The key takeaways from our experience in South Korea can be broken down into three buckets: globalization, economy and culture.
During our meeting at the Ministry of Unification, it was interesting to learn about the preparation South Korea has taken in the event that North Korea and South Korea unite. From a cultural, educational and economic standpoint, integrating North Koreans in the South Korean economy is no easy feat and there are a number of scenarios South Korea is prepared to address. In addition, we learned about the Kaesong Industrial Complex, an industrial park inside North Korea where South Korean companies could work with North Korean employees and improve relations. However, the rocky relationship between the two countries caused South Korea to suspend operations at Kaesong Industrial Complex, hindering the unification process. Our visit to the demilitarized zone reinforced the view that many challenges remain for there to be peace between the two nations.
One of the buzz words throughout the week was “chaebol,” a term used for South Korean business conglomerates that helped stimulate the Korean economy after the Korean War. Chaebols, such as Samsung and Lotte Group, are family-controlled and exert an incredible amount of power both in the economic and political arenas of South Korea. While the government has actively sponsored the chaebols who have been responsible for much of Korea’s economic success over the last 65+ years, there has been much debate over the sheer size of chaebols and the consequences when one fails. It reminded me of the “too big to fail” institutions in the USA. Recently, the chaebols have been facing increasing pressure to increase transparency and break up their empires to let smaller businesses compete. It was fascinating to meet with Chazen South Korea sponsor and Lotte Group CEO Shin Dong-Bin who gave us an insider outlook into how a chaebol is managed on a daily basis.
I felt the group was pleasantly surprise with a passion South Koreans showed throughout the trip. The majority of company visits started with a relatively lengthy presentation on the history of the company and how the company’s current standpoint can be traced back to its founders. Our local guides loved discussing South Korean culture and our own South Korean CBS students were extremely enthusiastic about any questions we posed to them. On Jeju Province, our tour guide told us about her family and its history being in the “Haenyeo” (“female divers”) trade, which played a huge role in the Jeju economy. Our experience tasting various South Korean dishes, including “sea worms” which were still alive as we ate them, definitely made for an immersive experience!
-David Batt, CBS ’16