South Korea

Breaking Down Cultural Barriers In South Korea

예뻐요 at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

I continued taking Korean Language class even though I realized that it would take longer than I initially believed.  One caveat about immersing yourself in another culture is that a part of you wants to hold onto your own culture.

In a country where beauty is considered thin with pale skin, both of which I don’t have or want to possess, the desire to look at images and videos that showcased my strengths increased.

If I had a chance to do it over again I think that I would have invested more time in starting my small business before I moved abroad.  Time and circumstances were not on my side and I made a choice that left me sitting in a classroom without the intention of giving one hundred percent of my efforts into learning Hangul.

I learned how to say, “I don’t know” really fast in response to questions that were asked during class.  In the future, I will continue with my studies and use many of the countless methods available to learn Hangul and not be afraid while I’m learning to have basic conversations with people who speak fluently.

However, before I move on to other stories of my life and studies abroad in South Korea, I wanted to mention an incident that occurred in class.

Korean Language Class Second Semester

I’m only mentioning this because first, it lifts my spirit.  Sometimes, I think about this comment when I need a pick me up throughout my day.  Secondly, because I mentioned other racial incidents that occurred in South Korea that were painful so I wanted to mention a good incident as well.

The incident in question occurred during the second week of my Korean language class at Hankuk University.  I don’t know if it was because of the way the sun was hitting my brown skin or if he had been in Korea too long and had adopted the model of “What Happens In Korea, Stays In Korea,” but one of the male Chinese students who was in my first semester class, and also happened to be in my second semester class, was asked a question.

The teacher asked him to use one of the adjectives we were learning to describe Erica Nuna (Nuna a.k.a an older woman/friend).  I will skip over the “Nuna” because I don’t care what nationality, race or religion you may be, no woman wants to be called old.  I’m just thankful that they didn’t use (이모) a.k.a an Aunt.

“His reply to the teachers’ question, “(예뻐요) translation “Pretty,” he said it, I didn’t imagine it.  I know that I didn’t imagine it, because of the shocked expression on the faces on the rest of the class.

You have to understand, it was just three short months before that my roommate didn’t want to stay with me in the same dorm room.  Additionally, most of the Chinese students spoke to me very little in school ( usually a formal greeting of “Hello” with a slight bow) as they passed me in the study halls.

In fact, when I was in my first class before I was transferred to the beginner class, my teacher asked the class the common question; “Where Are You From?”  This question along with age, occupation and marital status are first week questions that assisted the class to get to know each other better.

The teacher asked a female Chinese student if she knew anyone in the class that was from the United States?  Her response, “No, she didn’t.”  The teacher quickly corrected her mistake.  I believe she thought I was from Africa, however, because of the language barrier I was not able to verify.  I don’t know if she was surprised to hear that I was from America, but her response was a reality check.

So, back to me sitting in class, my second-semester Korean language class, and to my surprise when asked to describe Erica Nuna “Pretty” was used.  He proclaimed, that I was pretty, it was finally given as a response.  Usually, they mentioned the other two female Chinese students who were in class when using this word.

I guess after saying hello every day, going to see the show: Painters: A Hero Journey, and out to eat, he finally warmed up to me and said that I was pretty.  It makes me smile, not because he was at least a ten years younger than I am, but because I think in my own small way I gradually changed his opinion.

I might not have reached my firsts roommate or the younger kids who I passed in the hall, but I know at least one person from China who believes this chocolate skinned girl is pretty.

Baby Steps.

If you want to continue reading my travel stories while I lived abroad in South Korea check out:

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