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Through Summer in Seoul, interns gain an inside look at high tech in Asia

Tuesday, 12/10/2019

Three years ago, UMSI Dean Thomas Finholt expressed the desire to have UMSI students gain exposure to and international work experience in one of the world’s premier cities for technology and business. In response, the UMSI career development office created a new international internship program in Seoul, South Korea. In the summer of 2017, Hope Schaeffer and Christian Baird, a master’s student and an undergraduate, were the first two interns to participate in the Summer in Seoul program. In its third year in 2019, UMSI’s Summer in Seoul internship experience provided four master’s students with the opportunity to spend eight weeks in one of the world’s most culturally and economically vibrant cities.

Salma Siddiqui interned at Wanted, a job referral and recruiting platform. Taika Augustaitis worked at Inventis, an IT company specializing in the automotive industry. Benjamin Sutton worked at the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Korea and Shirley Chen interned at Fastcampus, whose product Coloso is the Korean equivalent of MasterClass.

Salma Siddiqui next to a sign that says wanted

Second-year MSI student Salma Siddiqui was drawn to the program by her desire to gain experience working for a tech company abroad. With a background in human resources and recruiting and a desire to pursue organizational analytics, Salma says the Seoul program appealed to her because it offered the job experience she wanted in a geographical and cultural setting that was different from anything she’d experienced before. 

“I thought the culture shock would be really good for me, being in a place where I barely speak the language, rather than another English-speaking country I could have gone to,” she said. “I had done quite a lot of research before going, but I don’t think anything can prepare you for entering such a bright and vibrant city.”

Salma knew the field she was interested in and struck gold with her first interview after consulting an advisor about where she might want to work. She landed at Wanted, a recruiting software and job referral company that operates in Asia. 

“My background is in recruiting, so Wanted was the first and only interview I had with a company in Seoul, because I really liked talking to my [future] supervisor,” said Salma. “It was such a good fit with my background that I accepted immediately.”

Working remotely in Seoul for the Singapore office, she helped research competitors and evaluate different features that the company then considered for adoption. She worked to increase outreach to developer communities in Singapore and even got the chance to visit the Singapore office for a week to help with a carnival-style recruiting event there. 

“I was on the fence about wanting to work abroad full-time in the future, but now I’m sure that I want to go back, probably to Seoul,” she said. “Because I’m specifically interested in understanding work culture, it was really insightful to have the experience in two different countries.... it’s given me a bit more clarity in how I want to focus my future goals that way.”

Taika Augustait

Working abroad for the first time, second-year MSI student Taika Augustaitis jumped at the opportunity the School of Information provided to fund their travel and living expenses, which can be roadblocks for anyone looking to study or intern abroad.

Taika interned at Inventis Co. Ltd. with two other Americans from Texas Tech University and the University of Oregon. The three of them worked together on a project to conceptualize and prototype products, with Taika taking the lead on IT development.

“They’re the biggest company of the four [where UMSI students] interned in Seoul, so I was really lucky,” Taika said. “This was the first time the company had American interns, so that was a big thing for them and they were really excited about it.”

Beyond the practical skills they gained working on product development for Inventis, Taika was particularly struck by the weight the company placed on communication and other “soft” skills.

“I interviewed my supervisor, who said, ‘I value communication skills more than technical prowess.’ The list of things you have to know to apply to a company are really daunting, but people really value the skills the School of Information gives you: to be able to think about the big picture, the intersection of people and technology, and also working in a team where people all have different experiences with technology,” Taika said.

The experience has made them think differently about coursework back at school as well. “This year I tried to take more classes where I’d be learning about general best practices and concepts,” they said. “It’s definitely inspired me to do more projects and work with more people rather than fixate on learning one technology.”

Each summer the size and scope of the companies where students intern continues to expand. Notably, all the companies where students worked last summer have offices outside of Korea, either in other parts of Asia such as Taiwan and Singapore, or as far away as Europe and South America.

“I'm pleased that we've been able to develop a program that provides master's students with an immersive global experience,” said Katie Dunn, assistant director of career development at UMSI. “Our student participants had great impact on the organizations they worked with, while also seeing first-hand how information and technology are being leveraged by South Korean companies.”

by Evan Hamlin, Editorial Assistant