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A Haitian-American in South Korea: 5 Videos about Emotional Intelligence

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I spent the better part of four years in South Korea trying to transcend my blackness, but, thankfully, Koreans didn’t allow me to. Several symbolic moments helped me reconcile with my circumstance. Without having to compromise my hyphenated identity, I was able to exchange ideas with Koreans on how to accept and respect our differences and similarities.

This may sound superficial but Will Smith’s and Barack Obama’s international popularity represented the “exceptional black man,” and I wanted to live up to that perception by displaying the multidimensional ways of being black.

But no matter how much we want to be color-blind humans, holding hands under a colorful rainbow, our cross-cultural experiences will always be shaped by rigid social constructs, special interest and political systems. Under that fictional rainbow, we spill stereotypes, xenophobia, prejudice, racism, sexism, and all other “isms” into that pot of worthless gold found in every prideful country.

My American nationality was not a default for me in South Korea like it was for my white colleagues. I was considered African first (which I didn’t mind at all). And my long dreadlocks stood out like peacock feathers — at times, I felt like an X-men mutant, navigating a world of individuals who saw themselves as normal. Despite many awkward interactions, those four years in South Korea was, by far, one of the best experiences in my life. I’ve encountered myself and redefined, for me, what it meant to be a man totally immersed into the inner-workings of the universe. I’ve chosen 5 of my videos that best illustrate the power of emotional intelligence, love and connection:

1. The ajumma (elder woman) who touched a black man for the first time: She was eager to touch my black skin and hair. I never took offense because I understood that human touch is the greatest form of language.

2. My Students Taught Me Jeju Dialect (제주 사투리). Due to President Obama’s well-acknowledged oratorical skills, Koreans could no longer assume that every black person spoke “black” or “ghetto” English. Obama’s international popularity, at its height in 2010, symbolically validated my teaching position. I was able to teach my students about regional English with a quick point of reference. And, in return, my students taught me Jeju dialect (제주 사투리). Koreans on the mainland can’t speak or understand Jeju dialect; language obviously has the power to unite and divide people.

3. An old ahjussi (elderly man) sang a classic cultural song for me. My long day at school had just ended and I was on my way to write for the Busan International Film Festival. The local gardener saw pure fatigue dripping down my face and knew that the simple act of singing had the potential to uplift my psychological wellbeing. He asked if I had missed my hometown and proceeded to sing 꿈에본 내고향, a classic Korean hometown song. I didn’t understand the lyrics, but it didn’t matter at the time. The passionate delivery soothed my tired soul.

4. A South Korean woman, who recently returned from Dubai, is teaching Arabic to a Haitian-American man, who is teaching English in South Korea. That’s the universe, folks. We had an interesting conversation about reverse culture shock in this video.

5. Here is a four-part interview series with my courageous students: Aside from simultaneously breaking racial stereotypes, my students and I talked about educational pressure, their aspirations, fears, suicide (off camera), friendship, music (Kpop), culture, and everything else that made our connection genuine and sincere. I taught elementary, middle school, and high school; my middle school boys were the most introspective.

Written/Videos Produced by Wilkine Brutus