Martina Marek

BA Korean Studies graduate
Current Job: Communications Officer
Current employer: Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering

What does your current job involve?
I work at Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) as a communications officer. I was offered the job immediately after the interviewer tested my Korean. Now, my day-to-day duties include writing speeches for ship-naming ceremonies, editing letters, tenders and reports, interviewing staff, giving English tuition and attending events organized for our investors.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
The tasks I enjoy most are explaining the finer subtleties in the meanings of slogans and advertising. Our engineers often travel to Europe to report to ship-owners in English and I help prepare their presentations with them, practicing voice pitch, tone, body language and how to answer demanding questions. Although most of my colleagues are Korean “Ivy League” graduates, they often do not believe me when they hear that changing a single, seemingly insignificant word can alter the entire meaning of a sentence, or that a rise or drop in tone also affects the meaning. Koreans take great pride in their academic achievements and large amounts of money are invested in education with the belief that the best education is the most expensive. Nobody wants to doubt the worth or the status achieved through their investment. There is also the unease of having to accept advice from a younger person, and a female at that. I am one of 40 women out of a total of 500 employees.

What is working life in Korea like?
I had been warned that DSME is a very traditional company, but I was amazed to find myself almost at court attending to a true emperor. Our President is a very nice man but must be ushered and attended to at all times. A sudden flurry of hectic shuffling and a cry of “he’s on his way up!” are the signal for us to line up for the morning bow as he enters the office escorted by his personal assistant carrying his case whilst his secretary skips along behind him to help him out of his coat. When he calls, you run. Sudden bursts of hurried footsteps are an indication that he has just said something. But somehow these customs work well for Korea – and for DSME – which have gone from strength to strength.

Seoul can be a stressful place to live so we chose an apartment on the outskirts of the city with a view of the mountains. This helps me relax after a day at the office. There have also been some interesting changes recently that make life easier, such as taxbreaks for foreigners and the re-opening of the Ch’onggye River.

Life and work in Korea are often challenging, sometimes frustrating, but highly rewarding. Ultimately, ability in the Korean language can make all the difference.