Before you read any further, grab a cup of your favorite hot chocolate, coffee or tea. Do you have it? OK. Now read on :0). Hot Chocolate with a Local will be a recurring post where I sit down with a guest and chat about travel over a delicious virtual cup of hot chocolate. I created this series to bring you real advice about travel from around the world. Today we catch up with the lovely Frantzie in Korea!
Imported Chocolate: Hi Frantzie! Thanks for having a virtual hot cup of chocolate with us!!!!!
Frantzie: No, thank you! You know I’m always excited to share my journey with you. You’ve been one of my biggest encouragers on my travel journeys. And, I’m a huge fan of Imported Chocolate.
Imported Chocolate: Awww! Thanks! That made my day.
Imported Chocolate: What time is it over there anyway?
Frantzie: It’s exactly 11:40am. And, I’m sitting at my desk in a cold teacher’s office.
Imported Chocolate: You need to sip on your hot chocolate! How do you say hello in Korean?
Frantzie: “Annyeonghaseyo!” But, when I bump into the school principal I say, “annyeong hashimnikka.” It’s more polite, I’ve been told.
Imported Chocolate: Ah, Ok! Cool!
Imported Chocolate: When did you have the aha moment to move abroad?
Frantzie: I wouldn’t call it an aha moment. It was more of a gnawing, anxious feeling that kept telling me that I would regret not stepping out of my comfort zone more than anything I’ve ever regretted before. After spending hours Google searching, I left my life back in the U.S. is when I decided to dig up ways to fund a life abroad.
Imported Chocolate: Why Korea?
Frantzie: I didn’t have the income to give me the freedom to just pick up and go living in pricey New York City. So, I started digging up ways to fund my life overseas. Teaching English in Korea was at the top of the search results. Widely popular and highly favored by former ESL teachers. So, I went with it. I don’t regret it.
Imported Chocolate: How did you find the opportunity?
Frantzie: I found the opportunity through Google. Yay, for the Internet! As I kept digging, I came across EPIK (English Program in Korea), which is known for recruiting native English speaking teachers from native English speaking countries. So, I applied around Christmas time, immediately.
Imported Chocolate: What was the process?
Frantzie: The EPIK application process will test your patience, sanity, and organizational ability. Their guidelines are stringent. I applied in February so that I could arrive to Korea in August for the fall teaching semester. EPIK hires offers two intakes, spring and fall. But, I was gathering my required materials for the program since December. First, you begin with background checks, and requesting transcripts from your college or university, fingerprints, requesting documents from the federal government, and completing certifications. It all takes a lot of time. Anyone interested in applying with EPIK, start early.
Imported Chocolate: How long have you been in Korea so far? Which part do you live in?
Frantzie: Six months. I live in Daegu, a little under two hours from Seoul on the KTX train, speed train. Daegu reminds me of Washington, DC. in that it is a small, bustling metropolitan city and the third or fourth largest in Korea. There’s a massive expat population here. I get all of the perks of living in a city like galleries, theaters and cultural festivals. It’s also small enough which makes inner-city travel fairly easy.
Imported Chocolate: Sounds like a nice, chill, but fun place to live! Tell us about your experience teaching.
Frantzie: First, there are different teaching jobs in Korea, a hagwon (private school) or a public school. Since I came through the EPIK program which exclusively hires for public schools, I work at a public school for the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education. In Korea, middle school includes grades 7-9, referred to as middle school 1st-3rd grades. I teach grades 8-9 (referred to as middle school 2nd-3rd). I completed a short training with EPIK upon my arrival before they actually threw me into a classroom. My work day typically begins at 8:20am and ends at 4:20pm. I’ve been assigned several Korean co-teachers who work collaboratively with me in the classroom. They’ve also been instrumental to my life in Korea like helping me adjust and inform me of what’s going on at school. Your relationship with your co-teachers is very important. They aren’t just your co-workers.
Frantzie: I typically teach about four or five 45-minute classes. Sometimes, I teach expressions given in their textbooks or I freestyle. Freestyle is so much more fun because it allows for more cultural exchange. I’ve covered lessons on memorable people in Black History. I’ve taught the students how to tactfully share their opinions in a conversation. We even watched some of the Superbowl! I think their favorite lesson was Halloween traditions. Class sizes at a public school seem rather large. My classes are anywhere up to 38 brilliant minds. Some have an excellent command of English and some barely understand what I am saying. As with typical teenagers, Korean students are not more disciplined than anyone else. They’re just like students back home. Sometimes they’re fun. Sometimes they’re really disruptive. There’s a lot of horsing around in the halls and sneaky behavior happening just like any normal teenager. The punishment is different. You don’t get detention. You get beat with the stick. Of course, everyone doesn’t hit students with the stick. Ouch. In the beginning, teaching came with a lot of challenges. I felt like I wasn’t reaching my students.
I thought they didn’t like me. Oftentimes, the disruptive ones would call me names. But, I realized that came from students who didn’t want to learn English. It’s not fun when learning English is mandatory, especially when you’re disinterested. And, you begin to hate everything about it, including your native English speaking teacher. But, some students really resonated with me like the ones who passed the halls telling me my hair was so cool. Or, the young girls fawning over the color of my skin. There were some who took me on excursions to discover their city. Yes, teachers and students mingle outside of the classroom in Korea. It was awkward at first, but totally acceptable.
I loved the moments shared with them. I knew my students had really touched me when I attended their middle school graduation. I found myself sad and wanting to cry. I didn’t want anyone to see me crying. I knew them for a semester, roughly 16 weeks. It was when my student, albeit in front of his mother, gave me dap with the intricate hand clasp, and a pound hug, and told me that he was going to miss me, while his mother stared at us confused, I realized I bonded more than I knew with these students. Teaching in Korea earns much respect. It also makes for a comfortable life. My expenses are low considering EPIK pays for my housing, a small apartment across from my school. I haven’t covered it all in regards to teaching English in Korea. Overall, it’s been a great experience and is transforming my life daily.
Imported Chocolate: You’ve covered a lot though. That was one of the most perfect answers in Imported Chocolate with you. I saw everything! I felt like I was write there in the class teaching with you, walking beside you in the hall. Thanks so much for sharing!
Imported Chocolate: What’s it like being a black woman there?
Frantzie: Being here for only six months, I’ve noted speaking about the Black experience in Korea is rather an extremely touchy one. Here’s my personal version. Depending on where I go, I might have an ajumma (a term used to describe an elderly Korean woman), rush to me speaking in Korean. She’s typically praising my hair. But, I don’t speak any Korean, so…I’ve had women just grab my afro in delight, amazement, or curiosity. Black features are often fawned upon here. We’re a hot commodity!
There are those little cultural misunderstandings that could turn mole hills into mountains. Stereotypes, especially of Black and American culture are one of them.
“Oh. He listens to ‘Black’ songs,” I heard someone say. What does that even mean?
Or, “Do you rap?”
Excuse me? Do you?
Imported Chocolate: Oh, Lord! Lol! What challenges do you face?
Frantzie: The biggest challenge I’ve faced is to remind myself daily that I’m seeing the same world through a different lens. Sometimes, the negative moments are magnified. So, when I come across a misunderstanding or a regular ol’ jerk, is this the same jerk I’d come across back home or does this person have a problem with my skin color or nationality? Sometimes, the cultural misunderstandings are annoying and infuriating. In Korea, what I’ve found difficult is the fact that it is hard to get a straight truthful answer if something is negative. Korean culture seems to generally avoid conflict more so than Western people. I’m Haitian. I speak for myself when there’s a problem. Then there is also the issue of saving face and losing face which is a bit different to Western ways.
Second, at work, everything seems to be done last minute. But, I’ve heard the same complaint from other foreign teachers. I’m not sure if it’s cultural or depending on your school.
The hierarchy system is alive in Korea. That’s my other challenge. Your place is determined by different factors such as age, job, status, etc. Simply, the old before the young. I am mostly exempt from this factor because I am a foreigner, but there was this one time my co-teacher informed me, “It has been decided for you…” And, then, I realized it was time to bring down the gavel.
My other challenge has been waiting in line for the bathroom sink to wash my hands because tooth care in Korea is serious. Everyone brushes anywhere after every meal. Insensitive cultural appropriation is a huge problem in Korea. I struggle to understand it. Watch one of the gag shows and you’ll understand. From afro wigs, blackface, big butts, those are the jokes. It never makes me feel good watching that.
Lastly, my recent travel anxiety. I’m constantly worried about things happening back at home.
Imported Chocolate: Those are all valid challenges. You are such a strong woman and handling it well. Fellow Imported Chocolates will feel inspired by you!
Imported Chocolate: What do you love the most about Korea?
Frantzie: The internet connectivity! There’s wi-fi almost everywhere. It still boggles my mind when I’m getting free wi-fi underground on my subway ride and I’m able to stream music or my favorite videos.
There’s always something to do in Korea. There are so many festivals, places, and temples. My city is surrounded by mountains so finding a hiking trail is so easy. I’ve given up doing everything.
And, what I love most about Korea is a concept called “service” (pronounced service-suh in Korea). You’ll find in Korea, you go out for service and get all these extra perks. For instance, I went for dinner, and the next thing I know the waitress is bringing me free dessert and loads of bread. Another time, I went for a waxing and the woman was using the best ingredients on my skin like aloe, chamomile, and all of these fancy herbs I couldn’t pronounce. In the States, that costs extra!
I especially love the people who approach me and want to be my friend. It makes me feel like a celebrity. Or, the people who snap a picture of me when I’m not looking. It usually happens when I’m wearing my hair out. It’s funny and awkward at the same time. But, I love the attention.
I love the vacation time in Korea. There’s a holiday for everything. And, not your typical three day weekend. Sometimes, holidays can be as long as three days. Once you tack on the weekend, that’s a five-day holiday! You can visit another country with that kind of time!
I love k-pop. I’ve never heard of it until I moved to Korea. After I watched, the Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA), I fell in love with Exo and Sistar. I can’t get enough of the dancing. It’s the ultimate entertainment experience. The boy bands deliver ten times more than any U.S. boy band that I’ve ever encountered. I’m a pop culture junkie so I have a lot of opinions!
Imported Chocolate: Sounds like there’s tons to love about Korea, Can we get some of that service-suh here in the U.S.A? Lol! And K-Pop is awesome!!! The videos are super entertaining!!!
Imported Chocolate: What do you dislike?
Frantzie: In Korea, you won’t find a public trash bin. The city is impeccably clean, but there’s no public trash cans. It sounds like nothing until you find yourself needing a public garbage and can never find one. Throwing away trash at home feels complicated, but Korea is serious about her role in saving the Earth.
The traffic lights are so long. It feels like you could be waiting a millennium for the little man to turn green, a signal to walk. The worst part of that is when there’s no traffic, everyone is just standing there. Just because the light signals not to cross and there are no cars in sight, no one will move. It’s hilarious to watch.
The differences in cultural etiquette can be troublesome. I’m understanding the culture of eating noodles. Noodle slurping is very common. It’s this medley of air sucking.
Korea is cool with pushing and shoving. For whatever reason, people don’t offer a polite, “Excuse me,” when making room through a crowd. In fact, I haven’t discovered if it’s really a word in Korean. And, what do you about it? Nothing. You take the forearm shoved into your back like the fighter that you are and keep it moving.
In America, it’s common to say “excuse me” or someone respond to your sneezing, but that doesn’t really happen here. Coughing your lungs out without covering your mouth happens a lot. And, in a sharing culture, double dipping happens a lot. These are just the small little things that make me laugh and tense up at the same time.
I work hard to be as open as I can, but sometimes people don’t want to converse in English out of fear or they just don’t want to bother. I’ve been turned away from a restaurant because the staff didn’t want to try and speak English. It happens.
I’ve encountered Koreaboos, people completely enamored with Korean culture and highly offended when you express any sort of dissatisfaction with Korea. If you do, you’ll be stoned.
The extreme weather. It gets cold in Daegu.
And lastly, someone always asking me, “Is it too spicy?” Get outta here with that. I’m Haitian! We love spice!
Imported Chocolate: Ha, Ha! Hilarious!!!! I’ve never heard of the term Koreaboos.
Imported Chocolate: What’s the situation for black hair care over there?
Frantzie: Korea is bursting with women who specialize in Black hair care. There are tons of sistas weaved up or managing braids. With the presence of so many military bases in Korea, you can get your hair practically braided anywhere. Micro braids, marley twists, crotchet braids, etc. are at your disposal. There are women who sell hair. And, even some Korean stylists are skilled in Black hair care. For any Black women with dreams to move to Korea, your hair will be fine.
Imported Chocolate: AWESOME!!!!
Imported Chocolate: Frantzie’s top five dishes?
Frantzie: I’m still learning. Here are the ones I’ve loved so far.
1. I love hoduk. It’s a Korean filled pancake and popular street food.
2. Samgyeopsal. Korean BBQ.
3. Gamjatang. It’s a spicy pork-bone and potato soup that reminds me of Haitian bouillon.
4. Jeon. I swear it looks like a western omelette, but it’s a pancake-like dish made with flour.
5. Dak galbi. A stir-fry diced chicken dish made with cabbage, onions, and a bunch of other things that I can’t name.
Imported Chocolate: Frantzie’s top five must see places?
Frantzie: Mt. Palgong. It seems to be the center of Buddhist culture in Daegu with a large Buddha atop the mountain. It’s one of the most spiritual mountains in Korea. There’s a spiritual energy that resides up there so many people come to worship or wish for good luck on special occasions, especially when students are taking high school entrance exams! I love exploring the streets of Seoul, especially the National Palace and Hongdae. And, make a visit to the Daegu Arboretum. I have so much more to discover, so I couldn’t give you five.
Imported Chocolate: Frantzie’s top five things to do?
Frantzie: My favorite place in Korea is the jimjilbang, the Korean bathhouse. For under $20 USD I indulge in this luxurious spa experience! You can even sleep there overnight! My other thing to do is get a slice of pizza at Seoul’s Monster Pizza, when I’m in Seoul. It’s the only place in Korea that has pizza comparable to a New York City slice. I’ll mention the noraebong. You can’t visit Korea without spending a drunken night in the noraebong. Visit a themed café. You’ve got to love Korea’s fetish for themed cafes, especially the cat and dog cafes! The concept is still very foreign to me but it is a nice way to spend a dull afternoon. Lastly, hop on the subway and get lost in my city to uncover its secrets and meet new people! Getting lost was how I found out that Korea has its very own version of the famous International Pillow Fight!
Imported Chocolate: Frantzie’s top five day trips?
Frantzie: Korea is rather small so it’s possible to cover a lot. I haven’t covered all, but my recommended day trips are the DMZ tour, a visit to Seoul or Busan, Gyeongju (roughly under two hours driving distance from Daegu) and it has so many ancient things to see and do. The entire place was like an ancient museum. And, a visit to Jeonju. There, I tried bimbimbap, a popular Korean dish among us foreigners. I took a tour of a traditional hanok village and Jeonju is known for its bimbimbap. I don’t know if I can consider these my top five. There’s so much more for me to do!
Imported Chocolate: Favorite chill spot so far?
Frantzie: My favorite chill spot so far in Daegu is I’m Paul The Barista. It’s a café downtown. The décor is beautiful. It’s my second home in Korea because it reminds me so much of New York when I walk into the doors. The baristas greet you with a boisterous and sincere, “anyeonghaseyo.” And, the owner immediately won my heart over when she admitted that she lived in New York and attended Parsons. She makes the best desserts like tiramisu, pumpkin cake, a rich chocolate cake, and my favorite, Magnolia Bakery’s banana pudding. .
Imported Chocolate: I’m so going there when I make it to Korea! Have you met any Korean cuties? What are Korean men like?
Frantzie: I’ve bumped into more than a dozen Korean cuties. Impeccably dressed with their hair perfectly coiffed. I love the men who look like the ones I see on k-dramas. They’re more my style, albeit I notice they wear a lot of makeup. They’re beautiful with a unique attraction like Prince. I couldn’t really elaborate on what Korean men are like. It seems like men and women aren’t really friends here. There’s a lot of emphasis on being in a relationship. For instance, back in the States, I have a lot of male friends. But, that doesn’t seem to be the case in Korea.
Dating has been a challenge. There’s a limited foreign population and I don’t meet too many foreign men or men outside of my race in Korea who are interested in me. I also don’t meet many Korean men who are interested in me. I’m not a fan of dating sites. A couple of challenges come up like cultural differences and language barriers, so dating has been a challenge. But, there’s someone for everyone. I just don’t think that person is in Korea (for me).
Imported Chocolate: Are they chocolate friendly? Lol!
Frantzie: I’ve noticed a few men who are chocolate friendly. I’ve met Black women married to Korean men. It’s all fascinating to me.
Imported Chocolate: Greatest culture shock moment is?
Frantzie: Double dipping. This has been my biggest life rule. NO double dipping, but in a sharing culture there’s double and triple dipping. Wiping and tossing. Typically in a public restroom you wipe and toss. Do not flush. I also took it for granted that I would encounter the squatting toilet, but it happened, a lot. And, my school hadn’t renovated the bathrooms until the very end of the semester. So, I became very acquainted with the squatter.
Imported Chocolate: What’s your cost of living? What should someone expect to spend living there?
Frantzie: My costs are relatively cheap in Korea. As an EPIK teacher, my housing is paid for. So, I don’t pay rent. If you shop like a local it’s cheap. But, I couldn’t begin to make Korean food. If you require a few comforts from back home, it’s expensive. An Italian meal in Korea is much less expensive than New York City, but it’s still a lot more expensive than a Korean meal. Your typical Korean meal is cheap and offers a lot of value for your buck with a heaping of side dishes. You’ll find that clothes are expensive as they are in the States. And, so are braids. Braids run from KRW 120 and up which is approximately $110-$120. So, there isn’t much of a difference. No deals. The fruit is rather expensive. More than I’m used to paying in the United States. Utilities and public transportation are inexpensive. Overall, my living expenses are a little under KRW 1000 which is around 900 USD per month. And, EPIK teachers monthly salary start around KRW 2.1 million (a little under $2,000 before taxes). Each month I save a little under $1000 as an EPIK teacher. It really depends on your lifestyle.
Imported Chocolate: That’s great! Where are you headed next?
Frantzie: I’ve developed a severe case of wanderlust. I came to Korea with the intention of funding my life overseas in Korea, but I have this irresistible impulse to see more. With that, I’m probably going to visit several different countries in Southeast Asia after I’ve completed my teaching contract in Korea. Wish me luck.
Imported Chocolate: Good luck! You CAN DO IT!!! What’s your advice to your fellow Imported Chocolate who is afraid to take “the” leap?
Frantzie: Obstacles are just opportunities in disguise. You’ll make up every excuse in the world why you can’t/shouldn’t/or not do something. It sounds crazy and I understand everyone’s circumstances are not the same, but just jump! You’ll figure it out along the way. Until now, I’ve realized, I’ve never had a well-thought out plan. I just wanted this. And, I found a way in. What about my debt? Job? Long-term career goals? Teaching English to do what? I’m just living day by day now. The questions never stop. We just make them up as we go because we’re afraid of being unstoppable and really living out our dreams. I’m so glad I did this. So grateful for the journey even when Korea can be challenging.
Imported Chocolate: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Frantzie: A little. The Internet is a useful tool. If you’re thinking about moving abroad, join a Facebook group or introduce yourself to an e-friend no matter how awkward it can feel and don’t be afraid to ask any question you can think of. Strangers have been some of my best resources. My journey in Korea has had its challenges, but I can’t stress enough to have an open mind. And, definitely be prepared to try new things, meet as many people as you can, local and expat. From there, you can decide who you want to keep! You don’t have to fellowship with everyone, just love them. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries being new to a foreign country. When I first arrived to Korea, saying no, felt rude. I was offered everything you could think of. But, sometimes, I wanted personal space to recharge myself and I didn’t feel like sharing. This was the person who I was back in America. And, it’s completely okay to honor your own personal culture living overseas. Finally, if you’ve got that feeling, idea, or itch to move abroad, stop thinking and just GO!
Imported Chocolate: Thanks so much Frantzie!!!! This interview was so inspirational and perfect!!
Imported Chocolate: How do you say bye in Korean?
Frantzie: It’s tricky. If you are leaving, and the other person is staying, you can say annyeonghigyeseyo. If you are staying, and the other person is leaving, you can say annyeonghigaseyo. Since this is virtual, I’m confused so I will just offer a virtual wave and hug!
Imported Chocolate: Lol! No problem! Here’s a wave and a hug right back. It’s been a pleasure! Peace!