Living the American dream

Kangnam University graduate Sodam Park works in her office at UEC in Cerritos, California. Photo courtesy of Sodam Park

Kangnam University graduate Sodam Park works in her office at UEC in Cerritos, California.
Photo courtesy of Sodam Park

Many Young Koreans Yearn for Life Abroad” reads the headline from an April 29 article on the Chosun Ilbo’s English website. But a life abroad has become a reality for Sodam Park, a visual design major and Kangnam University graduate. Park had long dreamt of a life overseas. After graduating last summer, she spent a semester working in the university’s admissions office. Good news finally came halfway through the semester when she learned that her application for an internship at an American company had been accepted.

Park now works as a graphic design intern in the art department of United Exchange Corp. (UEC), a manufacturer and distributor of packaged goods. Not only does her job give her a chance to hone her design skills (she designs packages for private labels), she is also getting a lot of English practice and learning about other cultures.

“Everyone is American,” she says in an email interview. “I use English to speak with my co-workers. And our company workforce is racially diverse, so I’m learning about different cultures and how they think.”

English isn’t even the only language she is working on.

“I’m slowly learning Spanish,” she adds. “A lot of my co-workers speak Spanish, and one of them has started to teach me a new Spanish expression every morning.

If adapting to American life has been easy for Park, it’s not surprising. The Chosun Ilbo article mentions Hyun Taek-soo of the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs who says that “People in their 20s and 30s, who grew up in an age of globalization, are much more open to foreign cultures than older people and are quick to absorb new practices and beliefs. Many of them feel more comfortable in the U.S. or Europe.”

This may explain why Park has been able to adjust so well.

“Working in America is so much better than I thought it would be. I’m having so much fun at work. I love to meet the people there, create new works of art, and discuss new projects. Our department even encourages everyone to be healthy by offering yoga classes twice a week and activities such as table tennis on Mondays.”

While Park enjoys her work, she admits her “living situation is pretty tough.” Coming to the United States on her own she had to rent a room, which was expensive. Thankfully, she says its safe in Cerritos, California where she lives. As the city has its own public bus system, “I don’t have any problems getting to work or the supermarket,” she says. “I still have to walk a lot. One time, I walked 25,000 steps in one day just to get somewhere. Pretty crazy!”

Park plans to get a California driver’s license soon, but the ease of getting around in Korea is something she misses. “Korea’s public transport system is amazingly great,” she says. “It was so easy to get somewhere without a car.”

But that is where her pining for Korea seems to end.

In Korea “designers work overtime almost every day and even on weekends,” Park explains. “At UEC, almost everyone works eight hours a day. Then they leave. If they work overtime, they get 1.5 times their regular pay.”

Once when Park was sick, her manager let her go home to get better, which she found remarkable. “They won’t pay me if I’m not at work,” she points out, “but at least I can take care of my health.”

Whether Park will stay in the United States remains to be seen. For now, however, she is “enjoying every single experience.”

“My life in America is full of curiosity. Everything is so exciting to me. And I’m having lots of fun at the work. I actually can’t wait to go to work each day.”

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