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By Shubham Jain
I am nearing my end of stay here in Korea and I am very happy to say that last 7 weeks have been no less than a roller coaster ride for me. I am Shubham Jain, a CSE undergrad of the batch of 2016 here in Korea for my internship with Samsung Electronics. I came on board with another 10 guys from IIT Bombay and out of which 7 live with me in same wing of our hostel. This journey began on 9th May 2015, and will go on till 11th July 2015 and this article is about my experiences with Korea and some great and stupid findings I made.
So before I begin it is very necessary that you know me. I am a Mumbaikar by birth and have spent my whole life (including JEE coaching days) there. Going back 7 years, I had never thought I will get into IIT, the dream of going to foreign country be far off. But things changed, I had some luck and did a lot of hard work to finally land in CSE, IIT Bombay. Rest is history. After coming to IIT lot of things changed for me and I had some realizations. The most important of them is to “Never give up on your dreams”. Traveling around the world is one thing I want to do. Meeting new people, listening to their stories, their problems, and their moments makes me happy. The Korean journey has given me a bucketful of such incidents. So here it goes.
Initial Misgivings and Homework on Korea:
Going to Korea is quite different from going to US or UK. You will find someone within family or at least someone close (“in Indian terms”) there. So we had to do our homework on Korea properly. So from the past experiences of our seniors and from the all-knowing Google we came up with some presumptions. First and most important findings - “Koreans do not like to see bare legs (or at least hair of your body), therefore we had to wear full pants and shoes everywhere”. Another important thing - “Koreans are very bad (they suck) at English”. Apart from that, seeing size of Korea, we thought traveling from Suwon (where we stay) to anywhere else will be similar to local trains in Mumbai or more like Mumbai to Pune.
The only thing about Samsung that worried me was the Korean hierarchical culture that one finds even at workplace. Some on online forums said that the company didn’t have the environment that software developers creave for. But I was happy inside since this was global headquarters and there were seniors from college. Quite a few of these assumptions were actually misgivings and were proved wrong time and again in my experience here.
The last probably the most important was food. I am a vegetarian and all Korean food I would find on Internet contained meat. But Samsung had assured me of 3 times food in company and in Hotel. That was a bit relief but then what if I go outside for traveling. For this my mom and dad gave me tons of packaged food to bring. So I came here with 9 kilograms of “lead waali” Maggi, Pasta, Soup and some more snacks.
My first few moments in Korea were spent in a bus from Incheon Airport to Dream vill, the hotel where we had our stay in Suwon. The weather was cool compared to Mumbai and city didn't seem exotic. It seemed like areas around IIT Bombay in many aspects. Lot of tall buildings, signals and tolls. The hotel was like heaven. Coming from hostels this was too much. Especially digital commode, it was something I had never seen in my life.
Next day we went around the hotel and a nearby lake park. Our findings became true when we asked a few young guys in Suits about “Gwa-ang-gyo Lake Park” and they pronounced it as “Gwa-nch-chy-ong Lake Park”. At that moment we lost all hope of asking directions in proper English sentences and came back to basics “Writing and usage of Signs”. Lot of people just ignored us like they didn’t even hear us. But finally we reached the place (all thanks to Maps and directions provided by HR guys in hotel) and it was beautiful. In night, when we first saw from our flights down below (while on our way to Korea), Korea seemed like a land cut perfectly into square pieces with those lights.
Another very important observation we had in our first few hours outside was about the traffic rules and punctuality. Strictly crossing on green and only on zebra crossings sometimes feels really dumb thing to do especially when there aren’t any vehicles on the road, but once can find koreans patiently waiting the red. Guess it is better than hit by a fast approaching car who was following the rules. When Koreans say 9.20 it means 9.20 not even 9.21. We were going for team outing in our second week and our mentor told us to meet her by 12.53 PM. We were like “What?!” but when she meant 12.53, she was waiting for us since 12.53.
People and Culture:
Lot of things in Korean culture resembled to things back home. Whenever Koreans give anything to any elderly person or any foreigner, they give it with both their hands to show respect. There are reservations for senior citizens wherever you go. But there is one quite different thing in Korea that India lacks by a huge margin, is the respect Koreans have for the national flag. Everywhere you go you will find the Korean National Flag flying high. When I see that, I really envy this country and a feeling of shame comes onto my face. When I go out in Mumbai, what I see everywhere is a flag of some political party and it is rarely a case when we see National Flag on a non-government building flying high. So when I spotted the Indian flag at the National War Memorial in Seoul, my chest was filled with pride, to see the tricolour flying. I surely miss it.
Korean working culture is a lot about hard work and less about smart work. They believe on putting hours into the work rather than brains. In my opinion, this is because it is all hard work that has helped them reached here. If you see back 60 years, in 1960s Korea and India were very much on same level, Korea was completely in shambles after the Korean war. But if you see now, we have a huge to catch up with them. We can give reasons for this like India is a big country; we have lot of internal issues and all. But major reason Korea came up is the support or dependence on US (that we don’t have - a good thing for us) and the hard working nature of each and every citizen of the nation. When I met a senior here from Samsung Research India, Bangalore, he was quite happy working in Korea. The reason being quite simple, when you work in India for more than 10hrs, everyone discourages you to stay while here people work long hours on their own will. But this has its own negatives. I have heard a lot of young Koreans telling that there is no personal life here. But at the same time, they are the ones who are working long hours.
Koreans are risk averse. They do not take risks. Everyone wants to work the same way as it is going. No one wants to change it. If they have hierarchical culture, they want to follow it though they don’t like it. Everyone wants a change, but no one is willing to start this process of revolution. It will take some time when Korean work culture will evolve but I feel one day it will surely do just like the political revolution that came in India due to the youngsters.
Korea in geography is quite similar to India with sea on three sides and mountain inside. The difference here is that Koreans love trekking and most people you meet while trekking are the ones in their 30s or beyond 50s. Not only men, I saw a lot of old women too on my trek in Bukhansan. The humiliating part being, the older folks were faster than me. Another thing about Korean women is that, almost all Korean girls look pretty. The reason being they spend a lot of time in make-up. Whenever we travel in subway from Suwon to Seoul, I always find at least one female who will be doing her make up throughout the journey. They put lot of efforts there. I can’t even imagine what will happen to the guy who says to the girl she is looking bad :P.
Limitless food is another important thing in Korea unlike India. When we ordered a Pepsi in KFC, what we got was an empty glass to fill by ourselves. It was fill yourself unlimited times :D. Another encounter I had with this fact was in a hotel, where you can order soup or kimchi unlimited times and as a result I had the soup 3 times and it was really tasty. While this and noodles with it costed me a mere 4500 Won (4.5$). Did someone say Korea is costly?? :P.
A bad thing about being a foreigner in Korea is they are nice too often. Sometimes you do something wrong and you expect them to say something like a true friend but they will be nice to since you are a foreigner. So after a prolonged exposure to this, it seems more artificial. Fortunately for me though, I have made a few Korean friends who are frank with me and who will be as frank with me as my roommate. This makes you feel home.
Friends and Future:
Korea has given me some very wonderful friends. Friends with whom I have gone cycling, whose homes I have visited, with whom I have learnt a bit farming, with whom I have shared my fears and my secrets. I made friends with whom I had my first shots of life, with whom I went clubbing first time, with whom I spent hours sitting near Han river and talking about our stories. This country has given me much more than what I had asked for. The past two months have been a great beginning of travel journey ahead. I have opened up to different possibilities of life one can have. Traveling was there on mine to do list for a long time but it never took off. But here, I started my journey as a tourist and became a traveller as it proceeded. I have lot of dreams I have seen, and I have sacrificed a lot to be here and to be able to see those dreams. I want to live each one of them. Lot of people say I am crazy, maybe I am but I am living my life with my own rules. It is better to be crazy than not to be. So let us see where this crazy guy ends up, even I don’t have a clue about it. Aanyonghaseya!!