Michelle wrote a great article about the MOU Internship, and I wanted to write about what kinds of advice I would give to future applicants to the Overseas Correspondent Program and add a little bit about my experience at MOU.
1. This may sound obvious to you, but be proactive in the office!
As Michelle said already, everyone works really hard in the office, and sometimes they are so busy that they forget to give you work and check on you. I was part of the PR department, and the atmosphere wasn’t as heavy and quiet as some other departments. However, at the beginning, I wasn’t given much work except some translations of weekly reports on North Korea. I wasn’t exactly expecting my work as an intern to consist of something too grand, but I was having a hard time concentrating and working hard because there was no pressure on me to get them done.
It’s then that I realized how important it is to be proactive and ask them if there is anything more that I can help with. Everyone in the office is very friendly, and I could really tell that they wanted us to enjoy our experience at MOU and to learn from it. The personal project that my mentor gave me was to make a report for the upcoming English MOU Facebook page by analyzing currently existing American and Korean Facebook pages. I enjoyed the experience and had the opportunity to present it too.
Don’t be afraid to ask them questions or ask them for opportunities where you can learn more about various North-South Korea issues. Don’t just sit there doing the minimum work and slack off until it’s time to go home. Make the best out of your internship- it’s not everyday you get to work at MOU!
2. The lectures that were held every week can be overwhelming. If you are not fluent in Korean, these lectures will feel especially long and difficult. Even as a native speaker in Korean, I had a hard time understanding some lectures. However, Grace Kim, our team leader, graciously gave us handouts with translations of some important words. You always have resources available- especially your fellow interns who may be more fluent in Korean. Try to get the most out of the lectures instead of giving up and falling asleep.
3. Just a fun note – don’t be too startled by massive amounts of people all brushing their teeth in the bathroom after every lunch!
I realized this at the MOU office and during the March for Peace and Unification – Koreans really love brushing their teeth after meals. I am Korean too, but I didn’t realize that people brushed their teeth so frequently in Korea. I think I brushed my teeth about six times a day during the March for Peace and Unification. Perhaps it’s because Korean food tends to be a little pungent in its smell. Many of the interns from the States were surprised to see so many people brushing their teeth in public restrooms after every meal, so I just wanted to warn you!
Speaking of massive amounts of people, also expect huge, and I mean HUGE, crowds of people rushing out of the building all at once during lunch hour. Because there is a set lunch period, people tend to all go to lunch and come back around the same time. I always felt like a fully-grown adult working for the government when I became one of the huddled masses all dressed in office-wear.
4. Lunch that the Ministry provides for each day is really awesome. However, also be prepared to finish your food quickly from time to time.
I noticed that many people finish their food very quickly so you may sometimes feel the pressure to finish your food fast too. As mentioned before, lunch hours are crazy and there are huge crowds of people everywhere you go, which might prompt you to eat even faster.
Finally, ending on a positive note,
5. Expect to meet lots of awesome people and bond with other interns!
I am so glad that I had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people through this internship. I not only got to meet important officials of the MOU, I got to meet other employees in the office (who bought me presents and cakes on my last day), other Korean interns at MOU, Korean university students at the March for Peace and Unification, and most importantly, other Overseas Correspondents. We all bonded so much through this internship and shared amazing experiences.
Even as a Korean, I learned so much about both North and South Korea. I have lived outside of Korea for most of my life, but I got to know both cultures very well. I am so grateful for all the opportunities we were given, including field trips to various off limits places. Choosing to intern at the MOU was one of the best choices I have ever made.
Author’s personal photos.