I found the NAVER visit the most interesting one so far, both because of the company’s products and due to the company culture. NAVER is a technology company similar to Google and YouTube, providing an internet search engine, a language translation app, a video streaming service, and more. The company is also developing a range of smart technologies, that can be applied anywhere from political debates to K-Pop music videos. One example utilizes both audio and visual cues to isolate a single speaker in a video of multiple people. This could be especially useful in news broadcasts and political debates, in which many people are speaking at once and it is difficult to follow the conversation. Another video-manipulating technology is able to track one specific person throughout the video. The presenter explained that this is especially popular for K-Pop fans who want to watch a performance focused on one specific group member.
The building tour that followed the presentation was more focused on company culture and employee life. We were able to see the café, the library (which happens to have one of the largest book collections in the country) and the employee gym. I was struck by how many resources NAVER invests in its employees: in addition to the employee gym (which includes five personal trainers!), they have an in-building doctor, a convenience store, and even a post office. However, when talking with Dr. Yun a few days before, he mentioned how many Koreans struggle to keep a work-life balance, forsaking time with family or friends for long office hours. NAVER’s employee resources are incredible, but I wonder if they sometimes encourage employees to invest more of their lives into the office than necessary.
Another interesting aspect of NAVER was its commitment to disabled citizens. We were able to see a few specialized computers built specifically to be used by disabled people, which can then be used by company employees.
Later that afternoon, a small group of us went to a Taekwondo class in a local studio. I don’t have any martial arts experience, so I didn’t know what to expect, but the class reminded me of my experiences in dance, kickboxing and color guard. The class began with individual and partner stretches, similar to those I remember from dance class. Next, we practiced some basic kicks, and we finished by breaking apart a piece of wood with our bare hands. I assumed that the class would be entirely physical, but the instructor also emphasized the importance of inner peace and concentration. And breaking the wood was also symbolic, as we had to write a goal we wanted to achieve on it before breaking it.
To be fair, the wood was pretty soft …