Reasons! The Reasons That We're Here!

"Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take 
responsibility from there." -Gary Snyder

Photo courtesy of Onyxrose

I've been in Korea for eight months now and I still love it. A guy almost ruined Korea for me and I started to question why I was even here. But like they saying goes "one monkey don't stop no show". So the good times are still rolling. And my love for this country and what I have been able to do here is still growing. The love I have for all 910 of my students is probably the number one thing keeping me here. Because I am a black female, I find that their experiences as my students are very different than if I were not a black female or if I wasn't me. I sometimes say things with that so-called "black girl attitude" or I just bust out laughing to the point of crying when they say the most outrageous things. And...I wear braids. Simple enough. Of course, the hair discussion by black women living in Asia has been said and done, so I'm not going to rant on Koreans touching my hair or stopping to comment on it. But I am here to ask a question.
These are the kids that I teach on a weekly basis

My students, especially the females and the youngest male students have been asking about my hair. In Korea braids, no matter what kind they are, are called 래게 머리"Reggae Mori" or Reggae Hair. And when I'm standing next to them or passing out papers I see their hands try to touch my hair. Or they just look at it. One of my 7th grade girls said to me "Teacher, is that all of your hair?" I said no. And she proceeded to ask why do I put extra hair. I tried to explain, but of course she is not a fluent English speaker and explaining my hair to anybody, even to myself is sometimes confusing. So, I told her I would tell her later and she should complete her worksheet. The next week, she said "Teacher you said you will tell how to do your hair". I had forgotten. And we were in the middle of a lesson. So I had to do a quick demonstration of a braid on her head. Then all the girls started braiding their hair. An 8th grade girl said to me "Teacher, your hair is so interesting" I said thank you and told here I would have a different style in two weeks (I'm going to re-braid). She was excited. The 9th grade girls try to sneak a feel. And the boys all say the same thing "Teacher reggae hair, good" with a thumbs up. Some of my 8th grade students below.

Of course hair is not the only thing Korean kids and adults are curious about. A guy who is also a teacher here in Daegu and one of the organizers of the Black History Festival that I talked about before, posted the following on the Brothas and Sistahs of South Korea Facebook page:

"I'm at a boys high school and during evaluations some wrote that they were always curious about black people but I never talked about it. I've done my share of lessons on diversity, but has anyone done a lesson on African-American culture specifically? If so, what exactly did you talk about?"

Some responded by saying let the kids write their questions down on a piece of paper and put in a box and answer questions that way. Others have done presentations on their ever changing hairstyles. Some have done a lesson on different black people in the world. One girl did the question in a box thing and it worked for her:

"-it kept it from being some huge academic thing and instead let it be a sharing thing about HUMANS. HUMAN was a big theme."

So, I wonder whether I should do a mini presentation on HAIR? My students are genuinely curious and I want them to understand my hair, but I really don't want to make a big deal out of it. And I do like being mysterious. However, I don't want these kids to run into the wrong person and then get chastised or ridiculed for not understanding black hair. But is it even that serious?


  1. Personally, I don't see why it needs to be talked about.

    When I had braids in at the end of last semester, it attracted a lot, *a lot* of attention. People asking if it was real, how it's done, etc. If I had time, I would tell people that it wasn't real, yes I could wash it, etc. But I'm not sure why it has to be a deliberate topic of conversation. I think if you're an English teacher, it's best to stick with English teaching. I feel like there's a thin line between ignorance and curiosity. I believe your students are genuinely curious, but I feel like taking time to talk about your hair would invite a lot of ignorance.

    Kids in countries like Korea, Taiwan, Japan, etc. live in a very wired society, even more so than the US. Most elementary kids I see have iPads and are experts at surfing the web on them. If they want to know more about African American culture, I don't see why they don't go online and research it. Isn't that what a lot of us who are interested in Asian culture did before we went off to Asia? Maybe they should consider studying abroad one day? Maybe you could quickly give them a Youtube link of someone doing their hair, if they're dying to know so badly?

    I don't know...I personally try not to make myself an exhibition.

    1. I tend to agree. Better to provide them with reading and viewing material to keep it general and academic, rather than personal.

    2. I don't want to be...nor do I want anyone else to be made an exhibition. I absolutely agree with you. However, there is a huge difference between Korea and Taiwan. Kids in Korea don't use Google or Youtube like kids in Taiwan or Japan do like @Meanie pointed out below. And Naver, their main search engine, is filtered making them have a filtered point of view. We were interested in Asian culture before we came here and did some research, yes. We are encouraged to find things out whenwe don't know or understand them. These kids could give two scoops about us until they see or interact with us. A lot of people like to believe that because we live in a wired world that everyone else does too. And this was part of my frustration. I was like "Why can't they just look us up" "What you mean they haven't seen a black person before, that's BS" But living here I have realized that Korea is Korean. They were closed off for so long that the bubble they lived in provides everything they think they need.I mean everything. If the Western idea of travelling abroad did not exist or people did not come to teach here, they would never leave. Korea has made a bubble that works, and they feel they don't have to step out of it until duh duh duh...they meet someone like me.

      But I decided not to make a big deal out of it. Lol. If they have a question, I answer truthfully. If they want to touch my hair, I let them. Some come to school with their hair in braids, showing them to me. But you all are right, juts keep it simple, no fuss.

    3. I know I am late for this conversation, but well said Silver Tiger!

  2. I understand what you mean Nicolette. I know they are a wired country, the only thing I'm not sure of is how often they use Google in those places. I remember someone was saying in Korea that Naver is their main search engine and that they rarely use Google. I know you can use Google translate but you know how that can be sometimes. When they did search on Naver about different subjects regarding racism or maybe subjects regarding certain black cultures it wasn't extensive. Correct me if I am wrong for anyone who lives in Korea. So Naver is their Google.

    When in comes to black bodies and hair we already know the history is complicated, so to keep it short give like a quick power point Silver Tiger on the diversity of our hair. We have enough video's on you tube of natural hair. Show different braiding styles- Cornrows, Micro braids, box braids, etc... Then you have locs/twists and natural hairs styles like Bantu knots, twist outs, roller sets.

    Then you can show a you tube video on maintenance as far as washing hair, and here are some sources.

    1. http://thirstyroots.com/braiding-hair

    2. http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/black-hair-care-and-culture-story

    3. http://www.curlynikki.com/

    Let us know what you come up with Silver Tiger if you do go ahead with it.

    1. I shared a couple sites with them and they loved it. They try to do their hair like me. Hilarious! But I decided not to make a big deal. Just keep it simple and answering any questions they ask. :)

  3. "one monkey don't stop no show". -Girl you took me back! I only ever heard my grandfather say that!


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