Intern overcomes initial nerves and embraces adventure of a lifetime

Arriving in Seoul on a chilly winter's evening in January, Nadia Safi's excitement at being in a strange city thousands of kilometres from home soon gave way to panic. What at first seemed exciting suddenly felt daunting - she was in a strange city, thousands of kilometres from home and about to start an internship at a multinational company. However, it wasn't long before the nerves lifted and Nadia found herself in the swing of life in Seoul, discovering a love for South Korean culture, food and people along the way.

After a shaky start, Nadia quickly found her feel and fell in love with South Korea

Touching down in Seoul on a cold winter night in January this year, I was excited.

When I applied for the Asia New Zealand Foundation Internship at CJ Cultural Foundation, it was a shot in the dark. I wasn't expecting to get it, and I certainly had no idea what an adventure I would go on.

However, as I got onto the airport bus and was whisked away from Incheon Airport and into the hustle and bustle of Seoul City, I am not going to lie, I started to panic.

Once I reached my hotel, the panic settled in. This was my first time travelling alone for a whole month.

Despite my independent streak in all things in life, whether at work or personally, I felt alone.

There I was, in Seoul, with all my family and friends on the other side of the world in Auckland.

I wanted to touch on this panic first because it is surprising how quickly that first-night fear dissipated.

Much of my renewed confidence and dissipating panic came from my interactions with the staff at the CJ Cultural Foundation, which made my time in Seoul an absolute joy.

From supervisors to the other interns, everyone at CJ Cultural Foundation were all so warm and welcoming. They were curious to find out about me as much as I was curious to find out about them and their lives. Despite not speaking the same language or coming from the same culture, we tried our best to ask each other questions and get to know each other.

They wanted to know how people in New Zealand work, what we eat, our family dynamics and more, and I certainly wanted to learn about them. Spending time with CJ’s Korean interns, I gained perspective on what life is like for someone my age in South Korea.

Nadia (second left): "From supervisors to the other interns, everyone at CJ Cultural Foundation were all so warm and welcoming."

The CJ Cultural Foundation is the corporate social responsibility arm of the CJ Group, which is a worldwide conglomerate founded in South Korea.

At the CJ Cultural Foundation, they work on giving back to the community through support in the arts sectors of music, film and theatre.

During my internship, I worked on two research projects, looking into film festivals and filmmaker development programmes on a global stage. The reports I worked on will be used to help my team when they want to introduce their filmmakers to the global stage - both at film festivals and at development programmes. 

The people at CJ planned many different out-of-office experiences for us (my fellow intern Fine and I). Because we were in the arts department, many of these were in the music and film industry.

A memorial to 'comfort women' near the DMZ between North and South Korea was a poignant reminder to South Korea's turbulent recent past  

We visited a showing of the Music Show held by the CJ EnM Corporation, the Entertainment arm of the CJ Group. As someone who had no experience with K-pop, this was really fun - it enlightened me about the allure of the K-pop industry and its many fans. We got to watch almost 20 K-Pop acts back-to-back as part of a live show that is held every Thursday in South Korea. 

As I settled in at CJ Cultural Foundation, I began to feel more emboldened to go out and explore, learn the language, indulge in the culture and history and even get on a tour bus by myself and travel to the border between North and South Korea to learn about the deep-rooted history of the country.

Visiting the DMZ ( Demilitarised Zone), which separates North and South Korea was a highlight of my time in South Korea and very poignant.

The tours organised in the area give you a true immersion into the history of the conflict between the North and South.

A standout moment, in which I wasn't allowed to take photos, was the trek into the Third Tunnel of Aggression.

The tunnel is just 44 kilometres from Seoul  and stretches almost half a kilometre into South Korean territory. It is believed the tunnel was dug by North Korean soldiers to attack the South Korean capital. It was incredibly fascinating to see and really brought home the ongoing conflict that still creates tensions between the two countries.

Lunch was served at the company cafeteria, which Nadia describes as 'food heaven''

I couldn't talk about my time at the CJ Cultural Foundation without briefly mentioning lunchtime, which was very different to what I have experienced in New Zealand.

For lunchtime, all workers in the same department go and eat together, whether at one of the nearby restaurants or in the basement of the CJ Building. The basement of our building was food heaven, and each day the Cafeteria did not disappoint. Eating together as a team was a great way to get to know my colleagues better and learn more about their lives.

To finish this off, I want to encourage the person reading this with curiosity, who doesn't think they will apply, who thinks they might be underqualified or unworthy of such a privilege, just to take the time, go through the application page, and press submit, because you never know the adventure that might await you.

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.