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FEBRUARY 26, 2008
Building business across cultures
By Erik Cowan
Expat living is a page dedicated
to the issues that affect foreigners' daily lives. It is your page, where you can share stories about your life in Korea. Send story ideas to Matthew Lamers at firstname.lastname@example.org
Duerden delivers goods for KOTRA
Anyone who lives in South Korea knows that this country is seriously trying to attract foreign investment. And with foreign investment come the foreigners who live in Korea to do business and invest in the economy here. For Korea, that means making the country an attractive place for foreigners and their families to live. The Korea Trade-Investment Agency has a website called Invest Korea Online and it also publishes the Invest Korea Journal. The man behind this is Charles A. Duerden, the public relations director for KOTRA. Like the foreigners Korea wants to attract, Charles is someone who is not only living and working in South Korea but is also raising a young family here. Duerden is Canadian and has lived in here since 1996. “I was curious to see this phenomenon called Korea, which seemed to be at the center of a new emerging world in Northeast Asia,” said Duerden. “I was very excited about seeing Asia — I had a close friend at a newspaper in Montreal who was in love with the idea of teaching English in Korea ... and he became a senior professor at Seoul National University.” He started as an English teacher in Busan. But before Duerden came to Korea, he was working at a newspaper in Montreal. He chose to stay with his job in Montreal while his friends went forward with their Asia plans. At the time, Duerden’s daughter from a previous marriage was a fashion model and she regularly got assignments in Japan. He saw teaching in Asia as a way to learn about the culture his daughter frequently worked in. Due to restructuring at the newspaper he worked for, he chose to take action in late 1996. He moved to Busan to teach English in December 1996. In January 1997, his wife, Elizabeth, who is French, joined him. Initially, he saw coming to Korea as a “working holiday” and had plans to teach in Korea for only one year. Duerden said he was initially most impressed by the level of development. “The intensity of life and development in June 1997 struck me. I felt enormously privileged to be there to see this,” he said. “Busan is very heavily built up; ships laden with containers left Busan every hour to all parts of the world.” It was because of his wife that he first heard about the position at KOTRA. The investment promotion agency was seeking someone with a background in editing and corporate experience — in addition to working at a newspaper, Duerden also had done stints with Pfizer and the Canadian Broadcasting Company. He admits that he was not completely sure what the position would entail, but he took a chance and applied for the job. His application was successful, and he started at KOTRA in July 1997. “Basically, I help raise the profile of Korea for investors overseas and within Korea among the business community,” said Duerden on his position. “But my primary job is managing editor of Invest Korea Journal. I do a lot of interviewing, writing and editing myself, but I do have a lot of excellent assistants. “I’m quite involved with advertising also. We had a campaign last year on CNN in
Regina Walton’s Expat Interviews
October: Eye on Korea. We were with two other advertisers that were invited to participate. We had been talking to CNN about it for two years and it finally came to pass last year,” he said. During the time he and his wife have lived in Korea, they have had three sons. All three of their sons are being raised in Seoul. Duerden feels he is extremely lucky to have had the chance to raise his sons here. “We’re very pleased with the level of education we’ve been able to give them with the help of my company. Number two, would be the safe environment here. “Three, they get to see and appreciate Asian culture, which I’m sure will always be a part of them. And four, I feel fortunate in general to live and work among so many people that are of such a high professional caliber — both Koreans and foreigners — and I’m glad my children are able to grow up and have these people as neighbors.” He realizes that there are not many opportunities for foreign education in Seoul. He went on record to say that Korea is at a critical time, where it must invest in developing education choices for the children of foreign residents in order to successfully compete with other Asian hubs like Singapore and Hong Kong. “If you talk to any expat anywhere, they will mention the education challenge. I think (a main challenge expats face is) they arrive here, marry here, have children, then are faced with a major challenge because of the expense of education. Such is the demand for foreign education; it comes at quite a price tag.” He emphasized the need for the central government to foster competitive and affordable education for foreign residents. “One of the suggestions I’ve made from time to time is in order to foster the hub strategy, to be able to provide foreign education that is not priced out of the market, would help a lot,” said Duerden. He believes that Koreans go the extra distance to make living here and raising his children here a positive experience. His neighbors have seen his children “grow up before their eyes,” he says. His family has even been featured on MBC’s “Oh, Happy Day,” a morning television show about foreign children learning about Korean culture. “It was a marvelous experience. (The children) went to the Korea House once, put on hanbok; another time they learned how to make kites. The sight of my son in a pink and emerald green hanbok, well, some moments are perfect — and the rest of the crew felt the same because all the cameras were turned on him.” He admits that it is expensive to raise children in Seoul because it is one of the most expensive cities in the world. However, their situation balances out when he sees how his kids are developing. “It’s been the best 10 or 11 years of my life, and I wouldn’t change a single minute.” See Invest Korea Journal’s website at www.ikjournal.com. Regina can be reached through her blog at http://expatjane.blogspot.com — Ed.
The long shadow of debt
Ever consider dating an international business lecturer? Here’s a tip: After being asked what we do, dryly responding “I’m not interested in business” is a sure way to kill any chance of a second date. That’s too bad, ladies. You should be. After all, who doesn’t like money? And in personal finance, the first step in making money is paying off those old debts first. The other half of full-time work abroad is developing the knack of knowing what to do with your money at the end of every month. Every individual is responsible for his or her financial success. It is not waiting for you in the window of a luxury goods store or at some dive in Itaewon. To live the dream, to travel to exotic lands, and to some day live it up, means the development of financial self-management is somewhat essential. Dennis Prager once said, “One of the great mind destroyers of college education is the belief that if it’s very complex, it’s very profound.” Quite simply, the cost of a university education extends beyond the amount of debt you carry forward into your working career. It captures a large portion of your monthly income in interest or loan payments, which for many people, carries on for decades. Before you consider your investment options, you need to evaluate the debts you are carrying today. Focusing on paying off those debts, rather than creating new ones, is a difficult but necessary step towards the financial independence required to become a compe-
Daniel Costello on Finance
tent investor (and to get to a second date with Dano). You need your money going towards what benefits you the most. This includes not only seeking out the best credit terms, or financing of new purchases like that new laptop or multi-function cell phone. You need to funnel that income into debt payments that eliminate the need to divert earnings away from personal investments. The best investment decision you can make first is to focus your earnings on eliminating any or all debt. It is that simple. Before you begin thinking about making investments, bury that old debt. In not having any debt, you fade from the crowds of mortgage owners, student loans consignees, credit card cosignatories, car lease holders (or women who wondered why Dan never called back). You buy back your financial independence through paying off your debts. In paying off your debts, you join the few who (like my grandmother) claim honestly, “If you can pay your debts, you are rich.” However, it is your own spending habits and mindset which could require adjusting to succeed in eliminating your debts. Being debt-free is a happy occasion, perhaps unlike any other which takes some
self-discipline and sacrifice to achieve, but once experienced is like no other form of monetary accomplishment. Knowing that you can defer a temporary and immediate purchase intention for the sake of a long-term benefit like saved earned income is more likely to help you appreciate the opportunities for investment available to you here in Korea and globally. Many people choose to pursue other pleasures, engaging in escapism from the reality of a significant debt load — which unless action is taken, never lessens through further languish in the luxury. If you follow their lead you will never escape your own debt. Surrounding yourself with the latest plasma screens and surround-sound technology on credit card interest rates is not always the best use of your income, though it is what the salespeople want. Does the desire to spend at some point ever become outstripped by a desire to reduce an outstanding account to the number zero? If it has not yet been your experience to do so should you not risk the uncertainty of being debt-free more than any other goal? Bacchus would not be pleased. Nibble, sip, and bury that debt. It is the death of your present wealth and the blossom of future accrued assets. To contact Daniel, visit his website at http://crossculturalreviews.blogspot.com — Ed.
Cross-border travel has become common place and it is no longer acceptable to demand that everyone conform to one standard behavior. In an increasingly competitive business world, those who can learn to adapt to cultural differences will have the advantage. One of the most overlooked and underestimated skills in business is cross-cultural competency. Language is not the only barrier to doing business globally. In fact, it is entirely possible to build successful long-term business relationships in another country without acquiring the language of your host country. In communicating with other cultures, cultural acceptance and adaptability are more important than verbal language skills. Instead, we must learn to be sensitive to non-verbal cues and trust our intuition. Learning how to use cultural differences to our advantage can help us bridge the communication gap. Cross-cultural training involves making a shift in our pattern of thinking, which includes preparation, patience and an open-minded approach. Our behavior is a reflection of our beliefs. The process of becoming more culturally aware begins with identifying stereotypes and adjusting our behavior and attitude. We also need to be aware of how others perceive us. The danger in considering cultural differences is that of stereotyping a group of people. When discussing cultural difference, most people confuse cultural generalizations with stereotypes. A cultural generalization means that within every culture, there are many choices. There is however, in every culture a standard way of doing things. Our thinking then must be flexible, and not fixed. Communication does not necessarily mean understanding. The differences between Eastern and Western patterns of thought are vast. In the East, people tend to conduct transactions with people they like. Connecting on a personal level is essential for cementing the deal. Relationship building is important in most Asian countries, but less important in parts of the Western world where a clear line is drawn between business and personal life. Interpreters who are skilled at translating words do little to build relations or connect individuals on a personal level. In business writing, Westerners are more straightforward, and concise (sender-oriented), whereas writing patterns in the East tend to go in circles to avoid being perceived as overly assertive or causing loss of face (receiver-sensitive). In the West, business people tend to be more willing to express disagreement verbally while Eastern values make it more difficult to say no even if one means no. Instead, disagreement is expressed indirectly. Even a simple exchange of business cards between an American and his or her Japanese counterpart can cause confusion. To the American, the business card is simply a piece of paper containing important contact information, nothing more. But to the Japanese, the name card is an extension of his/her image and status, and should be handled with respect and honor. Hand your card over carefully (don’t toss it across the table). Both Japan and South Korea are among the world’s most ethnically homogeneous nations. It is therefore essential that businesses and individuals in these countries develop a broader awareness of other cultures, especially if they are hoping to attract more visitors from abroad. Erik Cowan is a cross-cultural communications coach and business English instructor. For more information about training programs and to post your comments, visit the CGC business forum: cowanglobalconsulting.com. He can be reached at email@example.com — Ed.