He’s no regular Koreaboo. In fact long before K-Pop and K-Culture made inroads into our own lifestyle, this 2007 BTech (Hons) graduate has been creating waves of his own in Korea. Meet Kiran Tharanath, Director of NextGen Sales and Strategy at Samsung Electronics, Seoul. In an email interview, he talks about his cultural immersion, and becoming the Brand Ambassador for Samsung. Read on.
- Tell us about yourself. What brought you to IIITH?
I was born and brought up in Kerala. After finishing the AIEEE in 2003, I was looking at options for doing my undergraduate course and coincidentally I received a brochure sent by IIITH. Impressed with the school and its focus in R&D right from the junior level, I decided to join IIITH for my studies. I am glad I did.
- Any favourite IIITH memory that stands out? Experiences that you would like to share…
There are many IIITH memories that I will carry with me lifelong. Representing IIITH in inter-university basketball competitions, eating snacks at the coffee shop near OBH, taking strolls along the tree-laden roads at nights, playing counter strike with batch mates, relishing Chinese fried rice and noodles from the one-man-shop right opposite the main gate and so on. Those were fun days indeed.
I was also a guitarist and a part of the “Insomnia” rock band back in my days in IIITH. Playing rock music during Felicity and traveling to events and shopping malls to play as part of the in-house band were experiences that I will always remember fondly.
- What did you do after graduating from IIITH?
During my final years of education at IIITH, I started looking for schools to do my Masters and was lucky to be selected by a few in the US. While preparing my visa for the same, Samsung sent information introducing the Global Scholarship Program (GSP), inviting applications for those interested. To quote from Wikipedia, the GSP is a talent program of Samsung Electronics to nurture a very selectively compiled group of individuals who later in the long run might become leaders of the various Samsung subsidiaries around the world. It is divided into two paths – Masters and MBA.
The selection process itself consisted of three rounds of elimination type of interviews and tests, held in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Delhi respectively. At the end of it, I was offered a chance to pursue an all-expenses paid Master’s degree from Seoul National University in Korea, followed by a job in Samsung HQ.
To be honest, back in 2007, Korea was not as well known as it is today. I was very cautious about choosing Korea over the US. But thanks to timely guidance from Professor Bipin Indurkhya (who had lived many years in Japan), I got the confidence to choose Korea and here I am living over 12 years till date.
- All courses in the MS program are taught in English. At what point did you begin to learn the Korean language and what has the experience been like?
Today, I am native in Korean language with respect to reading, writing and speaking. On a side note, I am also a Korean citizen (with Overseas Citizen of India status) and am married to a Korean woman as well. (For all practical purposes, you can consider me a Korean ☺)
Coming back to the question, even though all the courses were taught in English, I picked up interest in Korean language in the first few months I was here. This is because of the necessity to speak the language to make friends and also to communicate while traveling outside the main cities such as Seoul.
Not too many Koreans spoke English back then, and a lot of signage was in Korean language, so you could say that I was bombarded visually and aurally with the language, but this actually acted as a catalyst in learning the language.
I took an 8-month course of intensive Korean (4 hours a day) during my 1styear in Korea which gave me a strong starting point. The rest was accumulated over time, living in a society where you “see, breathe and live” Korean language all day, every day. As a foreigner it is not easy to make real friends in Korean society. This is based on their fear of speaking English because it’s in their culture to “Speak perfect English or not to speak at all.” On the other hand, if you approach them with a few words in Korean, you can break the ice quickly and it’s easier to become friends. I found the language as a way to enrich my social circle in Korea and thankfully, it worked.
On a side note, knowing the language gives you access to lots of discounts and other benefits that are normally advertised only in Korean communities and blogs. And that does not hurt. (Fact: I saved about $3,000 when I bought my car, thanks to “hidden” information in Korean blogs ☺ )
- You’ve given a lot of lectures in the Passion For Youth series. Tell us more about that program. What got you into public speaking?
Ever since my school days, I was interested in public speaking. I used to give a lot of lectures both on campus (as a TA) and outside IIITH (on Robotics and Technology), in schools across many Indian states during my undergraduate years.
Passion for Youth is a program where leaders from Samsung are tasked with providing lectures and guidance to audiences ranging from university students to graduates on various topics like career building, soft skills etc. This normally takes place all around Korea and is a way for us to give back to the society, while sharing our experiences candidly.
I was asked to share my experience as a foreigner in learning Korean language, combined with various other experiences I had in the Korean society. The goal is to provide some level of inspiration to the participants (If I can do it, so can you!) and we were hoping to motivate the Korean students to learn a foreign language, especially English. I typically start the lectures in English (and the atmosphere is tense), but the moment I switch over to Korean, the ice is broken and we have a fun session. (This was also intentionally planned by the organizers as a “surprise them first with English” tactic to get a few smiles).
- Why do you think you were chosen as a Samsung Brand Ambassador?
I am an extrovert by character. I love meeting people and learning new things. And even after joining Samsung, in addition to my regular work, I took part in various activities such as volunteering (whether it was science classes for children, leg massages for the older people, painting houses and teaching computers in Ethiopia and so on) and regularly gave lectures on Global Business Etiquette to the freshmen of Samsung Electronics. This was a course all of them had to take as a part of their orientation, before being assigned to the respective roles within the company.
I believe that such contributions did aid in the decision to choose me as a Samsung Brand Ambassador. In this role, the ambassadors are tasked with spreading the spirit of innovation (the core of Samsung) in various dimensions and provide feedback to the Global Marketing Organization of Samsung on how to improve the status quo.
- What advice would you give someone who wishes to follow a career path similar to yours?
Never be afraid to go off the beaten path. I know that traveling the path taken by thousands of people before you is a safer bet, but there are equally rewarding destinations that one can reach only if you dare to take the path less traveled. People ask me if I regret my choice in choosing Korea over US for my Masters but I can say with confidence that I do not.
On the other hand, choosing a less traveled path would of course mean that you need to do additional due diligence before taking a decision. I was lucky to have my own circle of professors and seniors, from whom I got a lot of information before taking the decision to move to Korea in 2007.
If you need any advice, you can reach out to the hundreds of seniors that have graduated and I am happy to see that the Alumni Association and relevant personnel are doing such a fine job connecting the current students with the past, via the Alumni Portal.
For current students at IIITH, I can say that you have chosen the start of your career wisely. The beautiful thing about IIITH is that you are given opportunities to grow in a wide range of areas in your life, not just crunching books. I believe that is the reason why we have a “diverse and multicolored” graduate pool who have chosen many different paths after school, from white collar professionals, to entrepreneurs, researchers, and teachers.
For those of you considering the GSP, I can say that Korea is a lovely place to live in and I can say this with confidence based on my travel to about 40 countries across all continents except Antarctica. This is one of the safest countries to live (in addition to Japan and Taiwan) and people in general are very honest. In this part of the world, there will be a cultural barrier for sure (compared to what you would expect from the West) but once you put in some effort to break that barrier (by being open to learning a new culture, adjusting to certain cultural norms etc.) the journey that you will have, in my humble opinion, is going to be very fruitful.