By: Brittany S
As an American citizen from the Midwest living in Korea, I have found some things about Korean (and Eastern culture in general) culture to be very similar to my own. However, there is a lot that is very distinct of our respective regions and at times, they clash.
For anyone who has done any research on Koreans’ perspectives on foreigners in Korea, you know that Koreans are generally accepting of us being here, but they have their preferences (the closer you are to the Eurocentric standard of beauty—particularly blond hair, blue eyes, the better), as well as their restrictions (they really dislike when foreigners date their women). Because of this open, but close-minded mentality, oftentimes, Koreans struggle to understand the African American population. People of all ages (from my elementary school students to the random old lady on the bus stop) always TELL me that I am African, particularly S. African (as that is the only African country that can hold an English teaching position here). Also, given that a Eurocentric standard of beauty of
being thin as a rail, pale as a ghost, and having long, straight,
silky hair doesn’t exactly match an Afrocentric one of “my Black is
beautiful” and being curvy is actually being a GOOD thing and curly hair that grows
towards the sky, there have been plenty of times that I’ve caught people
taking pics of me or rubbing my skin as if I’m some freak of nature. All of
this simply because they just don’t understand how I came to be.
|They were once afraid to be near me, now they hug me daily.|
So here I am, the only little chocolate chip in the cookie, being the spokesperson of not only my country, but of my ethnic heritage (I’ll let you figure out which voice is louder). Any opportunity I get I make sure to stress that America has more than “Susans” and “Toms,” but people like Jamal, Keisha, Miguel, Muhammad, Fangbai, EunHwa, Pierre, Natalia, and others make up our “melting pot” as well.** It’s particularly important to me that they understand that Black people are a HUGE part of American society, and that White people do in fact live in S. Africa. When I teach, I make sure to encourage my students to love their Asian selves and stop trying to look White. I also try to open their eyes to other countries beyond Japan & China, or Britain & Australia. I want them to see value in other people and places, and not just think of them as “other.” I recently had the pleasure of hosting one of my former students in America. She was so open and curious about me and (my version of) American life that I just gave her as much of it as I could in our short time together.
My former student (who is now a sophomore in college and my friend) came to stay with me for the 9 days that I was in America and enjoyed every minute of it. Although her English speaking is not the greatest, her comprehension and willingness to try are stellar. It was funny watching 95% of my family BUTCHER her name, even though I said it slowly several times. They all decided to give her a nickname (her whole name is the length of my first name, yet they gave her a nickname) to avoid any further slaughter. They embraced her as a part of our family, and made her feel right at home with love-filled hugs. Here are the things we did:
Visited most of my relatives (all grandparents, parents, and most of my aunts and cousins): here she was fed everything from a hot link and vinegar chips to spinach artichoke dip and lasagna; all of these foods are not common in Korea and definitely go against her Korean diet. I warned her about weight gain!
|With my Granny. No visit is complete without a grandmother's cooking! They are almost the same height and color! We aren't so different after all...|
Went to “Sweetie Pie’s”: I figured this was the quickest way to get her to a soul food spread. I had her to try the cabbage (since Koreans eat kimchi=fermented cabbage), she didn’t like it but she devoured everything else.
|Hey Mikey! I think she likes it! :-)|
Went to the St. Louis City Museum and Dave & Buster’s: There’s a big kid in all of us and no matter what language you speak, we all like large playgrounds and arcades :-)
|My sister got stuck!|
Went SHOPPING: Oh c’mon, who DOESN’T go shopping in another country?! Also, Koreans are REALLY into fashion. She felt proud that she will go home with exclusive “American style” clothing.
|I would soooo love to see someone wear these...|
Visited my university: she had never seen a university so big (mine has its own zip code) and my home from my school and her’s from her’s are equidistant (2hrs), yet she makes that commute daily for classes and we consider that distance “away from home.”
|With my mommy :-)|
Went to a Step Show: Stepping is popular among African Americans and is one of our ancestral ties to the Motherland. I thought it would be interesting to show her that although we incorporate Africa in our culture, that we are in fact different. Her eyes lit up. She recorded videos and everything.
Went to a Korean restaurant & noraebang (singing room): It was nice to give her the taste of home she was missing while exposing my family to my new culture.
|(L) I missed the family-size portions in Korea :-( (R) I don't think she was ready for how passionate we get with a mic.|
Went to a club/party?: NOPE. Poor baby was so tired from all our running around that she slept in.
|Lucky! I had to DRIVE everywhere!|
Taught her how to play “Bones” (dominoes) and do “The Wobble” and others: I was proud of her! We need to work on her trash talking haha but she was timidly calling her points. And here’s a little secret—Koreans love line dancing, too! Go to a Korean club and see! So now she knows how to do OUR line dances.
Went to Steak n Shake, Jack in the Box, Sonic’s, Wendy’s, & IHOP: I had to let her know that America has more favorites than McDonald’s, Burger King, Baskin Robbins, and Dunkin Donuts (all found all around Korea). Each time she ordered a lot of food and finished it all! In Korea, the most I’ve ever seen her eat was an order of samgyupsal (Korean BBQ that looks like thick bacon)!
When I asked her what she thought about everything and how she was doing, her eyes always seemed enthusiastic, and although she couldn’t say more than “GOOD!” I knew she was loving her time in my world and that when she returns to Korea, she will be one more voice for Black people, Black Americans, and Americans in general. All it takes is an open mind and heart and the rest will follow. If you have the opportunity to enlighten someone about something very important to you, I encourage you to do it. Each one, reach/teach one. She’s my “one” in Korea. But I’ll be here another year. Who’s coming home with me next?
**This is in no way meant to stereotype people, rather, to speak to the popularity of these particular names among certain races in America.