Timothy Im, '21, Intern at the Korea Herald in Seoul, Korea, Summer 2019

September 9, 2019
Image of Intern, Timothy Im, in Seoul in 2019

This past summer was quite an eventful period of time on the Korean peninsula. National events such as the historic meeting of President Trump, President Moon and Chairman Kim sent diplomatic ripples across the world and inundated every screen in the busy streets of Seoul. Tensions that can be traced back to World War II flared up (again) between South Korea and Japan, resulting in the today’s ongoing trade war- one that threatens to disrupt the global tech supply chains

Never would I have imagined myself to be such a privileged witness to these momentous events, much less be given the chance to craft narratives from these tumultuous happenings as they unfolded. Working at the Korea Herald this summer gave me that experience.

By working as an intern reporter, I quickly came to recognize that the larger change that seemed to grip the country was far more nuanced than I had expected. One of the first assignments I was tasked with was to interview shoppers in a busy street in Gangnam. I surveyed whether or not the trade war and the subsequent #boycottJapan movement actually appeared to have an impact on the day to day lives of summer shoppers flocking to the latest deals. Surprisingly, I found that many of the individuals were indifferent to the ramifications of the ongoing conflict, citing how it was the government’s responsibility to take care of such a macro-economic problem and not their own.

However, in addition to these larger events that impacted Korea, I was also able to get a much more personal look into the cultural environs and the inner workings of the country. Through my time at the Herald, I would jump onto crowded city buses in order to catch a press release on Oracle’s latest data center opening, interview product-team managers at Facebook, speak with professors and science fiction authors, and try out baked goods in bustling vegan-cafes, allowing me to gain an insightful look into smaller, more local events that, nevertheless, carried with them a significant cultural weight.

Through this experience and many others like it, I came to recognize that much of the “story” existed on the ground, in the people who were directly impacted by these larger societal movements. These people-driven narratives would often corroborate, challenge, or simply complicate the broader narrative at hand, resulting in more detailed and intricate stories to be told.

This opportunity at the Korea Herald allowed me to develop journalistic skills such as learning how to ask to right questions, gleaning important pieces of information from sources, and crafting together coherent stories. At the end of the day, however, I was simply grateful to be given the chance to explore and examine the cultural, business, and political landscape of the country.

Working at the Herald proved to be quite the fulfilling experience for a multitude of reasons. As a daily newspaper, information was churned out at a fascinating pace, keeping its readership up to date with all the latest news and commentary. It was always a thrilling feeling to be embedded in such a high-stakes, high-speed environment, where deadlines were expected to be completed in a matter of hours. Within the company, everyone spoke fluent English. The culture of the workplace was casual and laidback, devoid of some of the more cumbersome, hierarchal expectations common to other Korean corporate workplaces. This flexibility in behavior, accompanied by the same cultural exposure to what it was like to work in a Korean workplace, created an incredibly dynamic and vibrant environment in which to work in.

This learning experience was not isolated to my workplace. Over ubiquitous cups of Americano’s, sizzling strips of samgyeopsal, and mountains of kimbap, stories of ambivalent cultural identities and perspective-forming conversations were all shared with my fellow interns and other Harvard students in the country. I am incredibly grateful to have had such a vibrant community of friends and family in the country. Without them, Korea simply would have lacked the vivacity and energy that I came to love and enjoy.

With this experience, I bring back to Harvard a fresh new perspective on the inner workings of South Korea and the role of journalism in creating compelling, original, and unique stories. In the near future, I’d like to continue this interest in storytelling with a particular emphasis in documenting the technological innovation that the country is currently undergoing. I would like to thank Mr. Ledecky and the International Fellowship in Journalism grant for their endless generosity in providing students like me the opportunity to experience an international internship without the financial burden of studying abroad. It was only through this generosity that I was able to bring home memories, friends, and fresh new perspectives that I will cherish in the days to come.