Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"You should go to the hospital."

Julianne and I were chatting on Google Talk today. She got her first cold bug in Korea last Thursday and it still isn't gone. Coughing, fatigue, sneezing/drippy nose, and general crappiness.

Today at her school her co-teacher started telling her,

"You should go to the hospital."

The charismatic doctor from the drama Thank you, Jang Hyuk

Every foreign teacher in Korea has heard this from Korean co-teachers and friends. It is one of the cultural differences that we don't know about when we first arrive in the country. I learned about this through trial and error. I will write another blog about how I read the Riot Act to my first year (2005) middle school PRINCIPAL--in the teachers' office in front of all the Korean teachers (yes, I'm still alive, but he was furious with me for 2 weeks, and then relented after my co-teacher explained some things about cultural differences between Korea and Canada when a person is sick--lucky me!) when I was half-dead from a flu super-bug (at least that's what it felt like) and was totally 'stoned' on Tylenol and cough medicine . . . but that's another story, lol.

Korean traditional medicine.

During my three years of teaching in the Incheon English program I wrote major portions of the orientation manual for new foreign teachers, and edited the entire manual. The manual that I was given when I first arrived in Korea--oh wait! There was NO MANUAL . . . but that's a story for another time. Suffice it to say that in 2006 when one was finally put together by the education office it was 'interesting.' I volunteered to edit and write new materials . . . I needed something to occupy my time at my desk when I didn't have classes, and also knew that it was desperately needed.

"You should go to the hospital . . ."

As a foreigner living and teaching in Korea—get used to hearing this statement a lot. Korea does not have a culture of family doctor clinics. So, when you have a mild illness or injury—you go to the hospital. If you have a stomachache or headache or even a head cold and cough—you go to the hospital. If you aren’t sure what medicine to buy at the pharmacy for your cold—go to the hospital . . . get the idea?

So, try and have some patience and understanding for this major cultural difference. When you are sick, or have a mild injury, you will not be at your best in terms of energy and thinking . . . but try and keep in mind that you are a visitor in Korea, and that the advice, "You should go to the hospital," is an expression of concern for your wellbeing, and the generally accepted, culturally normal thing to say to someone who appears to be unwell in any and all ways.

In general, Koreans are also not accustomed to many of the common medical terms and knowledge that Westerners learn through popular culture, and education in school. So, when they go to the hospital there is a strong faith and trust (what some might call a "blind trust") in the doctor that is quite common. Accepting the diagnosis without question, the prescribed pills (sometimes as many as 10 or more different kinds of pills) without knowing what they are, what they do, what their side-effects are, and what you should know in general about the medicine . . . Koreans generally just take their medicine and do as they are told by their doctor. Asking the nurse or doctor, who is about to give you an injection, ‘what is it?’, and, ‘why are you giving this to me?’—are just not seen as being necessary questions . . . keep these things in mind if and when you go to the hospital in Korea.

from, "Enjoy Teaching in Incheon" 2007

(I don't know why parts of this are bolded. I'm still learning how to use the blog and hopefully can fix this post later).


1 comment:

Roboseyo said...

It should be mentioned that often Koreans use the word "hospital" where English speakers would use the word "clinic" -- "the hospital" isn't always the big building where people get hip replacements: sometimes "the hospital" means the corner of the third floor of the building down the street where some guy has his little practice wiping noses and innoculating kids.