Posted : 2012-09-28 16:55
Updated :  

Working with Koreans

Dear Dr. P

Hi, I am a foreigner from Hong Kong and I've started my job in Korea since last July. I work for a Korean company and my job required to work as a team with my colleagues. The problem is all my coworkers are Korean. Since I can only speak basic Korean and haven't experienced any authentic Korean culture in my life, it's really hard to get along with my coworkers even though they all speak quite fluent English.

For example, one of my seniors (sunbae) is three years older than me and I can sometimes see he ignores me because of the age difference. It's totally fine but I just can't stand on his typical ajussi-styled macho-ism when I worked with him. Another problem is I don't drink any alcohol and I am a vegetarian so it's very difficult to get along with co-workers after work. In this case, what should I do? Any advice?

Dear sender,

It seems that the difficulties you are suffering in your company could happen to every- body in Korea. It may be more serious for you to deal with these issues because you are a foreigner.

First off, try to treat and understand your colleagues in good ways as possible as you can. As an old cliche says, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Koreans are known to have a lot of Jeong (Korean style affection). If you treat them well, they also will treat you kindly. Once you assure Koreans that you are a trustworthy person, and make them believe you are on their side, they will help you thoroughly.

One famous Korean Zen master thought that “Do respect all the human beings like Buddha or Christ.” If you respect your colleagues sincerely, they would understand you and respect you back.

Of course it would be difficult and take some time, but I am sure that you will get a good result through persistent efforts. At the same time, please try your best to study Korean language to improve your communicational skill with your Korean colleagues.

Dear Dr. P

I've been married to a Korean man for 2 years now. I am 26 and he is 28.

After confronting him he has admitted that he has cheated on me several times with Korean women. He said that he first started dating foreign women because he thought we are more open minded but now he sees I'm not what he preconceived.

I would find it very difficult to get over him cheating with another Caucasian but I can't compete with Korean women because I'm not one.

He also said that cheating is a non-spoken agreement between all married couples in Korea.

He said he loves me but he doesn't know if he can live without meeting other women on the side.

Is this a cultural thing really or there's just no point sticking around? Thank you.

Dear sender,

It looks like you are in a very tough situation.

If the same thing happened to a Korean woman, she would not accept such a situation, and the couple would get into a serious matrimonial quarrel.

First of all, you need to find why your husband is seeking for another woman. In general, many conflicts or problems may interact with each other mutually, especially if your husband may have unresolved conflict in his mind.

If your husband’s conflict would not be solved, his cheating behavior will be repeated continuously, your suffering will never stop. It would be better for you to be separated with your husband before the baby will be born in this case.

The basic trust between husband and wife should be kept. Both of you may need to have marriage counseling to deal with these issues. I hope you can overcome this tough situation wisely.

Park Jin-seng is a psychiatrist who runs a clinic for foreigners in Seoul and operates a personal therapist forum on For counseling, please submit your questions to or call the hotline at 02-563-0678.
  • 1. Health alerts issued as fine dust blankets Korean Peninsula
  • 2. Comfort women were Japan's shocking human rights violations: Lippert
  • 3. Ban Ki-moon haunted by awkward slip-ups
  • 4. Court denies Samsung chief's arrest for 'lack of evidence'
  • 5. Moon Jae-in extends lead after Ban's return: poll
  • 6. Diplomacy dead between Seoul, Tokyo
  • 7. Trump won't give concessions to Korea
  • 8. Former Japan sex slavery victim dies at 94
  • 9. Samsung chief awaits court decision on arrest
  • 10. Smartphones to be banned at go matches here