An Unusual Internship Experience

December 17, 2020

Thanks to a generous Korea Foundation program, Asia Library is able to welcome a full-time intern from Korea to its staff every year. These bright, motivated young people learn many facets of library work while here, making this a win-win situation for both parties. This year's intern, Seohyun Kim, kindly joined me via Zoom to talk about her experience. She was a trooper in every sense of the word because she had been in the US for just one month when the pandemic hit. Fortunately for us, the Korea Foundation decided to leave the interns in place, even though they had to experience the internship remotely. Seohyun made the best of a very disappointing situation, doing library work that we were able to teach her via Zoom and email. She participated in our meetings fully and always appeared cheerful and upbeat, even though she must have been quite lonely at times in an off-campus rooming house and knowing that her parents were sick with worry. We look forward to welcoming her back sometime in the future, when no pandemic restrictions apply. 

What is your educational background, and what led you to apply for the Korea Foundation internship?

I have a BA in Library and Information Science from Myongji University.

When I applied for the internship, I wanted to have real field experience and learn about the US library system and the role of the library in the stream of technology. A lot of my classes emphasized the US library system as an ideal model for the Korean library system. So, I thought I could explore the future of Korean libraries by learning from the US library.

Had you been to the US before? What has surprised you about life here?

This is the first time!

So, I was surprised by the driving culture that focused on pedestrians. Drivers always wait for me to cross the road, and there aren’t even any car horns while people are waiting. Also, many drivers tried to wait for me to cross the road even if I had a red light. Maybe it’s because US roads don’t have enough crosswalks or Americans have a more relaxed and easygoing lifestyle. In any case, I feel like Americans respect pedestrians.

What are your impressions of Asia Library and the University of Michigan Library?

When I first came to the University of Michigan Library, I was surprised that so many people could access the library, not only students but also local residents. A lot of Korean university libraries allow access only to students and faculty. So, this free atmosphere made a significant impression on me. In addition, the large number of libraries and staff surprised me. I had already heard that US universities have lots of academic libraries, but they were more specific in focus than I had expected. 

In terms of Asia Library, I was impressed by its large collection of Asian studies materials, especially North Korea materials. It is impossible to read North Korean books in South Korea. So, it was the first time for me to see North Korean materials. Also, the fact that there are lots of students and researchers who have an interest in and are studying Asia surprised me. This is because it was much more than I had expected.

What have you missed the most about Korea?

I’ve missed my family and friends. Because of COVID-19, I won’t be able meet my friends right after going back to Korea, though. But I didn’t feel lonely during the pandemic. My supervisor and all the members of the Asia Library team helped me take care of my mental health and enjoy US life, and that’s why I was able to persevere and enjoy the internship despite COVID-19. 

How has this experience shaped your thoughts and plans for your future? What are your plans after you complete this internship?

I decided to go to graduate school in library science after this internship.

When I came to the US, I made up my mind to explore the next step in my career path, especially graduate school. This internship program gave me the opportunity to see how an academic library works and time to think again about my strengths and weaknesses. Also, I was able to interact with people from different backgrounds, especially my housemates and other Korea Foundation interns who are graduate students. They gave me a lot of advice that helped me decide to go to graduate school. I'm planning to apply to the master’s program of a graduate school in Korea so that I can study my major deeply and gain more experience. 

What advice would you give to our next Korea Foundation intern?

My internship changed a lot because of COVID-19, and I’m not sure the next intern will be affected by it as well. If the pandemic goes on, you may feel that the internship experience is different from your expectations. I think you should keep looking for what you can do despite the pandemic. I know all the people in Asia Library will help you to adapt and find out what you can do. Internships like this are rare, and you need to take advantage of the opportunity. But I believe you will find your own way to obtain knowledge despite any difficulties. Also, the internship specifically and US life in general give you the opportunity to comprehend the differences between the US and Korea, not only in terms of library systems but also culture in general. I hope you can enjoy your internship and accomplish your goals safely.