Neils Footman

BA East Asian Studies graduate
Current job: English section editor
Current employer: Morning Calm, Korean Air’s in-flight magazine

The thought that producing an inflight magazine can be horrendously stressful might perplex some people. After all, there is no breaking news, a general aversion to controversy and only one issue a month to worry about. Yet the days when such publications were little more than padding for duty-free shopping lists and movie listings are largely gone. Not least at Morning Calm, Korean Air’s in-flight magazine, where I have worked as the editor of the English section for the last seven months.

Korean Air takes its in-flight magazine very seriously indeed. Top writers are commissioned, academics consulted, pictures bought from world-famous photographers and agencies. For almost a fortnight at the end of the month, we have to work shifts of 14 to 16 hours as we race to get the articles done and dusted. Even when we think we are finished, the fruits of our labour must undergo a process of tortuous scrutiny and withering criticism from our bosses here and at Korean Air. And mistakes – whether it is the entrance fee for a butterfly farm in Borneo or the weight of the capsules of the spacecraft Orion (25 tons by the way) – are a categorical no-no.

As the only full-time foreigner on the staff of Morning Calm, my responsibilities range from writing to proofreading to finding writers. By far the most demanding work, however, is editing translations. As anyone acquainted with the two languages can attest, English and Korean are poles apart, grammatically and stylistically. To English speakers, Korean writing can appear hopelessly florid, while English prose often seems staid or ploddingly descriptive to a Korean. Thus, “editing” is something of a misnomer. Working on translations often requires nothing less than a complete rewrite, with only the basic message remaining intact. Editing poetry, with its culture laden symbolism, can be especially galling. In one piece, for instance, a Korean poet wanted the perfect creature to symbolize her late mother, who had been a paragon of hard work and persistence. So she chose a cow.

Elements of Korean corporate culture can also take some getting used to. Being the Korean branch of a French company, my office is more Western in outlook than many in Korea. But the Korean formality is certainly still there: the standing up when the company president enters the office, the panoply of ranks and titles and perhaps above all the rigid adherence to the higher and lower forms of speech used respectively with your seniors and juniors. Despite living in Korea for over five years, and having a serviceable knowledge of Korean, I am still often discomfited by this most Korean of arts. Should I call somebody by their name or their title? Isn’t it patronizing to use a lower form of speech with somebody just because they are a year or two younger than me?

Still, I can say that my time at Morning Calm, and in Korea more generally, have been overwhelmingly positive. After all, with my level of experience, the opportunity to edit a glossy, high quality magazine would have taken many more years of miserably paid toil to attain back home. Although life here has plenty of challenges, if you are reliable, prepared to work hard and can be (sometimes very) patient with the idiosyncrasies of Korean life inside and outside the office, the land of Morning Calm can be an extremely rewarding place.