Want to see what life on the island looks like? Check out my video!

You might wonder what it’s like to live on an extremely beautiful island year round..well here’s a video showing my recent weekend trip to Udo Island. Check it out and if you like it, feel free to subscribe for future videos!

Video Link:

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I’m Still Alive! An Update from Korea

Hello!

As the lyrics of one of my favorite Big Bang song says “I’m still alive!” and “I’m living the good life” (link to this song below)!

Spring has sprung here in Korea and let me tell you, it makes a huge difference on one’s mood and overall outlook on life! Not only is the weather beautiful, the flowers and trees are a’blooming! With Spring starting in March (instead of in late April, which was the case when I lived in Ohio for two years), I got to celebrate my 25th birthday with warm weather and the purchase of my second camera! For years, I’ve been dragging around my point and shoot Kodak (circa 2009) and I decided that for my 25th year of life and the rest of my time in Korea, I needed something a little more up to date.

So what does this mean? Well now I can take tons of picture AND VIDEO of my adventures around the island and on my trips around Korea. Hopefully, I’ll be dragging my new Samsung camera off to Japan in September (Yay, Harry Potter World!). While most kids in the West are gearing up for summer break, I’ll be teaching throughout the summer and hopefully extending my teaching contract by six months.

I’m planning to write some blog posts about my experiences as a first generation college student! I realize that many students feel confused when they are the first in their family to tackle the college life and I hope I can provide a few helpful tips about staying debt free (or at least trying to) and building skills during one’s college career that may seem silly at first, but come in handy later. Also, I’m in the process of preparing to retake the GRE and apply for PhD programs for admissions in Fall 2016.

And hey, there might be a few YouTube videos coming up to better illustrate what I choose to do in my free time in Korea, so keep an eye out for those links!

The promised Big Bang song w/ English Subs (maybe I’ll talk about Kpop a little more since these guys just had a comeback?)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=of2GzuZGxo0 -Still Alive

What has South Korea Taught Me? #1

Every now and then I plan to write short posts discussing some of the professional and life skills living and working in Korea has taught me:

First up: How to Roll With it:

During my month long English teacher training back in August 2014, one phrase kept being repeated: “In Korea, decisions are often made last minute and you will receive notice of these changes last minute”.- Well, let me tell you, this is ABSOLUTELY TRUE. 

For someone like me who thrives off planning, researching, and generally knowing what is going to happen today, tomorrow, and three years from now, this was a big adjustment. In December, I arrived at school after an hour and ten minute bus ride, only to be told “Oh yeah, school will close in 45 minutes”. Of course, I was upset. I had to leave my house, ride the bus (and spend $3.30 in bus fare), come to school, and then be told that I’d be going back home! And just today I arrived at school early only to be told my classes didn’t start until later in the day and I’d be needed to teach a class after lunch. I also have breaks in my schedule I didn’t know about!

This type of thing is very common in Korea and every single English teacher has a story about it! At first, the last minute decision making can be frustrating, especially if there is a language barrier. After a while, however, you simply learn to always be prepared for change. This morning when I learned of my schedule change, I barely blinked an eye. I expected something like this to happen because we just started a new school year, and we have several new teachers who are trying to figure out how things work. A few months ago, when I was a new teacher, I would have felt confused and a little upset by the sudden change, but now I make an effort not to let it bother me. Of course there are days when I come to school and I am told I am teaching one less class, and instead I will be helping with a cooking class. Change is not always negative. The ability to not only accept that changes happen, and sometimes without notice, but also keep a level head and be prepared for change is an invaluable skill in the workplace and in everyday life. This is a skill I hope to take back to America with me.

So remember: Life happens! Work happens! So what do you do? You just make the best of it and go with the flow!

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*