“Sam cherng mi da”, says a Korean robot-like female voice to indicate the elevator has now arrived at the third floor.
The door opens to another new chapter of my day.
“Sam cherng mi da” means I should get out and start my responsibilities, a daily routine during my two-month internship at the United Nations-APCICT/ESCAP, Incheon, South Korea.
I am one of 29 students from ASEAN countries who came here under ASEAN Millennium Leaders College Student Exchange Program, co-ordinated and supported by ASEAN University Network and Ministry of Foreign Affair and Trade of Korean government with the host from Daejeon University (DJU), Daejeon.
Some of you might have heard a lot about Korea and its popular K-Pop singers and dramas. Other “Emails from Abroad” in LIFT may have also informed you of the hardship and ‘busyness’ of being an overseas student.
And if you are still with me right now, how about getting to know the Korean working environment through my lens of experience as a student intern?
Instead of having a break during winter vacation, all exchange students are recommended to intern at the partner organizations either in Seoul or Incheon. As I am interested in Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD), I was selected to intern at UNAPCICT and get involved in the program of “Turning Today’s Youth into Tomorrow’s Leaders”.
Korea has been well-known for its culture of punctuality and industrious working attitude. The same principle applies to my internship place. Everyone prefers arriving on time and leaving work late. In the morning before I am in the office, there are always staff members already working quietly at their tables.
Every intern finishes work at 6pm but the office light doesn’t turn off, and workers keep concentrating on their tasks. It could be the mind-set of getting everything done before going home, and welcoming new tasks the next day. This sense of duty makes me realise how hard they work to complete the ‘mission’ of the day.
However, living in a new environment is a different story. Imagine yourself living in a place where you find your English is no use to communicate with local people.
Also, Korean people are so intimate in their every-day exchanges. Hugging and kissing in public is common here. There is nothing wrong to show love in public, which is so different from Cambodian culture: reserved and implicit.
Dealing with the culture shock and language difficulties requires flexibility an open mind.
You might wonder how I cope with the language difficulty despite attending only a beginner language class. Don’t be eager to be the best at any language - it takes time to learn.
What I have found is making Korean friends has helped me ease my way into the language and learn the cultural customs. Believe it or not, I can learn from them more than I learn from any book. There might be no better way to learn a culture than through immersion.
Friends are the best people to turn to no matter where you are living.