Why I love my job in Korea even if I’m half paid compared to my previous job?

Jacques PHE
Dec 25, 2016 · 9 min read

That’s what I tried to explain to my parents when they asked me : why don’t you seek a better paid job in France or elsewhere?

MY PAST

First, let’s talk about what brought me to Korea. Born and raised in Paris, I majored in Electronics and Computer Sciences and got my Engineering Master in Bristol University. After my graduation, I started to work for big global consulting company in IT, Accenture . My first job was IT application support as a technical architect for France main gas company. Wow, that’s a lot of technical words that make your resume look so fancy! … In reality, it wasn’t that fancy… All day long in front of a PC, dealing with softwares issues, correcting pieces of code and solving issues that are not going to change the world, that’s for sure. Although it was interesting at first, because it’s your first job, you receive your first salary, so you are happy and live with it. You are learning a lot of technical stuff but also about the corporate life. So you are convincing yourself that you have a great job, you don’t complain much and try your best. I lasted two years and half before I cracked.

Feeling the need to escape and go abroad for new adventures, at that time, I was already dreaming to live in South Korea because I’ve been passionate by its culture since I was 15. I applied to a lot of companies without any success. In the meanwhile I had the opportunity to work for HSBC in NYC. I didn’t hesitate a single second, Korea will wait. Then, for a year and half, I was doing a similar job than my previous one as IT support for traders in the Fixed Income Department. The setting was amazing : offices on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, salary greater than what a 10 years experienced employee could get in France … A wonderful experience on a personal and professional level, but still, the job wasn’t fulfilling. After a while, it was really similar to my previous work with a routine plus traders’ pressure to endure. At the end of my contract, Korea was in my mind and timing was perfect to go to Seoul to live my dream.

CURRENTLY

The company I’m working for is called YAP and is a mobile application similar to Trip Advisor and Yelp. It offers users the possibility to find restaurants or shops nearby, to post reviews, to receive discount vouchers or to collect loyalty cards. The application has been downloaded over 4 million times and YAP is partnering up with other companies in Korea and is currently in international expansion. The difference with Yelp and Trip advisor is that the app is combined with beacon technology.

Beacons are small electronic devices which can be placed in stores and can transmit bluetooth wave to popup discount coupons or advertisements on a smartphone. So let’s say you download the app YAP , you enter one of YAP partner stores. At that moment, on your smartphone, you receive a push discount coupon according to your preferences. YAP is partnering with Starbucks Coffee in Seoul where they use our beacons for a prepayment service. Let’s say you are in a restaurant and you plan to have a coffee at Starbucks. You can use the app to prepay a cup of coffee then go to Starbucks anytime you want. As soon as you enter, the beacon detects you and they start preparing your order. Then you just have to wait for a notification when it’s ready to pick it up!

My position as a manager in the Global Strategy team is to develop the company abroad by finding companies willing to partner up with YAP. They could be hypermarkets, airports or even football stadiums. My role is to look for new opportunities by searching development strategies, thinking about new business models and preparing proposals to target companies.

START-UP ATMOSPHERE

Just think about the big American startups at their premises like Airbnb, Uber, or others. First they were not famous at all but somehow they drastically boomed! Well, I’m now working for one of these startups which is booming but a Korean version! Far from big multinationals Samsung or LG, atmosphere at work is younger and open. Administration and processes are not as rigid as a company which existed for decades. So any solution or new business model that could greatly benefit the company may be welcomed.

LEARNING EVERY DAY

I’m learning a lot every day. As​​ my working area is about new technology and mobile applications, it is imperative to be aware of what is happening in the world. Not only from a technological point of view but also economic and political view because everything is connected: each wheel has a consequence on others to rule the world. Following new trends and being aware of the latest innovations in technology is an obligation in order to not be overtaken by competitors!

A GOOD LEADER

People say that we do not really resign because of our work itself, but rather because of a bad manager. I can tell you that one of the reasons why I love my work is my manager. The CBO of YAP Global: Lee Gi Hyeok . Really smart, visionary and incredibly humble, 37 years only, he is also CEO of another investment company. Besides, he also works for the government and knows the current President Park Geun-hye. He also went on a talk show similar to TED talk. ( 세바 시 — 15 minutes to change the world ) where he explains how he started from cleaning toilets for 1.5 dollars an hour to being CEO of an international startup. Inspiring message in this video (in korean)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWFstm1nnOE

Working with such intelligent people is really interesting because we learn a lot from them every day. As the billionaire CEO of Alibaba, Jack Ma said in this video, working for a start-up you learn how to live your passion and achieve your dreams while working for large companies, you only learn about processes and you are a small part of a big machine. The most important is not about the business you are working for but the leader you should follow:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7AT1VdBWaA

CHALLENGE AND CREATIVITY

Every day has its challenge and surprises. For example, when the CBO noticed me about a company presentation that I had to perform for wealthy investors from Dubai, just 5 minutes before their arrival .. or when I’m aware just few days before about a pitch I had to do in front of 200 high position people in a convention… The fun part is that my manager gives me freedom and encourages me to be creative and bring a personal touch to the business. Instead of staying in the office in front of the PC I often attend networking events in the French community in Seoul to find more opportunities to grow. More recently, I even try to contact the company that creates Pokemon Go to work with them! So to sum up, this work is anything but routine, it is a constant thinking about how to develop ourselves and “take over the world”.

When I talk to the CBO, I am so impressed with the strategies he’s up to, reminding me Tyrion Lannister’s most twisted scenarios from Game of Thrones!

FEELING SPECIAL

The nationalities in my startups are 90% Koreans, 9.7% Chinese and me, “the French Guy”. Being the only European, I feel like receiving most of the time a special treatment. For example, people forgive mistakes I made when I speak Korean, I don’t need to bow to say hi to the managers (Sometimes, I even greet by waving with my hand …), and I don’t even need to call them with their title. Every day I feel like … exotic!

IMPROVING MY KOREAN

When you have to attend almost everyday meetings where they speak 100% in Korean, you can only improve. So my understanding and pronunciation in Korean definitely got better in a short time. Working in an international environment is especially rewarding. From a linguistic point of view, I use English to speak to the companies, Chinese with my Chinese coworkers and Korean, with my Korean coworkers. I sometimes forget French…

GROWING MY NETWORK

This job allows me to develop a great network of contacts with large companies around the world : Alibaba, GAP, IKEA, UN, etc. My address book is beginning to be supplied with hundreds of exchanged business cards and you never know what could happen in the future.

GOING ON BUSINESS TRIP

“Jacques, tomorrow we are heading to Tokyo to meet investors” This is the kind of sentences that I can hear … I often go on business trips in HK, China, Japan or else to make proposals and pitches in headquarter of large companies. Business trips can be sometimes quite challenging (return journey to a country in two days) or sometimes more relaxed with some free time when I can enjoy. In both cases it is always an adventure and the company takes charge of everything ^^

CORPORATE DINNER

In Korea, part of the working culture is to have company dinner with your coworkers and your boss from time to time. And these are a great time to relax and enjoy food and especially alcohol… In business trip or in Seoul, the company usually takes us to some delicious restaurant and I’ll never get tired of it!

COMING UP

Many projects are ongoing with large companies and even government entities. A business trip is even expected to Bangladesh to export our business there! It’s really with a lot of excitement that I’m expecting my future in this company. If ever we were to open a branch in France, there are a lot of chances that I would be managing it.

To finish with, I realize that getting up everyday to do a job you love is possible. And when it happens, you feel even more motivated and more eager to succeed. Maybe you are relatively young and you are not happy with your work? Try another field, go to the adventure in another country. Don’t be afraid to try and learn from your failures. What do you have to lose in the worst case? A year or two? Find a new job, learn about yourself and maybe one day you will stop complaining about your situation at work like the way I used to do.

“ Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. “ Confucius

For more stories about my startup life in South Korea and advice to live in South Korea, you can follow me on my blog www.thekoreandream.fr or my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/thekoreandreamfr/

Jacques PHE

Written by

French born chinese living in Korea. Author of the blog www.thekoreandream.fr

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