When I travel on business it’s easy to get close to the people you work with. On a normal 1-week business trip you’ll eat an average of 8 meals together, 14 if you include breakfast. You’ll spend an average of 15 hours/day for 4-5 days with the same people and have plenty of time to chit chat between meetings, during car rides, or over meals. After a week long business trip it’s hard not to feel like you know the people on your project team fairly well to a certain degree.
If that happens after just one week imagine what it’s like on a business trip for 1-2 months! This is my second long-range business trip to South Korea. Last fall I spent a total of 59 days in Korea, and now I’m on day 29 of a 48 day stint here. As I’ve mentioned a million times before I love South Korea, but working, eating, living, and breathing with the same group of people for that long can be crazy!
The first couple weeks everyone is friendly and accommodating, especially if there are new people on the team you’ve never met before. Then a few weeks in you realize the people you really want to hang out with and the ones you’d rather just see at the office and have an occasional lunch with. I think I’ve realized that at about the mid-point in the trip is when people first start to get cranky about being away from home, then depressed from living on an army base (Yes! It is dingy and tan everywhere and really totally utterly depressing), and then they just get generally annoyed with every other person and want to be left alone. I myself never seem to hit the last stage, I need human interaction and would probably just shrivel up and die if I spent every night alone in my room, but it works for some people, I get it.
Spending 1-2 months with the same people, living in the same hotel, eating the same meals, and working in the same office seem to make the normal walls of ethical professionalism just crumble. Things that we learn about in our annual sexual harassment training just fly out of everyone’s mouth, and the TMI-meter is seriously off the charts. (For all you old folks, TMI=Too Much Information). Sometimes it’s nice to sit outside on a stoop for 4 hours and just chat with a co-worker, but other times you learn things that co-workers should never know about each other or you realize 10 beers deep that you’re telling a story that should’ve been locked in a vault for the rest of eternity, and the next morning you just hope that you’re co-worker was 10 beers deep and didn’t remember. Also, the amount of alcohol involved in these trips; mainly just to keep ourselves sane and from dying of boredom; is a huge factor in the boundary-less life we lead here in Korea.
I like to think of my Korea business trips as a trip to vegas “What happens in Korea, stays in Korea!”. I promise you that most of my stories are way out of control for this blog…seriously, my mother reads this blog! We actually have a saying here, “OINK”, meaning “Only IN Korea”…which is totally appropriate.
Last fall I made friends with a co-worker a few years younger than me, and we were joined at the hip, first mainly for survival (we were the only two people under the age of 38!) and then I’d like to think it’s because we just became friends. This trip is a bit different as there are now 3 others younger than me, and our little 4-musketeer group of youngsters is just one step away from causing complete chaos in a Seoul nightclub…ok maybe not chaos, but we are a semi-wild bunch to say the least. Not only do we work together, live together (well in close quarters…I literally bang on the wall to communicate with my one co-worker) and eat together, but we drink, norehbang (karaoke) and generally just party together.
We all come here as co-workers, some of us have met once or twice for a projects, or talked on conference calls, but mainly we’re strangers, but when we leave here we know things about each other that no one should ever know. We will have seen each other eat too much and drink way too much. We will remember the time we slept side by side at 4am on the tile floor of a JinJilbang (korean spa), the time we danced a little too close for comfort at the club, and all the other things that we do that co -workers should honestly never do together. At the end of this trip we’ll all say goodbye, we’ll hug, we’ll say “let’s keep in touch” and some of us will, some of us won’t, but no matter what we will all have a lot of blackmail on one another! Oh the pictures…the boundary-less pictures.