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Annyeonghaseyo Hangug (Hello Korea)!
It’s 5 in the morning when the first rays pass through the closed windows, making the cross over the church across my hotel, visible. It’s morning here in Korea. I wake up at around 8, take the benefits of some of the lavish facilities provided, including the gym, the pool table and a digital commode (talk about digital technology these days!), have breakfast and reach the company by 10 AM. This is the second year that Samsung has hired interns from the IITs, so I was a bit skeptical about the company. (Here is what Raghav Gupta, a summer intern at Samsung Korea, the previous year, had to say about his experience.)
The selection process for interns in Samsung was a bit different compared to last year’s. Firstly, the students were shortlisted based on their resumes. This is done majorly based on one’s JEE rank and CPI. In the second round, we had to code 3 problems and submit their solutions. The problems were not very challenging and you will crack them easily, especially if you are a regular with easy and moderate problems on Codechef or Hackerrank. The third round consisted of two interviews – one technical and one non-technical – each lasting for about 30 mins. The problems asked in the technical interview were of moderate level and the non-technical interview was aimed at testing your adaptability to Korea. In all, presently there are 11 interns here at Samsung Korea from IITB – one from EE and the rest from CSE.
Samsung and all things Korean
The company culture is quite different from what you expect from hearsay, from those in Google or Facebook. To understand the culture in Samsung, we must in fact understand the Korean culture itself and the way Samsung has evolved. After the Korean War, Korea was in shambles. But 60 years later, it stands tall and proud – a country masterfully rebuilt with planned effort. Samsung has, in a way, inherited this Korean trademark of a rich work ethic, and has evolved from primarily being a hardware based company to now delving into the software business. Hard work and discipline at your workplace are a must. People generally start coming in by 9 am. We all work and then go to lunch together by 12.20 pm, come back in an hour, then start working again, and maybe have some coffee in between.
We have dinner by 6.30 pm. Quite early, and a little unimaginable for us Indians, isn’t it? But them Koreans love their chicken and their beer. And they sure do make perfect night-time food. Everyone leaves office generally by 9 pm. Hard work is a given here. You may be the smartest kid on the block but you still have to work 8 hours each day.I believe that this culture at the workplace instills a sense of oneness and mutual respect in the team.
At the workplace
There is a certain hierarchy at the workplace, but the hierarchy merely ensures efficiency at work and does not curb anyone’s freedom to interact with anyone else or express themselves.
No, seniors do not sit in separate cabins where we have to go to submit our reports. Everyone sits together in a single room, just like in any other software company. When it comes to decision-making, the seniors do have a major say which, I think, is fair enough, given their experience. My team leader is extremely humble, down-to-earth and a true source of inspiration for me.
[pullquote]Hard work is a given here. You may be the smartest kid on the block but you still have to work 8 hours each day.[/pullquote]
The work here is mostly managerial and involves ideation and decision-making, rather than implementational projects because this is the Headquarters. The major coding part is taken care of in the regional headquarters. But again, generalisations would be crude. Work is very team specific – everything depends on what kind of project you have been given.
I am working on a module in Tizen* to improve the performance of an API. My work deals with handling a large amount of code base and studying it and alongside thinking of ways to optimize it. I am working on a project consisting of more than 100,000 lines of code. My team deals with the main implementational aspects of Tizen. Some of my friends are in Machine Learning and their project involves research and implementing that knowledge to produce results. Some of the guys are working on ‘Internet of Things’ and their work as they describe it is- quite challenging, given a short 9 week deadline. But, there are also some guys who haven’t been assigned as challenging a task. Their work revolves around rudimentary excel and spreadsheet functions. Given just two months, sometimes it’s difficult for a team to give you a good enough project since this time is quite less when you want to contribute to something as big as Samsung.
Do you speak English?
Everyone here is allotted a mentor. Few of us have an Indian mentor but most of us have a Korean mentor including me. Mentors are for the most part friendly, although I have heard of exceptions. My mentor helped me a lot. A few days back, my phone went into a coma (for lack of a better word) and she helped me find some shops and places where I could buy one, by asking her friends and searching around. My mentor’s English is pretty good compared to the others around here. Everyone here speaks Korean. Korean is the official language of the country. But people do speak English, a heavily Korean-accented one at that. People who know English are familiar with the American accent while our Indian accent seems quite different to them, but if you write down or speak slowly and don’t use any Indian-English words, things work out. The situation outside of the company isn’t so good. Very few people are familiar with English, mostly teenagers. On the plus side, reading Korean is not so difficult and there are apps available now in English which you can use for traveling around. It is difficult if you want to have an elaborate conversation with someone though (For instance, asking a girl out would be an uphill task for foreigners.) The first few days can sure be hard, but once you cross over these hurdles, things aren’t so bad.
Korea is the land of morning calm.The serenity of the place washes through your system, leaving you a little breathless. The Indian and the Korean natural landscapes are very similar except that Korea’s is a miniature version of the Indian counterpart. There are lot of beautiful and challenging treks you can undertake. Busan (located in the southern part of Korea) boasts of some nice beaches. Seoul and Suwon are home to some of the most magnificent fortresses you will ever see. The Seoul tower and Busan tower are definitely worth visiting. Apart from these, the way the city has been structured and planned is quite brilliant in its own way. There are underground markets as huge as a mini cities, below the roads. It’s like this whole different city exists right below your feet, with thousands of people bustling around with their daily lives.[pullquote]It’s like this whole different city exists right below your feet, with thousands of people bustling around with their daily lives. [/pullquote] There are a lot of places especially for foreigners in Seoul (which is about an hour from where we stay) for shopping and partying. There are lot of foreigners around here too, who come together for a movie or a trek or some meetup. You can find all such details (about where the next event is) on meetup.com. I have been a part of a few meetups here, made some really good friends and had some of the best moments of my Korean days.
What’s not to love?
We live in Suwon, near the Samsung Digital City. We have been provided with all facilities in the hotel including Indian food three times a day,a refrigerator, an LCD TV, WiFi with great speed, a hair dryer, a common washingroom, a common cooking room,a gym and everything that is needed to make you feel comfortable. We are provided food three times in the company as well, where we have a choice of dining from a range of Korean, Japanese, Italian, Indian (though it only has a rating of 2.5 out of 5) and Western cuisines. Most things contain meat, but lot of them also have a vegetarian counterpart which though not as good as home-cooked food, is still worth a try. You really wouldn’t try too much Indian food here. If you’re a vegetarian, the Italian food is a must-try.
As I said earlier, I was quite skeptical about Korea before coming here. But after my arrival in Korea and my subsequent encounters with my team, the Indians here and the seniors here, my views have changed a lot. It is an amazing learning experience and the global exposure you get is incredible. You get a sneak peek into some of the products and things they are targeting for their future endeavours.[pullquote] Samsung is in the stage of evolution from a hardware-based company to a software-based company and the work culture is evidently changing here.[/pullquote] Samsung is in the stage of evolution from a hardware-based company to a software-based company and the work culture is evidently changing here. But the innate sense of Samsung being a Korean company will always remain ingrained in the ways of the company. The internship is for you to learn about the company which will help you in deciding your placements later. Traveling to another country is an adventure in itself. It is about imbibing the cultural and educational values in a different place and experiencing a new way of life!
* Tizen is an open source and flexible operating system with Linux kernel and developed by Samsung Electronics targeting mobile phones, TVs and all IoT devices as we move ahead. You can find more about it here.
If you would like to share your internship stories on Insight’s Summer Blog, feel free to email us at email@example.com. To read more (dis)similar internship stories written by IIT Bombay students over the years visit http://summerblog.insightiitb.org/.