LIFE IN KOREA: A Workplace Experience

by L. Ahn, 30/01/2010


I'd like to share an experience I've recently had working in Korea. In early 2009, I accepted a position with a Korean company - one that is sometimes referred to as being 'old school'. 

At the beginning of December, 2009, I indicated to the HR Department that my education, training, experience and talents were being wasted in my current position. I also reminded them that the portion of the initial job description (which we’d agreed upon during contract negotiation), which would have maximized my skills, had simply not materialized.  I was direct and honest with them as I communicated that I felt I’d been more than patient and that I was seriously starting to consider terminating my contract early.  I suggested an alternative - a position within the company that would create a mutually beneficial and rewarding experience for both sides – based upon my observations of the context within which I’d been working. 

HR responded by urging me to “wait just a little longer” and promised that they would report my suggestions to upper management.  One month later, I was asked to report to middle management to discuss the possibilities I had raised. At the end of December, I was informed that upper management had approved the move and that the change would happen the week of January 14th.”  On January 15th, I was told that my present team had insisted that a replacement be found before I was moved.  “Fair enough”, I thought…especially as I remembered HR saying, during my contract negotiations, “We have lots of other eligible candidates and we can easily get a visa for any of them” (They were wanting me to accept a lower salary than I wanted but to which I ultimately agreed because I wanted the “insider” experience of being a regular employee more than I wanted/ needed to be rewarded financially). I figured they’d simply dip into that bottomless well of visa-able candidates and that I’d be able to assume my new position after only a short delay. WRONG!)

HR began advertising the position on January 18th …I also did the same among various acquaintances and friends.  According to HR the 3 most important criteria (in order of importance) for the position were: 1. Caucasian; 2. Female; and 3. Attractive. No mention was made regarding experience, training, attitude, and visa status. 

A number of applicants applied for the position – mainly through my network. All were rejected for a variety of reasons – not enough training, lack of industry experience, wrong visa status. 

Upper management asked me to “please be patient” –stating that “a replacement is difficult to find” …I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to all those other eligible candidates that were lined up waiting when I first accepted the position and was negotiating my contract? 

Let me end by saying that I’m not a temporary resident of Korea. I’m married to a Korean and am starting my 9th year here. Beyond a doubt, this is one of my most “interesting” Korean job experiences. One of the things I’ve learned is that, regardless of what HR told me initially, I should have asked if the company was actually willing to go through the process of obtaining a visa for a new foreign employee and exactly what training and experience were required for my position. That way, fewer of my friends’ friends would have wasted their time….same for HR.


Photo by P. Walker

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