Want to live and work in a fast-paced culture vastly different from home? Why not try South Korea! From bustling Seoul to seaside Busan, South Korea has a lot to offer an intern.
By interning in South Korea, you’ll gain insight into the intriguingly complex system of Korean business culture, also present in countries like China and Japan. In your spare time, try traditional Korean BBQ, visit the DMZ, or sing karaoke with your coworkers. Visit Buddhist temples during the day and wander the neon-lit streets at night.
South Korea, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, ranks 15th in the world for GDP and has one of the world’s fastest growing economies. A developed country with a thriving market, South Korea is a major Asian business hub. With almost no natural resources, South Korea has turned its attention to science and information technology. Korea is also a major manufacturer of automobiles and auto parts, and has a large shipbuilding industry.
Potential interns may find themselves interested in South Korea’s electronics and gaming market, or working in information technology and telecommunications. Another popular field for interns in South Korea is human rights, especially in regards to NGOs that work with North Korean defectors. Many potential employers are looking for interns with English language skills to help with marketing, education and web development.
Most internship opportunities are located in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. A major metropolis, Seoul offers many business opportunities for interns. The second largest city, Busan, may also have jobs for interns looking for a more relaxed, seaside environment. Finally, some NGOs are located outside of the larger cities in places like Guangju, with just over a million people.
Internships are a bit more difficult to find in South Korea than they may be in countries like China and Japan. While finding an English teaching job in South Korea is easy, an internship may take a bit more work, preparation and networking.
Interns are also paid much less than the average English teacher, so be prepared and have some money in the bank before you go. While finding an internship in South Korea may be a bit difficult, there are many amazing opportunities in the fields of technology and human rights that you may not find elsewhere in Asia.
When and where to look for an internship
If you try to search for internships online, you may not come across many opportunities. Seoul Global Center and KOPRA are the two best resources for finding Korean internships online. Most of which are in the fields of human rights, technology and tourism. You can find everything from web development, research and marketing to teaching English to North Korean defectors.
Another good way to get an internship in South Korea is to visit job fairs at local universities once already in the country. Most job fairs are in September and October. Every year there is a very large job fair at Co-Ex aimed at foreigners. These fairs often offer more opportunities than the online recruiting websites.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in South Korea can vary greatly depending on where you choose to live and how you spend your money. The average intern can expect to pay between 700,000-1,400,000 won ($640-$1,270 USD) per month. Many people choose to save money by finding roommates, cooking meals and avoiding luxuries like coffee, which can cost up to $5 USD a cup!
Some things in South Korea are cheaper than Western countries. For example, dinner at a nice restaurant may cost roughly $10 USD per person. Cities like Seoul have great public transportation, reducing your need for taxis or a car.
If your internship is unpaid and you need to make money, you can try to find a job teaching English at a local Hagwon. Hagwons are afterschool English learning centers that often hire foreigners to teach classes to children. Just be sure you’re working on the correct visa, or you may be deported!
Work culture in South Korea is vastly different from that of the USA and Europe. Interns can often find it difficult to navigate the foreign business culture, but interning in South Korea is the best way to become accustomed to Asian business practices.
The relationship between employers and employees is much different in South Korea than it is in many Western countries. Employees are expected to dedicate themselves completely to their work, and respect their boss’s authority without question. You may also be expected to socialize with your collogues outside of the office, often with little notice. Dinner, drinks and karaoke are common activities in most Korean companies.
You may be surprised that your boss will encourage you to drink after work. In America and Europe, becoming drunk in front of your colleagues is a huge embarrassment. In Korea it’s a major part of the business culture.
South Korea is a country that practices respect towards elders and authority. Be sure to give a slight bow to your office superiors or anyone that is older than you. Your language will also reflect this respect. For example, when you say “hello”, one may say “annyeong haseo” to a friend, but “annyeong hashimiga” to an elder.
While some competitive internships may expect you to speak Korean and English fluently, others may only request English fluency. Many organizations in South Korea speak English, so you should be able to communicate effectively with your coworkers.
Business Network Korea (BNK) is the best way for foreigners to network in South Korea. BNK holds events to help Koreans meet non-Koreans for business purposes, and helps Korean businesses find foreign interns, partners, and services. They hold business networking meetups in Seoul throughout the year.
Work and Labor Laws
Interns in South Korea are allowed to work on any type of visa as long as they are unpaid. This means that a study abroad student can hold an internship while at school, as long as he or she is not paid. If you wish to hold a paid internship, many companies may sponsor you for a short-term (fewer than 90 days) or long-term working visa. Finally, citizens of some countries may be eligible for a working holiday visa. If you are between 18-25 years old you may qualify for a one-year working holiday visa.