Having worked at colleges and universities in both Korea and the United States, I am particularly struck by one difference in how students approach their time at school between the two countries. That difference is, that in the United States, it is not typical just to go to study (and possibly work part-time), but it is also considered almost mandatory to get some kind of practical experience, either by interning, volunteering, getting involved in school-based activities, or in some way working in the field one expects to graduate in. In Korea, however, university is sometimes seen as a “break” between the stresses of preparing for the Suneung and the stresses of getting and holding a full time job. But times are changing and the job market is getting tougher, and it is time for students to begin to adopt a new attitude towards their university years, particularly if they want to work in any international field. At U.S. universities, our Counseling Departments have extensive lists of internship and volunteer opportunities, but this is not as common in Korea. And by not aggressively introducing students to internship and volunteer possibilities, universities do their students a disservice in the modern economic environment.
There are many reasons to volunteer or intern. The first is most obvious; more and more companies are looking for employees who already have some experience in their fields. In addition, studies show that companies tend to hire their interns at a high rate, and often for higher salaries than new employees who have not interned. From a personal perspective, you can think of an internship or volunteering as a chance to take a “test-drive” of you career, and at the same time learn the skills you need in your field as well as developing your confidence and resume. Volunteering and interning are also invaluable for building your network, and if you are lucky, the position will even pay you. There really is no down side to interning or volunteering. So, how can a student volunteer or intern? It’s not that complicated. The trick is to look for an organization that needs help and there are many of them. If you are one of Dongguk’s many bi-lingual students, you have an automatic entry to work for any of the websites or institutions that attempt to express Korean culture to the world. At my own site, www.ktlit.com (which reports on Korean literature in translation), I have had four interns, all of whom contacted me via email and asked if they could help. I was more than happy to find something for them to do, and in return they got work experience, exposure on the page, something to put on a CV, and a letter of recommendation. These students did not need to be perfect in English, in fact it was their ability to do research in Korean that made them so valuable to me. Or, if you are looking for a Korean-language internship, start with a simple web search. Use Google or Naver and search for the internship you are interested in. Korean Air, the Korean Embassy in foreign countries, C&J Entertainment and Media, the list is long. Students can also use http://jobsee.kr/, which focuses directly on internships in Korea, in both Korean and English-speaking environments. The opportunities are out there, students just need to reach out and grab them.
There are also a wide variety of social groups and NGOs in Korea that use student volunteers overseas. My students have volunteered in Cambodia, Thailand, and other less-developed nations. All these students have found such work useful both personally and professionally. It is a double advantage for a student as not only do they get invaluable work experience, but they also get the experience of another culture, which can be an education in itself. Some of these opportunities can be found on campus, and others are available with a little bit of research on the web.
If you do not want to work outside of campus, consider doing something on campus. Writing for The Dongguk Post, for instance, is an experience that can go on a resume and can help improve a student’s writing skills and confidence. Or, attempt to become a member of the 108 leaders, or get involved in your division’s student government. Clubs at Dongguk do a variety of different work, and you can choose the club that most closely fits your interest and/or career plans. And do not just join the club, become its president! Local community service is also a resume stuffer, and easy to find.
The good news is that Dongguk is starting to address these possibilities in the classroom. The English Linguistics Interpretation and Translation Department offers a “Mentoring” class that is intended for students who want to work internationally. This class offers students the chance to develop a CV, cover letter, and letters of recommendation that will help them to find work, internships, and volunteer opportunities across a wide range of fields.
Summer is over now, and we are back to school. Isn’t it time for you to start planning for your future? Internships, volunteering, and club work are steppingstones to a better future. So go out and get yours!
Charles Montgomery firstname.lastname@example.org
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