For those who read my last blog post, a Korean friend of mine and I entered a video contest for the train company here in Korea. Amazingly, we won first place! Our prize was $2,000 and they invited us to go to the award ceremony. The ceremony was almost indescribable. There haven’t been many moments where I have experienced blatant culture shock while living in Korea, but this award ceremony was definitely one of these moments.
The ceremony was held to celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary, and just about everyone was there. First, we walked in wearing quite casual clothing. Every other person was dressed in formal business attire, and (in addition to my friend’s and my obvious foreign-ness) we stuck out like a sore thumb. My Korean friend Seungwon, who I worked with on the video project, was the one who received the award. (I am hoping that this wasn’t an experience of discrimination, since we were a team). As the ceremony started, the national anthem began to play. My friend and I looked at each other, confused. It was my first experience at a company party, and the national anthem played to start off the event. Following that, the president of the company walked in and called for everyone to bow in unison.
The ceremony continued with the president presenting some awards to employees, and then they announced the winners of the contest. Seungwon went up to receive the prize, and his face was so stolid– it looked as if he didn’t know if he should smile or not. (As you can see in the picture.) After that, we watched the videos as a group, and the other American friend I went to the ceremony with was in the video, so we were just giggling in the back because everyone was about to see her on screen. As her face appeared in the video, so many of the employees looked back at us giggling and understood our laughter.
To finish the ceremony, the president made a short, inspiring speech and a cake was brought out. When they were about to cut the cake, everyone one shouted in unison “1, 2, 3” and then a “congratulations” song came on suddenly and everyone cheered. The ceremony concluded with photos that we were all included in. We then met the video content creators for the company and had lunch with all of the employees.
After the ceremony concluded, we all gathered and just looked at each other stunned. The entire ceremony felt so Korean. I had thought that Korean companies had adopted more westernized corporate practices, that it surprised me how much this company did not. It was most definitely a moment full of culture shock.
Overall, it was a pretty interesting experience, and now we have prize money to travel to Jeju island together. Here are some more photos of us! You can see the video that won again, at the bottom of this page!