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My Cosmetics Multinational Adventure – a Seoul Expat in Hamburg!

Seoul is simply fascinating. South Korea’s largest city straddles the Han River, boasting 10 million inhabitants and a historic city center. In spring, clouds of cherry blossoms rise above the bustling streets to meet glittering skyscrapers. Our very own Jisoo Oh is right at the heart of it all. The 30-year-old native South Korean with a passion for traveling, hiking and reading has worked at Beiersdorf in Seoul since 2020 – a city where the cosmetics boom (‘K-beauty’ for short) is second to none. Quite naturally, leading international skin care companies such as Beiersdorf find the location inspirational for their product development.

“Skincare plays a crucial role in Korea. The market is developing at breathtaking speed and it’s fair to say that South Korea dominates today’s cosmetics world,” says Jisoo enthusiastically. “It’s so exciting to be right at the epicenter of this phenomenon!” Seoul’s energy is contagious and rewards the courageous. Following three years in the South Korean skincare business as PR & Digital Specialist for the NX NIVEA Accelerator, Beiersdorf's innovation hub in Seoul, and as Brand Manager for the South Korean skin care brand CHA’UL, Jisoo launched her international adventure as an expat at Beiersdorf’s Hamburg headquarters. “I studied English language and literature and have always been eager to get to know other countries and cultures. Trainees from Hamburg doing their stint abroad in Seoul made me deeply curious about Germany. Later, in my appraisal interview I mentioned my dream of being able to work with lots of international colleagues at Beiersdorf headquarters one day – and my boss supported me in making this come true. I’m very grateful to him for that!” So in May 2022 Jisoo started her great German adventure, without much prior German-language knowledge but with a burning curiosity and fully open to the experience ahead of her.

Getting started in the Social Media team

For around a year, Jisoo fully immersed herself in the day-to-day work of our global Corporate Communications team as a Digital Communication Specialist. “My most exciting project was the relaunch of our Instagram channel. I loved both developing the content strategy for it as well as letting my creativity flow into the content conception and creation. The number of our followers rose steadily as a result of our teamwork from what I suggested and the content became more and more attractive – achieving that was a great feeling for us all!” Jisoo is delighted about a further highlight: “Our team also launched a global PR workshop with PR colleagues from around the world. It was so inspiring to exchange ideas with all our international colleagues and to find out how they operate and communicate in their individual markets.”

And what was it like on the human level? “The team in Hamburg gave me a very open, warm welcome. That made it really easy for me to get started in a completely new country, with a new language and in a new job,” Jisoo beams. “I think this is also due to our unique “we” culture at Beiersdorf – taking good care of colleagues is simply part of it. For instance, Beiersdorf even made it possible for my sister, who was studying in Hamburg at the same time, to live with me in my apartment. Whenever I had questions about the lease or insurance details, the company gave me great support. That was tremendously helpful, because I noticed again and again that sometimes it’s a little difficult to get by only with English in Germany. Of course I learned a little German, but to tackle some topics it wasn’t quite enough.”

“I had to get used to it”

And how does working in Germany differ from working in South Korea? Jisoo takes a moment to think. „Well, regarding working life the biggest difference for me was discussion culture. In Germany topics are discussed extensively, and insights and opinions are shared – in Korea it‘s a little different. Naturally, specific topics are also deeply discussed there, but quite less compared to Germany. I have to say that this discussion culture truly inspired me. If you share your thoughts openly and I get to hear what other people think, this broadens my own horizons. Nevertheless, at first this was quite new for me.“ There were also features of everyday life that Jisoo had to get used to: „For example, in Germany most stores close at 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. – I can‘t just head out at 10 p.m. to get myself something nice, like I could in Korea.“ 

And there’s another German experience she definitely wouldn’t want to miss: “Experiencing a German Christmas was one of my absolute personal highlights! We celebrate Christmas in Korea too, but not as extensively or elaborately as in Germany. My sister and I spent Christmas with my friend’s family in Frankfurt, enjoying delicious food and drinks and a large-scale – I really mean that – exchange of presents. It was a beautiful experience that I’ll never forget as long as I live.”

“Keeping an open mind is the key to unlocking other cultures”

Jisoo has been back in Seoul since May this year and is already right in the middle of her next career step, as NIVEA Brand Manager in the Business Unit NIVEA (Sun & Body category). “It’s something completely new for me – and this is exactly what I love so much about Beiersdorf. If you stay open and show commitment then you have an incredible number of career opportunities across the Group.” What advice can she offer other colleagues who, just like her, are dreaming of an assignment abroad? “I think keeping an open mind is the key to fully absorbing the rich details of life in another country and a different culture. If you genuinely embrace new situations, you’ll benefit from this experience your whole life long. It’s an enormous growth opportunity, both personally and professionally – you learn in so many different ways!”

Ready for the challenge?

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About the editor: Anna Hewing

Anna is part of the Corporate Communications team and responsible for the topics of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as well as Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I). Her stories are about inspiring personalities at Beiersdorf and the company’s social commitment.