Sunday, March 29, 2015

Filipino Engineer's Guide for Working and Living in Korea

If you are a Filipino engineer planning to work in Korea, then here are my tips for you.

1. In Korea, the companies which usually hire Filipino engineers are Hyundai, SK, GS, Daelim and Samsung. These are companies which are part of Korean conglomerates commonly known as chaebols. If these companies cannot directly hire an employee, they get manpower from smaller manpower placement agencies. That is why, you may be hired by one of these agencies but when you get to Korea, you will still be working for the bigger companies such as those I mentioned. I heard that in terms of salary, the smaller manpower placements agencies offer higher salaries, but be cautious about it that some of these agencies are not in good financial standing.   

2. If you happen to get an offer from a Korean company, then your going to Korea would be less of a hassle. I say this because for your papers in the Philippines, you will be referred to a local employment agency. These agencies arrange and fix your documents including your contract. They also apply for your work visa at the Korean embassy, your "Overseas Employment Certificate" (OEC) at POEA and they will direct you to a center where you can have your Pre-departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS). Take note that it is very important to obtain the OEC because it legitimizes you as an OFW and it also exempts you from paying travel tax at the airport.  Each agency has their own processes and they will contact you if you need personal appearance at the Korean embassy (some agencies will not require you to go to the embassy). They will also refer you to a health center where you can have your medical examination. The result of your medical exam will just be forwarded by the health center to the agency. When you get to Korea, there is no repeat medical examination. (Some Korean employers pay the agencies to process papers including the medical exam, but some do not. If the Korean employer does not pay the processing fee and the medical exam, you have to pay it yourself.)

3. When all your documents are fixed and you are cleared with your medical exam, the agency will book a ticket for you. The airfare must be shouldered by your Korean employer.

Take Note: It takes about a month from the job offer to your departure for Korea.

4. Korea is a temperate country. As such before going there you have to know what is the season so that you can prepare the clothes you have to wear or jacket you have to use. If you leave from November to March, you have to bring winter jacket or coat. The temperature there reaches -10 deg C. During winter season, the environment is dry that is why you have to use moisturizing shower gel and moisturizing lotion. This will prevent your skin from becoming dry and irritated. You also need to use lip balm or lipsticks so that your lips will not crack. 

5. Korean companies provide meals for their employees. Either they give you budget if you're assigned on site or coupon to use in the company cafeteria. The foods the company cafeteria serves also change with season. If it's winter season, they usually serve hot soup. In all the other seasons, they serve dry foods, or foods with sauce. Expect that Korean staple bibimbap is available year round. It is also the same in restaurants around Korea, the food offering change with season. It is quite noticeable though that particular restaurants have specializations in its menu, say for example, a restaurant may only be serving fried chicken with distinctive Korean sauce but not samgyeopsal (barbecue).    

6. Koreans value harmony, as such you have to behave or at least be perceived that way. Don't be aggressive or competitive as your Korean colleagues might be threatened by your presence. Just stay humble, do your best in your job and don't cause inconvenience to them.   

7. Korea is a hierarchical Confucian society. As such, this is the most challenging aspect of living in Korea for Filipinos. For younger engineers, it should become your routine to do a round of bowing every morning to the bosses. When you get there, you will wonder that during your first months, only menial jobs are given to you (i.e. photocopying or as secretary). Sometimes you will ask, how will I grow in this company? I believe, in Korea's societal structure, there is an opportunity for growth only that it takes time as career progression depends on seniority. (There are researches which support this kind of structure as more experience due to seniority results to higher work efficiency.) Of course at first, you have to do these menial jobs, then clerical jobs and later on as you stay longer in the company, your responsibilities also level-up. Sometimes, with the kind of tasks given to you by your boss, you might think that he doesn't trust you. This kind of feeling is further augmented when your boss asks a lot of questions and you have a hard time convincing him of your contention/analysis. To a certain extent, your feeling is right. Your boss still has some skepticism about your abilities. But carry on and prove to him that you are capable of doing your job. If you can convince him/her, your working relationship will be smooth sailing and he/she will try to keep you under his/her tutelage.          

8. There are no procedures in place. You only have to take direction from your boss. If a Filipino or Korean colleague request you to do something, you have to tell them to inform first your immediate superior. Don't just do that request. Your boss should know about it because he/she has some priorities in mind. 

9. Koreans also have the so-called pali pali culture. They are always in a hurry. Don't be surprised if your boss asks for your deliverables immediately. Though you have time constraints, still ensure that you deliver the "highest quality" output you can make.

10. Korean bosses (though there are exceptions) do not like you to take a leave of absence if it is not important, i.e. you leave from work just to attend merry-making activities. You have to understand that this is Korea's work ethic and as a worker in Korea, you have to subscribe to it. This statement is not tantamount to Koreans being inconsiderate. In fact, they are very considerate and the work atmosphere is familial. If you have problems or any issue at work that bothers you, you can tell it to your boss. You also need to render overtime, sometimes unpaid, as a way of showing that you are building good relationship with your company.  

11. Don't be shocked if you see your Korean colleagues or your boss sleeping during office hours. Don't wake them up. This is allowed in Korean workplaces. But we Filipinos do not sleep during office hours. 

12. Sometimes, you will just suddenly hear two senior people shouting at each other. Don't be surprised by that. It is normal for them to show their outburst. But in the context of their culture nothing is wrong with it and many of them just argue angrily on a professional level, they don't take it personal. If your boss scold you, it is only at that instant. He or she will not take it personally and later forget about it. In Korea, never disrespect an elderly person because it is a taboo. For them it is a manifestation that you are an uneducated person. Moreover, if you feel that you are being shamed by your boss in front of colleagues, don't feel bad about it. It is just normal, nothing personal. To avoid this situation, you have to prove to your boss your competence in doing the job. Besides, your boss will say it in Korean, so you are not sure of what he or she said. So just let it pass.

13. In Korea, you can hardly find good English speakers. As such, when you have to converse with Koreans (be your officemates, waitresses, taxi drivers or salespeople) you have to do your best sign language. Sometimes, even when doing your best sign language, still the person you're talking to may not be able to understand. You can use pictures in your phones or have your phone handy so you can Google translate what you want to say. Most of them can understand Google's translation even if it is less accurate.           

While it may be true that westerners view the Korean way of doing things in a different perspective, a closer look at it would reveal "something" why Korea became such a successful country. If you analyze their manner of doing things, you will notice that they are result-focused however they do it. On the process, they also learn how to do it better the next time around.

N.B. That is why Korea produced the kind of leaders as Ban Ki Moon, Jim Yong Kim and Kim Dae Jung. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Concerned Leadership a la LKY : A Tribute to Singapore's Founding Father

Lee Kuan Yew
Singapore's Founding Father
16 September 1923 – 23 March 2015

I came to know of Lee Kuan Yew when I was assigned in Singapore way back in 2006. At that time, Singapore was already a fabled place, not for its spices or gold but for what it had become as a country. 

I felt back then that the entire ASEAN region was abuzz with Singapore's success story and its other member states were pondering on adopting the same success strategy.

In Singapore itself, Singaporeans would talk about their country's success story crediting Mr. Lee for it.

What then can we glean from Singapore's success story in Mr. Lee's development model? Here are five things I can identify.

  • Of paramount importance is a leader's concern for the welfare of its citizens. Looking at the policies in Singapore, these are geared towards the attainment of common good and shared aspirations. It may be strict in a sense but the result is a disciplined populace with  a character at par with the best of civilizations.   
  • Knowing what makes sense, what doesn't make sense, what will work or not work in a given context.
  • Sticking to one's values and beliefs by not allowing external forces shake life's fundamental principles.
  • Unwavering dedication to one's vision.
  • Dreaming great, living simply.
This is how I see "The Great Singapore Leader" as his Utopian legacy is deeply embedded on us who have came to know this place of paradisal magnificence we call Singapore. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Temple by the Cliff

A breathtaking scenery,
Deep spirituality,
In concert blessing deity,
Temporal reality.

Committed to holiness,
Balinese gentle caress,
A culture of gracefulness,
Authentic tempered finesse.

In praise of omnipotence,
Of nature's kind providence,
To man's nurturing essence,   
In bringing magnificence.

Breathtaking scenery at Uluwatu
Temple by the cliff in my background.