Interns are one of the most essential members of Korea Exposé. They take on a variety of tasks, bring in fresh perspectives, and challenge the routine of editors and writers, who must necessarily cultivate the art of working with new people.
Kalia Barkai, who interned with us from October to December, was such an essential member. During her short internship, during which she came to work promptly every Friday, Kalia redesigned the website, the cover images on Facebook and Twitter, the KÉ logo for various contents, including our upcoming Journalism School; in essence, upgrading the look of our team to Korea Exposé 2.0 (or 3.0? We lost track).
Our Facebook/Twitter cover image before Kalia:
Born to Israeli parents and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, Kalia is currently traveling around the world as a Minerva student. The Minerva Schools are basically a floating campus; each year/semester, students study in different cities in the world, take online seminars, and participate in extracurricular activities to learn more about the city. This semester, Kalia lived in Seoul. Next, she’ll be in Hydrebad, India.
We talked to Kalia on Dec. 16, her last day at work, about the internship at Korea Exposé and her experiences as a Minerva student. We are so thankful for her contribution to our team, and will remember her with much fondness, respect and curiosity about where she’ll be flying to next. We’ll miss you!
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Korea Exposé: We’ll start recording the interview now.
Kalia Barkai: I can’t say anything incriminating?
Everything is on the record, and can be held against you. So how’s your last day going?
Pretty well. I’ve been editing some photos for the photo essay that I’ll try to turn in [to KÉ]. It’s kind of sad. It’s really sad. I only came in once a week but I enjoyed coming in pretty much every single time. I had a lot of fun; from the first meeting, coming into the first interview, I really liked meeting all of you. It was a very different aspect of Korea than I had in the first few weeks.
What was that first meeting like?
I hadn’t really heard of Korea Exposé before hearing about it at Minerva. Coming into the office, I was pleasantly shocked, because I was expecting a more formal, rigid work environment. The interview sort of led into an immediate offering of an internship —
We basically said, “What can’t you do, Kalia?”
I felt a lot of pressure to live up to the online portfolio I had set up. It had some photography, some data science, some graphic design…. I was surprised you guys were impressed by it, but it was also a nice feeling. I think because I was interested in a lot of aspects of design, it sounded like I could do everything. But it was me wanting to be able to do everything.
The meeting was fun. You guys talked about the labels you have for each other: the Grungy Journalist, the Gangnam Girl, the Hannam-dong Housewife….
It’s a different environment, being at a start-up. Every month is different, not exaggerating. How has that working environment been like for you? Like, you come a week later and we have a whole new section.
Two weeks ago, we decided to start Korea 101. It so quickly came to life. It wasn’t like, we’re going to do this section, we’re going to plan it out for a few months. It was more like, we’ve got this idea, let’s dive right into it, add it to whatever we are.
That was exciting to see the efficiency, and to see how things were changing so quickly. It always left me on my toes. There was always more things to update to the website, because it no longer became just about design. The website had to adapt as the start-up adapted itself.
How did Korea Exposé offer a different aspect to your Korea experience?
Before, I didn’t have a lot of interactions with people living in Korea. Anything I knew of the people was what my university prepared me for. I was taught the rules of the culture, like when eating out, who sets the table and stuff.
The first two weeks we were here, the hotel [Minerva students stayed in] got very angry at us because we drank soju out of the bottle. They sent us an angry email about how this was incredibly disrespectful of us…. You can’t drink soju out of the bottle, you have to put it in another cup.
I had quite a conservative view of Korea, at that point. Coming into Korea Exposé with that sort of an experience was a very different work culture from what I expected, from what the university told me [about Korean work culture]. It was much more relaxed, laid-back, and humorous — I come here and I laugh so many times during the discussions people are having.
Your experiences ties in well with the identity of Korea Exposé, in that a lot of our members are neither here nor there. We’ve lived in different cultures. Most of us speak Korean, have lived in Korea for a long time, but don’t always identify as Korean. There’s a certain sense of rootlessness in Korea Exposé. Do you feel that way as a Minerva student?
Definitely. When I go home to visit, I feel like I’m there to see people, but I’m no longer as part of the society as I was when I left. When I was living in San Francisco for seven months [as a first-year at Minerva], I was part of the city, but it wasn’t really home.
What was a memorable work experience at Korea Exposé?
Definitely the company dinner [hwesik]. I expected it to be just dinner, maybe drinks, and head back. But it led from dinner, to one set of drinks where we discussed the future of Korea Exposé and Se-Woong’s plans and dreams for it —
Evil schemes, yeah. And there was somber music in the background [in the bar] which was really setting the tone of the whole environment. Really good conversation. And then we went from that to Seoul Pub, on one of its last nights. That was a completely different environment. We played a game of pool. I lost terribly.
This is probably a cliché question, but what do you take away from this internship? What have you learned? HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED?
I definitely have more emphasis on my goals, in terms of design. You [Haeryun] and Se-Woong would have a lot of ideas about the website and ask me what I thought. I wasn’t expecting to have to have an opinion — later I realized, of course, that makes sense — I definitely gained more confidence in my own design aesthetics, and being able to say what I think about other people’s ideas. Speaking up more.
Working in an organization, seeing the structure, seeing it grow just over the short amount of time I was here — seeing its goals being redefined constantly, I think I’ll take that with me to any kind of organization I work in.
What do you wish was different, more improved, in terms of your internship?
There just wasn’t enough time to do all the things I was interested in. I would’ve liked to follow one of the journalists doing a story and take photos; do more data journalism. There was a lot of self-learning, which was great, but maybe I would’ve liked to be more integrated with what other people were doing.
The most important question: How will we live without Kalia Barkai?
That’s an exaggeration. Let me reframe the question: How will I live without Korea Exposé?
You’ll be fine. You’ll be in India.
The hardest thing for me to leave here will be Korea Exposé. This sounds incredibly naive, but I didn’t know things existed like this. A work environment that’s really fun, with each person in it being really interesting, having strong or knowledgeable experiences and doing what they want to write about.
At the editorial meeting today, people were saying what they wanted to write about, and others would say, “Oh that’s so interesting!” It’s not just a work space; everyone is really interested in the product that’s coming out of it. My extent of Korean media is probably not big, but KÉ touches on a lot of subjects I haven’t seen elsewhere. It’s something special, and it’s hard to lose something special.
You’ve developed what is called jeong — it’s this deep attachment for a familiar something. It can be good or bad. Like, you can have jeong for someone you bicker with a lot.
We’ll see whether it’s a healthy one after I leave.