중앙데일리

A ‘Chatting Beauty’ dishes the straight dirt

‘The lines between personal and private are often blurry at Korean companies. Roles are more defined in the U.S.’

May 28,2007
A tent-making missionary trip to Korea has become a 10-year long residence in the country for Leslie Benfield. The English editor at the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, who became well known through the television program “Chatting Beauties” on KBS, “had planned to work at a secular job, while working with the local church,” but now she is one of the most widely known foreigners in Korea.
She appears on the program once a week. In fluent Korean, she talks about Korean culture and how it looks from a foreigner’s prospective. Although Benfield is a Maryland native, she is quite familiar with the Korean norm.
Her job at Kotra is to make the trade promotion agency and its operations better known, both to the public and specialists. Jobs at Kotra are admired by many job seekers. “My experience working for government organizations in Korea and the United States, and my education in political science and economics, qualified me for the job,” said the editor. Of course, “knowledge of the Korean language” helped, she said.
Working at the government trade agency is different from what she had expected. Unlike the “small, team-oriented” places she had worked for previously, Kotra demands more independent thinking. “It’s kind of funny,” said Benfield. “Of all the jobs I have had in Korea, the atmosphere here is most like that of the United States.
“The lines between personal and private are often blurry at Korean companies,” she said, adding that Korean companies tend to require personal sacrifice for the good of the company and the nation. “In the U.S. the lines are strictly drawn, but the reasoning is similar. This is not done for selfish [reasons], as many Koreans perceive, but for the greater good.” She explained that unnecessary tension and discord in the workplace can be created when lines are crossed. “Roles and duties are more clearly defined in the United States.” That is not the case in Korea. “I have found [positions] to be more flexible,” Benfield said.
Benfield entered the country in 1995. While achieving her missionary duties, she has worked in various occupations, including a stint as a reporter at the Seoul Metropolitan City government. She was selected from among 16 applicants, becoming one of the first foreigners to work for the city government. She also pursued a master’s degree at Seoul National University, majoring in public administration. During her earlier days, life in Korea was not easy. She used to wear dreadlocks, and many Koreans touched them out of curiosity. Once, not knowing what the Korean strangers were saying, she burst into tears.
“Leslie has a warm heart,” said a fan of hers on the television program’s Internet bulletin board. “She knows so much about Korea. The language, culture and even dakgalbi [chicken ribs].” Dakgalbi originated in Chuncheon, Gangwon, where Benfield was once an English instructor for Hallym University.


By Hwang Young-jin Staff Writer



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