It’s more or less exactly the job I went to business school to avoid, except that it’s in Korea instead of Sunnyvale or some other indistinct Northern California parking lot city.
Before I moved to New York, I’d only worked in big, staid tech companies, where my tendency toward being a quirky, loudmouthed malcontent never really paid off. When I quit my job and went back to school, my goal was to get away from that. I’d use my tech experience and business education to be a valued member of a small team that needed a dissenting iconoclast to break the status quo and get out of the box and flatten the organization and wear many hats and grind the purple zebras and like a million other boring business clichés about doing the same old boring business things except with beanbag chairs and staff barista, courtesy of the venture investors foolish enough to hand their money to my new 22 year old bosses. But doing that right, was going to take hundreds hours cold calling startups and LinkedIn-ing (Linking-In?) founders and having coffee chats with people who started businesses in their parents garages and would like to turn a profit but instead house their offices in the most expensive real estate on the whole planet. So I just went to just one corporate recruiting presentation.
I started my MBA at exactly the time when Korean pop star Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ had transcended annoying thing referenced too often to become tired thing referenced by people doomed to corporate life forever. When I joked to myself then that the Korean nouveau riche pop anthem would be the anthem of my business education it felt flippant. Now it feels eerily prescient. I’ve heard Psy’s mother operates a delicious but overpriced fried chicken restaurant in Cheongdam-dong (a ward in Seoul).
Of course, this story, like any worth telling, isn’t strictly true. I originally went to business school thinking I’d transition into equity research, where you follow a CFO around with dustpan and gather up all their dropped hints and half-truths and link them together with red yarn on a big bulletin board like an FBI investigation ate psilocybin. Magically this predicts next quarter’s earnings. It took about 90 seconds to realize that I’d rather be a clown-fluffer at Barnum & Bailey than smolder away my life color-coding earnings models for a thousand-year-old managing director. I had to pivot. Maybe I got carried away.
It was a hedge. I figured I could get the job – I’d worked at companies that extracted tons of money from them in the past, and I was comfortable discussing my willingness to move to Korea and be culturally flexible and whatnot with complete nonchalance. I’d lock that up, and then start going to startup meetup happy hours to demonstrate my immutable charm after four complementary glasses of Costco wine. It couldn’t hurt.
But then it got sort of serious. Like all interviews for jobs you don’t want, I was too comfortable and confident. (I’m still not sure why employers can’t read that I bring that signature nonchalance to all my tasks…) And then I had the offer burning a hole in my pocket. I’d seen other classmates looking for startup jobs: The weeks and months roar past while the loan money dries up. It would be a big brand name. Experience in Korea would be good. It’s only a two-year commitment. Never mind that bit about 7,000 miles away. Never mind going from big, conservative tech companies to the biggest, most conservative of all.
That was it. I flexed my credit card and dropped a chunk of money on a sparkly rock at Tiffany & Co. My then fiance and I eloped at the City Clerk’s office (with the somewhat puzzling near-complete support of our families), and we packed up the meager contents of our studio apartment for ocean transport.
So this is story of how I accepted my nightmare and moved to the other side of the world. Over the next few months I’ll write up reflections, observations and frustrating anecdotes about my life as a foreigner/ expat in Korea. Keep coming back for more tales of my misadventures in tentacles and bureaucracy as I add installments to this series.
Latest posts by Dan Gidditch (see all)
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- I Live in Korea (And I Have No Idea How it Happened) - January 23, 2016