Many international students studying in South Korea return to their home countries or go elsewhere in the world in search of work. With opportunities limited in South Korea for foreign students, there are not many other options. Recent government statistics show only one in 21 international students find jobs in South Korea after graduation.
Occasionally there are outliers like Nalinh Thoummala from Laos who came to Ewha to study big data and found work soon after she graduated.
Thoummala studied information technology engineering at National University of Laos. While she was an undergraduate, Thoummala decided to study information technology and computer science in graduate school as she thought her major only offered rudimentary knowledge. Thoummala’s journey to South Korea was not by chance, as she was first exposed to the country and Ewha from a previous trip when she was amazed by the beautiful campus.
“When I was doing research on a big data master’s degree, I found out Ewha offered many interesting courses,” Thoummala said. “I also talked to foreign students who were taking the courses at that time and then made my decision to apply for Ewha’s graduate school in 2018. I find it interesting that I became a student at Ewha from a tourist on campus.”
After earning her master’s degree at Ewha in February 2021, Thoummala started her career in a South Korean startup called Deepvisions, a company providing AI-based solutions and services. Thoummala decided to get a job in Korea because the state of big data and AI in Laos are still in their infancy.
“Unlike Korea which has been investing in the AI and data sector for years, those fields are still new in my country,” Thoummala said. “I thought I would be able to harness skills that I gained from my master’s course if I work in Korea. Relatively higher salary compared to my country was another reason behind getting a job here.”
Thoummala was highly motivated about her current job at Deepvisions as the position is directly related to her master’s degree. The job allows her to use and expand what she learned at Ewha by actually applying it to real-life through analyzing data and developing AI models.
Finding a decent job in South Korea is known to be notoriously difficult for foreigners. This is due to a range of factors from visas to language barriers. According to Thoummala, the hardships in finding work were typical.
“I think it’s the language barrier that makes it hard for international students to get a job here,” Thoummala said. “If you are not fluent in Korean, companies would rarely hire you.”
While language barrier was some of the largest concerns for Thoummala, the living expenses also played a large part in deterring international students from staying. She said graduates also need to consider living costs, which are high compared to other parts of Asia, taking into consideration the salaries offered.
When looking for work in South Korea, Thoummala was sure to devote plenty of time to studying more about data science, machine learning, and AI. She wanted to prepare herself for any advances in the field while she searched for work on platforms like LinkedIn, JobKorea, and Rocketpunch.
“Getting a job in Korea may be challenging and there also may be some stereotypes regarding the working environment in Korea,” Thoummala said. “However, never give up without even trying. Try it first. You will never know if you are capable of doing it if you don’t start.”