The KBC 9.9 with Daniel
"Korean companies and the issues of dealing with young employees who have studied overseas and returned to Korea."
Click the button to hear online our exclusive interview, or download the mp3 file to your computer (9:34 min. length).
Transcript of Podcast
Daniel: Hello. This is Daniel Lafontaine. KBC 9.9 with Daniel. Tonight we’re going to be talking about age issues. How do Korean corporations handle the fact when young employees go overseas to get their business degrees or any type of other degree, and they come back to Korea and they have to fit into the Korean workplace and the way Koreans do things.
First off, we’re going to introduce our panelists. Number one: Erik Cornelius. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Erik: Sure. I’m Erik Cornelius. I’m the International Marketing Manager at Daumsoft. We’re a company that helps other corporations develop products and marketing strategies based on what their customers say online.
Daniel: Very good. And Vincent, can you introduce yourself?
Vince: Yes. My name is Vince Rubino, and I’m a Registered Quality Assurance Professional working for a Korean government research institute that provides services to international customers.
Daniel: Excellent. And last, but definitely not least, Youna.
Youna: Hi. Youna Kim here. I’m working for a large conglomerate, which is pretty international. I don’t want to disclose a name right now. I’m working there as an internal consultant to process innovations for many areas within the firm.
Daniel: Excellent. And of course, my name is Daniel Lafontaine. I’ve been in Korea for eleven years. As you may or may not know, I started as an English teacher and I worked myself up. At the moment, I am Vice President in terms of marketing and licensing medicines into the Korean marketplace.
Anybody open to kicking this off? Korean employees going overseas, coming back to Korea and all of the problems that arise due to that. What do you think?
Erik: I’ll start off. I used to work at an international PR firm here in Seoul. We had quite a few employees who went overseas and came back with degrees from US universities. I think because of the nature of the company, it worked quite well.
It was kind of the company culture to be open to that sort of thing and to really be able to harness those people’s talents, especially because it was a global company.
Daniel: That’s a very good point of view. For myself, when I was working as an educator, I was teaching SK Chemicals’ upper management team. I was really linked to the HR division, and they really had a hard time with some of their employees who came in because the employees say, “Well, we don’t do it this way. Americans – this is not the way it’s done.” And the company says, “Hey, this is how we do it.”
What about you Vincent? You’re working in the Korean government organization. Have you had any problems or have you seen any Koreans going overseas, coming back and not fitting in too well?
Vince: Actually, I haven’t seen it as a problem. I think it’s considered somewhat of a badge of honor to have had experience overseas in working here in Korea.
Daniel: Has there ever been any young employees who had never worked before in the company who got an overseas education, and then come back and are trying to get a job in the government?
Vince: Yes. I have somebody on my team who falls into that category and she’s done very, very well.
Daniel: Oh, very good.
Vince: Yes. She spent a year and a half teaching. She was teaching English in Incheon before coming here to Daejeon to work. But she’s adapted quite well. I think her previous company, she was a little frustrated. But in her current position, she makes an excellent bridge between me in particular, from the US and my background in the rest of the company which is all Korean.
Daniel: Exactly. What about Youna? What do you think? Have you ever seen problems? What do you think would be the biggest problem in Korea when it comes to employees coming back from overseas?
Youna: Well, I can speak from my own experience, actually. I was working and I had all my education in Korea for a while. I moved to the US recently, in 2006, to acquire my MBA degree. After my MBA, I took a year or two to gain experience in the States and came back in 2009.
I joined this large conglomerate which I hadn’t experienced before. There are basically different cultural issues compared to when I was working for a smaller firm or a multinational company in Korea. There’s somewhat (?) more organizations that having more fluid internal culture.
I would say it doesn’t depend on a general whether you have been overseas or have you worked your whole time in Korea. It also depends on what sort of environment that you have been exposed to before, and then what kind of environment that you’re trying to assimilate to currently.
Vince: I think that’s right on. Daniel, I was going to say that from my perspective, I can think back to my first job in the US. I was a young, punk kid coming out of college and I thought I knew everything. I think that I ran into the same problems.
Daniel: Exactly. I can follow that. When I came to Korea, I was 29-30 years old. In my background, I had done a lot of reading in my background. I did a lot of things in my background.
So when I got off the plane the first time in Korea, I said to myself, “Hey, I’m a baby.” When I went to my first company job, my first teaching job, I told the boss, “Hey, this is your school, these are your kids. You tell me how to teach, and I’ll go from there.”
You have to be open to the culture you’re in. And if you don’t, oh boy. I have a lot of friends who rant and raved. They can’t fit in because it’s always the fact that, “Hey, I’m a young guy. I know everything. I’m going to come in and I’m going to change things.” I wanted to give as much of myself and sometimes, they’re fooling themselves too much.
When I was at SK Chemical, there were some difficulties because SK is a great company. It’s a great learning company. At SK, they’re very much a learning company, but they had never had a foreigner before inside their company. Inside that particular office of that company, I was working at the headquarters and, oh, sometimes there, it was quite interesting.
What about you, Erik? What do you think? Do you think there would be any way to mitigate the problems coming into a company if you’re a Korean leaving overseas, lived overseas, got your MBA, come back. What would be your first piece of advice to that Korean?
Erik: I would say that it’s important to be open to the idea that there’s not just one right way to do things, and there’s not just one right answer to a question. I think you have to be flexible, especially on small things so that when the big things come up where you want to stand your ground, you’re seen as being agreeable, and people like you and they’re willing to listen to you.
Daniel: That makes sense. Vince, what do you think?
Vince: As far as MBA coming, an MBA who is Korean educated in the US or Europe coming to work at my company, I would love it because I think many times, especially in the sciences…
Daniel: I’m sorry, Vince. It’s already 9.9 minutes. This is Daniel Lafontaine. This is KBC 9.9 with Daniel. If you have any discussions, we can finish this discussion on the website tomorrow. I hope you have a great night. Thank you very much.