Intern delighted by Seoul's "dynamic duality"

When Fine Koloamatangi landed in Seoul earlier this year, she wasn't merely an intern arriving in an unfamiliar city; she was a K-pop devotee and expert embarking on a journey to the epicenter of the musical genre. Fine was in Seoul on an Asia New Zealand Foundation internship at CJ Cultural Foundation. She is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in art history, specifically looking into the ways in which K-pop's visual culture contributes its allure for Pacific peoples. Fine spent the first half of her internship in New Zealand working online before flying to South Korea to work out of CJ Cultural Foundation's Seoul office for the remaining four weeks.

Watch some highlights from Fine's time in South Korea as a CJ Cultural Foundation intern

I had wanted to apply for the internship for a while but wasn’t sure whether I’d be a good fit considering what I perceived to be non-alignment in terms of my tertiary studies.

Sure, my research focusses on South Korean popular culture, but how would that actually translate in the real world?

It was the desire to gain real-life experience working in a corporate environment and in South Korea, that gave me the impetus I needed to apply. And I’m glad I did!

The internship comprised four weeks online and four weeks onsite in Seoul. The online portion kicked off with an orientation, where my fellow intern Nadia and I were introduced to CJ Cultural Foundation (CJCF), its activities as well as what would be expected of us during the internship.

Fine standing in a street of traditional Korean buildings with a panorama of Seoul behind her

Fine: " The interplay between the traditional and the modern, the past and the present, and culture and innovation, permeates the city’s societal fabric..."

CJ Cultural Foundation falls under the corporate social responsibility division of CJ Cheiljedang, one of the subsidiaries of international conglomerate CJ Group. CJ Cultural Foundation's aim is to foster diverse and innovative cultural sectors through the discovery and cultivation of talent in music, film, and various performing arts.

Nadia and I were each given a project to complete, which combined the work of CJCF with our individual interests.

My project involved researching popular music industries in Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific and exploring the potential of Korean indie musicians to enter our markets.

The work I undertook built on my current doctoral research in a practical way and allowed me to view the Hallyu (Korean Wave) phenomenon more authentically, from within its country of origin.

A highlight of the orientation was meeting with Jo Min, executive vice president and head of corporate social responsibility for CJ Cheiljedang, and one of Te Whītau Tūhono’s Honorary Advisers for South Korea (she’s seriously so cool!).

Fine standing in front of a temple in Seoul

Visiting Deoksugung Palace (pictured) and other cultural sites was a highlight of Fine's time in South Korea

Off to Seoul - South Korea's largest city and cultural hub

The online portion of the internship went by quickly though and pretty soon it was time to travel to Seoul.

Before leaving, I was all kinds of nervous and excited and given the timing of the trip, it seemed like quite a special way to usher in the new year.

What first struck me about the South Korean capital was its size and population density – it’s huge and has almost twice the population of Aotearoa!

The CJCF office is located in Jung-gu, Seoul’s historical city centre, where many important landmarks and well-known sites are located, including Dongdaemun Market, Namdaemun city gate, Myeongdong shopping district, N Seoul Tower, City Hall and Deoksugung Palace.

We (Nadia and I) stayed a few minutes down the road from the office, and it was the perfect base for exploring the city, particularly via subway. Everything – transport, food, technology – was incredibly convenient.

A photo looking through an archway gate across a square full of people

A view through Seoul's Gwanghwamun Gate

Working in the office itself was an awesome experience. I felt that there was just the right mix of professional and cultural activities. Despite January being a busy time for the team with planning in full swing for the year ahead, everyone was so lovely and welcoming.

There was also recognition that we were only in Seoul for a short time, so project report writing was interspersed with offsite visits to CJ’s other spaces, attending concerts and exploring Seoul’s vibrant neighbourhoods.

A definite highlight for me was having lunch (and post-lunch coffee!) with different colleagues throughout the month, which presented ample opportunity to chat and connect.

Outside of work, I explored some of the popular tourist sites, my favourites being the royal palaces, Han River parks and the museums dotted throughout the city (Seoul is the perfect place for any art history buffs!).

Fine and Nadia posing for a photo with colleagues in Seoul

Fine (second from right) and Nadia (second from left) with colleagues from CJ Cultural Foundation

Through CJ, we were able to attend MCountdown, a weekly K-Pop music show where artists and groups perform their latest releases.

When I was an administrator of the NZ KPOP FANS Facebook page, I remember keeping track of all those music shows and posting content from them each week. It was so surreal to be attending a show years later.

And although the majority of the groups performing were new generation K-Pop, two - SISTAR19 and B1A4 - were active from the time I was really into K-Pop (2010-2011), so it was awesome to see them!

Though I knew this to be the case beforehand, experiencing K-Pop in and outside South Korea is different. As it's a product of their country, Koreans are just so used to K-Pop - it's everywhere, it's familiar, it's mainstream, it’s accessible. Whereas abroad, it's still seen as something that's new, fresh, exciting and a little niche.

Fine with three other people standing in a room with a black and white picture behind them (at Waitangi Day celebrations at the NZ Embassy in Seoul)

Fine marked Waitangi Day in Seoul at a New Zealand Embassy reception alongside her friend, and fellow Leadership Network member, Ashalyna Noa (far left)

Looking back, one aspect about Seoul that left a lasting impression on me was its dynamic duality. The interplay between the traditional and the modern, the past and the present, and culture and innovation, permeates the city’s societal fabric in a way that’s hard to grasp unless you’re fully immersed in it.

This duality manifests itself in a feast of visual juxtapositions, where a trendy café might be found in a hanok (traditional Korean house) or a modern and contemporary art museum might be located on palace grounds.

I’d wager that such an interplay is characteristic of many places in Asia, which makes it all the more appealing as a region. And the fact that I was in Seoul during winter - a season which often entails isolation and the seeking of warmth and creature comforts - made this duality even more apparent, compelling a deeper appreciation for the experience as a whole. I can’t wait to go back!

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 internship programme helps 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.