To gain entry to Australia, we had needed to pre-purchase exit tickets out of the country as condition of entrance. So back in New Zealand, we needed to pick which country we would visit after Australia. I lobbied for Japan. After all, we had friends in Tokyo, we love the food, and Alice speaks Japanese. Alice agreed with the advantages, but the recent tsunami, nuclear disaster, and the uncertainty around the safety of the food caused her to cross Japan off as an option.
I then tossed Korea into the ring, since I love their cuisine too. Alice pointed out that thus far, we’d been to two English-speaking countries, and we don’t speak Korean. Plus, we didn’t have any friends or family there. All her points were spot on, which caused me to feel uneasy and prompted me to declare that we should cross off Korea too. After a pause, Alice stated, “Well, that’s exactly the reason why we should go to Korea: because we are both nervous, and we don’t know anyone there.”
I smiled and began scouring the Internet for the least painful Gold Coast to Seoul flight option. Alice was right: we can’t grow unless we’re stretching ourselves and a little anxious. Korea it was!
The trip from the Aussie Gold Coast to Seoul became a forty-hour Amazing Race ultra-marathon endurance test. It included a cancelled flight, scrambling for a new itinerary, three layovers, and a two-hour takeoff delay. Fortunately, our little Keira’s innocent good nature and our trusty au pair Kayla’s great attitude helped ease the pain. Other passengers were so bored that they entertained themselves by playing with our baby.
Finally, we arrived in Seoul. After such a long journey, our bar was quite low, and we were just happy that we made it. But immediately, we were blown away. The airport was so clean and modern. Alice was impressed with all the automation and conveniences in the restroom, which helped her feel reassured right away. Little things like finding fresh and healthy food at the Korean version of 7-11, enabling us to quickly feed Keira after almost two full days of air travel, put us all at ease.
We booked an apartment through AirBnB for about a month. It was small but located in a hip, bustling neighborhood with lots of cool shops, cute little restaurants, and trendy cafes. After New Zealand and Australia, Seoul definitely created a big-city vibe with its high urban density.
East Versus West
Setting up interviews in Seoul was considerably more challenging than any other city during my careercation, maybe because many business leaders were intimidated by the notion of me “interviewing” them in English when English wasn’t their first language.
Despite that, I was still extremely excited to meet the two entrepreneurs who graciously agreed to talk to me. As an Asian myself, and having studied Asian political economics as an undergraduate, I wanted to find out how Confucianism influences management practices. I was also curious about their point of view when it comes to leadership, culture, and managing people. Furthermore, I wondered how the Korean Chaebols (family-run conglomerates like Hyundai and Samsung) impact the business and entrepreneur community.
Finally, with only two interviews over the next month, I was looking forward to spending some quality time exploring our neighborhood and Seoul with my family. Plus I was excited to have some extended downtime to pour over my previous interviews that I had put on pause to nurse my pneumonia.