Today I leave Sydney for my month long internship at The Korea Herald in Seoul. As I sit among the bleary eyed early morning travellers at Sydney Airport International Departure Lounge Gate 56, it is hard to believe that after a month of frantic preparation, the moment has finally arrived.
I am now confident that I can manage "anyong haseo" (hello) and "kam-sa-hap-ni-da" (thank you)! Photo by Nick Gowland
I am completely honoured to have been given the privilege to undertake an internship in one of Asia's most exciting cities, and cannot give enough thanks to the hard work and generosity of the Australia–Korea Foundation in setting up this remarkable fellowship program.
The reality that in a matter of hours I will begin working at the leading English language newspaper in Seoul is still yet to sink in, and I doubt it will until I take my first step onto the plane. When I received confirmation over a month ago that I had been nominated for one of the 2014 winter fellowship positions, my life seemed to become one endless checklist. The whole experience of preparing for this trip has only made my excitement grow: I have booked flights and found accommodation in the Hongdae area (the perennial favourite of MeCo fellows, it seems); I have dipped into my fellowship funds to buy work attire and gifts for the office, because one of the greatest impressions left by my research into Korean culture has been the amazing complexity of gift-giving etiquette! I have talked to my Korean friends, who all seemed to take particular delight in scaring me with tales of Korean office culture (especially the dangers of after-work drinks). I have also talked to past The Korea Herald interns Kate Bolster and Astha Rajvanshi, who have given me a rough idea of what to expect in my first few days as an intern.
I have also begun exchanging emails with The Korea Herald journalist Paul Kerry, my contact person at the paper, who has helped me to develop a few story ideas so I can hit the ground running in a few days' time. I know now that as an intern I will have the opportunity to engage in a broad variety of work at the Herald, and I eagerly anticipate throwing myself into pitching, researching, writing and sub-editing, and all the challenges of the news desk. In the past week I have been avidly consuming The Korea Herald's daily output. The Korea Herald covers a broad spectrum of news including the spectacle of domestic politics and international relations, as well as lighter issues such as the personal dramas of K-Pop and Korean drama stars. I am sure that writing in its detailed but digestible writing style will be a perfect introduction to the world of print news.
I am also grateful at this time that I had the opportunity to travel to South Korea two years' ago, and spent a week in Seoul during the height of the curious international phenomenon that was Psy's Gangnam Style. Unfortunately, the only Korean I can remember from my time there is how to say hello and thank you, and that Australia is called 'Hoju' for some reason that was never made clear to me. Furthermore, I was last there during the depths of an icy winter when all the trees were barren and temperatures dropped to minus seven degrees. I know that coming in the middle of summer should be like entering a whole new world, and I cannot wait to sip a soju and experience the sensory overload of K-Pop on a warm summer evening.
More importantly, I am incredibly excited that I will be working in the Korean media at a time when the small country has really come to the forefront of international attention. The Sewol Ferry disaster and the conclusion of the Korea–Australia Free trade agreement. Only yesterday, South Korea's rambunctious northern neighbours threatened again to unleash a merciless war upon the United States, this time over a new Hollywood comedy about a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un. I am only disappointed that a 10 man Belgium squad had the tenacity to knock South Korea out of the World Cup with a 1-0 victory two mornings' ago, meaning that unfortunately I will not get the full experience of Korean soccer fandom. But at the end of the day, that seems like a small loss compared with the opportunity which I am about to depart for.