Student - September 9, 2016

‘The working hours are bizarre: from 9.30 to 22.00’

Carina Nieuwenweg

Who? Raoul Frijns, Master’s student of Molecular Life Sciences
What? Six months’ internship at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)
Where? Daejeon, South Korea

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‘The lab where I do research specializes in making microcapsules for various purposes such as dosing medicines. My thesis supervisor mentioned this lab as one of the places where I might be able to do an internship. I found the research they do here very interesting and it also appealed to me because South Korea is an unusual place to go. I am doing research here on photonic crystals: periodic nanostructures which give rise to colours. Unlike colour from pigments, colour from photonic crystals never fades. Butterfly wings and peacock feathers are made of these kinds of structures.

I had some doubts initially because I was thinking in terms of Anglophone countries. In the end I just took the plunge and ventured into the unknown. The Koreans don’t speak English terribly well. Everyone at the lab speaks quite broken English, which can make it difficult to communicate. Off the campus I manage using gestures or a translation app. I eat in restaurants a lot because eating out is much cheaper and more normal in Korea. They have a cooked meal at lunchtime here. I haven’t cooked once since I’ve been here.

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What is really bizarre is the working hours. Officially they are 09.30 to 22.00 but the professor emphasized that I didn’t have to stick to that. I think such working hours are counterproductive and only make people less productive. I don’t see many signs of the tensions with North Korea. The people here are pretty calm about it and they don’t think about it much. In fact, when Pokémon GO first came out loads of people set off towards the North-Korean border: in South Korea itself the government has blocked some features of Google Maps so the game doesn’t work as well.’