In my latest K-drama language learning binge I came across a Korean drama called Drinking Solo(혼술남녀). Not highly rated and already a few episodes in I doubted whether or not I would find the drama itself interesting as it seemed to focus on Korean drinking culture, as well as, office after-work dinners known as hweshik (회식). Hweshiks, are simply after-work dinner/drink outings between co-workers, which include supervisors and in rare instances CEOs. When these dinners take place co-workers are obligated to attend because these dinners are considered social time for staff to bond more.
In Korea there is much angst and apathy towards hweshiks due to the boonwigi (분위기) and tense atmosphere that surrounds them. Though simply a work dinner that are many underlining and hidden facets, codes of conduct, and required demeanor’s that staff should uphold when attending a company dinner. Sadly, hweshiks are not only common, but an ingrained and age-old Korean cultural norm that has been around for decades. Learning from their parents, professors, or mentors, many millennials in Korea(*at least Korean millennials with whom I am acquainted with) feel as though hweshiks will stay compulsory.
Whether male or female, young or old, if you work for a Korean company you must attend your office or departments hweshiks. This not so surprisingly holds true for foreigners who also live & work in Korea. In an old post Teaching in Korea: Why or Why Not? I wrote about my experience as an ESL teacher at the private hagwon(*a Korean school academy) for 10 months. During my time there me along with all of the other foreign teachers(*there were just 3) attended monthly hweshiks. I shutter a little at the memory of each one. Due my hagwon’s small size it was fairly easy to get to know fellow staff 1-on-1 when inside the staff office or working collectively in joint classes. However, even while working in a small size hagwon with only 10-15 staff including Korean teachers, foreign teachers, and bosses hweshiks were common.
Just like any Korean company and office my hagwon’s bosses wanted to create stronger bonds with the staff and expected us all to attend held hweshiks no matter if we were Korean or foreign. I recall attending hewshiks to celebrate company events, attending hweshiks personally with my main boss, attending female-only staff hweshiks, attending birthday hweshiks, attending holiday hewshiks, and even on one occasion attending a club hweshik in Seoul, which my boyfriend did not approve（￣ε￣）(*neither did I). For all hweshiks me and my co-workers would leave work together, have dinner with beer/soju at a restaurant, and afterwards move on to a bar for more drinks(*this is considered round 2). On average each hweshik would last 3-4 hours or up until the early midnight hours.
The Korean drama Drinking Solo reminded me of all of my hweshiks during the time I was working at a hagwon in Yongin. I was surprised by how detailed and realistic the drama portrayed Korea’s twegeun (퇴근) /after-work hours. As shown in the drama once an employee attends a hweshik they may be forced to spend their entire evening at the company dinner until either 1) their supervisor/boss decides to head home first, 2) an employee is formally excused, 3) or an employee has become sick or too drunk to continue & is sent home. Thankfully, I did not spend all of my hweshiks out past midnight. But, my boyfriend and a few close friends have. Additionally, due to a few office hweshiks date-nights were cancelled, friend meet-ups postponed, and unnecessary late-night taxi fare expenses were paid.
Sometimes I wonder if hweshiks will eventually become less compulsory in Korea. In my opinion I feel as though hweshiks are good opportunities for more staff/supervisor/boss bonding, but they sometimes are viewed negatively due to their frequency and the enforced feeling of being stuck at a hweshik until late midnight hours.
Watching Drinking Solo brought back lots of my own hweshik memories. I decided to share a few snippets of ones I attended while working in Korea.
- 1st hweshik -08/2014 – My 1st hweshik with all staff at my hagwon. The bosses both attended. Stayed late; boss paid for my taxi fare back home.
- 2nd hweshik – 09/2014 – Me and my (female) boss went out alone for dinner/drinks. My boss paid for my taxi fare back to Seoul.
- 3rd hweshik -10/2014 – After new staff were hired my hagwon held a hweshik. However, the hweshiks were split into a male-only & a female-only hweshik group. I tried to leave early & paid for my own taxi fare home.
- 4th hweshik -11/2014 – A female-only hweshik held. I recommended the location. I was able to leave early due to living furtherest away; took a bus home to Seoul.
- 5th hweshik – 12/2014 – 2nd time me and my (female) boss went out alone. Boss got drunk & left early. I was able to leave early and catch a bus home.
- 6th hweshik – 12/2014 – Hweshik dinner held at the hagwon. Stayed late.
- 7th hweshik – 1/2015 – Hweshik New Year’s lunch with co-workers/bosses
- 8th hweshik – 1/2015 – Seoul Hweshik – A female-only hweshik that lasted until 5am; took a taxi home (●´^｀●)
- 9th hweshik – 2/2015 – New Year hweshik with all staff. *I lived in Yongin by this time & could walk home. Left hweshik with co-workers/roommates.
- 10th hweshik – 3/2015 – Attended a female-only hweshik