Welcome Home Hyundai
WORDS BY PAGE GLAZER PHOTOS BY JUN KEUN KIM
“This project is a bit different than the others,” Jun Keun Kim explains. His English immediately impressive and his wit and humor apparent as we sat down in a small conference room at the World Trade Center on Hutchinson Island just before Thanksgiving. This was my first time in the building temporarily housing the offices of The Hyundai Motor Group. There were people in and out of the lobby waiting to interview for one of the thousands of new positions open. When Reflections was asked to write a story by a member of Hyundai Engineering’s HR Department, we assumed we would discuss the obvious need for workforce, the timelines for the influx of new residents, the economic impacts to our area, what we can expect in Richmond Hill, etc., but we were incorrect. When I sat down at the table with Jun Keun Kim, General Manager of Finance at Hyundai Mobis North America, and Jack Lee, Human Resources Manager-Project Lead, I immediately sensed their desires to talk about other things like life here… so we did.
“Often, our facilities are a good ways away from where we would want to live (in the middle of a desert, isolated from the civilized world), so we leave our families behind, some even leave home for extended periods of time. It’s exciting that my family can stay with me while I am working on this project. My sons will be able to see how their father works.” Jun Keun explains that this is his first assignment in six years that he will be able to live and work in the same place as his family. This project is going to be much different for him in so many ways. He isn’t just tasked with Hyundai’s mission, he is also tasked with settling his family down in a foreign country, with different rules, some spoken and some unspoken. The pioneers from Korea won’t just be building electric vehicles for Hyundai, they will also be building a lifestyle for themselves, as well.
Jun Keun calls Bryan County “the frontier” and he and his department, “the frontier” team! Coming from the metropolis that is Seoul, Korea, with its bright lights and and huge buildings (similar to New York City), Jun Keun says it’s kind of shocking how different the landscape and lifestyle here are. Having never been to Seoul, I can only look at the photos and imagine what he thought as he drove himself towards the new location for the plant that is to be “the envy of the industry” for the first time. A wide open space, quiet I am sure in comparison, with only little pockets of activity here and there, hardly any public transportation- unless you count the school buses, and lots of wildlife.
“I bet it felt like you arrived in the new world, like Christopher Columbus,” I jokingly said to Jun Keun. He laughed as he told me about his first experience with road kill. “Is this Savannah, USA or Savannah, Africa? I’ve never seen so many animals… armadillos, upside down, with these giant eagles picking at them, and a few miles later, a deer on the side of the road.” I assured him that will certainly not be the last time he sees that scene and offered a polite correction in bird species.
When talking about coming to The States, he references himself and his fellow teammates as “deployed.” He shares the basic details of the mobilization plan in terms of the employees who will be assigned to bring the Hyundai knowledge to America in various phases as they begin to build out the new Metaplant America facilities. This includes Hyundai Mobis, which we recently learned will be located in Richmond Hill at The Belfast Commerce Center off Exit 82.
There was obviously a lot of extensive research done prior to Hyundai choosing Bryan County to locate its 5+ billion dollar investment and not just in terms of the business. “Headquarters investigated the area to learn where our people would live, how they would live, what it would take financially to live, how we would get our food… They analyzed the cost of rice, chicken, pork, beef, and other living expenses; the choices for educating our children,” Jun Keun explains. I learned their work visas are good for five years and most likely only 50-60 percent of those being relocated will bring their families over to live here.
He tells me several stories about his short time here so far. We laugh to keep it light, but the truth is, I left feeling a little stressed for my new friend. I realized just how many little things differ between our cultures. The very real lessons he has had to navigate and try to understand so that he may teach his foreign colleagues are vast, and as much preparation as Headquarters tried to do, there is so much more to be done. Jun Keun says the frontier team took note of as many cultural differences as they could so that those in the first wave of transfers could study and prepare for life here, but as you’d probably expect, there were many things that didn’t get noted and a few lessons learned have been interesting to say the least!
Take tipping your waiter for instance. In Korea, you don’t have to tip. The price on the menu is the total, all fees included. This cultural difference was not realized until members of the frontier team began expensing their food. “Headquarters did not understanding the additional costs! Everything has been corrected now!” We laugh again.
The next story was about the day one of his co-workers got a double speeding ticket. The gentleman did not know he should pull his vehicle over upon seeing blue lights in the rearview mirror and then, when he finally pulled over, he made the mistake of getting out of his car and approaching the officer’s car. “It was an honest mistake, but something that could have become dangerous,” Jun Keun says. “Rarely do you see a police car in Korea, and you never see them pull someone over on the street.” He was delighted to share that Sheriff Crowe was awesome and very responsive in their efforts to understand and prevent this kind of situation from happening again. “He has scheduled a seminar for us in January, when our next wave of staff comes over, to help them understand the differences in our driving laws right away.”
When I asked about his wife and children, he was excited to talk about them, and I could tell he is missing them badly. He has two young boys in elementary school. They are eight and five in Korea (seven and four here). Are you feeling confused? I certainly was. Jun Keun explained that birthdays begin at one and not zero in Korea, so we will recognize their children as a year younger than they are in their culture. Another interesting cultural difference to note, and one I am unsure of how it will be dealt with for educational purposes.
The family will join Jun Keun to begin their life abroad on December 23 this year. Right now, he is most concerned with finding a home to rent. Hyundai employees here on a work visa must rent per Headquarters orders; the lack of available rental properties has proven to be a challenge. This is Jun Keun’s first deployed assignment where his family will be joining him, a condition he set when Headquarters asked him to help open the Metaplant. “I’ve toured two local elementary schools and I am very pleased with how welcoming both were.” He told me he is excited for his sons to have this experience. He said he knows they adjust faster than his wife because “Children in Korea study the English language as a second language, adults will naturally have a little harder time learning to speak it fluently.” He said he knows it will be a challenge getting his family settled in, especially since their belongings will arrive several weeks after they do! The logistics are a little tricky with their shipping container of household items arriving at the Port of Los Angelas and then having to be trucked across the country to Bryan County. “We will be living a minimalist life for a bit,” he laughs.
If you take a minute to think about the little things, I think you will find it humbling like I did…as American people in general, we are foreign to our new friends from Korea, just as they are to us. They will be coming from somewhere they were the majority, to a place where they are now the minority. “It will be culture shock in the beginning,” Jun Keun admits, and I agree.
It will be culture shock for us all at first, I told him, trying my best to ease his anxiety. I assured him that he need not worry. While this part of Georgia may not look like the movies with bright lights and people hustling through the streets, there is this thing called southern hospitality that we instinctively offer to our friends and neighbors, and now to he and his family.
While we have many cultural differences, like Garth Brooks said, “We are all just leaves on the same tree under one sky.” Welcome home, Hyundai!