2nd Korean Language Class
After a week of torture, I was transferred to what I call the slow learner course for studying Hangul. I later found out teachers are not allowed to use any English to teach even if they are fluent. There were far more confusing and often difficult rules to comprehend in South Korea. Like why couldn’t I leave class ten minutes early after I finished my midterm exam? Literally, my teacher would not let me leave, she stood in front of the door and told me that I’m in Korea and that I should follow the Korean rules, but that would come later.
I started the class with three boys who were around nineteen years old who came from Saudi Arabia. Officially all of the people who had darker skin were lumped into one classroom. I would try my best at demonstrating patience and cultural understanding. A trait I’m working on obtaining as I get older. I’m still a work in progress and I don’t know if it’s something that I will ever conquer.
My other classmates were all boys from China except for one other older male who was my same age. He was from Malaysia and he spoke a little bit of English and Chinese. He became my beacon of light. I was able to speak to him during our ten-minute breaks, and he became my connection to the Chinese students in the class. He would translate their jokes and just by him talking to me they became less afraid to say hello.
To explain further about my class filled with all boys and why we were the special education class you need to be a little familiar with the Korean education system. I quickly realized that everyone in my class was all new to learning the Korean language and none of us liked to study after class. Korean teachers expect for you to attend class every day, our class was for four hours a day, five days a week and then study for at least another three hours after class practicing grammar and pronunciation.
Later, I could only blame why I would have to repeat the same course was because of my poor time management skills. My problems began after I found a website that provided subtitles in English for popular Korean dramas. This was both a blessing and a curse. I had TV shows to watch on my computer; thank goodness for free wi-fi, but I could also spend a whole day watching Kdramas.
Eventually, our little class found a harmonious rhythm, four different native languages being spoken with a communal goal of trying to learn Hangul. Who knew the best thing that could have ever happened was being moved to another class.
Finding A Hairdresser Abroad
Part of my initial research, through Facebook posts, revealed a hair shop called Hair & Joy that was reasonably priced and had hairdressers who spoke English. I called the shop after I had lived in South Korea for nearly two weeks and made an appointment. I made the appointment because I wanted to see if I could live here and still maintain my usual hairstyle.
Usually, I maintain a straight shoulder-length cut with my hair parted down the middle. I have been going to the same hairdresser in Los Angeles for the last ten years. This may not be a big deal to some, but for African American women this is a trusted and lifelong relationship. If you’re looking for more information about how much African American women annually spend on hair care products, check out Good Hair a documentary by Chris Rock.
I booked an early morning appointment to beat the congested weekend traffic. It was my first experience finding a new location on my own. After getting the instructions from the website I walked about ten minutes to the subway from my dorm and went to Hongdae.
After reading the building floor map I discovered the hair shop was on the third floor. As I waited inside the elevator I took a deep breath. I wondered how I would be received? In Los Angeles, I understood the beauty salon culture.
Because of the number of people getting their hair done I knew that it would take at least three hours from the time I went into the shop until I was ready to leave. Because of this, I needed to bring at least two magazines and a fully charged iPhone. But I didn’t know how the culture would be in Korea. I told myself that at the very least I read a good review in the Facebook group “Black In Korea.”
My new hairdresser politely greeted me and asked if I wanted any coffee, tea or water. She didn’t look at all shocked, I guess I wouldn’t have a “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” moment. A handsome guy named Jay took me to the shampoo bowl and washed my hair. As he washed my hair he asked if I wanted a neck massage. He gently rubbed the temples on my head and then moved down to my lower neck. At that moment I let go of my stress and decided to enjoy the experience.
After blow drying and flat ironing my hair, which only took an hour, (During my subway ride home I seriously tried to calculate how many hours I wasted in L.A. sitting in a beauty salon) I was ready to go out into Seoul’s icy winter. As I paid forty dollars I remembered to adhere to the custom in South Korea not to tip the hairdresser. An unheard of practice back in the United States.
My hair wasn’t as bone straight as I was able to get in L.A. However, I was able to let my hair down instead of putting it in a ponytail. I felt as I always do once I get my hair done, an extreme confidence booster. As I walked back to the subway station I was reminded of my favorite poem “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou.
I realized that I could live, work and play anywhere in the world and not be suppressed into living the same life as my family. My dream for myself is that when I get older, behind my “smize” and sophisticated hair design, I will have so many stories to tell at the dinner table.