What It’s Like To Be An Intern In South Korea

Internship Seoul

What It’s Like To Be An Intern In South Korea

Ever wondered what it would be like to be an intern in South Korea? The answer might surprise you! South Korea has a significantly more formal  work structure with longer hours and older values in the workplace than more modern countries like France and Spain. That being said, their emphasis on politeness, teamwork, and professionalism might surprise you if not prepared properly. This article will help to give you a sense of what it might be like to be an intern in South Korea. 

Mild manners

Expect a formal and professional environment. South Koreans place professionalism in the workplace in high regard. No casual Fridays here! In most South Korean workplaces it is looked favorably upon to dress modest, with an emphasis on professional dress. Not sure exactly what your company is looking for in terms of fashion? Take a closer look at your colleagues. They’re a great starting place to gain inspiration for your own wardrobe!

Similar to the expected professionalism in your appearance, Koreans also expect the utmost respect in your behavior. Manners go a long way in terms of evaluated performance! You can expect minimal to no cursing in the workplace, nor any slang. Where the US and more Western countries have become increasingly relaxed in recent decades, South Korea still maintains a great deal of emphasis in their workplace on formality and politeness, so make sure (especially as an intern) to be on your best behavior! 

Work Hours

As an intern in South Korea you can expect some longer than usual work hours. South Koreans tend to work slightly longer than most countries, typically going above the 40 hours standard in the US. It’s quite common for employees to work overtime and during the weekends. There is occasionally an unwritten rule that it is frowned upon to leave work for the day before your boss leaves the building. Similar to most countries with more intense work schedules, South Korea is currently passing legislation in favor of promoting a greater work/life balance and reducing the expectation of overtime work. You may notice your own company leaning towards this, with some companies setting a new work week as 35 hours per week. As an South Korean intern, it is unlikely that you’ll be expected to work crazy hours but prepare to do so, if company culture includes overtime work.

The Lay Of The Land

In South Korea, Seniority is greatly respected. Be ready to see employees holding their managers, and superiors in general, in high regard. You’ll likely see coworkers follow the orders of those above them without complaint, as this is simply the way of life. As an intern in South Korea you will need to demonstrate your ability to follow orders from your superiors, as this will greatly aid in your performance and perceived value to the company. This hierarchical structure is integral to the South Korean workforce, and you’ll notice it in how people enter a room, to how they greet each other.. While other cultures adopt something similar, there are few that do so as deeply, so be prepared for the difference as an intern!

On a similar note, South Koreans also hold their elders in the highest of regards. Make sure to show respect to your elders, as it is expected and likely critical in the success of your internship. Don’t be surprised if you see employees frequently going to older and more senior members of the company for advice and feedback. This is a great way for you to meet senior leadership, as well as gain a mentor. 

Gender roles are currently changing as South Korea has historically had fewer women in the workplace, and therefore developed a more patriarchal system.  Women often are paid significantly less and hired at lower rates, something that is actively being weeded out by younger generations. That being said, as an intern in South Korea you may bear witness to potentially a very different gender dynamic than you are used to. 

Team Work

While interning in South Korea you may notice an emphasis on working as a team. Often, companies will schedule specific outing times such as dinners, drinks, or even karaoke. It Is absolutely imperative that you participate as an intern! You’ll gain more respect for going, as well as better integrate into the South Korean work style. The “we are a family” mentality toward working which has become a huge red flag in the States, is not seen as such in Korea, and often, you’ll notice coworkers bringing shared meals for their teams. 

While South Koreans tend to value “newbies” opinions in a lesser regard to more tenured employees, it is imperative that you, as an intern in South Korea, participate in conversations, contribute ideas and offer help when able. These are all aspects of the deeply contribution based working environment that South Koreans love. So as not to offend, plan to frequently offer your assistance, especially as an intern, in order to better adapt to their culture and also display your willingness in the workplace! 

Interning in South Korea is sure to be an extremely rewarding  experience and will condition you perfectly for work in any place that you choose. As a major player in the corporate world, Korea will expose you to a different way of life, and give you the opportunity to learn about another culture.  If you’re  considering it, we highly recommend giving it a try

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