Zumrat, 23, Software Developer, Ulsan, South Korea


“Koreans are working very hard. Not because they like to work from morning till night, but because the system is designed in such way that no cheating is possible.”

My name Zumrat. I come from the city called Pavlodar, which is is in  the northeast part  of Kazakhstan. Currently I am studying and working in Ulsan6 which is in South Korea. I graduated from the Kazakh-Turkish Lyceum (KTL), which is where I learned about my current university. When I was in the 10th grade, one of my friends (also from KTL by the way) had already started studying at KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology). She helped me with the application, told me a lot about Korean culture, education and the country as a whole. She made it possible for me to study here, for which I am eternally grateful.

I arrived here in late August 2012. Frankly speaking, it was difficult at first to get accustomed to the life here though I got used  to Korean cuisine pretty quickly. Back at home, I didn’t eat much spicy food, but since arriving here I fell in love with it immediately. Of course, there were many cases when the food was so spicy that I got totally sweaty,teary-eyed and had  my friends laugh at me. Now, after living here for about 5 years, I sometimes think that Korean food has become my favorite cuisine.

I didn’t speak Korean then I arrived, but I immediately realized that I urgently needed to master it. Actually my English also wasn’t amazing, even though I’d been learning it since the first grade at school. It was easiest for me to communicate in Turkish, and this knowledge of Turkish was actually very helpful for learning Korean. Yes, oddly enough, the Korean language in its structure is very similar to Kazakh and Turkish. Probably because they all have the Altai roots. Learning the language took about a year. I taught myself at home in my free time, usually in the evenings. In addition, I tried to communicate with the locals, mainly with the opposite sex (laughs). This is how I learned more about the local culture and practiced the language. Over time, I found many local friends, and the more I communicated with them, the better I mastered both languages – English and Korean.

Now I work in the startup Jandi Co. Jandi – it is a Korean version of a  messaging platform for corporations, and helps with rapid communication and file exchange between colleagues in a team. I met with the founder of the company at a startup conference in Seoul in 2015, when their team won  2.5 mil. dollars for business development.

I have always been more interested in working for startup rather than a large corporation as I love the  freedom with this work. Sometimes, when you have so many different ideas and ambitions in a big company, it’s likely to be under-appreciated  or simply not be popular, because you are only a small part in a huge machine. But when you work in a team of 50-60 people and you know every person, it’s totally different. The age of the team members varies from 25 to 40 years. You can always ask for help from the more experienced people if you do not know something. Overtime work does not happen often, although in Korea and in many Asian countries, it is considered normal .

The working day starts at 9 am. but usually we try to arrive a bit earlier to start the work. Officially the workday is until 6, but sometimes I stay until 8-9, when I want to study or need to keep up with the work.

The most important thing is that the whole team is very flexible. Sometimes I find it difficult to make reports or presentations in Korean, and although not everyone speaks English here, nobody criticises me and is willing to listen. This is probably the most important thing that I like about our company.

I am not the only foreigner in the team, the founders of our company are of different nationalities, and the CEO is American. In principle, we are open to all competitive foreigners. Apart from me, there are 3 other persons who are not  Korean.

Koreans with whom I work directly are extremely responsible. You can always rely on them, and if they do not meet deadlines they always warn me in advance. Politeness and tolerance is very important as in any company. In Korea, it is necessary to shake hands with everyone in the beginning of the working day, as well as to say goodbye. Koreans also usually dine all together, sometimes everyone brings something from home, and sometimes we go together to a nearby cafe. They also work very hard. Not because that they like to work from morning till night, but perhaps because the system is designed in such way that no cheating is possible. Koreans are very dependent on public opinion and like working in a team. Perhaps that is why our meetings usually take a long time. By the way, after the meetings the local are very fond of going out for a drink, but that’s another story.

Recently I was in the States, and after spending some time there, I got homesick. After thinking about it, I asked myself where I wanted to be – in Kazakhstan or Korea? And somehow it felt like Korea. Why Korea? It is difficult to answer immediately. Food, culture, the level of the education in the population, and most importantly, the Asian mentality and safety. Korea today is a very safe country, and it is very important to me.

I’ll be glad to answer questions about studying and working in South Korea. Add me on Facebook.

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