In September 2011 I and two other colleagues embarked on Hannover Re's trainee programme. In the course of 8 training visits I was able to get to know some of the departments in life and health reinsurance. Needless to say, it's great to have made the acquaintance of so many members of staff during this time, but in my case a special highlight was my period of training abroad in Seoul. From August 2012 onwards I spent 3 months at Hannover Re's Korean branch. The stay also included a 2-week visit to the office in Tokyo. I was looking to getting a lot out of the two visits because I would also be working closely together with our colleagues in Japan and Korea after completing my trainee programme.
Everything began on a Sunday in Hannover. I flew, via Frankfurt, into a new and unknown world – to Seoul. Right at the airport I found myself waiting for the flight amidst several Korean taekwondo youth teams and thus got my first taste of what it is like to understand very little of a spoken language. As I took my seat and saw all the 10-year-olds sit down around me I expected a noisy flight, but take-off seemed to settle everyone down and the cabin slept.
After landing at Seoul airport I took the first available bus to the hotel. Throughout the 90-minute journey we drove past buildings that I simply hadn't expected to see in such numbers – enormous flat-slab high-rise structures. There surely can't be any more space-effective way of developing land.
Having checked in at the hotel, I took a walk around the block and found that the shops looked very different. Between the massive streets were groups of houses crisscrossed by tiny alleyways. These alleys were choc-a-bloc with small shops, roughly the size of a garage. Inside there were piles of steel, wood or motorcycle parts. A narrow passageway was left free. In the lanes and on the street the building and welding work continued, in sandals, of course.
I can only describe my first day at the office as very pleasant. Sue picked me up in the morning, showing me the way to the underground station and from there how to get to the office. There are five individual offices, each separated by panes of glass from the rest of the room, where the open workstations are set up. I sat at one of these desks and was thrilled how comfortable office chairs can be when they are not too large (for me). I was just as fascinated by the fact that I could access all my files just as if I were in Germany. I was even able to read the menu of the canteen in Hannover!
The photo below shows some of the buildings very close to the office.
After an initial round of introductions the workflows in the office were explained to me. I also started to familiarise myself with the Korean treaties, for which English versions are fortunately also available. Everyone in the team is just so nice and accommodating. For lunch we all went out together to eat bibimbab – rice served in a hot stone bowl with meat, spinach, sesame and lots of other things that I couldn't exactly identify. In the evening one of the staff took me shopping and showed me part of the downtown core, and we tried a traditional noodle dish. The food really is marvellous.
After the first two days and my initial attempts to speak Korean, I think I've got an exciting stay in a lively and beautiful city ahead of me – and I'm really looking forward to it!
Best wishes from Seoul!