Growing up in Jamaica, we used to say that there’s a Jamaica in every country you can think. If you’re from a large country like the US with hundreds of millions of people, it might not seem like a big deal. But Jamaica is a small, tropical island with a small population (less that 3 million people). Therefore, a Jamaican in Alaska for example is, to say the least, very interesting. Learning that Adriana was a type 4 naturalista living in Korea was like hearing of a Jamaican in Alaska; I was intrigued and I couldn’t wait to learn a little more about her. I reached out and found her to be as warm and inviting as a tropical breeze.
How my journey started
I was a sophomore in college and pretty much all my life I had been holding on to severely damaged and broken hair. Around this time, going natural was becoming pretty popular so I just decided to go for it. With encouragement from my best friends, I got the scissors and went to town.
My transition actually wasn’t on purpose. This sounds pretty bad, but I was too busy and clueless to deal with my hair. I just so happened not to have had a relaxer for almost a year and I could see curls growing at the roots and I was curious to see more of them and that’s when I cut it.
Coming to Korea--with natural hair
I first applied to come teach in Korea during my last semester of undergrad.
But my first time applying I ran into some bumps. I applied again that fall and passed all the steps to become an English teacher at a Korean public school. I always wanted to see more of the world and it was amazing that I was finally given the opportunity to strike out at it on my own.
I won’t lie--being natural in Korea is a definite challenge.
When I first arrived, I was in a good place in regards to my hair. It was finally starting to retain moisture and I had gotten much better at twist-outs. But I think the new environment was a shock to it. My edges seemed much thinner and my hair was constantly hard and dry—more so than usual.
The technical, social, and cultural issues
If you aren’t in Seoul, most of the Korean people you meet have probably never seen a black person in real life before.
When I first arrived I always wore my hair in a very stretched, almost straight, style. Admittedly, I was worried about the reactions. However, I got tired of trying to keep up the façade every day and began to wear my barely stretched curls and puffs. My co-workers and students were amazed and curious. Most of the younger teachers seemed to show restraint, but my older vice-principal had no shame touching and pulling my hair.
More than a few times, I'd arrive to the office in the mornings and she would come up to examine my hair, a look of wonder and amusement on her face. I never gave permission, but I never told her to stop either. I just stood there feeling completely uncomfortable as she played with my hair. My students were worse. I expressly told them no, I did not want them to touch my hair, but that resulted in sneak attacks.
When my back was turned I would feel hands grazing my hair.
If I bent down near a student’s desk fingers would stretch out. Even in the cafeteria as I sat and ate my lunch I would get “grab-bys,” giggling girls grabbing a good handful then running away. Since I moved to Seoul it’s been much better, but I still get looks and have my hair talked about on the subway or in my classroom.
My current regimen
I have difficulty finding something that really works well for me. My hair is both very fine and low density—a combination that is rarely featured on vlogs or Instagram posts.
And I have always been pretty clueless when it comes to hair and beauty, so for girls with hair like mine, it can be difficult to find a perfect style or an icon to follow. I am inspired by any girl who is doing her thing and rocking her fro, twists, braids, locs, or curls.
I try to keep my hair stretched lately because it mats and tangles less that way. My hair tangles terribly, but I’m not good with protective styling. That leads to me reaching for the scissors often. I typically pull my hair back into a puff and go. When I’m not feeling lazy, I’ll partially blow-out my hair leaving lots of volume and do a messy twist-out. I like my hair big, undefined, and a little wild. I don’t have any set regimen. I usually wash once a week, wear twists, twist out, and then pull it back until next wash day.
Some products I like to use are raw shea butter, Cantu Shea Butter Leave-In conditioner, and Shea Moisture’s Jamaican Black Castor Oil Hair Masque.
My hair has been difficult to manage in South Korea.
Sometimes I just want to cut it off and just wear wigs. But I know I would miss it after a week. And although it can be burdensome at times, I do love talking about black women and their hair, it was even the subject of my senior thesis. If someone is genuinely interested in learning more I don’t hesitate to help them along. I’ve had long discussions about it with Korean friends, my co-workers, and other foreigners to Korea.
It’s a little weird too, being, in a way a representative for black women and being asked to speak on our hair. But I try my best to leave the person a little more educated. For the most part, the experiences have all been positive. The general reaction is just genuine interest and surprise for all of the different styles we can have on a day-to-day basis.