Monday, February 27, 2012

Workshop in Cheolweon

Recently our institute organized another overnight "workshop," this time at the Hantan River Spa Resort in Cheolweon. This is an area north of the 38th parallel which was formerly North Korean territory before the war, and which was a site of intense fighting during the war, as it changed hands between the North and South 24 times before the fighting ended.


In the past, I had learned from experience that the term "workshop" in Korea essentially means "overnight drinking party with co-workers." Thus far there has been very little actual work done at our workshops, which were mostly about cameraderie, stress-relief, and compromising one's hard-earned dignity in front of one's co-workers after numerous shots of soju.

However, since our institute got shaken up last year with the advent of a new president, it seems the workshop concept has undergone a philosophical overhaul. This time we actually had a schedule that involved team-building exercises, a discussion session, and a motivational speaker.
 
Decorating colorful posters 

The obligatory fist-pumping group photo
The purpose of this workshop was to gather all the supporting staff members of our institute (i.e., every permanent employee who is not a research fellow) to discuss issues, complaints and suggestions we all might have.

After a team exercise and extended discussion session, we finally headed off to a nearby kalbi restaurant. We had our own private room, equipped of course with a karaoke machine. The kalbi was quite good, with unlimited refills, and we quickly set to it with little conversation until we were well stuffed.
A strange thing happened when the meal finished and they turned on the karaoke machine. Suddenly about half of the people in the room mysteriously disappeared. I realized later that they had all excused themselves to go to the restroom, and were hiding out in clusters near the front doors waiting for it to be time to leave.

Fortunately, there were enough die-hard partiers to keep the songs coming for about an hour.



The next morning we were again on a tight schedule starting with breakfast at 8 am, so those of us who wanted to try the resort's famous "spa" had to wake up early. Despite my years in Japan, this was my first experience of being in a naked-type situation with my female co-workers, but I quickly adjusted. My co-workers were suitably impressed by my temerity, remarking that some foreign interns had come along on these field trips in the past but none of them had ever dared join in the group bathing, "not even the kyopos." Tally up another point for the white girl.

A fresh blanket of snow had fallen the night before, so we enjoyed a round of picture-taking and a brief snowball fight before breakfast.





 After breakfast we listened for two hours to a motivational speaker who had us do a series of group exercises: try to draw an accurate copy of a picture based on other team member's descriptions, practice smiling with three different degrees of enthusiasm, etc.


Ours was by far the most accurate picture

Smiling practice: medium enthusiasm

Smiling practice: maximum enthusiasm!

The trip concluded with a gut-busting lunch at a place that served the local specialty, mak-guksu (cold soba noodles in a big metal bowl with shredded vegetables). We ate until we were stuffed and rolled back into Seoul around mid-afternoon.

The results of our team brainstorming exercises will be shared with the powers that be at the next big committee meeting. I don't know if much will change as a result of our suggestions, but anyway it was a fun chance to see a different part of the country, and all-in-all the team-building exercises were not overly painful. It helps to be with a great group of people.

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