SEBA Students Visit Seoul, South Korea and North Korea Border During Political Tensions

"After visiting South Korea, 'Think Globally, Lead Responsibly' is not just a slogan on my coffee cup anymore. It is a shift in mindset that had to be experienced first-hand in order to be fully appreciated. If I master this, I can truly call myself a global citizen,” Jesse Lujan, PMBA

PMBA students visit South Korea

On the last day of the trip to South Korea in April, SEBA graduate students experienced something few westerners have experienced—they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with North Korean border guards at the gateway to the most mysterious and secluded nation in the world. The tension in the air was high, due to Pyongyang’s recent missile testing conducted amidst rising tensions between Kim Jong-un’s government and the Trump administration’s increasingly forceful rhetoric.

Gathered in a small blue hut directly at the border, the gravity of the conflict as well as the unique nature of the visit became palpable. “It was the first time a Mexican-American and an African-American did business in South Korea,” joked Jesse Lujan, PMBA, as he solemnly shook hands with his classmate Philip Smith directly in front of North Korean border guards as Furtado posed with the two guards standing with their fists clenched near the line that divides North Korea from South Korea.

The students spent a day exploring the tourist accessible demilitarized zone (DMZ), a border barrier that divides the Korean peninsula in half. The border was established by the provisions of the Korean Armistice Agreement to serve as a buffer zone between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). 

The group of predominately Professional MBA student was in South Korea visiting leaders of global companies during an enlightening week-long cultural immersion trip from March 29 to April 8 as part of their class "Doing Business in South Korea," with Associate Dean Yung-Jae Lee. Joining them were students from the EMBA, Business and Analytics, and Accounting programs, making a total of 31 students who experienced Korean culture firsthand.

While in Korea, students visited global companies including 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 (KAIST). The visits were led by bi-lingual corporate leaders who spoke in fluent English.

The first day of classes involved a conversation with Professor Dr. Betty Chung, born and raised in the U.S. of Chinese parents, who holds a PhD from the University of San Francisco in Organizational Behavior. Professor Chung’s husband, Mr. Jae Choi, who currently works as Senior Vice President 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. John Schuldt, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea (AMCHAM Korea), who manages the day to day operations, spoke to the students about entrepreneurship and the history of American business in South Korea, educating the students from a western perspective. AMCHAM is the largest foreign chamber in Korea, a non-profit organization established in 1953.

"The culture of entrepreneurship is just beginning in South Korea,” Schuldt told the students. “It's still nowhere near what it is in the US, but it will be growing in the future. Korea, for thousands of years was an agrarian society. Everyone was equal. During the industrial revolution, gift giving began in order for Koreans to curry favor with others in trade. Korea is a challenging place to do business, but it's a good place to do business. The focus on education and learning English in South Korea will continue to work in [America’s] favor. South Koreans understand non-Confusion thinking and a western mindset. Korean people are so open to products; they don't care about the source of production. When Koreans see something that has good value with high quality, they will buy it.”Students learned that Kaist College of Business gives graduate researchers a research space of their own to consult and do projects in. The cost per month to live on campus is minimal, under $200 per month for a shared room. They also walk their grad students through their first startup idea from inception to finish.

The VP of Samsung spoke to students about future strategies for television, after which the students toured the Samsung Innovation Museum and met with Bret Kim, Executive VP of the Global Business Division of CJ CGV, and toured GM, where they were able to walk through the factory, and watch cars being assembled and painted.

At night, the students ate Korean BBQ and sampled local delicacies like carp bread, live octopus—and for the brave, even boiled silkworms from a street vendor. Some students were able to attend a baseball game where each person was required to choose their favorite team as they walked into the arena. The fans of the winning team stayed and partied all night, while the fans of the losing team had to go home directly after the game. "The Korea Trip was a fantastic once-in-a-lifetime experience. I had so much fun and learned so much. Doing business on an international scale doesn't feel as intimidating as it once did. I now feel empowered to take on the whole world," said Kyle Hixson, PMBA student.

Lujan learned much about Korea he will take with him into his future career. “Korean’s love for all things new and their ‘pali-pali’ attitude has driven their technological prowess and makes it one of the most advanced countries that I have ever been to. This is a sharp contrast to the United States’ current attitude towards technology. While Koreans are becoming more interconnected, our current government administration wants to regress back to the 1950’s and pretend like technological innovation is not important. As Korea is opening up to the world, spreading its culture through the internet, the US is seeing larger restrictions on IT infrastructure, internet privacy, and information exchange.”

“All of Korea’s success does not come without its share of struggle,” Lujan continued. “Their planned economy has allowed them to catch up to the US and other dominant economies, but they will need to restructure their hierarchical culture and figure out their population problem in order to reach their fullest potential. However, since they have focused their collective minds so intently on technology, I fully believe Korea will be a dominant economic figure in the future and reach a higher GDP than it has today.” “I feel so fortunate to have visited South Korea at this present time where so much change is palpable,” said Lujan. “Times of transition are always the most exciting to experience and South Korea is clearly changing. The day we left, I began to see the shifting global turmoil instigated by North Korea and its ever-fervent rhetoric. When I think of South Korea and that challenges it faces, I no longer think of it as just another country on a map because it is no longer an abstract concept. It is a culture I have experienced, it is land that I have walked on, and it is people I have met and befriended that are facing these challenges.”

Danielle Wacker, PMBA Student, walking by a peaceful protest in South Korea PMBA students dressed in traditional South Korean attire

PMBA students (left to right) Philip Smith, Kelsey Furtado and Jesse Lujan at the North Korea border Hixson, PMBA student, caught in sudden downpour in Seoul