After a month in Seoul

Sunset over Itaewon

It’s been a month since I left Austin and started as chief digital officer at Cheil Worldwide. I’ve been almost entirely focused on work and in many ways, “the work is the work.” Strategy formulation, change management, and matrix operations are fairly straightforward. Of course not everything is the same and after a business trip to New York last week, here are some differences that surface in my mind, in no particular order.

Social media is a lot less active when most of your connections are time shifted 13 to 16 hours from regular business hours. More signal, but lower volume.

I’ve been consuming most of my English-language news from BBC and CNN. Lately most of the coverage has focused on Gaza and Ukraine. Korea’s English-language media outlets focus very little on these topics and instead discuss regional politics, e.g. relations with China and Japan, celebrity dating gossip, and continuing Sewol ferry issues.

There are many, many coffee shops in Seoul. Some of them have outlets in the US, mainly California. One popular chain is called Paris Baguette; recently, it opened a store in Paris.

Seoul has a lot of traffic. You can expect to spend a lot of time sharing the road with many other Hyundais and Kias.

Korea is one of the most wired nations in the world. Broadband internet penetration is almost 100% and high-speed wireless is almost everywhere. Subways tend to be quiet with every other person watching TV on a Samsung mobile phone. Step into an elevator and most of the younger people will be KakaoTalk-ing. A mobile phone number is the key to making many services work.

However, when it comes to tech infrastructure, especially e-government, Korea is stuck in the days of internet past. As described in this blog post which Jeremiah Owyang pointed out to me, Microsoft Windows, ActiveX, and Internet Explorer are still the only way to get many sites to work. Even running a virtual machine on Mac won’t work in many cases. Maybe Seoul could follow in New York City’s footsteps and hire a chief digital officer, or learn from Code for America and start up a Code for Korea.

There’s a lot of baseball on TV in the evenings, showing Korean professional league games. During the day, there are LA Dodgers and Texas Rangers games. If the Red Sox picked up Ryu or Choo, it would save me the cost of a MLB.TV subscription.

It seems increasingly strange when I read articles in the marketing and advertising trade press mentioning “global” topics. Usually, these articles are mostly about a US topic, with mention of a foreign country. It’s one thing to be a business tourist — it’s quite another to do business globally.

The cost of living here for an expat is steep and surprisingly higher than New York and San Francisco, but more affordable than Beijing and Shanghai. Times have changed quickly.

I wonder what will seem different after I’ve been here for a quarter…

One thought on “After a month in Seoul”

Comment now or forever hold your peas

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.