Back in February of 1986, Detroit-born, Florida State University-educated lawyer, Bryan Hopkins, landed in Seoul to work as legal counsel for a then relatively unknown South Korean firm called Samsung.
Thirty years later, Hopkins still resides in Seoul with his family and Samsung has, well, you know, grown into one of the largest, most well-known companies on the planet.
Bryan was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes 14 years ago. Everyday Diabetes recently caught up with him at his office in Seoul to talk about working for Samsung in the 1980s and about living with diabetes in South Korea.
You started working with Samsung as counsel way back in 1986. Can you talk about what it was like back then?
Samsung, as most Korean companies, had little experience with foreign employees in Korea, especially with US lawyers. I was expected to know all aspects of US and international law when I showed up. In fact, as Samsung had very few US legal resources, they thought I would know everything. From an employee standpoint, though I was treated with respect, Samsung had no idea as to the expectations of foreign employees nor did it understand how to treat them. It was a learning experience for them and for me.
FOR ME, IT RUNS IN MY FAMILY. I EXPECTED I WOULD EVENTUALLY GET DIABETES, BUT I GOT IT SOONER THAN EXPECTED.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the business culture of Korea over the past three decades?
There have been many changes in the business culture of Korea over the last three decades. The main changes I think is that Korean businesses now appreciate the competition they face abroad and realize they must cater to the needs of their customers. When I first started working for Samsung, the business units just made products and sold it not thinking about what its customers were really looking for.
Today, I think most Korean businesses understand that they must produce products wanted by their customers and that customer or consumer feedback is important. I think that is a big change.
Considering all the changes the country has gone through, are there any things you miss from back in your early years in Seoul?
Yes –a sense of innocence. Today, I don’t think that exists or at least at the level it did thirty years ago. Koreans have become more jaded over time.
SAMSUNG HAD VERY FEW U.S. LEGAL RESOURCES, THEY THOUGHT I WOULD KNOW EVERYTHING.
Can you talk a little about how Korea’s food and culture affect how it affects living with diabetes there?
One of the problems that I face is that Korea is still a drinking culture and that it probably won’t change. I have to figure alcohol into my diet, how much I can consume, etc.
Has having diabetes affected your day-to-day professional life?
I don’t go out drinking every night like I did years ago when I was trying to entertain clients, etc. And, of course, I have stopped eating sweets –so I don’t frequent the new dessert bars and restaurants that are opening up. The desert culture surprises me.
How about support groups? Are there any that you have turned to over the years?
Not really. I used to get feedback on my diet, etc from my healthcare provider in the US. I don’t get that in Korea and am sort of left to my own when thinking about my diet
What advice would you give someone newly diagnosed?
There are several reasons that people get diabetes. For me, it runs in my family. I expected I would eventually get diabetes but got it sooner than expected. I really recommend that for people who have just been diagnosed with diabetes they should contemplate the reasons why they have become diabetic and make changes in their lifestyle to minimize its effects. A change in diet, more exercise, etc.
I think exercise is very important and should be factored in when changing lifestyles. It is easy to get depressed about diabetes but it should be remembered that a change in diet and an increase in exercise can go a long way in minimizing its effects.