Vail Daily column: Exploring the World
January 23, 2013
Christopher Woodruff graduated from Battle Mountain High School in 2007, he had an overall 4.3 GPA and graduated in the top 10 percent in his class. As a peer of his growing up I was always impressed with his intellect, I always knew Chris would go far in life. Woodruff went on to attend the University of Southern California where he added many more accomplishments to his resume. While at USC he studied abroad at the Queen Mary University of London and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. I was not surprised at all when I heard that Woodruff was moving to Korea for work for Samsung and that this young adult would peruse something so challenging to enrich his life.
I have always dreamed of one day growing up and working on printers. I guess it started about halfway thru my junior year of college. I started frantically applying for just about any internship I could find, desperate to not spend back-to-back summers working in my parents store (sorry Mom!). I came across one very vague post on my school’s job site about internships at Samsung headquarters in Korea. After a few emails and interviews in broken English, I got on a plane to Seoul in June of 2010, still harnessing some doubts about whether or not I was being scammed.-
The internship went well after all and I enjoyed life in Korea however, when I left I was told that I wasn’t eligible for a full-time job because I was only working on an undergraduate degree. So I started looking for other jobs … and kept looking. Anyone who graduated within the last few years knows how that goes. Around Thanksgiving I got an email from Samsung with a full time offer to sign and return within a week.
After about 6 months of contract/visa issues I was finally able to return to Korea in September 2011. I’m working in the IT Solutions division on printer engine firmware. Not quite sure what that means exactly, but I think it has something to do with controlling hardware components after receiving commands from your computer. So, if you’ve seen any news about Samsung record profits and smartphone sales, know that it has nothing to do with me.
There are a lot of stereotypes about Korean work culture: long hours, heavy drinking, and very strict hierarchy. They’re mostly true for the older generation, and starting to change among entry-level employees. However, I’ve still had to work 16-hour days, drink soju and eat live octopus for hwesik (monthly team dinner to build morale), and complete trivial tasks like proofreading manuals and quality assurance tests simply because I’m the newest/youngest employee on my team and will be for a while (Korean men have mandatory military service so the next youngest guy is four years older than me).-
Early last year I attended ‘Samsung Value Program’, a 3-week training course about the company’s history, values, and corporate culture. Being woken up at 6:30 a.m. by the latest K-pop hit played over the loudspeaker, I had flashbacks of summer sports camp at the Air Force Academy. Lectures went until around 11 p.m. and included subjects such as how to properly greet your seniors (45-degree bow and polite ‘annyeong hassibnika’), encourage diversity within the company (citing McDonald’s international menus), and my personal favorite, why unions are not allowed in the company (videos of violent ‘union’ protests playing in the background that looked suspiciously like Arab Spring news clips). The fiery socialist inside of me died that day, and I was reborn a “true Samsung man,” as they refer to graduates of the program. I guess this is what people are referring to when they say “you’ll gain tons of great experience” working abroad.-
While vacation time is limited (only 15 days your first two years), I managed to travel to China last summer, spent this past Christmas in Vietnam, and spent Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) showing my mom around Korea. After a year here I had grown quite accustomed to some of the random quirks of Korean culture. My mom wanted me to come back to America, but remarkably the food, sightseeing, and friendly people won her over and she’s planning a return trip this year.
Joking aside, I have had some truly great experiences over here- new friendships, travel experiences, culture and interesting food (I’ve tried chicken feet, horse bones, tuna eyeball soju shot, blood sausage, eel liver, as well as a few other Korean delicacies).-
Moving abroad for work wasn’t a flawless process by any means. I haven’t really decided how long I plan to stay here, but moving here alone right after university has really given me the flexibility to decide any day that I’ve had enough kim chee for a lifetime and return to America.
Britney Brown is a current resident in Lindesberg, Sweden, as she pursues her professional volleyball career overseas. Brown grew up in Edwards and graduated in 2007 from Battle Mountain High School. She was on the 2006 state championship volleyball team and earned a full-ride scholarship to Northeastern University to play for the Huskies in Boston. In May of 2010, Brown graduated from Northeastern with a bachelor’s degree in business marketing. Brown will be sending stories about Vail Valley young adults exploring the world.-