Friends in Unexpected Places

When I first arrived in Korea, I didn’t like it, but as I met more and more people, the experience became more and more bearable. Then I met Phladam.

Noticing that I would walk into Caribou coffee shop every day to buy a muffin for breakfast, I heard a voice behind the counter ask me my name. He then informed me that he would be going to Berklee College of Music in Boston. It was then that our friendship began.

This past weekend, I had the fortunate opportunity to leave the city life of Seoul behind and travel to the countryside of Namhae, Phladam’s hometown. I had such an amazing time hiking, learning about Korean history from his parents (through Phladam’s translation), experiencing authentic Korean culture, visiting Sangju Beach, and eating all types of Korean food. What I have been eating in Seoul doesn’t compare to what his mother fixed each and every day. And yes, I ate the infamous dog, and believe it or not, it was amazing!

Before heading to Namhae, I was extremely nervous. I knew that his parents didn’t speak any English and Phladam is still learning himself, so I knew that I would have language barriers, but even still I was able to connect with his parents, other relatives, and friends. I tried my best to be as respectful and honest as I could, embracing the differences in culture and moving through each day with zest and vigor, not knowing what each day would bring. At the end of my stay, I received the biggest compliment that I could have ever imagined. His mother said:

Before, we were really concerned about Phladam going to America. We hear and see so much violence. But now that we’ve met you, we feel so much better about sending him.

I couldn’t have asked for anything more and I know that Phladam and I will continue to be friends for a long time. So when he comes to Berklee, I can’t wait for him to take a trip to my hometown so that I can show him around in the same way that he did for me.

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Black Day!

Black Day is one of the 12 holidays in Korea that falls on the 14th day of every month. Usually, those holidays are about love, but today, it’s all sadness for singles.

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I went to watch my friend, Kyung Soo, play baseball, and low and behold, I decided to turn it into a story.

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Yonsei Cheering Contest

So apparently, Yonsei and other schools in Korea have these cheering contests where different schools come together and see who has all the school spirit. The biggest event comes at the end of the year with only Yonsei students and famous Korean pop stars.

Check out a practice with Korea University:

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Black in Korea

What a thing to be…

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been stared at, whispered about, and pointed at.

I understand that most Koreans don’t see African Americans all that often, but the things they say are crazy.

Example 1
As I was buying a muffin at a campus coffee shop, an older, Korean man turns around, points at me and says, “Africa?” I say, “American.” He then turns around, so I try to continue explaining. He turns around again and says, “Korean only,” and proceeds to have a conversation with me in Korean. I have absolutely no idea what he’s saying and no one offers or responds to my request for translation.

Example 2
I’m walking around campus and several students see me walking towards them. As I prepare to pass, they immediately throw up their hands and say, “high five.” Not sure what they want, I give a couple a high five. They immediately start laughing, designate a group speaker (apparently the one who knows the most English), and proceed to ask me if I know 50 Cent or Eminem. First of all, I’m not a big rap fan. Hello? Not all black people like rap.

Example 3
I’m walking with a group of Korean American, Vietnamese-American, Mexican-American, and Chinese-American students. I notice that two guys continue staring at me without saying anything. I stare back and they turn and walk away, but they come right back. This goes on for about 5 minutes until they finally come up to me. One is so excited that he begins beat-boxing and asks me (I think) to rap on top of his beats. But it doesn’t end there. Before they leave, they ask me for a picture. I didn’t want to at first but one of my friends explained that I will probably be the only representation of African Americans for these individuals so I should make the best of it. The result: I took the picture.

As an African American living in Korea, it can be challenging and stressful, and I have learned that I have a lot of power in my hands. So as Koreans continue to say that I look like Will Smith, Chris Brown, or Neyo, or say that I need to shave the hair off of my face, I’m going to do me and show them through example the beauty of what it means to be an African American.

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First Haircut in Korea

I don’t know what it is about me and haircuts, but I love documenting my experiences in new countries.

This particular session was more scary than in Egypt. My friend Kyung Soo, who goes by the name of Billy, translated what I wanted the hair dresser to do, but for some reason, she was extremely scared that she was going to mess it up.

I’m guessing that she doesn’t see a lot of people who look like me. Anyways, we worked it out, and she didn’t do too bad of a job. I just tried to stay extremely still so she wouldn’t be extra nervous.

3/4 of the way through, she was a pro and was like “yeah yeah” when I would point to some parts. I will definitely be going back to her.

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A tour of Seoul

With the EAP program, we will be taking several trips throughout Seoul, so I figured that I would document each one with a special video. Here’s the first:

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