5 Weeks in Seoul

We have the honor of being the first two students in Lauder’s inaugural Korean track program this year. As Korean-American heritage speakers with minimal prior formal instruction of the language, this program was optimal for us to hone our skills and gain a deeper level of understanding of Korean society and culture. Our summer consisted of language instruction, corporate visits, cultural excursions, and meetings with Wharton and Lauder alumni.

Our language instruction took place at the Korean Language Institute of Yonsei University, one of the premier universities of Korea. We had classroom sessions on listening, reading, speaking, writing, and vocabulary/grammar from 9am until 3pm each day, and received supplementary instruction from 3pm until 6pm primarily focused on discussing a Korean novel and preparing for the OPI. Within the five-week language instruction, our Korean has improved significantly through activities such as giving presentations, engaging in debates, and writing academic papers. People often ask if it was uncomfortable being the only two students in the classroom, but we saw it positively, as the small setting had us actively engaged both inside and outside the classroom.

During our language instruction, we had weekly special topic lectures conducted by professors from various disciplines. We had a lecture on the Korean economy by Professor Lee Doowon, who talked about the drivers behind Korea’s fast-paced economic growth within the last few decades. Professor Kim Chanho spoke to us about Korean society and some of its problems such as aging population, isolation, and poverty. Professor Kim Younghee provided an engaging narrative involving key phrases depicting Korean culture. Professor Kim Sangjun shared the fundamentals of Korean politics and how it compares to that of Japan, and Professor Hyewon Cha gave a lecture on the status of Joseon Dynasty in the geopolitics of East Asia in 16th century and talked about what we can learn about the contemporary Korea from its past. Also, Overall, the special topic lectures expanded our understanding of Korea. We were also able to appreciate each professor’s perspective as local experts, since most of our instruction on Korea had taken place outside of Korea.

Throughout the program, we had weekly corporate visits, including CJO Shopping, Bank of Korea, SBS Contents Hub and Jeju Air. Each week we would prepare for the visits by researching each of the companies and their respective industries, and preparing questions in Korean. We especially enjoyed meeting with the Executive VP of CJO Shopping’s New Business Unit, Jane Jin (WG’99). We were intrigued by her passion for creating new brands and gained insight into Korea’s beauty and home industries. We also enjoyed meeting with the President of SBS Contents Hub, Jason Yoo, who helped us understand South Korea’s media landscape as well as SBS Contents Hub’s role in bringing new, innovative content to the country and the world. We found that companies like CJO Shopping and SBS Contents Hub are in an ever-changing state especially with globalization and the large-scale expansion of Hallyu.

We also participated in cultural excursions, one of which being the National Contemporary History Museum, where we received a guided tour of modern Korean history. It was an in-depth tour of Korean history from the Joseon Dynasty to the current, and we were able to gain a deeper understanding of Korean history from the perspective of its people. We also visited the National Assembly in Yeoido, Daumsoft, a data analytics company, as well as Korean Film Archive. These cultural trips helped us understand Korean society, the people’s values, popular trends, and cultural identity.

While in Seoul, we had the opportunity to meet with several Lauder alumni. We learned that the greater Wharton network in Seoul is 500+ strong, and were encouraged to see Lauder alumni so actively involved in Wharton alumni clubs and board positions. We also had the privilege of speaking with Mr. James Joo-Jin Kim over the phone, a large supporter of the Korean language program at both the Lauder Institute and greater University of Pennsylvania, and met with Dr. Kenric Tsethlikai and Dr. Frederick Dickinson as they were passing through Seoul for various conferences and meetings.

With each of these components, we were able to improve our Korean proficiency significantly. We expanded our understanding of Korean history, economy, society, and culture throughout the summer program and are excited to share this knowledge and experience with our classmates in the fall.

Authors: Amy Kim and Ellen Hahm (Korean Program, Lauder/Wharton Class of 2019)

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