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Read Read Read

My new years resolution this year is to read a book a week. On new years eve I was having a drunken conversation with my brother in law (technically my sister in law’s brother) and I was complaining that I feel like I’ve stagnated in my mental development. I hadn’t felt particularly encouraged or challenged in quite a while. I then realized that I hadn’t read a book in nearly three months. Somehow, in the extremely indolent time post grad school I had also forgotten to read. Wonderful.

I’m on track this year so far and will try to post at least once a month with the books I’ve read along with a short description and review.

I’ve just finished:

Malcolm Gladwell – What the Dog Saw: And other Adventures

Malcolm Gladwell is a genius and one of my all time favorite authors. This book is a collection of essays and so can be jumped around and/or left in the bathroom for casual perusal. Gladwel sees the same puzzles we all do but actually quests out to find the answers. For example: Why does one brand of ketchup dominate a supermarket shelf while there are dozens of mustards? Answer: read the book. Haha.

One of my favorite chapters is the one the book is named after “What the dog saw”. Gladwell meets and analyzes my hero, the dog whisperer, Cesar Milan. He concludes that its Milan’s extreme confidence, as shown through extremely subtle body movements, is the secret to his super powers. He expands on this by quoting research where people can predict the competence of professionals by watching 2 second video clips. I think it was a previous Gladwell book where I also read about another study in body language and how every minute body language detail is responded to by another’s body language. Unknowingly our bodies continuously act and react to each other multiple times per second. Fascinating. This is why confidence is so sexy, because it bleeds out of our bodies, and there’s no real way to fake it. Body language gives you away.


Barbara Demick – Nothing to Envy

The most fascinating and heartwrenching book I’ve read in a long long time. I’ve been interested in North Korea for at least 10 years, but this is the first book that has introduced me to the everyday life of North Koreans. Most books focus on security or human rights and skip the culture of normal citizens. What a tragedy.

As a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times in South Korea Demick extensively interviewed defectors living in South Korea and in the book tells their stories from an intimate perspective. The stories are terribly fascinating and focus not only on tragedy. There are love stories as well. I had forgotten that prior to the 1990s North Korea was a relatively decent place to live. Actually until the mid 1980s it was better off than South Korea and lost its power and economy only in the 90s. It is the only country in the world that went from a developed country to a black hole.

Which leads me to my next book, because I want to know… what the hell happened in North Korea? I know they were propped up by the USSR and China, but what exact economic policy blunders were made that caused the 90s fiasco? My next book is The Impossible State by Victor Cha.

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Pick Your Battles

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I’m a pretty amicable chap. I like getting along and bringing strangers together. My close friends often refer to me as glue; I bring random people together and have a knack for making everyone feel comfortable. I smile often and laugh easily.

But there are times to fight. A man with no enemies is a man with no convictions. Probably the better a man is, the more he is misunderstood and made an enemy of. Almost all great people have been killed – Jesus, MLK, JFK, Gandhi, Lincoln – are just a few examples. A mentor once told me to choose my battles carefully and those words have always resounded when I’m faced with choices to fight or bend. 99.9% of the time I choose to bend, and it’s made my life quite comfortable and surrounded me with many good friends. It’s caused me to not take things personally and understand most conflicts as misunderstandings rather than disrespect. But I’m starting to see that it’s also weakened me. A man needs to stand once in a while, needs to be tested, and needs to come through. He needs to face the unknown, push hard, and come out stronger.

But which battles should be fought? That’s the question.

My recent letter about my concerns with my GMBA program got a lot of mixed feedback. I had some heartfelt support from some unlikely places and I had some open hostility even from some foreigners. But mostly I got stunned silence and sidelong glances. That’s Korean disapproval at its loudest. I think most didn’t know what to make of it. But in my opinion, though in retrospect I could have worded it more politically, it was all true and I stand by it. Some claim I helped build a wall between the Koreans and foreigners, I claim I merely pointed it out.

Here’s the thing. I hate systematic, ongoing, swept-under-the-rug problems. I want to call them out and get on with it. But unfortunately I had to insult a large group of student’s English as an side affect to accomplish my primary goal. But it worked. A dialogue has started at the administrative level. Does their English suck? Sometimes. So what? My Korean sucks. It’s not a measure of character or intellect. I would never look down on someone for something as trivial as English language proficiency. And I would never trade our student body for another. The student body is perfect.

But it’s not the best system from an administrative level. As it is, 30% of the student body is cut off after graduating, which is ironic for a ‘global’ MBA, as the 30% cut off are the part that legitimize the word ‘global’.

Is this a battle I want to fight? I guess it would be easier to sit by and let the shenanigans continue, but if I don’t speak up, when will change happen? Who’s going to speak up for a group that is young, foreign, and intimidated? Do they not also deserve proper intellectual debate, communication, and an alumni network?

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Open Letter Concerning the Lack of Support for International Students in Korea University’s Global MBA

Dean Lee, Professor Shin, Nahee Teacher, Student Council, and International Students,

After looking over the links that Nahee 선생님 sent requesting us to advertise for our GMBA program, I’ve decided it’s time to articulate my thoughts on the lack of support for international students in this program. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this program for international students, as this MBA is global in name only, lacking both fundamental supports for international students and basic functions of what a “global” program should have. The following sentiments, by varying degrees, are shared by the international student community. My hope is not to exacerbate or stir up undue resentment, but rather to identify the problems so we can begin a process towards change for the better.

I have four grievances.

1. No Support for International Alumni
As student council president I’ve had multiple meetings with alumni and also participated in an alumni reunion. Not once was English spoken, and not once did I see an international student. In fact, my presence at the reunion caused confusion and gawking. An MBA is equally for the degree, and for the network thereafter. International students are denied this fundamental facet of an MBA degree.

2. Unacceptable English Proficiency Level
A significant portion of the student body is incapable of decent English conversation, let alone intellectual debate necessary for a productive educational environment. In the classroom, this leaves many students silent and intimidated. In group projects, this usually separates groups into international-only groups and Korean-only groups, as most would rather not deal with the language barrier. However, the greatest negative effect of the low English level is that it handicaps social connections. When one Korean student is uncomfortable with English conversation, the entire group must to switch to Korean. Thus, international students are often unable to socialize with Koreans. This divide compounds over time as groups and friendships coalesce, and will spillover into post graduation as the international students largely keep contact with only international students. As this is a Global MBA program, Korea University should serve as a launching platform from where connections are forged and launched across the world. Ideally, international students would forge close friendships with Korean students, which would morph into international business partnerships.

3. Recruitment with False Pretenses
It is wrong to advertise to international students with pictures and testimonies filled with foreign faces. What is conspicuously missing are the five Korean students for every international and the above mentioned racial divide from the language barrier. International students are not your marketing tool to pretend this program is global.

4. CDC Lacks Appropriate Connections
CDC offers important job search training and connections to hiring firms. However, CDC has no connections with English speaking firms, or even English speaking branches of Korean firms. The CEO has even admitted he had placed only one English speaker in his history – an engineer, not a business student. Again, this denies international students half of the service that Korean students receive.

My suggestions:
1. Create an alumni network with a governing board and constitution that is international in scope, using modern internet-based networking tools.
2. Henceforth, enforce the established minimum level of English proficiency, as already defined in the recruitment standards, as a minimum TOIEC score of 800.
3. Make English the real standard language for both the program and the alumni network. In transition to this, everything should be bilingual.
4. Demand CDC to expand its connections with overseas firms and overseas Korean firm branches.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not writing out of bitterness or malice. I believe this program has great qualities and great potential. However, how international students are recruited under false pretenses and are denied post-graduation support is unequivocally wrong. Additionally, the potential of an international association is snuffed out by an unnecessary language barrier. Luckily, the fix is easy: raise the English proficiency requirement and enforce, from the administrative level, what was promised, English as the program’s official language. I hope this message can mark the beginning of dialogue to transition this program into an actual international Global MBA program. As it is now, it is a Korean MBA with English classes, and I will not recommend it to international students.

Dustin Cole
Student Council President
Global MBA 2012
Korea University Business School

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Korea University Global MBA Halftime Report

It’s halfway through my MBA. Looking back on these pictures I’m reminded of all the incredible times we’ve had. Though I thought I was here for the degree, it’s the friendships – forged over intense study sessions, endless powerpoint slides, empty soju bottles, and earsplitting noraebang sessions – that I’ll remember. Hell, I’ve already forgotten the entire Financial Accounting course. But I’ll never forget that first Crimson party, or the ski trip where I broke my hip (which 2 months later still hurts) and 창호형 split his eye open – causing Juno and 철옥형 to make two trips to the same hospital in one day. Neither will I forget 사발식, having to drink Aidai’s 막거리 and feeling like the fattest hippo to  roll off stage. And I definitely couldn’t forget election night, being the only one preparing a speech and winning by one vote.

So here I’m raising my imaginary soju glass and saying cheers to the second half of an incredible year. May it somehow be more memorable that the first.