World Trade Center Savannah hosts sessions preparing locals to welcome their South Korean neighbors

Last year, Hyundai Motor Group announced that it will open an electric vehicle plant at the megasite in Bryan County and ever since, the region has been preparing for its 2025 arrival. To that end, the World Trade Center Savannah partnered with the Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority to host a series of seminars in Bryan, Bulloch, Chatham and Effingham Counties. The seminars provided guidance on how to best welcome incoming South Korean neighbors to the Coastal Empire. The Chatham County seminars took place on Jan. 19 at the Georgia Quickstart Advanced Manufacturing training center in Pooler. 

In the afternoon seminar, Retired Army Lt. Col. Jeanne Charbonneau addressed about 70 attendees. During her military career, Charbonneau served in the Republic of Korea and taught at West Point. After leaving the military, she spent 17 years as the primary point of contact for South Korean families in the Montgomery, Alabama River region, which received its own Hyundai Motor Manufacturing plant in 2005. During her presentation, she shared her insights, experiences, successes and challenges with local community leaders along with valuable information about the needs that the Korean community will have in terms of education, housing, medical care, finance and more. Charbonneau began by acknowledging the impact the metaplant will have on the region. 

“This big monster economic development program that crosses four counties is — I am here to tell you — going to change the landscape of your communities in a really, really good way,” said Charbonneau. 

The metaplant will bring in about 14,000 jobs to the Coastal Empire, and of that population about 10% will be South Korean nationals. 

“For almost all of them, this will be their first time living overseas. And they’re going to be here for a minimum of two years,” Charbonneau explained. 

Some Korean families will remain in the area for up to five years, and the local community will need to be ready to welcome these families into the fold. The South has a reputation for being accommodating and hospitable, and Charbonneau encourages locals to continue to live up to that when interacting with these new neighbors. 

Community members and leaders can help Koreans transition into our communities by avoiding certain pitfalls. Charbonneau spoke about ensuring that the Korean flag is always displayed right-side-up: “Red goes on top.” She also advises that Americans avoid asking which Korea the migrants are coming from because doing so evinces an embarrassing and possibly offensive lack of knowledge regarding the state of Korean affairs.

“Every [Korean] that you are ever going to meet in America is South Korean,” she said.

Furthermore, she also said to avoid bringing up reunification, unless one is prepared to engage in a “graduate-level discourse,” on the subject. 

For the incoming Koreans, the relocation to America will be a culture shock.

“You are going to have this sudden surge, this is not a slow migration, of people who are coming into your community whose culture and language is vastly different from what we grew up with. . . And it’s really good to try and understand, at least a little bit, about how we differ, why we differ and how that affects our communication,” she said. 

As always, communication is key, and Charbonneau recommends that locals speak slowly and in the affirmative. She encourages locals to avoid using humor, as humor typically requires an advanced understanding of language, as well as contractions. She also supports the use of text and emails for clearer communication. 

Regarding culture, there are some similarities between Korea and America, for example both have capitalist economies and espouse religious tolerance. But there are considerable differences as well. Korean culture is largely based upon the teachings of Confucianism, which prioritizes collective welfare in contrast to American individualism. 

“The emphasis of this philosophy is very different from the American emphasis where our foundational documents are the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And it’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and it’s individual rights and liberties. . . In Confucianism, it’s about what is best for the group, what is best for the team, for the family,” Charbonneau explained. 

Because of this commitment to community, South Koreans typically work 16-hour work days, six days weekly, which is vastly different from the American way. Regarding work, Charbonneau emphasized an important distinction about the appropriate professional verbiage.

“They are not employees. They have never been employees. They never will be employees. They are team members. And that goes back to the root of the foundation of their entire cultural society. A societal culture is the foundation for a business culture,” she said. 

Armed with these important insights, the local community is better equipped to welcome these incoming Korean team members, neighbors, families and soon-to-be friends. 

For more information about the Hyundai Motor Group, visit hyundai.com/.

About The Author

Chantel Britton

Chantel Britton is a compelling storyteller with an ever-growing curiosity. She's built a rewarding writing career for herself in addition to serving five years as a Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. She's an NPR nerd with a deep passion for all things travel, sustainable living and adventure. She...
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