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CouchSurfing in Korea can get you FIRED

This is just a quick post on Couchsurfing in Korea that I wanted to share, just to warn others of the potential dangers of couchsurfing in Korea. Most people who put “couchsurfing” and “dangerous” in the same sentence are referring to the dangers of hosting a complete stranger in your home. The dangers of meeting complete strangers, on the internet, then meeting in a public place, and taking them home as if they were a friend and letting them sleep on your couch / spare bedroom / floor mat..whatever. Having hosted 100’s of couchsurfers and surfed on 5 continents, I can confidently say I have never had any truly negative experience, have never felt threatened, never had anything stolen and have also walked away from the experience with a smile on my face and amazing memories and new friends.

Until today I thought Couchsurfing could work anywhere but having been in Korea one week, I can see that in certain cultures, and in certain countries, it may be more of a hindrance than a help. Why?? Well, check out the letter, below, which my friend received from the principal of her school following a few weeks hosting people in her city South of Seoul…. I doubt she will be hosting anymore. :( Oh Korea.

Statement of Civil Complaint

Last Friday (7/19) evening, I got a phone call from vice principle Kang. It was your civil complain *sic* from parents of our school students. That person told about your behavior that you are inviting many men to your house and they came out in the morning from your house. It cause *sic* neighbor inconvenience. And that person also said to the vice principle, they already asked you to stop that but you didn’t change. Your neighbors already know that YOU are BLANK Elementary School TEACHER and they think that your behavior is not appropriate for teacher’s attitude as well as not good for your young students who live around your house. At the end of the complain, *sic* that person told that BLANK Elementary school hired unsuitable person for teacher.

I already told about your ‘Couchsurfing’ to principle and vice principles but they are disappointed with the fact, many men came out in the morning from the teacher’s house which is rented by budget of korean civil’s tax, and they want to change your attitude as a TEACHER IN KOREA.

As American way of thought, you may think that is invasion of privacy. But you are employee of Korea national educational institution. And Koreans expect you to comply with Korean culture. In this country, if you give an impression behind on student’s parents *sic* that you look to be sexually promiscuous as teacher, *sic* then you can be a target of criticism whether actually happened or not. So your behavior that conflict with Korean culture caused your neighbor’s civil complaint. Furthermore, this complain *sic* is regarded as our school hired inappropriate person for teacher. Consequently, you caused the complain to school and violated a contract article 19-1. So we will issue warning letter.

Article 19 (Codes of Conduct)
1. The Employee shall not behave in any manner which may damage or tarnish the reputation of the teaching profession in general or of the GEPIK program and the undersigned Employee in particular during the Term of Employment.
If you do not change your behavior and attitude with this complain, *sic* other complains will come to school and education office. That will make us issue another warning letter and finally we will reconsider about the contract with you.


Friday 16th of May 2014

English teachers in Korea don't live with their mommies and daddies until they are 30. They typically come to Korea alone. That shouldn't mean they should be in forced isolation, unable to invite friends over for the night. In a foreign country without any family or friends, English teachers need a way to connect with others and Couchsurfing is great! Explore the new country together, and not in isolation. In a rural area it isn't practical to go to a big city every time you want to meet someone. What if the foreigner just wants someone to crash with at home? Locals are fine, but with Couchsurfers I find that their isn't such a language and cultural barrier. Ironic, isn't it?


Sunday 19th of January 2014

As a Korean student who have been growing in Korea for my whole life, this is quite understandable situation considering our culture, though I'm not saying it is right thing. I think that the school tried to explain Korean culture, but seems not enough. So I want to explain it a bit more.

Since 16th century, Korea started to emphasize the separation of male and female, according to Confucian idea. The old saying 'A boy and a girl should not sit together after they have reached the age of seven' represents this very well. This cultural climate has continued and still exists in Korea although it got weaker a lot. Even nowadays, unmarried man and woman staying together in a private place is avoided, no matter what their relationship is. The only exception is family. Even very close friends do not stay in each other's house if their genders are different and live alone, usually. Even couples are the same if they are not married officially.

Furthermore, Seoul is one of the most populated cities in the world. If you have seen the sight of Seoul, you would be able to guess that hundreds of people are living in one apartment building. This implies that there are countless eyes and mouths and ears. Korean people are very interested in neighbors and like gossiping since we have not separated 'you' and 'I' much for hundreds of years.

Moreover, Korean gives the most meaning to the carrier of teacher than any other carriers. A teacher is considered not just someone who teaches knowledge, but someone who teaches how to behave. Thus, they are applied the most strict standard and have to be the best model in all aspects.

Considering all these characteristics of Korean culture, it is rather natural that Korean people think the situation is very strange. Strangers, who are all different people everytime, staying in a single woman's house several times is something that they have never imagined. It's obvious that neighbors will tell other people what they have seen, and the rumor will spread rapidly. Although your friend tries to explain what couch surfing is and why she does that, it is not an easy task since there are so many people and the majority of Korean adults have very limited english conversation ability. Even if she succeeds to do, still, it is hard to be understood and agreed since the matter of staying is so sensitive to Korean. Korean are also aware of the freedom of leading a life very well, but if the person is a teacher, it goes differently. They want teachers to stop doing anything that can be controversial. That is why some neighbors called the school and why the school sent the letter instead of ignoring complaint. If she were not a teacher but had other job, I am sure no one would have called to her workplace and the workplace would have never 'warn' her either.

I agree that couch surfing is a great idea and indeed it is one of my biggest wish. So I was very embarrassed when I found this article. I am NOT saying that what is right or wrong. I wrote this with a hope that people who read this article judge the situation with more understand of Korean culture. It's up to you to judge.

vytautas ambrazas

Sunday 11th of August 2013

I can't "like" the article with this outcome. However it shows us cultural differences and that whole world is not really suited for so called "democracy", every country have their customs and values and trying to spread western culture in the East (as we see from this article) can impact somebodys life really bad.

Every Day Adventures in Asia

Thursday 8th of August 2013

Times may be a changin' but still gotta understand local perspectives and accept them / respect them in context.

Nearly 20 years ago in Delhi, couldn't even rent a flat with my husband (now ex but that's another story!) as he was Indian and I a Canadian 'firangi'... My ex sis-in-law had immense difficult renting as a single woman and had to give up on the idea of sharing a flat with her male buddy. Even the place she found, neighbours would complain to her landlord if men were seen entering...

Its changed significantly since then but there still remain considerations. Just part of living in different parts of the world! :-)


Tuesday 6th of August 2013

I'm so tired of foreigners, especially Americans complaining about how they don't get to do whatever they want. Rule one is to respect the culture you are a guest in. And why she thought she could host random people in a apartment that is paid for by the school is beyond me. She is essentially setting up a hostel in her apartment, which any landlord and neighbors would be mad about in any country, and especially if she had single guys staying over a lot when she is in a leadership position teaching kids in elementary school.

I Dont understand how anyone can take her side, no one forced her to come to Korea, go back to your own county if you want to act selfish, you cant do whatever you want when you are a guest in others countries.

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