Seven Weeks in Seoul: A Staff Member’s Experience

By Jesse Silberberg, Director, Global Coaching and Talent Development | Dec 12, 2017

I joined Minerva about a year ago, having already spent time in the cities of San Francisco, Berlin, and Buenos Aires, but not yet knowing Minervans. Fast forward 12 months and through my work with Minerva’s Professional Development Agency, I’ve had an opportunity to get to know many students in these same cities through discussions and activities designed to help them define their professional paths and ambitions. But the city of Seoul was a complete stranger to me.

With more than 10 times as many people and four times as much land as San Francisco, Seoul is truly immense. The city feels even bigger when you walk into a nondescript building in Gangnam to find a dozen restaurants tucked into its corridors, packed with Seoulites and Minerva students enjoying affordable gimbap (rice and vegetables rolled in dried seaweed), kimchi (fermented cabbage), or seolleongtang (ox bone soup).

The Minerva experience in Seoul, more than in any other of the global cities I’ve been to thus far, requires identifying one’s priorities and making intentional decisions about how to invest one’s time — and not just regarding where to eat lunch. On any given Friday, students participate in a wide array of Civic Projects that enable them to work side-by-side with professionals here. One of the groups is diving into a competitive analysis of financial technology startups, another is participating in a social entrepreneurship-themed design sprint with the corporate social responsibility team of a Fortune 500 company, while yet another works on a project with a life sciences researcher at a local university.

Over the recent fall break, I watched students take advantage of time without class to dive deeper into the urban jungle. The activities varied from exploring the architectural wonder that is Dongdaemun Design Plaza to strapping on hiking backpacks and enjoying the breathtaking nature of Seoraksan National Park to discovering yet another cafe to serve as a launching point for getting lost (in the best way) in readings about government systems, chemistry, or marketing analytics. One of my favorite events was a Thursday night talent show, self-organized by the students, which drew a crowd of over 100, forcing participants to choose which of their many talents to share with classmates. From poetry to acapella to music produced digitally, based on a genetic algorithm of a student based on her brainwave activity, Minervans find ways to be unconventional, even in a talent show.

In the time I’ve spent in South Korea, I’ve seen students respond — not react — to the abundance of choice in front of them by looking inside themselves and building confidence in the people they want to become. I’ve seen tremendous growth in the many workshops and one-on-one coaching conversations I’ve had with them.

Now I’m back in San Francisco and already planning for spring in Hyderabad, where I’ll help students navigate their professional options for the coming summer as they negotiate the corridors of historic bazaars and the halls of the tech firms in HITEC City. Even with Hyderabad’s notorious traffic, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than alongside the journey of Minerva students on their paths to change the world.