned phrase book before heading to Korea. This book saved me the first few months, until my new buddies made fun (saying that it wasn’t cool to walk around with my nose in a book). Yes, I succumbed to peer pressure and learned how to read and write in Korean. Luckily, I have an ear for languages and was able to learn quickly.
Note: You don’t need to learn the language to live and work overseas, but it’s worth your time and effort. Makes exploring a lot more liberating. I didn’t have to depend on my new friends to count my money or order food for me. Plus, I could understand what people were saying. For the most part, many natives were curious as to why I was there, where I worked and wondered if I was famous (move over JLo!).
I actually was famous for a minute! I was at the beach and saw a Korean Mud Spa treatment advertised. Without my knowing it, apparently I was filmed and it was broadcast on a famous comedy show in South Korea. I only learned that I was on TV when one of my students asked me a few weeks later, “Teacher muddy on the beach? Teacher funny on TV.” My response, “Yes, teacher is funny. So, if I can speak another language, Korean on TV you, as my students, can speak English in this classroom.” If I could only get my hands on that clip….LOL
Mind your manners, please. Thank you.
Best advice: Mind your P’s and Q’s. What’s that? Mind your manners! Every culture has different ways to express respect. If you don’t know the customs, do your research. Also remember the manners that you were taught. In my house it was, “No hands on the table, close your mouth when you chew, don’t speak unless spoken to.” You know….“No toques eso; sientate, quedate tranquilo; no hables y respeta a tus mayors.” By using your manners, people will understand that you are being polite. Many will guide you if you ask; trust me, you don’t want to accidentally disrespect a parent or the boss.
Use lots of Please’s and Thank you’s….Actually, it will help you anywhere you go in the World. I suggest learning these words in every language (as needed). I’m sure that at some point you will think that someone is rude, but I also would wager that you have done something rude too. It’s okay…you didn’t know any better. That’s why I recommend that you be on your best behavior, do your research and ask for help.
Additional Suggested Reading: Teaching English Overseas ….one Latina’s adventure in Korea
My dinner Faux Pas
One of my greatest pleasures is eating and, as a traveler, what better excuse to overindulge but while away traveling. As a Latina, I grew up with my mami yelling, “Comete todo en el plato” – eat everything on your plate! Well, the first time that I was invited to family dinner at my boss’ home, I was very nervous. This is a huge honor. I did some homework and found that I should bring a gift for the hosts (which I also learned from mami, “No vayas a ningun lado con las manos vacias.”). After I arrived, I stood until I was shown where to sit. I remained quiet and waited to be spoken to. I waited for everyone to serve themselves before I served myself. I was stressing! I even tried a little of everything (rice, kimchee, meats, fish, assorted vegetables and something slimy). I ate it all (even the slimy thingy that I didn’t like, but I ate it to be polite). I was full and exhausted.
Then, I was asked if I wanted more. I said, “No thank you” and smiled. I waited to leave the table but I was asked again, if I wanted more food. I again replied, “No, thank you.” I looked around and assumed that everyone was almost finished eating, but they all had some food on their plates. My first thought – ‘Did I eat too fast? I’m guilty of that.’ The third time I was asked if I was sure that I didn’t want more, that there was plenty. I said no and that it was delicious.
Finally I asked, “Why do you keep asking me if I want more? Should I take more?” My boss laughed and explained to me that leaving an empty plate means you are still hungry and want more food. Leaving a little food on your plate shows the host that they gave you enough to eat. If there was a rock I could have crawled under…I apologized and explained that I was raised to eat everything on my plate. Nonetheless, I asked for more rice, took a spoonful and left the rest. Everyone smiled and I was forgiven. ‘Til this day, I am mindful of my plate. If I am with family, the plate will be wiped clean; everywhere else, I remember my Korean family and leave one spoonful.
Did you break any etiquette rules without realizing it? Share your stories below!
This is a guest post by: Awilda Ponte. To see her poetry, follow her on instagram: @Poetress218