Korean Corporate Cultural Workshop for the Australian Delegates 

As a New Colombo Plan (NCP) Alumni Ambassador I had the opportunity to attend the 38th Australia-Korea Business Council (AKBC) Joint Meeting in Brisbane this November. Having lived in Korea as an exchange student, and a soon to be engineering graduate, I took this chance to utilise my Korean cultural and language literacy to enhance our country’s bilateral relationship.

The AKBC and its KABC counterpart seek to develop business relationships between Australia and Korea and hold many events throughout the year. I encourage anyone who is interested to sign up to the AKBC newsletter and keep up to date with their events and programs.

The cultural workshop on the first day was an invaluable forum for Australian business people to educate ourselves on the absolute basics of Korean culture, such as giving and receiving with two hands. However, we then dived deeper into the deeply rooted Confucian and military influences on Korean society that help to explain some of the inevitable hierarchy, bureaucracy, and professional habits that we Australians must acknowledge when conducting successful business with Korea. I have seen first-hand these misunderstandings make or break business relationships. When my Australian colleagues complain about futile business trips to Korea where they were expected to eat and drink their way to a deal, I have to remind them that doing business in Asia is a delicate art, and never straightforward like they expect.

We also touched on the incredible boom of South Korea’s GDP, their geographical and demographic features, the soft power of the Korean Wave (Hallyu – 한류), plastic surgery trends, dominance of family-run conglomerates (chaebol – 재벌), understanding the university entrance exam pressures (suneung – 수능), Australia’s involvement as an ally in the Korean war, and what all this means for doing business in the region.

Over breakfast, Australian Ambassador to Korea the HE James Choi gave an enlightening brief on South Korea. From Trump and North Korea, to economics and record low birth rates, I learned much about newly elected President Moon’s policies and the new wave of innovation from Korea’s budding entrepreneurial ecosystem. When asked “what can Australia do for Korea?”  Ambassador Choi encouraged sharing systems of flexible work,  the professional roles of women, and breaking down the systemic barriers in Korean society muting the younger generation.

Importantly, Ambassador Choi and many others noted in their addresses that while the embassy and foreign diplomats are busy navigating trade strategy, tensions on the peninsula, and economic security, signature initiatives like the New Colombo Plan are in place to nurture the equally significant people-to-people links between Korea and Australia. As an alumni attending such proceedings, it highlights the depth and quality of engagement we experienced through the NCP.

The official plenary session was live-translated through personal headsets, and I took the opportunity to broaden my Korean vocabulary and listening comprehension pertaining to the discussion topics. Overall, as an electronics engineer student, my key taking from the sessions was a comprehensive overview of the industries leveraging the Korean-Australian corridor. It was interesting to see Korea leading the world in many ICT and technology statistics at the turn of the ‘4th industrial revolution’. We were told that “data is the new oil”, evident in the development of visionary e-sports stadiums, and the multilateral process of modelling integrated transport and smart cities.

Preview of the future E-Sports Stadiums in Korea

During our breaks, I made a conscious effort to introduce myself to various Korean delegates, practice my formal Korean, and be an example of the next generation of culturally literate Australians. It was inspiring to meet many organisations that are actively facilitating the Korea-Australia relationship such as the Australia-Korean Foundation and AKBC. I encourage all Korean enthusiasts, or those considering professional development in the region to look up such groups and to continue engaging with Korea domestically. Meeting Australian colleagues studying Korean, and having the famous “Hoju Sara” emcee the formal dinner in fluent Korean gave me hope and higher aspirations for my personal Korean journey, raising the bar for Aussie-Asia competency.

Ambassador Choi’s final message to the NCP Alumni was to “stay passionate about Korea”, and I can’t deny that through attending the 2017 AKBC Joint Meeting, I was able to reaffirm my decision to pursue the Korean language and was motivated to make use of these valuable connections to pursue fresh opportunities in the region. I am very grateful to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who made this trip possible.

Stay tuned for more posts about keeping engaged in Korean affairs domestically!

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Michelle Howie

Michelle is an engineering student in Adelaide. She was the first Korean Fellow of the New Colombo Plan, studying for 1 year in Daejeon and Seoul. Since returning to Aus she continues her love of Kareoke, Kimchi and Korean!

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