Rowan Petz, AustCham Korea’s Executive Director, welcoming guests to Australia Day 2020.

“Seoul is a fast-paced, dynamic city, with everything at your fingertips”.

Rowan Petz

As is the case for many of us here at Asia Options, Rowan’s Asia story begins with an exchange program at Yonsei University in 2014, which was solidified when Rowan returned to Korea as a Hamer Scholarship recipient in June 2016. Having studied International Relations at university, Rowan was interested in the division that continued to split the Korean Peninsula, and the time he spent here on exchange made him fall in love with the lively nightlife and fast-paced life in Seoul.

Rowan at the 2014 World Peace Summit.

Why Korea?

Although Rowan is now an iconic figure within the Australia-Korea space, he did not have his eyes set on pursuing a career here from early on. Having grown bored of monotone work in currency management back home, Rowan set out to travel around Europe and Asia before returning to university to pursue a degree in International Relations at the age of 29. Then, having had his curiosity piqued by the relative lack of understanding of one of Australia’ largest trading partners, Rowan applied to Yonsei University for his exchange.

“It felt like Korea was an untapped opportunity, flying under the radar and often overlooked by students and young professionals focusing on China or Japan”.

Rowan Petz

After arriving in Seoul for his exchange, Rowan’s academic interest in the country meshed with a love of Korea’s fast-paced lifestyle. He felt that Australia and Korea had a lot to learn from one another, not just economically, but also culturally. There is a lot of synergy between the two middle power allies of the United States, and living in South Korea provides a refreshing perspective to dealing with trade and diplomatic issues, particularly when it comes to neighbouring countries.

Yonsei University in Seoul, well known for its beautiful campus.

From studying to working in Korea

While from the onset Rowan saw an opportunity to become an expert in the Australia-Korea space, making the transition from study to work in Korea proved challenging. The Australian Chamber of Commerce (AustCham Korea), particularly through Scott Walker, played an instrumental role in both consolidating Rowan’s interest in the bilateral relationship and helping him meet various mentor figures to support his career journey.

“In terms of the highlights of working for the Chamber, the ability to represent such a diverse community is definitely up there. From a personal perspective, CSR strikes a personal chord and it’s been terrific to engage with the local community by volunteering for orphanages, assisting soup kitchens and so on”.

Rowan Petz

After being introduced to AustCham events by Scott while completing his exchange and subsequent language study in Seoul, Rowan started working for the Chamber in 2016, leveling-up to the Executive Director role in December 2018.

For Rowan, one of the most rewarding parts of working for AustCham has been discovering elements of the bilateral relationship that aren’t typically discussed in university lectures or seen in media headlines. The Chamber’s CSR work has been particularly influential in this regard, and Rowan’s eyes always light up when speaking about Australia’s contribution to the Korean War and the annual Scholarship Ceremony at the Gapyeong War Memorial.

Rowan alongside the H.E. James Choi, Australian Ambassador to Korea, at the Gapyeong Scholarship Ceremony in 2018.

Tips for success

Whether you are a student looking for graduate roles or internships here in Korea or if you are a business representative keen to expand into the Korean market, it’s important to build genuine connections right here on the ground. Cold-emailing and LinkedIn messages can only get you so far, and in Korea in particular relationship-building outside the office is a key component of success – which is why AustCham is the ideal platform to kickstart your journey.

“Opportunities are only going to get bigger as the bilateral relationship grows”.

Rowan Petz

In more general terms, it’s also important to be culturally and professionally adaptive, which is vital for working in a multicultural environment, particularly as an expat. Finally, Asia Options readers should keep in mind that passion is another key element for succeeding abroad.

While there are many challenges to finding work in Korea, particularly when it comes to visa issues, your commitment and interest in this space will help you maintain momentum even when navigating hurdles. Keep looking for opportunities to build-up your Korea experience, be it through study, internships, attending community-events or volunteering.

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Kate Kalinova

Kate Kalinova is an Intern at AustCham Korea, Seoul.

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