Before coming to Korea, I was prepared to fully immerse myself in Korean work culture. For those of you who don’t know, an essential part of this culture includes sharing meals with your colleagues and supervisors. For most Korean companies, eating together and getting to know each other outside of the workplace is a common way for coworkers to bond with each other. It’s a time for everyone to relax and enjoy one another’s presence.
When I first joined DIOKOS and began interning for KoreaAgain, it was only me, my co-intern Patrick, and our CEO, Mr. Danny Han at the office. On my first day, Danny treated the both of us to lunch. But going forward, I wasn’t sure what to expect for our lunch breaks. Would it just be me and Patrick from then on?
But ever since our first day, we have had lunch with Danny almost every single time! Of course, there were extenuating circumstances if he had business meetings to attend. Besides the obvious delicious food I get to have, the opportunity to break bread with my boss and now expanded set of coworkers is not something that I take for granted.
It is through these meals where we are able to exchange culture. We discuss everything from world politics to history to even conspiracy theories and even our favorite KPop artists or Kdramas. We’ve had countless conversations about our identities. I’ve been able to share about my life as a Filipina American, and have also learned about my boss’s life as a father and a son. It’s on our drives to Costco or our walks to Sadang where we hear stories about the 11 years he’s lived abroad in Costa Rica, Spain, and Afghanistan for the military.
Every time we eat together, Danny takes it as an opportunity to teach us something new about Korean culture. Whether it’s being introduced to a new Korean dish, learning table manners and etiquette, what to say before and after eating a meal (Jal meokgesseumnida/(jal-meo-geot-ssum-ni-da), or how to properly eat Korean BBQ, what I’ve learned has become lessons that have stuck with me and are something that I’ve used many times here in Korea.
One of my favorite parts about sharing a meal with my coworkers and my boss is the time we spend together after the meal. Sometimes, we’ll get ice cream, or other times we’ll walk around the surrounding area of our office, which faces the mountains. We sit and talk about life or whatever comes to mind. It’s a reset before we head back into the office for work.
I feel very grateful for the work environment that our boss has created for us where we are able to learn about one another’s lives. I wasn’t anticipating that the dynamic between my coworkers, boss and I would be one that is comfortable and at ease. I feel lucky to truly understand my colleagues and boss for who they are as people beyond work, and that they can say the same for me.