Despite the thousands of things that I don’t know or understand about
and Koreans, there is one thing I know for sure: Koreans are, without a doubt, some of the warmest, friendliest and helpful people I have ever met! Korea
I have never seen so many people go out of their way, so often, to help others and, even though I see such kindness on a daily basis, it still boggles my mind that this is common practice here. It is so encouraging to see such concern in every area and it makes me question where Westerners have failed in this regard.
Although I initially found the constant concern somewhat overbearing, I’m grateful to my colleagues who regularly offer explanations about Korean customs and school matters. I’m grateful to the taxi drivers who don’t get irritated or impatient when I have to show them my address because I can’t pronounce it correctly. The shop keeper of the store next to my apartment is so welcoming and patient when I take a ridiculously long time to select two items and so encouraging in helping me to count in Korean. I’m grateful that Gunsan, small as it may be, has taken the initiative to provide an International Coordinator at the local medical centre so that foreigners like me don’t need to panic about seeking medical treatment. From the small, mundane and insignificant things to the more serious and difficult matters that arise on occasion, Koreans seem to go out of their way to make us feel as comfortable and reassured as possible.
Gunsan Medical Centre
My most recent experience involved a doctor’s visit. I left school early in order to go to Gunsan Medical Centre (www.kunmed.or.kr) because I was told they provide a translator for English patients. I’d hoped the pain would go away and I wouldn’t have to attempt to convey my discomforts in a foreign language. It’s hard enough trying to explain aches and pains effectively to a doctor in English, envisaging having to do this in a language I can neither speak nor understand seemed insurmountable.
Like most things, finding a taxi when I actually needed one was more time-consuming than I anticipated. Despite already having a passenger, a taxi finally stopped to ask where I needed to go because his passenger was prepared to share the taxi – fortunately, we were headed in the same direction. With a few memorised phrases, I’m able to convey to the information person that I’m in pain and need a doctor. She proceeds to phone for the coordinator who helps me to fill in the forms, calls ahead to see which doctor is available since they’re closing in 45 minutes and then takes me through to the doctor. She escorts me every step of the way so I’m surprised when the doctor greets me in English. He’s able to do much of the consultation in English and understands my responses. Since it’s late on a Friday afternoon, I’ll have to wait until Monday to have the x-rays and sonogram done. As luck would have it, I have to go to
the next morning for a six day training session so I’ll have to wait until I get back. Seoul
The coordinator explains the procedures in
and helps me to pay for the appointments before leading me down the inevitable corridor: a urine sample is once again provided. I’m impressed by the ease with which the coordinator translates information. After explaining where to have my script filled, she gives me her cell phone number and tells me to contact her anytime if I need to change an appointment or if I need to see a doctor while in Seoul and am struggling to be understood although this is unlikely to happen in Seoul. Korea
I walk across the road to what looks like a pharmacy and am greeted by several people. The pharmacy looks more like a coffee shop – it’s warm, relaxed and friendly atmosphere is encouraging. I hand over one script and the pharmacist asks for something. I tell him I can’t speak Korean and once again feel frustrated with myself at not being able to communicate effectively. Once again, I must have had an expression that screamed ‘pathetic’ as another pharmacist addresses me in English and offers me a seat. I’ve barely sat down when someone brings me a glass of fruit juice from the coffee shop next door. The pharmacist returns with my script, explains the dosages in English and has even translated this for me on each script.
Is this really my bill?
In addition to the apprehension over not being able to communicate effectively, I’m worried about the costs involved. Even with health insurance, I’m convinced that this is going to be a couple of hundred thousand won at the very least. Korea has a system of advance payment; this means that all of my tests next week, including the follow up doctor’s visit, is paid for today. Making an appointment with a doctor is slightly cheaper than just arriving so I’m slightly horrified to discover that my walk-in consultation with a specialist has cost only slightly over 14 000 won (approx. US$12). The most expensive part of this expense is the sonogram at 70 000 won (approx. US$58). My prescription is a separate bill but at 4 100 won, how can I complain. Health Insurance covers approximately a quarter of the total bill and I’m still amazed that my payment for two consultations with a specialist, urine tests, x-rays and a sonogram is 102 300 won (approx. US$85 or roughly ZAR700). In South Africa, the sonogram alone would probably have cost that and two appointments with a specialist would have cost nearly double that – the equivalent concern, patience and all round help would probably have been a separate bill