From Gore to Seoul - an intern's journey

Coming from a rural town at the bottom of the South Island and having never set foot outside of New Zealand, finding herself in the bustling streets of Seoul was an eye-opening and exhilarating experience for CJ Cultural Foundation intern Libby McKinnel. Libby's Asia New Zealand Foundation internship was split between six weeks working online from New Zealand followed by two weeks in Seoul.
Libby sitting in the doorway with a street of traditional Korean houses and the skyline of Seoul in the background

Libby: " ...[The internship] has inspired me to share my experience with others and seek more opportunities in South Korea in the future."

At the time of applying for the CJ Cultural Foundation internship in September 2022 I had no idea how much it would change my life. Having not travelled overseas before and coming from the small rural town of Gore to then being on the bustling streets of Seoul was a shock to say the least.

CJ Cultural Foundation is part of the CJ Group, a South Korean international conglomerate with numerous businesses in various industries. The foundations aim is to nurture and incubate young creators in marginalized areas of pop culture.

The internship consisted of a six-week virtual experience where I completed a research project on the evolution of music festivals and had daily Zoom calls with Dong Rim Song who works for the CJ Cultural Foundation. This was followed by a two-week trip to Seoul to visit the CJ Cultural Foundation. The hybrid structure of this internship is unique and it enabled me to learn about South Korea before being fully immersed in the culture.

Watch a video shot by Libby about her time at CJ Cultural Foundation in Seoul

When I arrived in Seoul I was amazed by the scale of everything and how efficient things were. The public transport was easy to navigate as a foreigner and most people could understand a little bit of English. I was able to get by with only knowing a limited amount of Korean; however, a little went a long way as people appreciated when I tried to speak Korean and they were happy to assist with pronunciation.

Throughout the two-weeks, my fellow intern and I had the opportunity to work in a professional environment, attend cultural performances both traditional and modern, try different cuisine and visit the CJ azit concert hall. It was amazing to see how well South Korea preserves and displays its cultural heritage.

In the weekends, we had time to explore some of the best tourist attractions in Seoul such as the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village and Namsan Tower. Seoul is a vibrant city that never sleeps. I was surprised to learn that most people are out and about late at night and you will never be without coffee as many cafes are open 24 hours. 

South Korea is innovative and the role businesses play in helping the Korean culture flourish is unique and something New Zealand could adopt.

As for the relationship between South Korea and New Zealand, I believe there is significant opportunities to be explored especially in the cultural realm. This experience has motivated me to contribute to this relationship in the future.

Libby standing beside large colourful letters spelling Seoul U

For me, visiting Seoul was eye opening and it challenged my perspective on life.

Being immersed in a culture is invaluable as you are able to see firsthand the cultural differences and similarities. It also forces you to try new things and step outside your comfort zone.

The CJ Cultural Foundation internship has helped me better understand South Korea and establish new connections. I am very thankful to the CJ Cultural Foundation for being excellent hosts and grateful to the Asia New Zealand Foundation for equipping me with the skills and knowledge prior to departing to thrive in South Korea.

For anyone with an inkling of interest in Asia, I would highly recommend this opportunity. South Korea is dynamic and growing rapidly.

The CJ Cultural Foundation is leading the way by supporting young creators to achieve success in their cultural fields and it is a great opportunity gain insight into South Korean culture. It has inspired me to share my experience with others and seek more opportunities in South Korea in the future.