Our Black-American Mash-Up Troy Wiggins, originally from Tennessee, now teaches English in South Korea with his wife, Kimberly Taylor. I think you could make it here alone just fine.” I contemplate her statements between slurps of noodles. Did you know that there are four distinct seasons here?He shares how he deals with constant staring, cultural miscommunication, and corn on pizza. “You’d have it easier here alone than I would,” my wife says over lunch: a roll of kimbap, kimchi, and the most delicious bowl of ramyeon that I’ve ever had in my life. Meanwhile, the elderly couple at the next table has been watching us eat for the past 26 minutes. I was born into the belief that I am tough as hell. I can go outside, fall down, and land right on top of some beautiful scenery. I have health insurance for the first time in three years — not to mention prescription medicine is loads cheaper. I’m a Southerner, and I really admire all of the things that Koreans have thought to do with pork. No need for me to stop by the expat watering hole and get lost in my cups, only to go home and fall into bed holding a killer grudge. Moving through a country that understands me about as much as I understand it can rub me raw.I execute a clumsy seated bow, my third, and greet them as formally as possible. But I’m sitting here listening to two young Korean men doing a remix to a popular American rap song, with two old married people watching me eat noodles, and it sinks in: I don’t know if I make it here without her. Heck, even K-pop is growing on me, even though I promised myself I wouldn’t give it the time of day. The idea was broached casually four years ago, over dinner (I think it was pork tenderloin and potatoes). My wife is a balm, to smooth the rough edges, to keep me going and to keep me seeking when the positives of being in Korea don’t seem to outweigh the psychic cost of being a black man in Korea. Troy Wiggins Troy is originally from Memphis, Tenn.They smile and nod, and I assume that they’re happy to see us enjoying the food, but neither of them stops staring at us. However, after nearly two years in the Land of the Morning Calm, I now have come to an understanding: My wife is wrong. This was before I knew that I wanted to marry her, and the idea of moving abroad scared me. We’ve celebrated our second and third anniversaries here in Korea. Cultural miscommunication at school forcing me to scrap two days worth of work? After two years, I know what keeps me sane when I feel most alone and vulnerable: a person who will, without fail, look at me and say, “I love you, no matter what. He currently lives in Daegu, South Korea, where he writes half-decent fantasy short stories, complains too much about the weather, and enjoys various pork dishes.Every recruiter, every school,” says Motley, from Chicago.“And then I would send my picture, and it was crickets. And usually it was a reply back from China, or some school far out in the country.”Stories from other teachers include hagwon bosses asking, “How dark are you, exactly?
One Korean recruiter, who asked not to be named, says “over 80 percent” of academies that he works with – especially in Gangnam and central Seoul and at well-known franchises – prefer white applicants over black.He speaks to the manager on the phone, and everything seems fine. “White okay.”Many foreigners would agree that, even if their experiences here are generally positive, Korean racism and xenophobia are impossible to ignore.But when he shows up, the owner opens the door, stutters and then says, “Oh, no, no.” “Why not? There is still a clear disconnect between the 98 percent ethnic Koreans and the 2 percent “foreigners” of all sorts — mixed-race children, foreign brides, native English teachers, migrant factory workers and the tiny number of permanent immigrants and refugees who are now Korean citizens.And with the hagwon industry tightening and more and more academies fighting uphill against closure, they are even more reluctant to take any potential risks, the recruiter says.“They (the directors) say that if they hire them (black candidates), they would be worried about losing kids.It does not look good to parents and may (give the academy) a bad reputation and lose in competition against other hagwons with white teachers,” he says.An American recruiter, who also asked to remain anonymous, says schools will “usually” request white teachers only.“Nine out of 10 schools who don’t request this up front will not choose to interview any teachers other than Caucasians,” he says.“We’ve worked with about 100 schools in Korea, and only five to 10 of them have even considered our non-Caucasian teachers, even though they had equal qualifications.”“Parents seem to prefer their kids to be taught by Caucasian teachers than black teachers,” says a manager at WILS Language Institution in Mok-dong, Seoul, who declined to be named.He says the school does not consider race, but rather career, nationality (for visa eligibility), passion and English-related studies.Life as a Mash-Up is an ongoing search for your authentic self, set in a complex web of identities, cultures and languages.Taking that show on the road and across the globe is tough — especially when you discover that other people’s perceptions of you and your Americanness may be even more entrenched than the ones that you find at home.