Susan Morales and Kalijah Rahming: How They See Us Abroad

Greetings from Seoul, South Korea! Our names are Kalijah Rahming and Susan Morales and we are completing our research on identity formation in a homogenous society. When you read this, we will have just finished our first complete week of school at our study abroad program. We are taking courses on Korean Cinema and Globalized Korean Music Culture at Yonsei University, one of the highest-renowned private universities in South Korea. 

Kalijah Rahming (left) and Susan Morales (right)

Although we have been surrounded by a multitude of international students, as non-Korean women of color, we have had many insightful experiences during our adventures around the city. Many curious individuals have taken the time to stop us and ask where we are from and why we chose to live in Korea. One notable experience came only a few days after arriving in Seoul, on a night when we decided to take the subway to Itaewon to grab dinner. While we were waiting in line, a group of four or five girls approached us and asked us where we were from and where we were staying. Although we did not feel comfortable enough to share any specific details about our travel plans, we both appreciated their kindhearted questions. A few days later, a man on the subway approached us and asked us where we were from. Once he learned that our Korean was limited, he moved away from us. In the United States, being asked this question is usually based on the ideology that people of color are automatically foreign. However, in Seoul, it feels like a more genuine question.

We have additionally realized that the ways we form connections with others are very similar both in the United States and abroad. Although we do value the chance to make connections with those of different backgrounds, we also make a conscious effort to surround ourselves with people like us who are experiencing the same things. For example, many of the acquaintances that we have made during our first few days of exploring, who are the people that we trust to travel throughout Seoul with, are fellow Black women. While out on our travels, we also notice a lot more people of color than we had previously expected, which just goes to show that Seoul can be accessible to everyone.  Our connection runs much deeper than can truly be expressed with words, as we all try to look out for one another. After we realized this, we were able to understand that it could be used as one of the first instances to study our own identity formation in this homogeneous society.

Additionally, although we are certainly the minority here in South Korea, both as Americans and as Black women, it has not been difficult for us to connect with locals here about topics that we are mutually interested in. While in the school cafeteria line, Susan was approached by a local student and held a brief conversation regarding the meal that they were both eating. While in our Globalized Korean Music Culture course, both of us were able to empathize with our professor regarding musical groups that we both took a great interest in. Additionally, we both had an experience in the elevator of our lodgings where a local wished us happy travels in Korea despite just meeting us for less than a minute. These experiences make us re-evaluate whether or not we are the only ones who care about how our identity influences our experiences and how our identities are characterized by those we are surrounded with. This is not to say, however, that all of our experiences have been positive. We have noticed some people staring at us for long periods of time, some with disturbed looks on their faces. However, as Black women, we are accustomed to not fitting within the societal norm. In some ways, our treatment here is no different than it would be in the States. It is important to note that as of now, neither of us has experienced any abnormal rudeness or discrimination. Other Americans have also mentioned that they have been stared at or pointed at, so it could just be a result of us being foreigners. 

As we have only been in Korea for a little over a week, there is still much that we need to do! Even then, we need to carefully analyze our experiences in a systematic manner to be able to draw conclusions about the topics surrounding our project.

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

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