The Trick to a Korean Sick Day


Yup still really sick. This is not fun at all as Korea has a very different attitude towards sick days compared to most Western countries. They do not care if you are contagious as hell, they don’t really give a damn if your body is struggling to do basic things like stand up. No, in Korea you better work no matter how sick you. It’s a sad fact but something that you need to accept if you are working over here.

I felt unbelievably bad yesterday, (shivering all day and oh so achy) but I someone managed to pull out super human willpower and get through the day. I am very lucky to have a job where the classes are small so we sit at a table when teaching, if I had to stand up I think it would be a different story. Last night I came home and got into bed to rest, slept, and woke up feeling hopeful – before realizing I still felt like crap.

Anyway enough of my rant, I thought I would talk a little bit about how to deal with being sick in Korea. Obviously if my job was more physically demanding I could not be working right now and would have to confront my boss about the sick day thing. I have seen a lot of foreigners mess things up by getting really angry at their bosses and creating an awkward relationship, rather then trying to explain the situation calmly. Seriously screaming at your boss that ‘I have a right, it’s in my contact!’ doesn’t work in this country. Here are a few ways that I have found seem to work…
First off if you are sick the best thing to do is to go in to work. It sounds silly but ringing up your boss and telling him over the phone isn’t a great idea. There is a stereotype in Korea that all foreigners like to go out and drink and are unreliable people. Of course this doesn’t mean every Korean looks at you like a dirty alcoholic, but it does mean that if you ring up your workplace claiming to be sick they can be a little suspect. Turning up shows that you do care about the job and gives a good impression while getting on their good side.

teaching colours through dominos is much more fun then cleaning.

teaching colours through dominos is much more fun then cleaning.

– Going in to work also means that they can see you and that they know you have tried. The Korean work ethic is a very strong one where you should be turning up every day no matter what (my co-teacher had her wisdom teeth out and then came into work, she couldn’t even take painkillers as they may have made her too out of it to teach kindergarten!) If you go into work, tell them you don’t feel good let them see your pale, shaky self, then there is a good chance you will get to go home.

Another reason it is a good idea to go into work is that you will most likely get taken to the doctor, whereas if you were at home all day there is no one to help you with the language barrier thing. I had to do that at my old job, I was crazy unwell and came into work, went straight into the office and asked very nicely if someone could help me out by taking me to the doctors before class started. This attitude meant they did take me, I got medicine, and the doctor said I was really sick and should go home, win! 

Working in Korea does meant that you have to accept cultural differences which do include the attitude towards sick days. Basically, if you aren’t super unwell then you need to stick out the day. While back home you may have taken a day off work for whatever it is you have, in Korea you really do need to think ‘even if it is hard as hell can I get through today?’ Yes it sucks, but arguing with your workplace over something like this is so not worth it, remember the Koreans would come in if they were sick too, they are not just picking on the foreigner. If you are physically unable to work, but you have come in all weak and they still aren’t letting you go home then you may need to get firm and explain nicely that there is no way you can teach and that you have done your best by coming in but you really need to go home so that you will be better for the next day.

I realize this makes Korean bosses seem horrible and unfair, they aren’t, like I keep saying it is just a cultural difference where you turn up to work no matter what. It does suck, but just remember you are in a new country and things work a little differently here. A lot of people end up having needless arguments with their workplace over this issue and, while you should put your health first, the right kind of attitude goes a long way in a situation like this.


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