Film intern feels the aroha and manaakitanga of Seoul

University of Canterbury student Brigham Riwai-Couch spent two weeks in South Korea earlier this year learning about the country's creative sector and immersing himself in the local culture. He draws comparisons between Korean and Māori cultures and says he was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the Korean people.

Hear from 2022/23 CJ Cultural Foundation intern Brigham Riwai-Couch about his internship experience

He uri tēnei nō ngā iwi rangatira o Kai Tahu, Rangitāne o Wairau, me Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairarapa, ko Brigham Riwai-Couch ahau.  

The first few months of my internship with CJ Cultural Foundation were online, where a fellow intern [Libby McKinnel] and I undertook research on various topics.

My research focused on how technology has helped facilitate and evolve traditional practices in Korean and Māori cultures, specifically focusing on haka and Korean dance. 

In February, following the online part of the internship, I got to visit the famous metropolis of Seoul to visit CJ Cultural Foundation and experience Korean culture for myself. It was an experience I will never forget. 

Libby and Brigham posing for a photo over a lunch of fried food and noodle soup

Brigham and fellow intern Libby McKinnel having their last lunch in Seoul at the end of their internships

The hybrid model of this internship - being both online and in-country - made the whole journey incredible.

Having the first few weeks of the internship researching at home and having meetings via Zoom allowed for a smooth transition into Korean culture and eventually my arrival in South Korea. Learning some of the language and cultural customs prior to my arrival in Seoul made the trip awesome straight off the bat.

Being immersed in Seoul and witnessing first-hand how people live and interact with each other was such an incredible experience - the respect, generosity, and fun that I experienced really stood out to me.

I felt aroha and manaakitanga (love and kindness) from people that made my stay in Seoul so much more memorable. This was definitely the highlight of my trip: meeting people and creating meaningful relationships that will last a very long time. 

Brigham and Libby standing on the street outside CJ Azit's premises in Seoul South Korea

Visiting CJ Azit - a theatre supporting rising artists to fulfil their creative aspirations

The day I enjoyed the most in Seoul was the day we went to a theatre to watch a traditional Korean dance performance.

We watched performers sing, play traditional instruments and dance - it truly was a fascinating experience seeing the fluid movement of fan dancers and vigorous drumming of Korean drummers upfront and in person.

The dances were mesmerizing - the voices were beautiful, and the overall feeling of the performances was awesome. To be able to see these performances truly was an honour and something that I’ll always remember.

Through my research and time in Seoul, I saw many similarities between the cultural values of South Korea and New Zealand, especially Māori culture.One of those values being tino rangatiratanga. Like Māori, the people of South Korea value their cultural identity and love their country. They are proud to talk about their whakapapa and the success of their families and people.

Whānau, family, is another core aspect of South Korean culture, with the elders within families being treated with the utmost respect.

Even if you aren't family, South Koreans are extremely kind. I noticed this firsthand in the train networks deep underground, where old women treat strangers' babies like their own, making sure the baby's jackets are on properly and that they are warm. This kind of behaviour is culturally accepted and it was such a heart-warming thing to see in person.

Brigham sitting at a mixing desk giving the thumbs up

Brigham at a mixing desk at CJ Azit theatre

Being immersed in South Korean culture has been such an eye opener and educational experience; they are a remarkable people with a remarkable culture. 

I feel there are massive opportunities for collaboration between New Zealand and South Korea - to work together on common goals and projects around media, technology and the preservation of traditional cultures. 

Seoul was nothing short of breathtaking.

Taiawhiowhio te rere ō ngā mihi aroha ki a koutou. I absolutely cannot wait to visit South Korea again.  

The Foundation's business programme supports New Zealand companies to better understand Asia so they can make the most of opportunities in the region. We are also focussed on growing the next generation of Asia-savvy business leaders.

Our business internship programme aims to help interns build a better understanding of the people, place and culture of their Asian host country, while developing industry-specific skills that will benefit them as they progress in their careers.