Message from Abroad

about an exchange period in South Korea

The Emerging Market named South Korea

Last academic year I went on exchange to South Korea, where I studied at Yonsei University in Seoul. I spent one semester in this Asian country. Within this paper I will outline some interesting facts and stories I experienced within this emerging market. Thinking back about my time there, I had a hard time figuring out what exactly makes South Korea an emerging market. I lived in a newly build dorm provided with anything you would ever need as a student, including a laundry service, 24/7 convenience store and multiple restaurants in the building. Sinchon, the neighborhood I mostly spent my time, was one big maze filled with countless bars, food places and a kind of rooms in which you can play games, watch movies or sing karaoke among others. The stores located in the area are mostly open 24 hours a day and everything is relatively cheap. These differences were the most striking and extraordinary differences between the Western world and South Korea. Despite the fact that these differences are rather big, I really enjoyed them.

At Yonsei University I attended a course called ‘Managing in Emerging Markets’. Interesting to mention is that within this course South Korea was not classified as an emerging market anymore.  Currently, in South Korea there is already a 5G network being deployed and moreover, the capital Seoul will be fully equipped with wireless internet across the entire city within a short period of time. These examples underline the definition of South Korea within the course ‘Managing in Emerging Markets’. To emphasize this importance, Seoul is the world’s second largest metropolitan area in the world with approximately 25.6 million inhabitants. If you compare this to the state of technology in the developed economies, then it is easy to notice that South Korea is way ahead of the curve.

Of course, this is only one part of the story. South Korea has officially been at war since the start of the Korean War in 1950. In 1950 communistic North Korea attacked the pro-American South Korea. After some years, South Korea was considered as one of the poorest countries in Asia. This was due to the loss of a serious number of men and valuable resources. Nowadays, after more than half a century, they have regained a lot of strength. At the moment, there is 2% absolute poverty, which implies that these 2% are deprived from basic human needs such as food, safe drinking water, health and education. Strikingly, most of these people are the elderly as they do not obtain any benefits from the government. These elderly hope that their children will take care of them after their retirement. However, it is not obvious that this will indeed happen. Consequently, it is not uncommon to see older women selling stuff on the street or cleaning subways.

During my time in South Korea I also travelled a lot. One of my trips had the destination of a tropical island called Jeju-do which is located to the south of South Korea. I found out that people in the smaller cities were way different. South Korea is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in the world. However, there are some foreigners in Seoul. . Some citizens of small villages have never seen a foreigner. This is not illogical as there are hardly any foreigners around. The reason for this is simple; there is not as much money to earn as in the big metropolitan city Seoul. Consequently, people in the rural areas have relatively sober existence. In order to have any prospective in your career, you will have to go to the major cities. This is something that does fit in the image of an emerging market.