I definitely doubted my choice at the beginning
My family and friends scrutinized my decision to study abroad in South Korea. While outwardly I stood by my decision, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I had doubts occasionally. I consistently asked myself questions about being Black in South Korea, like “What will Korean people think when they see a Black guy walking around?” “How will Korean people perceive me?” “Will I be able to make friends?”
But I had promised myself that this was an adventure I needed to go on, for me and me alone. So, I set off, and from the get-go, some of my fears were realized. Even at my departure gate, the consistent stares and chattering once again had me questioning my decision. Fast forward to my arrival and during the first few days, the stares never stopped. I could take the time to talk about the number of problematic encounters I faced. However, the constructive conversations – about race, culture, and more – I had with people there helped me to embrace the cultural differences I encountered. To me, having this change in attitude was an amazing and impactful experience.
Here’s what helped me to adjust
On my arrival, CIS Abroad offered me a course that would help me acclimate myself to some basic cultural differences, such as the way to address elders, table etiquette, subway etiquette, etc. But one thing they couldn’t prepare me for was how a young Black man was able to integrate into one of the most homogenous societies in the world. Well, I learned a few tricks. What I learned helped me make a leap of faith into one of the most enriching experiences in my life.
Here are 3 tips for being Black in South Korea that helped me:
1. Recognize that fear of the unknown is common
Just as I didn’t understand what the Koreans would think of me or how I should react to them, they were unfamiliar with me and had no idea what I would be like. What helped remedy these uncertainties was making Korean friends, exploring their culture with their company. The more I learned from them, the more they similarly learned from me. As we became more comfortable with one another we could begin having more personal conversations about things like race, identity, etc. Entering a foreign space is always easier with friends.
2. Understand that every experience is a learning experience
Every encounter I had with a new person while abroad, whether it be a pleasant interaction or otherwise, was an opportunity for personal growth. While many times intercultural encounters can be uncomfortable, it is important to go into them with an open mind. If ever something you’ve experienced in a different cultural setting makes you uncomfortable, take the time to reflect.
You are in a different space than you are used to, people may have different values, beliefs, and understandings about the world that may not align directly with yours. That is not to say you shouldn’t feel the way you may feel; it is just to say understanding is the first step in moving forward and being able to navigate these situations in the future.
3. Never forget your WHY
Remember why you decided to go abroad. Remember the promises you made to yourself. Remember what drew you to the country you’ve ventured to. In every space, there are redeeming qualities, and for each of those, there are some not so wonderful qualities. You can only control so much about the foreign space that you enter, but what you can control entirely is how you opt to view your experiences. The only obligations you have while abroad is to be an ambassador for your home and to make sure that you have the experience you’ve dreamed about having.
These tips are by no means all-encompassing, but they helped make my time being Black in South Korea much, MUCH easier, and I hope they may help you as well. 😊