One of the few things that worried me when I first decided I wanted to teach in Korea was how I would be treated because of my skin color. I had seen and read many stories from people living in different parts of Asia and some from Korea talk about how their skin color sometimes made for a terrible time. It also doesn’t help when stories depicting blunt racism in hiring practices and when it comes to the entertainment industry. It can be also a bit of a deterrent when it comes to dating, There have been many times when I asked Korean male friends what their ideal girlfriend would be like, they always seem to start with “White-skinned”. The more pale the better.. It wasn’t that shocking to me when I learned that many of the girls that were also in the EPIK group already had so many dates lined up for months or had Korean boyfriends, especially not when the vast majority were white. However, it seemed super shocking to me when I found a black girl dating a Korean guy. I would try and rack my brain on how she did it never once realizing that Korean guys are still guys. The individual guy will like who they like and that I learned after living in Korea for 5 months.
When it comes to my workplace I can honestly say the worst situation with that has been a student calling me “black” and students swearing I was from Africa the day I arrived. I was prepared for a situation such as this because of what I have read from other teachers of color. My co-teachers quickly corrected the students and I told them that 1) Africa is a continent not a country 2) I was the United States and 3) I’m not black. The same student who said this to me also happened to be my skin color which struck me as strange that he would even say that. I would like to stress that I work in a public school and not a private institute (학원) (hagwon).
One of the things that I do find a struggle with being dark-skinned here in Korea is finding concealer or foundation. I have realized it’s basically impossible unless I buy it online or bring it from a different country. Like I said before, there are many darker-skinned Koreans but because everyone strives to be lighter, the popular (and cheaper) brands don’t carry anything that I could possibly use. It kind of makes the free samples just all the more painful. Even the girls giving them to me are confused about giving them to me at all.
I know there are been some people that do have a tougher time because of it but a lot of them tend to be black. In my experience, I feel can’t be exactly lumped in entirely with black foreigners here in Korea because some Koreans already have a preconceived notions of black people whether they come from the U.S., Nigeria or any country.
Every person’s experience is different here but I have been lucky that cosmetics have been the only problem when it comes to my skin color. In the end, although it had me a little scared of how I would be treated or what problems I would face, I’m glad I came here to find out for myself!