Road to Korea: Marie Frenette

One of twitter users I follow tweeted about a brand new service called Korea Curated. It is a Korean subscription box that sends fun and unique Korean stuff to subscribers worldwide every month. I was so interested in this concept that I googled the founder of Korea Curated right away. In short, it was launched in November 2015, by soon-to-be-married couple Marie Frenette and Cory May. Marie is a Canadian entrepreneur who has lived in Korea for almost 10 years. Cory is a Korean-American YouTuber who began vlogging when he moved to Korea in 2013. This couple is so passionate about connecting Korea with fans around the world. Luckily, I had a chance to interview Marie about her life in Korea as an entrepreneur using the ROAD TO categories: Reason, Only, Activities, Delicious, To, and Others. I hope I can interview her business partner, fiancé, and friend Cory sometime, too.  

Reason

“To be honest, I did not know anything about Korea before arriving. I just wanted to live in a non-English speaking country for about a year to broaden my perspective. But fate had a different plan for me.  I ended up falling in love with Korea so much that I am on my 10th year and am now a permanent resident. I have worn a lot of hats, been an instructor, a student, an employee, and an entrepreneur. Life has been a series of challenges, pushing me toward the next level and forcing me to break limits everyday. All the experiences, good and bad, definitely made me who I am today. And now I am able to share Korea with the world through Korea Curated.”

I finished my business degree majoring in Entrepreneurship at Saint Mary’s University. Throughout the years, my goal was always launching my own business. But one day, I realized that if I was going to have a global business like I wanted, I needed a wider perspective on the world. Trying to work with people from many cultures would have been silly without experience and true understanding. So that is why I was determined not to rush and instead experience the world in-depth for a broader perspective.

As a first step, I travelled across Europe. But then, I realized that I did not know my own country either. So, I went back to travel across Canada and lived in a Rocky Mountain town called Canmore for two years, learning to really enjoy nature and winter sports. Eventually, I couldn’t hold off my dream of living abroad anymore. I met a woman on a plane who was on her way to her hometown after 2 years living in Asia. For some reason, I decided to ask her for a suggestion of a good place to live in Asia where the ocean and mountains are both nearby.  I don’t even know why that was my criteria. Without hesitation, she recommended Pusan (Back then, Busan’s official spelling was Pusan) and Jeju.

But to me, Pusan sounded like a swear word for a female body part. So, I decided to search for Jeju first, since it sort of sounded like Jujube. That is a weird way to make decisions, huh? Anyway, I found out it was a subtropical volcanic island covered in tangerine farms and women divers called Haenyeo (해녀: female divers) dive with freely into the ocean with no breathing equipment. It sounded so exciting. I learned about Jeju because of a weird coincidence, but I am sure it was destiny. Everything about Jeju sounded perfect to me. I did not have any reason to search any further and three months later I was working in Jeju.

I started a new chapter of my life in Jeju as an English teacher. At first, I planned to live there for just one year, but by the end of my contract I had become addicted to studying Korean. I knew if I were to leave, I would never improve. So I extended an additional year. I would study for a few hours in the morning, meet Korean friends for lunch, go to work, and often go out with Korean friends again after work.

The very first person I was introduced to was Kim Sukhyun, a hanbok designer from Jeju who introduced me to so many great people. Often I had no idea what anyone was saying, but I told them to not worry about me and just hang out the way they usually do. Some of my friends from back then are now like family to me. Sukhyun is even going to be designing my fusion hanbok wedding dress for me (check out Jeju wedding by In Hanbok on Facebook).

Despite having a great group of friends, I realized that teaching English all day was making my Korean progress really slow, so I decided to move to Seoul and enroll in full-time classes at the Korean Language Education Center at  Seoul National University. It took me a year, and a lot of effort, but I was able to get my Advanced Korean Certificate. Even now I consider that to be my biggest accomplishment.

After my studies, I decided to try getting a job and seeing how well I can function in a Korean speaking work environment. I applied to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) and surprisingly, got the job. I was their Editor and Marketing Advisor at first, but after strongly encouraging them to start a Facebook page instead of Myspace, I ended up doing more social media than anything else.

I don’t run it anymore, but it was me who started the current KTO Facebook page. At that time, Koreans didn’t use Facebook much, so I was pretty much left to develop the page alone, without any extra support. But despite this, the page grew quite steadily and people loved being able to have an interactive conversation with us.

That job basically launched my marketing career in Korea, and since then I have done more social media marketing work but also a lot of B2B work as well. I even traveled to 7 countries in one year promoting a Korean exhibition and recruiting exhibitors and buyers.

After that, I was a partner in a global marketing company and then after getting my permanent residency, I started my company LaunchSUM and launched Korea Curated as well.

* If you wonder about her career, check out the details on her LinkedIn page.

Marie speaking on KBS World Radio about Korea Curated | Photo provided by Korea Curated.

One and Only in Korea

My one and only moment in Korea was when I launched a business with my name. For the longest time, you had to be married to a Korean or just very wealthy to start a company in Korea. But luckily, the Korean government created a new way for highly skilled professionals (and recent graduates!) with deep love and knowledge of Korea to stay and start their businesses. The “points visa”, or  F-2-7, is given to anyone who reaches over 80 points (mostly drawn from Korean language ability, experience, education, etc). I was a little bit short of 80 points, so I collected additional ones by taking a social integration course (사회통합프로그램). From then on, I was just focusing on starting my business, which I finally launched in January of 2015. I am an immigrant in this country, so being empowered by having not only a visa but also a business in my own name through my own effort is like a dream.

Another cool thing is that after participating in the Social Integration Program I was recommended to become an instructor to teach other foreign people about immigration policies, law and business in Korea. I have lectured at various major universities around Korea including Korea University, Kyung Hee University, and Seoul National University. It is really amazing to be able to help newcomers who are going through all the things I went through, and hopefully help make their life here that much easier.

* For more information about F-2-7 visa, please contact Immigration Services at 1345 or visit the Immigration website or click here.  

* If you are Korean, you can get detail information in Korean at: 법무부고시 제2013_151호(130417)거주(F-2)체류자격_자목_기준

I knew that my heart was in Korea when I noticed myself eating kimchi, eggs and rice for breakfast whenever I leave Korea. For the record, I don’t even eat breakfast in Korea. Food is just one way to stay connected to Korea even when I am abroad. Another funny story is, while waiting at the airport to go back to Korea after two weeks in Vietnam, I noticed a bunch of drunk Korean men playing a Korean card game ‘Go Stop (고스톱)’ at the airport. They were sitting on the floor and there was a pile of money next to them. They were having a great time, but were very loud and probably annoying to most people. But I missed being around Koreans so much that I sat right next to them. It sort of felt like being home.

Marie and Cory interview the founders of Swag Seoul, a hip hop clothing line with Korean flavor | Photo provided by Korea Curated
Marie and Cory interview the founders of Swag Seoul, a hip hop clothing line with Korean flavor | Photo provided by Korea Curated

Activities

Life in Korea goes by so fast. There are always so many things going on. I spend most of my time either working on my business or with my fiancé Cory May. We explore Seoul, making videos about Korean food, streets, travel, basically anything we want to. And because of our subscription box, we also visit a lot of artist markets, studios and shopping areas looking for cool things to send to our subscribers. Even regional snacks from provinces outside Seoul have taken on a completely new meaning for me. They are yet another interesting aspect of Korea that we can share with the world.

One neat aspect of our box is that we use video to tell the story of items in the box each month. For example, last month we included a reusable hand warmer that was actually a roasted chestnut character created by the design company Maaterial. We went out to Myeongdong in sub-zero temperatures just to capture footage of people roasting chestnuts on the street so our subscribers could witness that and understand more about the product. It is challenging, but a lot of fun.

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You are probably curious about what kind of products Korea Curated boxes contain. Here is what went out in the January box |  Photo provided by Korea Curated
Thanks to our subscriber Jessica for the shoutout! We are so happy you like this month’s Discovery Box. Image and comment from Korea, Curated Instagram.
Thanks to our subscriber Jessica for the shoutout! We are so happy you like this month’s Discovery Box | Image and comment from Korea, Curated Instagram.

Delicious

Korea is a food paradise. There is so much variety, way more than is represented in Korean restaurants overseas. I was vegetarian for a long time, but I promised myself I would try everything, do everything the Korean way to help me understand and appreciate the country better. Eating together is such a big part of getting to know one another here. I still remember the first night in Korea, we went to eat shrimp grilled whole on a bed of salt. It was so amazing but the shell and heads were still on the shrimp so at first I didn’t know what to do. I waited to watch what my boss did. He just stuck the whole thing in his mouth, so I closed my eyes and did the same. It was crunchy and yummy and the same as every other body part. So now I never think twice about eating that way.

Now that I have been here for ten years, and have probably tried everything at least once and some things thousands of times, I am slowly going vegetarian again. Being someone with allergies or special dietary needs in Korea isn’t easy. I have some friends from Malaysia and Indonesia who are Muslim, and want so much to try Korean food, but there is very little selection for them because of religious requirements.

Our first Korea Curated subscriber, Nada is a Muslim from Kuwait. She has adored Korea for nine years, studies Korean very hard and even has a popular Instagram account where she posts photos of dolls customized to look like idols. Because she can’t eat pork and other foods, we customize her box and avoid those items. I don’t want differences in religion or culture to keep people from experiencing Korea to its fullest.

One dream of mine is to develop special Korean products for people with special needs, so they can still enjoy Korea with no barriers. Taking that a step further would be to actually collaborate with our subscribers and Korean companies to create those products together. I think there is huge potential there.

With my fiance Cory at Jongro (종로) | Image Courtesy of Marie
With my fiance Cory at Jongro (종로) | Image Courtesy of Marie

To

For me, the word “to” means where are you going. I am so appreciative of everything I have right now. A great partner, a loving family, and a work that I truly love. I even get free office space and support services from Seoul City and the Small Business Agency. How lucky am I?

Despite being so happy with what I have, I am still very much looking forward to the future. On a personal level, getting married and eventually having a family. On a professional level, finally doing business my way. In a creative, passionate and humanistic way. Seeing how far I can push that dream. I want to be in the position where I can really help Korean entrepreneurs connect with people all over the world who are passionately supporting them from far away. I also want to create products and new concepts myself. Not just following culture and trends, but developing new ideas into fruition. That is where I want to go.

On the day we announced our engagement with Cory's family. Image Courtesy of Marie.
On the day we announced our engagement with Cory’s family. Image Courtesy of Marie.

Others

Another thing I would like to share with people is about how to build a good life in Korea. Korea has become a major culture maker on the world stage. More and more people are coming here to live and do business. They want to be involved and know what is happening here. A lot of people contact me about how to be successful here. My experience tells me that nothing happens overnight. If you really want something, you have to be willing to think long-term.

And part of that means learning Korean. Without it, you have no choice but to live in a tiny bubble, putting the responsibility on everyone else to adapt to you, and missing out on opportunities you don’t even know exist. It’s amazing the kind of bonds I have been able to form with people as a result of speaking their native language. It also demonstrates immediately to others just how committed I am to Korea. It helps them to trust me and gauge what kind of person I am. It is easy for me to meet Korean business people, appear in Korean media and deliver presentations about my business directly. And once you have a high level of Korean proficiency, everything becomes possible. Permanent residency visas, better jobs, better opportunities. Of course, it isn’t easy, but once you get into the habit of studying every day, it becomes a very enjoyable thing. And the potential rewards are great.

Another important thing is to think about what you can do that the average native Korean can’t. Jobs in those areas are much easier to find. Overseas marketing, translation, foreign language training are good potential areas. But if you also speak Korean, a variety of other professions become possible. My dad always told me to think about the next step in my career. What do I want to do next? What will it take to get me there? That is why, when choosing my employers, I always went with the ones that let me take on a bigger role, a bigger challenge. So I worked for a lot of smaller companies that gave me a wider set of responsibilities. It really helped me to develop my confidence and ability.  

One last tip is, even if you have to teach English to support yourself, that doesn’t mean you can’t begin developing your skills and experience in other areas. For example, you could teach English during the day and manage a social media campaign or a blog in your spare time. All of that counts as real experience.

I think my fiance Cory is a great example of this. After 3 years working on his YouTube channel, he has a collection of over 300 videos and at present over 20,000 subscribers. That is no small feat for someone with a full-time job. He has gained a ton of knowledge about what it takes to really reach people and is constantly upgrading himself, purchasing new equipment, etc. And now people have begun to think of him more as a YouTuber than as a teacher. Companies contact him to review products and collaborate on projects. His online presence is a testimony to what he is capable of and will continue to help him in the future.

Seoul Searching blogger Mimsie is another great example. She now has a book deal and works at one of the biggest PR companies in the world as a result of the experience and exposure her blog brought her.

Even though I have come so far over the past 10 years, I consider it all to be just warming up. My business and Korea Curated are the start line, and now it is time to really start running. I hope my story helps others to achieve their goals and dreams too. Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak about myself and share advice to your readers.  

Just the facts: Social media edition

If you are interested in Marie and Cory’s subscription box Korea Curated, find more details at:

5 thoughts on “Road to Korea: Marie Frenette

  • February 26, 2016 at 10:39 am
    Permalink

    As someone living in Korea and wanting to stay here, but not as a teacher, this is really inspiring! I’ve been struggling to learn Korean, and I think maybe what I need to do is just go and do a year long intensive course. I really don’t think juggling teaching, job hunting, and lots of other worries are conducive to studying.
    Ah.. this is exactly the kind of life I want for myself here ^^

    Reply
    • March 28, 2016 at 10:14 am
      Permalink

      Hi Alice,

      Thanks so much for commenting.

      It takes a lot of work and sacrifice to make a meaningful life in a foreign country, but I would say it’s worth it. Good luck!!!

      Marie

      Reply
  • January 11, 2017 at 2:19 pm
    Permalink

    By chance I saw your videos on line while I was searching for the latest news on Korea. But like Marie commented nothing is by coincidence. I’m staying connected to my roots by tuning in to what you both offer. I enjoy your walking tours to areas of Seoul that is not often shown. I have informed friends and family to tune in to you.
    Keep it rolling……very informational and entertaining. I love it.

    gerry

    Reply

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