Korean Culture Shock

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

Growing up in the United States, studying accounting at Brigham Young University, and acquiring an MBA from Northwestern University prepared Dustinn Jackson to be a voice of Western experience in South Korea. As Samsung’s global strategist, Jackson helped bridge the gaps between processes and procedures in South Korea and the United States. Getting accustomed to Korean operations, however, was a job in and of itself.


Korean is a difficult language to learn. During several work meetings, the primary use of Korean lead Jackson to feel out of place, especially when someone turned to ask for his thoughts. Not knowing the primary business language in a new work environment can be challenging. For individuals in similar situations, it can be helpful to learn a few basic, and respectful, words and phrases.

Decision Making

Jackson frequently worked on diverse teams that were eventually responsible for presenting their strategies to management. When projects are presented in the West, the team and management typically take time to discuss the results and suggestions together. In South Korea, the opposite is true; management hardly ever gives feedback or discusses their conclusions in the moment.

After a few meetings that didn’t go as planned, Jackson learned to adjust by preparing more in advance. He began asking for managements thoughts and perspective before the meeting. This small action helped the meetings go smoother and allowed decisions to be made more quickly. Learning to adapt to how management makes decisions is an important aspect of working in South Korea.


Within Samsung’s organization, every minute needs to be accounted for. Leaving just 60 seconds early would hinder an employee’s standing within the company. Additionally, extreme measures are taken to ensure that no data is compromised. For Samsung, leaking a design could lead to bad publicity and lost revenue. These policies reflect a different regulatory environment than many are accustomed to in the West. Learning these rules and adjusting to follow them are keys to working in South Korea.

Career Progression

Another adjustment needed when moving from working in the West to working in South Korea is built into a different treatment of employee regulation and freedom. Traditionally, workers in the United States can work with their company’s human resources department to create a career plan and establish a trajectory within the company. In contrast, Korean’s have the expectation that employees are in their current position for life. Although progression is possible, it takes more patience and determination in South Korea. 


Although working in South Korea requires learning and adjustment, there are many rewarding aspects. Jackson says that “it forces you to learn more about yourself,” and “it taught my kids about how others think;” a very valuable skill. As parting advice, Jackson reminds us to “be really flexible,” and “look for the openminded individuals when hiring.”

To learn more about Dustinn Jackson’s experience in South Korea, check out his Cultural Conversations podcast here.

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