October 15 2009
MILR students, Angela Godhwani and Vinod Aravindakshan describe their internship experiences at Samsung in South Korea.
Impressions by Vinod Aravindakshan
I began my internship at Samsung with mixed feelings. A new country, a foreign language and a different culture. I wondered how I would adapt. Now that I reflect on my experiences, I honestly had the time of my life! People in Korea are exceptionally friendly and hospitable towards foreigners. Furthermore, Confucianism adds a sense of humility to the culture -"treat others as you would treat yourself."
My colleagues at Samsung were friendly in every respect. Having a good time in Korea is not difficult, as long you respect cultural norms. The one thing that I found interesting was the high level of respect for U.S. Ivy League schools. As a result, I was able to establish credibility almost immediately.
The interaction between managers and workers was interesting. Each individual considered colleagues to be family members. These relationships were strengthened during the formal monthly "Soju" parties, as well as other informal gatherings. It is the camaraderie that makes Asian culture fairly distinct from the American culture. People work with a sense of responsibility towards one another and believe in common destiny with peers.
The Korean's have a great sense of pride and commitment towards their country. "Miracle on the River Han" is an important example of the hard work and devotion that transformed Korea into a successful nation. Even during the current economic crisis, the Korean economy is performing well and the Chaebols are posting big profits. This is an example of how the government and the private sector can work together to create long term sustainable advantage. The patriotism and dedication is a representation of the effort made by Koreans to lead their country towards progress.
Impressions by Angela Godhwani
Fourteen consonants and ten vowels later, we, Samsung's first set of global interns, learned that all that really is vital to getting by in South Korea is a simple bow used in conjunction with a hello or: An-yeung ha seo!
In a land where women bow slightly lower than men, where eye contact is often indirect for displaying respect and verb forms are modified according to gender/location/situation, a summer spent in South Korea revealed countless contending realities: the traditional was juxtaposed against the contemporary; the conservative cohabitated with the progressive; homogeneity and globalization, playing hard was valued as much as working hard and omnipresent kimchi (a gastronomic delight for almost all Koreans) consistently weaved its way in between each of these.
When in "SoKo" (endearingly abbreviated by the interns) the Hofstedian collectivism littering the pages of our OB texts leaped up and painted itself into reality, reflected in the Korean people (hanguk sahram), their surroundings, and their organizations. "A company is its people" is the credo upon which the late Chairman Byung Chull Lee founded Samsung Electronics.
At Samsung's headquarters in Suwon, South Korea everyone works for the collective good. If one member in a team has to work late, his peers will also work late with him so that he is not alone. Another difference between the American and Korean organizational cultures is the absence of employee "job descriptions." This practice traditionally encapsulates working life in the United States and its absence is perceived to be ambiguous. Conversely, in Korea it is viewed as the strength and foundation for teamwork. Group collaboration is the norm when the individual is unable to complete the work alone. Security protocol is as rigorous and swift as the minds creating the intellectual property being protected.
In concert with their unrivaled work ethic, the Korean mentality of putting the group before the self and encouraging innovation generate the nation's economic expansion. Only thirty years ago the present sky-scraped "miracle on the Han River" stood on corn fields.
In "Samsung Country" (Korea's other nickname) the value of education is inculcated from conception, "pali pali" or the culture of "hurry hurry" is a religion in the workplace, on the streets, and even at marathon one-hour weddings.