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Hawaii-born food and science enthusiast Ethyn Leong found a new home at CJ Blossom Park after studying and working around the world As an international food giant that manufactures the whole gamut of food products, CJ CheilJedang is extremely bullish on welcoming the crème de la crème of talents around the globe. Ethyn Leong, who joined the company about a year ago after his studies at Cornell and Wageningen University, is the case in point.  We sat down with the food technology specialist at CJ Blossom Park – the company’s comprehensive research lab located just outside of capital Seoul. From the detailed assistance with onboarding to the work-life balance, Leong shares his experiences and tips for working in a truly global corporation.  Q. Please briefly tell us about your background. A. I was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii. When I turned 18, I left Hawaii to go to Cornell University where I did food science as my major and graduated with a distinction in research. I worked in and around New York for a few years until I moved to the Netherlands in 2020 to pursue my master’s degree at Wageningen University & Research with a specialization in Product Design and Ingredient Functionality. I am a food enthusiast; I undertook various food-related volunteering and club activities during my high school and undergraduate years, and also got an associate degree in culinary arts and chef training at the Institute of Culinary Education right after I got my bachelor’s degree. Food science was the combination of the two things I liked – science and food. Q. You have had quite a journey of moving from Hawaii to New York, the Netherlands and now to Korea. What prompted you to make the around-the-world journey?  A. I’ve always wanted to explore outside of the environment in which I grew up to see what opportunities I could find in pursuit of my dream. I think it’s always the first move that is the most challenging. Moving from Hawaii to New York was the biggest change, even though it was within the same country. The next moves since then have been a lot easier for me to pursue a dream. Q. How were you introduced to CJ Group? A. It was through a job fair in Wageningen right after I graduated. CJ CheilJedang was one of the companies that participated, and I had a quick conversation with the person at the booth. We exchanged contact information and grabbed coffee on another occasion. That’s how I got my chance to join CJ. But even before the fair, I was very much aware of CJ ENM because a lot of my friends in undergrad were K-pop fans.  Q. What was the deciding factor in your final decision to join CJ? A. Through the interview process, I felt that CJ was probably the best fit for what I wanted to do next. I thought that you should probably have a PhD before doing research as a food researcher. But CJ provided me with another way to start the career I wanted.  CJ CheilJedang’s reputation as a leading player in the food sector has been a big factor, too. I knew CJ was already a global company and had plans to expand even further. So, it was a mixture of the CJ name and the business strategy. Q. Can you tell us what you do at CJ and what your typical day-to-day is like? A. I am part of the Solution & Application Team at CJ CheilJedang and we work on plant-based products for business clients. More specifically, I work on developing ingredients to help companies elevate their plant-based products.  A lot of what I do is working on the products’ applications to show to customers, and to get them to understand the benefits of using CJ products. So, for example, if we add product A into a food, the food gets a better taste and texture. My day revolves around conducting experiments and preparing documents about these experiments.  Q. What would you say is key to your role? What makes one a good fit for a researcher position at CJ? A. The ability to communicate science well is very important. It’s the ability to make other people understand the fundamentals of what you’re working on and their benefits. A good scientist should be able to explain their projects in a way that a layperson can comprehend. Q. You mentioned the opportunity to start at a research position as one of the reasons why you chose to work at CJ. What are some of the other perks? A. First, I want to mention the support network that CJ had in place for emigrating me. For people from overseas who are considering relocating to a new country, I would like to say that CJ is definitely putting in a lot of effort to make the transition to Korea easy.  HR cares a lot about employee satisfaction, particularly if you’re from abroad and new to Korea. In my case, although my experience is unique in its own light, CJ helped me with the basic documentation processes including getting the visa, as well as helping me find an apartment, open a bank account, get a mobile phone, and have access to the internet within just two days after arriving in Korea. They’ve also provided private Korean lessons to enhance my language proficiency. Another point I’d like to highlight is the infirmary, or the medical office here. It’s a basic nurse’s office with a few beds if you need them. Overall, I feel CJ was very accommodating throughout the whole onboarding process. Q. CJ seems to be very accommodating. Do you feel the same way when it comes to working and communicating with your colleagues? A. Yes. I am most proud of my team when we figure out how to communicate. Whenever my team and I figure out a way to make sure I understand everything that’s going on, despite my very low Korean proficiency, it makes me feel more comfortable being here and feel more involved. It makes me feel right to be here.   Maybe it’s more appropriate to say that people are very willing to help, and make sure I understand what they’re saying, which I think could be very important for non-Korean employees.  Q. When you first joined CJ, did you find CJ’s ‘Cultural Buddy’ system helpful?  A. Yes. I had an onboarding buddy, someone who went to Wageningen with me and graduated a year before me. She was the one who got me from the airport and made sure I was situated. To help me onboard, CJ created a two-day long Korean Culture Day. All the international hires including myself and Ryan met up for two days; one day we went to a few places in Seoul to learn about Korean culture, and another day was learning about the CJ business by visiting CJ’s facilities and offices across different business in the CJ Group, like CJ CheilJedang’s Hetbahn plant, CJ CGV offices, CJ ENM’s filming studios etc. It was a unique way to be introduced to Korean culture. Q. I know you have worked at startups in the U.S. before. What have you learned about working in a larger international company like CJ? A. CJ is the first large company I’ve worked for. I’d say things are much more structured here at CJ, which is very good for me since I’m still very early in my career. I can learn the basics of how things work at a large international company.  My first task at CJ was helping a quick project request for our European office in Germany. Communicating and coordinating directly with one of our foreign offices, I felt that CJ has global reach. Q. What about working hours and work-life-balance?  A. At CJ, being able to work efficiently is better than working long hours. For most of us, our formal workdays end between 5:30 and 6 pm. I also like the fact that we have flexible working hour system which allows you to take some time off mid-day and extend the end time so you can run errands. I often hit the gym, also part of the company benefits, on weekdays.  In other words, the number of hours we work are quantified here, tracking us half an hour by half an hour by hour and adjusting our pay accordingly. You get paid extra for working extra. Q. What are your favorite CJ products?  A. Honestly, Olive Young is very useful. In addition to the 40% off all CJ product benefit, being in Korea and having access to all the skincare has been nice for me. A couple of weeks ago, I was even told that I look younger than in my badge photo. Plus, a lot of my friends back in the US like Korean skincare, and it’s a way for me to bring back presents whenever I visit them. In terms of food, I eat a lot of PlanTable products. And for Seollal this year, I used the bibigo brand’s Galbitang. Q. Lastly, what is your goal while you’re at CJ?  A. Within CJ, my primary goal would be to develop myself as a competent researcher. Because of the unique part of CJ that my group is in, developing myself as a researcher, as a science communicator, and as someone who can assist with international projects is what I want to do. I have a unique background, so there are specific things that I might be able to contribute to the company. The interview with Leong provides a clear insight into the CJ Group’s progressive and inclusive work culture. Not only CheilJedang but the overarching group acknowledges that talent is key to maintaining a thriving and sustainable business. As such, it is committed to nurturing a work environment that is as global as its business operations. 
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