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Earlier this week, I was writing a “Top 5 News of 2017” feature article for my client. It was a big year for Microsoft, from opening a datacenter in Korea to launching its mixed reality platform, a first for the industry.

My 2017, on the other hand, was rather uneventful. But a lot changed within me that made it a very significant year. I also didn’t want to go yet another year without having written anything on my blog, so voila. My 2017, in top 5 news:

#1 Finding a lifelong passion and career

I changed tracks in my career from education to PR in 2015. While a lot of the work in PR came naturally to me, it definitely was not an easy ride. The first year was an extension of my editing career, with the opportunity to apply my writing and editing skills to the field of PR and digital content marketing. I learned how to make content calendars and interview executives for stories.

Year 2 is where things got rocky – I was juggling work from two teams – tech PR and digital – and found myself liking media PR more. I was adjusting to working with newly hired team members. In the end, I transferred to the tech PR team and it’s been full speed ahead since. Managing PR and IMC campaigns for challenging clients who are also some of the biggest names in the tech industry has taught me a lot, not just PR knowhow but lifelong skills of persuasion, diplomacy, and decision making. I think the next step is to learn leadership and stress management, and I look forward to the challenge.

I also learned that I truly love the work I do, because I talk about it all the time. I love coming into work every day and reading what familiar names at familiar media outlets wrote overnight. I love getting calls from journalists and clients, because it means they trust me and respect my opinion. I get to help them, which I find rewarding. I want to do PR for tech companies for as long as I can foresee – I can’t imagine myself doing anything else for the time being.

#2 Becoming comfortable with Korea

It took 7 years. I came here in 2010 to teach English, and socialized with mostly foreigners and gyopos (Koreans raised overseas) like myself. Even at my office job of curriculum development, I worked with mostly foreigners, gyopos, and Koreans who had worked with foreigners and gyopos for most of their career. Exposure to the full breadth and depth of Korean culture didn’t happen until I started my current job, where the mostly-Korean staff and corporate culture hit me with their Korean-ness full-force.

This year, I found myself wanting to express certain things in Korean and posting certain contents on social media in Korean. And writing in Korean has become enjoyable – I still have a long ways to go, but I’ve become comfortable enough with the language to write in it at length and on various topics. I’m going to keep working at improving it and extend my practice to hanja (Chinese characters), and eventually, Chinese. I also learned that I will always want to work in a bilingual capacity – it’s just more fun that way.

I owe a lot of this assimilation to the patience and understanding of my friends and coworkers. I’m not gonna say it doesn’t still trouble me when attitudes deeply rooted in Korean culture – such as Confucianism and cutthroat competition – affect me directly. But America isn’t perfect either, and in some ways, Korea is more malleable and receptive to cultural change.

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In one small part of Hoengseong, a county in Gangwondo normally famous for Korean beef, is a coal-burning neighborhood gaining a following of locals and tourists alike for its charcoal kiln “saunas.” This town, called Podong-ri, does not have much besides mountains, and its residents seem to depend mostly on cham soot (참숯, natural charcoal) sales for income.

On our way to beef town, my family and I got lost and ended up on a road with two charcoal burning sites, one on each side of the road. The one on the left had a sign reading, “오늘 찜질 하는 곳” (“Sauna open today”) with an arrow pointing downhill, where the kilns were busy burning, puffing dense, grey smoke into the air.

It was almost dinner time when we arrived, so we booked one of the rooms nearby to stay the night and check out these saunas in the morning. The lady who gave us our keys explained that the kilns will be burning all night at anywhere from 1300 to 1700 degrees Celsius and that a few of them will be cleared out by morning for people to go inside and jjimjil (찜질, or sweat in a sauna) in the residual heat. The next morning, 강원참숯 (Gangwon Cham Soot) was to open its soot gama (숯가마, charcoal kilns) for sauna use.

kilns

kilns supplies

kilns people

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Exactly two weeks ago, I wrote this:

67 applications, 10 interviews, 9 hours of testing, 3 rejections, and 2 offers later, I finally have a job.

Often discouraging and sometimes insulting, this job search has been a merciless test of my resolve and patience. Over the past five weeks, I’ve been judged, criticized, disrespected, manipulated, and lied to, but none of it matters anymore because after all of that, I’ve landed my first choice job.

After today’s final interview at that job, I was promised that good news would be delivered to me within the day. I had dinner in my neighborhood, talked to my best friend, and came home. Once I was in my apartment, all the tension dissolved and I cried. It had been so hard.

And then I stopped writing because I knew there was still a chance that I might not get the job. But I also knew the Vice President wouldn’t make such a promise lightly, so I kept my hopes up and stopped looking for more jobs (mostly out of sheer exhaustion, not confidence). I waited all afternoon and evening that day for the promised email, but 8 o’clock rolled around and it still hadn’t come and I had to leave for a date. Throughout the date, I checked my phone every time it vibrated. Still no email. I kept the above writing in my drafts and waited some more. A lot more.

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