Why I'm in Seoul, Korea?
I'm curious, I've never been to Korea, and I wanted a change of scene. I love Bangkok and consider it home, and as far as Healthy Hair Asia & Yummy Blair Cosmetics, I'm fundraising because honestly I need more capital and investment to fully operate and build the brand (I am working on a very exciting deal, so all is not lost ). So while I'm fundraising, and building this blog, I thought, what better place to "escape to" for a few weeks, than Korea? The most innovative country in the world!
How I'm in Korea?
Why I chose Korea beside its innovation, is Korea's story. Everyone likes a good story, like Li Kai-Shing founder of Cheung Kong Holdings, Dhanin Chearavanont of CP Group, and Jack Ma of Alibaba, all inspiring stories. And as I'm at the early stages of my entrepreneurial journey I wanted to see for myself this"economic miracle" that Korea's experienced in the last 30-40 years, and how this small country has built amulti-billion dollar global businesses like Samsung and LG Corp.
So how am "I doing all this traveling, exploring, and blogging??" That's a good question, because Seoul, Korea is expensive from the food, transport, night life, events, co-working spaces, are expensive, especially compared to Bangkok.
Building a Global Network
So, if you're nosy or generally curious, I'm staying with a friend who teaches English in Seoul. And one skill I've developed as an entrepreneur is maintaining relationships with people. So important!
And it's very easy today (hence why I keep Facebook, despite the drama going on, it really helps me maintain people in my life). There's literally no excuse to not maintain certain friendships and relationships (I don't believe people when they say their too busy, what they really mean is that you are just not a priority or not important). And a long time ago I've learned (and accepted) it's up to me to be the one that reaches out to people. I'm the one that left home, I'm the one that is "busy," so I've become quite good at reaching out :)
And maintaing relationships is really a skill. Many times when I want to explore a city, I always think "Who do I know?" And fortunately, I have successful people in my "circles" that I've reached out to over the years. Like my friend from university who is living in San Francisco working in the tech scene, and let me crash his couch so I could explore Silicon Valley back in 2016. And during my "mini crisis" in China last year when I had to abruptly leave Tsingtao, I met up with a friend working in financial consulting in Shanghai, who I met when I landed in Hong Kong in 2015, it was nearly 2 years since we spoke, but, he was happy to meet for dinner and catch up. Or a hostel roommate I met in Jerusalem who was teaching English in Russia then moved to teach in Japan, and for over 1 year we followed and chatted on Facebook, and when I wanted to explore Tokyo, he was happy to host me.
Lesson: keep in touch and maintain relationships with people :)
Budgeting for my travels
After housing the biggest expense is food, and I'm not a foodie (food is the only thing I'm not curious about), and for this trip, I went grocery shopping and bought my staple foods (oatmeal, noodles, dried fruit, etc.), because I knew imported food would be expensive and I like a specific type of breakfast. So, I cook all my meals and only go out to eat once a week. It may be "sad" that I'm not exploring the food scene in Seoul, but I'm vegan so that eliminates most of what I could eat anyways :/ Also, I'm also not interested in the night life (bars and clubs) so that saves a lot of money :) The next biggest expense is transportation, something unfortunately that cannot be avoided (I walk as much as I can) but the subway is really connected, one can even take the train to rural areas or the forest! So most of my budget for this trip goes towards transit and attending events. I always look for "free events" or a space to work in, such as the Campus Seoul Google Space, which allows anyone to sign up as a member, and use some of the facilities for free (wifi, cafe, etc.). There are a few free or inexpensive things in the city, you just have to know where to look. And, that's another skill I have :)
Exploring Seoul, my thoughts (so far)
When I told my Korean friend that I was coming to Seoul, she was worried. She was afraid that people wouldn't be "nice to me," and was curious what exactly I would be "exploring." I understood her concern, as we had conversations about how conservative Korean culture is: people don't talk to strangers, people are very judgemental (based on school, job, where you live, how you look), people aren't supposed to talk on the subways or on elevators; and I explained that I'm not the typical tourist, I'm here to write about the tech scene, meet people in the startup ecosystem, and expand my network. So I assured her that I will be fine, because in the startup space people are usually open, friendly, and share a smilier mindset as they too are entrepreneurs.
So before I left for Bangkok, I did my research and signed up for several events, contacted co-working spaces so I could get a personal tour as a blogger, and from there just connected with people. As great as the internet is, nothing really beats the human connection.
What I've Learned so Far
I've been in Korea for over 1 week, and attended a few events like Startup Grind Seoul and Startup Weekend Seoul Women (which I will write about). So, what I've observed from this "Asian tiger" country, like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan is that Korea is an example of a country that invests in it's infrastructure, invests and values education, and doesn't let it's past define it's future. And what I mean by that is at some point every country has been devastated by war, or has few resources to trade or compete in the global economy. But, Korea is an example of a country that knows the most valuable resources is it's people.
Despite it's economic miracle, Korea is not perfect, and big corporate monopolies make it highly competitive for job seekers, Korea has one the lowest birth rates in the world, large ageing population, high cost of living, and lack of professional women marrying; a new economic strategy for the long term needs to take place. And after talking with people change is slowly happening as the government and industries are investing in people to become entrepreneurs, partnering with co-working spaces, starting their own Corporate Venture Capital programs, and the best example of this is the K-Startup Grand Challenge, that welcomes and invests in foreigner entrepreneurs. So far, I'm impressed and glad to be on the ground to witness Korea as it takes a new direction.
I'll be exploring Seoul for the next few weeks, there is still a lot to learn and new places and people to meet. As always, thank you for reading, and stay tuned for my articles about Startup Weekend Seoul Women, and Startup Grind Seoul and videos!