I'm a black woman living in South Korea and sometimes even things like getting on a bus can feel like an extreme sport


My journey to South Korea came about when I started being dissatisfied at work.

I was working as a hard news journalist for a newspaper publication. I had graduated to become a broadcast journalist but jobs in that industry were hard to find. I had to settle for writing - which I didn't enjoy at all. 

I decided to teach English in a foreign country, not because it was a better fit but because I needed to regroup and what better way to do that than by travelling. 

I wanted to rediscover my passions and I believed that the only way to do that would be by going to the furthest country from home as possible.

South Korea seemed like a good choice because a friend of mine had already been here for almost a year. She was teaching English in one of the local schools and encouraged me to try it out for myself.

I had always been fascinated by the country, especially that such a small country was able to quickly turnaround its economic position in the world. But I realise now how little I knew about it.

READ MORE: 5 things that happen when you're a black woman in Thailand

But I think even if I had done more digging, I think nothing ever really prepares you to live in another country. And there are things you will only really confront when you're there in person. For example the air in South Korea is heavily polluted. I never really considered the extent of it despite having done some research. 

'How do people breathe here!?' was the first thing that came to mind when I first landed. The air was that badly polluted. 

On the first day of my arrival in the country the intense culture shock was like a slap in the face. Compared to South Africa, South Korea is such a homogenous country – when I arrived it seemed like everything looked and felt the same.

The first few weeks were confusing. Nothing made sense at all. Everything was written in Korean and at the time I couldn’t read the language.

READ MORE: Five hacks for owning solo travel in 2018

It's been a year now and I may have supportive people in my corner but I am still struggling to order things online, or to order food at restaurants because well, no one really speaks English here - it's not that I expect them to - but it does make things tricky. Getting on a bus to work was like an extreme sport. 

My awesome support system is made up of the other foreign teachers, my school and my recruiter but there have been times I have longed for home especially in the beginning. Which is normal, I suppose. Luckily after the first month I returned to South Africa for two months because it was vacation at work. 

Coming back home made me realise how much I had changed in such a short amount of time that when I returned to South Korea all the complaining about the food, the fashion and the people stopped. 

I realised that I cannot expect to find South Africa in South Korea – I mean really I left South Africa for a reason. 

READ MORE: 11 things to do around South Africa that won't cost you a thing

Changing my attitude towards South Korea made me appreciate and see the locals in a different light. I found that the people, culture, and the social scene is quite intriguing and sometimes funny. 

You learn about the stereotypes people hold about you. I met an older South Korean man whose face went through a series of emotions from confusion to disbelief, after I told him I was South African. He could not quite grasp the idea that we speak English in South Africa. 

In general, I noticed that South Koreans are open to foreigners but one thing I cannot get over is how the older generation stares at you when you are black.

My weirdest experiences in South Korea have been with some Chinese people (there is a sizeable community here). I have had moments where I've noticed them trying to sneak pictures of me because of the colour of my skin and my hair. It makes me extremely uncomfortable like I'm in a zoo or something.

But the learning never stops and being in South Korea has taken me out of my comfort zone. I won’t lie, at first I wasn't happy but now I am enjoying myself. 

Living in a country where mental issues are not taken seriously, I had to find ways to cope...

My experiences have prompted me to start a Youtube channel because I want share the life lessons I learnt in South Korea. Travelling has truly humbled me and showed me how small I actually am in the world. 

READ MORE: I did 3 new things this holiday that cost almost nothing – and it filled me with absolute joy

I hope my channel will inspire people to travel and to look beyond their immediate career and do something they never thought they'd ever do. 

My Youtube channel is also a way for me to cope with my anxiety. Living in a country where mental issues are not taken seriously, I had to find ways to cope and I thought Youtube would be the best medium for me since I am a creative at heart it was a perfect fit. 

I noticed that in South Korea consider mental problems to be problems at all. They seem to believe mental illness is an excuse to be lazy so when you go to the pharmacy or to the doctor to ask for medication they have nothing for you because it is not something they seem to treat openly here.

There is a big indifference to mental health.

The greatest lesson I have learned is that you shouldn’t expect people to adjust to you when you are in their country. That is like jumping in a pool of water with full knowledge that you cannot swim.

Watch: SNEAK PEAK - Black Girl in South Korea - my awesome and not so awesome adventures.

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