I’m back in the U.S.A! -And yes there’s a such thing as reverse culture shock!

I’ve heard it a thousand times and seen tons of YouTube videos about it! “When you return home from Korea, you’ll experience reverse culture shock”- and let me tell you, those people weren’t lying! Reverse culture shock is REALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!

So what exactly have I experienced? Has it been good or bad or ugly?

Well…

It’s been all of it. Here are a few examples:

The Good:

America has food. By food I mean, America has many different cuisines available. If you want Mexican food or Indian food or good ol’ American style Chinese take out, you can probably think of a place to go and eat it right now. That’s not always the case in Korea. If you do find foreign cuisine restaurants in Korea, you probably have to pay an expensive price for it! America’s food game is strong my friends, so appreciate it!

Speaking of food- The grocery stores in America are full of delicious and healthy options and we also have Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods- stores practically dedicated to healthy eating and living.

Speaking of stores- Our stores ROCK! You might hate Wal-Mart but admit it: IT HAS EVERYTHING! In Korea, when you visit E-Mart, you can buy a camera. E-Mart, however, does not have camera bags. Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart will sell you a camera, camera bag, a Fitbit, and practially anything else you want! Hell, our dollar stores have better selections than most Korean stores!

SHOES- I have “big” feet in Korea. I haven’t had a chance to properly shoe shop in a year and a half! To come to America, go to TJ Maxx, and find shoes for 10- 20 bucks in my size was a huge shock! Needless to say, I’m enjoying my new heels and running shoes!

The cost of being healthy/access to a gym- Gyms in Korea are STUPID expensive. A nice gym with up to date equipment and classes can cost you around 200 bucks there (a month). The U.S.A. can have the same type of gym, in a larger facility, with a nice swimming pool for 40 bucks a month! I’ll let you do the math on that one…

Last but not least- I get to drive my car again and gas is cheap. No more needs to be said.

The Bad:

Taxes- Dear America, Please just start including the full price of an item with tax on the damn shelf! Seriously! Korea does it! It makes buying things so much easier!

Tipping- Dear America, start paying waiters/waitresses a living wage! This would eliminate the whole need for tips!

TSA- The whole going through security at the airport thing is just plain annoying. You basically need to take off all your clothing, go through a full body scanner and if you have natural hair like me-get your hair searched. The whole process is as irritating as can be. I know it’s for national security but geez!

The UGLY:

Obesity-  Listen- Some Americans are really overweight. Some Koreans are too, but you definitely notice it more in America. We have gyms, we have healthy food options, and we have 7 different kinds of apples at the grocery store! Let’s take our health seriously!

No public transportation-  Korea spoiled me with $50 flights and going anywhere in the country in one hour. America doesn’t have the same system. A one way flight will cost you $200 here. Public transportation just isn’t the same (although American buses are more accessible for those with disabilities). My hometown doesn’t have any buses. And we don’t have a national high speed railway system, which are common throughout Europe and Asia (especially Japan).  All this means less traveling in America for me, which is sad because our country has so much to offer.

 

 

 

 

On the Beginning of My Batman Fandom…

Those of us who were lucky enough to be born in the early 90’s probably remember watching Batman the Animated Series (BTAS). This show was my very first introduction to the iconic comic character and I was HOOKED!  The show debuted back in 1992 and it was like no other in its time! It was dark (in both the tone and literally-having its own style of animation referred to as “Dark Deco”) and it was psychological and mature and most of all, this show had Batman running from actual bullets (from actual guns-which doesn’t happen in cartoons nowadays).  If you haven’t re-watch this show as an adult,  find it online and get ready to re-discover something amazing!

I was a bit too young to watch it when it first arrived on the screen but I did, however, have the benefit of catching the show in reruns (and new episodes until ’95) . Somewhere in those years, when the show was airing on Cartoon Network, I saw the one episode that explained how Bruce Wayne’s parents died and how that led him on the path to becoming the Batman. That episode was emotional (to say the  VERY least) and for some kids, it was probably a bit frightening.

For me, however, there was a connection! It’s so hard to explain now, but I can still remember the feeling I got from watching that episode. I understood that you didn’t need any powers to be a hero and that even with the darkest and most tragic of experiences in life, you can do great things. As I got older I understood that everyone has some darkness in them and we don’t necessarily have to fear it if we learn to channel into something positive.  My three year old self probably thought something like “Batman had really bad things happen to him but he grew up and helped others with no special powers”- but whatever the thoughts I had, I was forever a fan after seeing that one episode!

After BTAS, I watched other shows like Batman Beyond, Justice League, Teen Titans, The Batman, Young Justice and the list goes on and on. Since comic books weren’t available to me as a kid, the animated series of DC comics were my introduction to the DC Universe. There’s a reason why I always thought John Stewart (aka the Black Green Lantern) the original Green Lantern  and that’s because the character was featured in Justice League.

So that’s my story! I was a nerd before I knew what the word even meant and that continues today…

The only thing that rivals my love of Batman is my love of Harry Potter and that is another blog post for another day!

 

 

Can we talk about being a young adult?

No really. Can we talk about being a 20 -something year old person outside of careers and dating/marriage/kids? As a 25 year old woman, I sometimes wonder why I hear so little discussion about the other things that affect my life.  I hear so much about kids and marriage (or at least dating and heading towards serious relationships) but what about those other pieces in our lives? What about spirituality, learning more about ourselves, defining what success means for us, learning what makes us feel vulnerable and what simply makes us happy? Heck, what about discussing how to take the time to develop as a person?

I tell my mom pretty often that I feel short changed. Why? Because as we grew up, adults would talk about relationships (mainly about sex) but very, very. very little about other things that encompass an adult life. While there are some things we simply learn by doing, it would be nice to discuss some of the big things we might experience during our young adult years. It would be nice to know that some of the uncertainty we may feel is normal and learn ways to cope and work through it . Our parents (and other adults) can’t tell us everything that we may face, just having something to go on, just some discussion, about the experiences of the adult life would be great.

 

Celebrating Three Years with Natural Hair- My Hair Story

My hair in 2012 before starting my transition
My hair in 2012 before starting my transition
My transitioning style for about 9 months was a braid out
My transitioning style for about 9 months was a braid out
My hair (pulled back with a head band) not too long after I cut it and returned it to its natural texture
My hair (pulled back with a head band) not too long after I cut it and returned it to its natural texture

Three years ago I cut my hair. For many people, that will sound like a routine thing. You might be thinking “So what? Everyone cuts their hair every now and then, so what makes your experience so different?”.

Well let me explain: Think of the hair on your head. By the time you’re an adult you probably know that hair very well. You have probably figured out how to was it, condition it and style it so that it looks at the very least, decent. -That is not the experience I had with my hair by the age of 22. Sure, I could do a little of this and a little of that to my hair , but the difference was that the hair on my head did not actually reflect its natural texture and had not done so in well over 10 years.

My hair was chemically relaxed (a process in which you use a chemical to permanently straighten the hair to varying degrees) from the time I was in elementary school. I have absolutely no memory of what my natural hair texture was as a child. From the time I was old enough to sit still in a chair in my Grandma’s kitchen, my hair was being straightened by first the pressing comb (also called a hot comb) and later the chemical relaxer.

My hair remained chemically relaxed for a very long time. I accepted this as the norm. Most Black women that I saw as a child, teen, then young adult had relaxed hair as well. It was the standard at the time and considered to be a professional, neat, well groomed style that allowed for ease of care for our hair type. Our natural hair was considered too dry, too kinky, too bushy, too time consuming, too unprofessional in the workplace, and generally unacceptable. These messages about Black women’s natural hair were passed down to us subliminally at a very young age. Our hair was described as “nappy”-a negative word that was used to call our hair unruly and “bad”. While Black women (or Black men) did not devalue our own kinky,coily, curly locks of hair in the first place, we did generally accept the straight haired standards that were popular in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

I accepted the straight haired mentality until I started college. That’s when my hair began to change from a thick mane to a thin, choppy, damaged mop on my head. I ended up chopping off my straight hair my Sophomore (2010) year of college and rocking a still straight and shorter hairdo. During that time I also discovered the world of healthy hair practices online and began to apply those techniques to my still straightened hair. This period of my hair journey (as its called in online hair communities) helped me to overcome many of the myths about my hair type and put me on the path to returning to my natural hair texture.

After allowing my still straight hair to grow back out to shoulder length and moving to Ohio to start grad school (where I trusted no one to touch my hair), I noticed that my hair was just not in the shape it used to be. I had bad dandruff and my hair was starting to thin again. Also, I could never seem to get my hair “salon straight” at home and damaged my hair trying to do so. It was then I decided I needed to transition my hair back to its rightful and natural texture. I had absolutely no idea what kind of hair I’d have, so I guessed it would be the kinkiest and coily-est of hair textures (I was wrong. I’ll discuss this in another post).

I started to research styles to help me make the planned year long transition (hoping that at the one year mark, I’d be ready to cut off the straight ends and be completely natural) and settled on one (the braid out) and started growing my hair.

One year and one month later (and a few hours before I had to be at work) I sat in a chair at a salon to have my hair cut (picture above). It was one of the biggest changes I had dared to make to my appearance and came with many surprises (which I’ll discuss in another post). Although having natural hair was a big adjustment, I knew I’d made the right decision and in the end the experience of getting to know something so personal and something that literally grows out of my scalp would be rewarding. I’d do it all over it I had to.

The moral of my story is: Don’t let the unknown scare you! Change is good!

Next Post: My hair now and my tips for transitioning

“Koreans Only” : Shenanigans in Korea

Life in South Korea is full of funny (and not so funny ) moments and today I thought I’d discuss one:

Shenanigan Scenario #1- “This club/bar is for Koreans Only”

There is nothing like getting dressed up to go out with your friends. Maybe you take 15 minutes or maybe you take three hours but, in the end, the results are the same: you go out with your friends, eat some food, maybe have a drink and laugh until your sides hurt. As a foreigner in Korea, one of the most annoying (and shocking) situations you can encounter is to approach a cool looking club or bar (or even get as far as stepping inside) only to have some Korean club owner or bartender rush towards you to shoo you out of the door as they say “Koreans only!”.

As an American, this sort of situation is appalling. In America, if you choose to deny a person entry to a bar or club because they look “foreign” you are rightfully labeled as racist.When I first arrived in Korea, I didn’t understand why other foreigners kept a running list of bars and clubs that were “waygook” (short form of the Korean word for “foreigner”) friendly. I soon found out one night when trying to enter a new bar that had opened that my foreigner self was not welcomed everywhere. I’ve not only encountered this problem where I live, but when visiting larger cities in Korea. This is not some “country” or “backwoods” Korean issue; there are accounts of this happening in places with large foreigner populations like Seoul. The reasoning behind this sort of discrimination is ALWAYS blamed on some wayward foreigner who “got into a fight or argument” at the bar/club and had to be removed. While I have no idea if there was ever such a problem, this is usually the reasoning a bar or club is supposedly “Korean only”.

So you may ask: Why don’t foreigners in Korea stand up to this sort of prejudice? Well, I have a few thoughts about this:

1. If they do stand up and protest, the penalty and retaliation for this behavior could mean being labeled a trouble maker and losing your job and visa and having to leave the country, most likely without any severance pay.

2.In a way, foreigners DO protest by spreading the word to others about the bar or club’s treatment of foreign people and refusing to patronize those places.

3. Korea is a largely homogeneous society. Korea still has a hard time accepting the existence of mixed race children who are Korean citizens (see the link below for information), let alone the plight of foreigners. If foreigners even chose to complain, who exactly would they complain to? There’s no racism police walking around collected the grievances of foreigners.

The fact also remains that some Koreans may think that spending a night free from foreigners is acceptable and since we are not citizens, they may believe that having the right to turn us away from any bar or club is reasonable.  Foreigners usually shuffle between a few friendly bars or clubs (if there are dance clubs to begin with) and celebrate everything from Super Bowl Sunday to birthday parties to going away parties in those few venues.

 

So what do you think? Should Korea change its ways and address the issue of discrimination of foreigners? How would you react to this sort of discrimination? What do you think foreigners living in Korea should do?

 

Mixed Race Children and Families in South Korea:

http://blogs.wsj.com/korearealtime/2014/02/28/koreans-cool-to-mixed-race-families/

http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=2948556

Black and Female in Korea: Fascinations and Frustrations

Living in Korea is a daily adventure. I remember before coming here I spent hours  on YouTube looking for videos of other Black women who had decided to come and teach in South Korea. Their stories prepared me for the realities of coming to this country having kinky, coily natural hair and brown skin. Many people will wonder what it’s like to walk around as a not only a foreigner in Korea, but a VERY VISIBLE Black female foreigner. Well, here are some of my experiences:

When I first arrived on the island of Jeju, I knew that I would attract stares, questions from my students, and probably touching of my hair and skin. Before coming to Korea, it’s very easy to think that constant attention because of your appearance won’t really bother you. The reality is, however, when you arrive in Korea with braids or twists or curly hair and brown skin, you WILL attract attention almost everywhere you go. Now, this attention is normally just coming from a place of curiosity or fascination because you look different.  While most teenagers and young adults will ignore you, many older adults (especially women) and children will ask you questions about your hair and your country of origin (your skin, they understand, is naturally brown, but the hair throws them).

In regards to my hair, I usually get questions like “머리 진짜?”- or “mori jjinja?” meaning “Is your hair real?”. I also get comments that my hair is “yeppuda”- meaning pretty. These comments are very common and represent an urge to understand something that is different from the beauty norms in Korea. I have not, in any way, been condemned for being different since I’ve been here and no one at my school has ever suggested I straighten or alter my hair to appear more “professional”.

Now, is it always fun to have extra attention? Absolutely NOT. There are days when I am sitting at a restaurant, enjoying a meal and minding my own business after staring at me and commenting on my hair in Korean, some brave “ahjumma” (Korean term for a middle aged woman) will indeed run her hand through my hair (without asking) or ask me to take a picture with her. OR my favorite: come and break up my shellfish for me and spoon feed me, then make sure to take a picture with me after my meal. Yep. That actually happened last summer back when I rocked large marley twists. Children are always asking where I’m from and why my hair looks so different than their hair. My students have grown accustomed to my hair, but whenever I change hairstyles they are sure to make a comment about it, ask me what I did to it, and every now and then, they’ll sneak up behind me to touch my hair. I’ve also had small children follow me at the public library to ask me questions about my hair. The point is, there are those days I just want to feel as normal as possible and not have eyes follow me everywhere I go. Being in Korea, however, does not make that an option.

Overall, I would say that if you plan to come to an Asian country as a Black female, don’t let anyone deter you from doing so. Don’t fear that, for some magical reason, everyone will hate you because of your brown skin and different hair texture. Mostly, they will be fascinated by your differences. Of course, you should prepare yourself. Personal boundaries are different across cultures, so touching  and asking for pictures is common. It can be annoying , but you will adjust to this! You will learn to put on sunglasses and stick in your headphones and ignore the stares you get from simply entering a room or boarding a bus. And one last thing: Bringing your brown skin and other different features to Korea and other Asian countries, subtly prepares the children of these places to be comfortable with diversity. My students assumed I was from Africa when I arrived but they now understand that a woman who looks like me can be from America or many other Western countries (and just today my new students guessed I was from Cambodia, China and the Philippines).

So, in conclusion, yes sometimes being a VERY VISIBLE Black female foreigner is hard and annoying, but overall it has been a great experience, and I walk with confidence as I represent my heritage and my culture and my identity.

 

*Next time: A Black History Month Festival in Daegu, South Korea*

Adventures in Korea: Deciding to Move to South Korea as a Black Female

My name is Tabitha. I’m 24 years old and I currently live in South Korea. Ever since I moved here, I’ve wanted to tell my story about coming to a foreign country as an African American (Black) female working as an elementary school English teacher.  Now, I’ve been in South Korea for about six months and I’m ready to talk openly and frankly about my time here:

Let’s start from the beginning: Six and a half years ago, I was a freshman in my college dorm surfing the internet with my roommate. I had already been an anime fan for years before that, so Japan was quite familiar to me and I hoped to visit the country someday. Korea, however, was a complete mystery to me. It wasn’t until my roommate and I discovered the world of Korean Pop music (aka Kpop)  that I became interested in South Korea. At the time, the mega Kpop groups such as DBSK (also known TVXQ!), Super Junior, Shinee, Big Bang (and later 2NE1), and Girls Generation were taking the Kpop world by storm and I was hooked!  For me, music is not only a beat and lyrics, but a look into a culture. I was fascinated at how Korean groups were formed after years of training and composed of six and more members and how this correlated to facets of Korean culture. And let’s  not forget the amazing choreography in the music videos, something we haven’t seen in American music in a very long time!

It wasn’t long until I was introduced to the idea of working abroad as an English teacher by two Canadian bloggers, Simon and Martina, from the popular YouTube channel Eat Your Kimchi. Not only were they working in Korea and earning an income, they were free to travel throughout the country and be immersed in the culture and language of Korea. No one I knew personally had traveled abroad unless in the military, so the idea of working and living in a foreign country seemed like dream to me.  As a first generation college student, I had simply entered college looking to earn a degree, possibly attend graduate school, and get a well-paying job. The idea of living and working abroad was a new and novel idea.

Now let’s fast forward, six years later. I was completing my master’s degree in Educational Policy and after doing a little more research online, I finally decided that if I was going to live abroad and teach English, I had reached the ideal point in my life to do so. I originally wanted to study abroad in Korea as an undergraduate but decided that my educational goals, friendships and other relationships were more important at the time. I felt that if I didn’t go to Korea in 2014, I would never have a similar opportunity to do so again.

After telling people I was applying for a one year teaching contract, I got comments like, “Oh you’re Black, Koreans don’t like Black people,” and “Are you going to date a Korean guy?” and “Which Korea are you going to again?” and “That’s so far away!”  Of course, there was my all time favorite comment: “That’s great but when are you going to settle down and get married/but are you going to ever get married/have children?” (insert side eye right here)(that last one is a “perk” of being from the South).

Despite all those comments, both positive and negative, I boarded a plane in Little Rock, Arkansas on the morning of July 29, 2014 and made my first international flight to come to South Korea. Now, not only do I live in Korea, I live on the lovely island of Jeju. Jeju has a culture all it’s own and most Koreans only visit here once or twice in their lifetimes. I actually joked with one of my friends saying, “It would be just my luck to get placed on Jeju. It’s the one place every couple goes in K-dramas (Korean dramas).” and of course, I got placed here, much to my friend’s amusement.

My school is quite small, with only about 60 children across six grades. My job is to teach English after school to students from grade one to six. My school is also in a rural area. Children in South Korea living in rural areas don’t often have the same access to private English academies and foreign (native English speaking) teachers that children in the urban areas do, so my teaching program is focused on bringing quality English teaching to children in rural areas. The children at my school are just like any other group of kids: they love to have fun, they to play games, and they have different levels of interest in learning English. While I will admit that I was nervous to be a Black teacher in a small school, the students have adjusted well to me and ask me a million questions every time I change my hairstyle. Teaching is not the easiest job, but it is challenging and there is nothing quite like seeing your students master new vocabulary and new phrases in a second language.

Of course, you’ll be wondering what it’s like to live in Korea as a Black Female, so stay tuned for my next post.

*Next time: Black and female in South Korea: Fascinations and Frustrations*