As Told by Tonya

An AMBW Couple in Korea

March 5, 2017 Comments Off on An AMBW Couple in Korea

I will say that our relationship is quite the complicated one to assess because in Korea as a couple we are very visually unique. Interracial, curly Afro-hair girl, and a guy with tattoo sleeves, all combine to make the perfect stare-worthy couple in a homogeneous society like Korea.

I learned so much in Korea and I grew tremendously in my 3 years there. The challenges I faced regarding racism or prejudice, only grew me as a person so I cannot be upset about them. While being black in Korea is another post on it’s own, being in an Asian male, Black woman (AMBW) relationship in Seoul is quite a  story. The statements below are simply my personal account  and opinion, so please note that everyone’s experience will be different.

My then boyfriend now fiancee, Stephen, is Chinese American. In Korea however, many Koreans thought he was Korean and would often start speaking to him in Korean. This is a topic I could go on and on about! Why? Because although my Korean is far from fluent, I developed a solid level of conversational Korean. When Stephen and I would go out, I’d ask the questions, order the food, etc. but no matter what people still looked at him the entire conversation.

It was mad! Imagine ordering two meals, drinks, and appetizers for you and your partner and afterwards the waiter still looks at your partner to confirm the order and ask questions!

This issue has more so to do with being an non-Asian foreigner over being a black female. From my observations, the same would happen for black, white, Latino or any other non-Asian foreigner paired up with an Asian person. And not just for intimate relationships, on many occasions I’d go out with a Korean girlfriend and the same would happen.

Again, while in the moment I do admit it was frustrating, the things I experienced in Korea really grew me as a person and I cannot harbor bad feelings about the situation in the present moment.

Now, as far as being a BLACK GIRL perceived to be dating a KOREAN GUY, we’ve got some interesting stories! One of the main things to highlight are the stares.

If you are a foreigner in Korea, people WILL stare at you. It’s literally just something you must adapt to (one of the hardest things for me). But usually, in my experience, the stares I get when alone are stares of curiosity or interest. There’s never an overwhelming feeling of negativity and sometimes, people stare with a smile on their face in excitement to see a foreigner.

Sometimes, Stephen and I  were faced with glaring eyes of disgust on the subways and streets from the older generation. We’ve had older people give us some pretty nasty looks and grunts. The younger generation usually just stares wide-eyed for a few moments and then look away.

I will say that our relationship is quite the complicated one to assess because in Korea as a couple we are very visually unique. Interracial, curly Afro-hair girl, and a guy with tattoo sleeves, all combine to make the perfect stare-worthy couple in a homogeneous society like Korea.

To be honest, most of the battles of being an AMBW couple in Seoul was mental. No one stopped us from doing anything. No one harmed us in any kind of way. It really was just the mental weight that we carried as a couple from being constantly looked at in funny ways.

Koreans are generally very peaceful people and the crime rate there is remarkably low compared to other countries. While you may feel uncomfortable at times, I rarely felt unsafe.

And I MUST mention the good. Along with the bad there’s always good! Plenty of Korean people showed us love. Whether it was advice or directions, Korean people will usually go out of there way to help you when you ask (at least in my experience).

I really think that the “mental battle” I spoke of before can strengthen the relationship. Stephen and I really bonded together when we felt super ostracized from others. It was an “Us against the world” type feeling and that further solidified our bond to each other.

No matter where you live or what you look like, you and your partner will go through challenges and obstacles.

In my case, facing prejudice as an AMBW couple in Seoul worked out very well because I could see a safe haven in Stephen’s eyes and I felt secure in his arms.

Do you live in Korea? Do you have a similar experience in another country? Let me know in the comment section, I’d love to hear your story!

 

Tonya

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