I just went to the faculty lounge to get a cup of coffee, when I ran into the cleaning lady who was sweeping the floor. While waiting for my coffee to finish, I was chit chatting with her about the cold weather this morning. When I left, she smiling told me to “work hard”. To most people, this may seem like a command but the truth is that many Koreans use this sentence as a greeting whenever they part. In Korean, this phrase is 수고하세요 (sugohaseyo).

When I first heard this as a beginner Korean learner, I was quite surprised. Why would random people tell me to work hard? When I ran this question by my very first language partner almost three years ago, she explained that it’s a way of wishing one another prosperity and success. Remember, that a dictionary is the only place where success comes before work, so by cheering for others and telling them to continue to work hard, you really wish for them to become successful. “Work hard” is the literal translation, but in reality, the meaning it conveys is more along the lines of “keep up the good work”.

As I’ve been living in Korea for over a year, it’s an expression that I’ve come to use a lot. I rarely say it to people much older than myself, but I do say it to my students all the time. In fact, I end every one of my lectures by saying “수고하셨습니다 여러분!” (sugohasyeosseumnida yeorobun!) which literally means “you all worked hard”, but actually carries the meaning of “good job everyone”.

So to all of my readers, sugohaseyo~!

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