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An Entrepreneur’s View of South Korea

Danny Kessler, an American entrepreneur, has taken a year off from his business of teaching self-defense to women to visit South Korea and teach English. Here are his insights into a different world.

Danny has been an entrepreneurship student of mine, and later a mentee, if there is such a word.  He started his business in college, and used it to put himself through school and travel the world. This year, he put it on hold to take a job with a salary for once, but he hasn’t given up his love for seeing the world or his entrepreneurial way of looking at the world. Notice how he interprets Korea:

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I am teaching english in South Korea in the city of Ulsan, where Hundai and Samsung are based.

My job is easy, very easy and I am used to a crazy worth ethic from starting businesses, so I spend a lot of my free time training mixed martial arts and drinking a lot. i feel like im back in college again the way I drink.

I will tell you, the Koreans are crazy about education: they study, have lunch and dinner at their high schools,  and have no high school sports.  After school they go to private schools that teach them English and advanced math and science until midnight, and wake up at 7am next morning for school. They have school Saturday too.

They pump out engineers like crazy here. This negatively affects their creativity in some ways, but in other ways makes their creativity strong. They may never have a Google come out of Korea, because here the older  people rule over younger. In a company the young newly hired person has no power and no say no respect, no matter what.

It is also a very top down society, and because that’s cultural, it won’t change.  When the government says, “we want this done now,” the people just cooperate and make it happen on the fly. They “ready, fire, aim” and figure it out. This actually makes people good at improvisational dance and creative activities as they work around all the crazy constraints that are put on them.

Korea is a communal society, so there’s peer pressure to help out,  make things happen, and cooperate.  i see this as a positive for society that the US lacks.For example, because Americans operate independently and selfishly, something like the green movement  will take a while to become the status quo.

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However in Korea, in my elementary school, everyone helps out;  if one teacher has something big due, all the other teachers stay after and help out. This is unspoken law.  I would imagine it is the same in companies, and as a result they remain very competitive.

The Hyundai car company is actually a HUGE company, with 8 divisions. Hyundai Heavy Industries makes 33% of the ships in the world. Samsung has the contract and is currently building the tallest tower in the world in Dubai

I’ve come to think that in bad times, a communal society is better than the one we have in the USA, where
in tough times our liberal values go out the window and we start poinitng fingers at each other. “It was the Jews, it was the Mexican immigrants, it was the blacks , the Republicans, those liberals.”  We are a melting pot and this actualy works to our disadvantage in dangerous times. Unfortunately, us versus them is a narrative in human nature that doesn’t change.

In Korea, everyone is the same. so it easy for them to create a world view that blames someone external, “it was the USA , it was China, it was Japan.” Then you add the communal culture, in which everyone helps each other out, and you have a country pulling in a single direction through a crisis.

In the US “community” is  a word  politicians use to sound good, but Americans are all so independent/selfish that it will be hard for us to cooperate, even more so in dangerous times.

He’s an insightful guy, and I like what he says about community in tough times.

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About the author

Francine Hardaway, Ph.D is a serial entrepreneur and seasoned communications strategist. She co-founded Stealthmode Partners, an accelerator and advocate for entrepreneurs in technology and health care, in 1998.

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