SEBA Students Learn About Korean Culture For Degree Requirement

With the motto “Think Globally, Lead Responsibly,” fresh in their minds, students visiting Seoul, Korea met leaders of global companies during an enlightening week-long cultural immersion.

Gyeongbokgung, also known as Gyeongbokgung Palace or Gyeongbok Palace, was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. Built in 1395, it is located in northern Seoul, South Korea

Students visiting Seoul, Korea met leaders of global companies during an enlightening week-long cultural immersion. Fourteen PMBA students traveled abroad from March 29 to April 3 as part of their degree requirement for the class "Doing Business in World Regions." Joining them for optional elective courses were students from the EMBA, Business and Analytics, and Accounting programs, making a total of 26 students who experienced Korean culture firsthand.

While in Korea, students visited global companies Samsung Electronics, CJ CGV (the largest multiplex cinema chain in Korea), and GM Korea. They were hosted by the Korean Institute of Science and Technology's College of Business. According to PMBA student Feifei Xu, who also had the pleasure of visiting China last year for a similar course, the visits were led by bi-lingual corporate leaders who spoke in fluent English. “We were amazed by their great insight, and were impressed deeply by the company’s philosophies and creative spirits,” she said.

Taking in the hardworking culture of Korea, the students noted phenomena such as six local coffee shops and three Starbucks lined up on a single street. Xu reflected on coffee’s seeming necessity in the capitalist-modeled Korean culture, speculating that in their tough competitive environment, “They always need coffee to keep their minds clear.” Comparing the trip to her China visit, she did find Korean culture much more creative and open-minded. Particularly interesting to Xu was how Korean people presented themselves. “One thing that impressed me so much is that all of the people walking on the street are dressed so nice. The girls are beautiful, wearing immaculate makeup. The boys are neat and tidy. Kids are cute and clean, and seniors are elegant and graceful.”

Robert Wilson, a PMBA student, reflected that the business culture of Korea was quite different than that of American business culture. "It is interesting that based on your age you are expected to be at a certain title career wise.  For South Korea to do what it has done in such a short time—it amazed me to find that people are risk averse due to these guaranteed age based promotions." Trent Sanson, PMBA student, also remarked on the culture differences, and appreciated hearing first-hand experiences from the KAIST business students. In addition to the South Korean "chaebol" executives, he said, these proved to be the most beneficial learning experiences, because he was able to see South Korea through their perspective.

The first day of classes involved a conversation with Professor Dr. Betty Chung, born and raised in the U.S. of Chinese parents, with a PhD from the University of San Francisco in Organizational Behavior. The students discussed cultural perceptions and the importance of needing a competent understanding of other cultures as a foundation for all business interactions with foreign clients and enterprises. The students learned about disparity in Korean culture, where a quarter of household income is spent on education. Korea has a 98 percent literacy rate. Ninety percent of Koreans go on for college degrees, and they have the highest rate of unemployed students with doctorate degrees in the world. Further discussion about the Korean economy included stats on the GDP for Korea, which is currently $38,000 per year, a great increase from 1960’s GDP of $80 per family.

Professor Chung’s husband, Mr. Jae Choi, who worked at Oracle and McKinsey & Company, and currently works as a consultant for Doosan, told the story of how Doosan starting as a beer company in the 1890’s, going on to become a 20 billion dollar firm with 45,000 employees worldwide.

The VP of Samsung spoke to students about future strategies for television, after which the students toured the Samsung Innovation Museum and met with the President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, the Executive VP of the Global Business Division of CJ CGV, and then toured GM. They were able to walk through the factory, and watched cars being assembled.

Janet Amador, the Associate Director of Academic Services, accompanied the students. Helping to navigate the food stalls after their day classes, she walked a couple of students through kimchee and live octopus, watching a server cut up the octopus, offering various dressings as well as chopsticks for eating the local delicacy. “Does it taste like chicken?” Amador said. “No.”