“Bringing Awareness of Diverse Lives in Korea”
In this hot summer, we met Iman at a café in Yangcheon, Seoul. Iman is a Somali-American who came to Korea in order to achieve her dream to become an English-radio host. Now, she is an English teacher with a commitment to show the diverse world and to break the racial prejudice of students. She is also managing a YouTube channel to show her real life in Korea to the people all over the world.
Iman is currently working as an English teacher and managing a YouTube channel.
Please introduce yourself.
“Hello, I am Iman, 29 years old. I was born in Somalia and later migrated to the United States. I was raised in Minnesota. It has been 3 and a half years here in Korea, but it feels like I have only been here for a year and a half. (laughter) I am currently teaching English to elementary students in a private educational institute and also managing a YouTube Channel called ‘Hijabi in Seoul’ that introduces life in Korea.
Why did you come to Korea, and what was your first impression?
“My dream is to work in Korean media, but I had to come here first in order to achieve this dream. I am currently an English teacher, but I would like to become an English-radio host in the future.
In 2012, I stayed in Korea for a month for the first time. To say the truth, nothing really shocked me because I had already learned about Korean language and culture in my university. (laughter) I think this is because American professors have taught me about Korea thoroughly.
How is teaching students as an English teacher?
“Nothing is severely burdensome, but it is difficult to explain when students ask why I wear this hijab. Also, they lack the understanding of Somali-American identity and assume that people from Africa cannot speak English. Based on these aspects, I feel proud of the fact that I am helping the students to be exposed to diverse perspectives in the world. After all, most English teachers are White or Korean-American. As I work, I am bringing awareness to students the fact that there are people like me who wear hijab. My students will no longer be shocked to see people with hijabs in foreign countries. Similarly, there are other times when I notice children changing their negative thoughts about foreigners.
In the midst of the interview with Iman at Yangcheon, Seoul
Why did you start a YouTube channel, and did you face any trouble?
There are many channels on YouTube, but none of them were about hijabis like me. I started YouTube since I thought it could add a new category. I am gradually adding more videos thanks to the people who thought my videos were helpful. Recently, however, I feel very sad due to the many negative comments. It was a normal video about my daily life in Korea, but many of the comments said, ‘Muslims should not come to Korea’, or ‘get out of Korea’. After reading the comments I have even asked myself whether I should leave because Koreans do not like Muslims. It was really sad.”
Can you please briefly talk about your hometown?
“I used to live in Minnesota, and it is a great place because there is no fine dust, allowing the stars to be visibly seen. Minnesota is also a state with the most number of Somali-Americans. Just south of Canada, it is colder and snowier than Korea in Winter. Because I am used to cold Winter and relatively mild Summer in Minnesota, Korea’s Summer feels too hot. I prefer Korea’s Winter.
How did others react when they heard you are going to Korea?
“I came to Korea when the Korean wave was about to be popular in the US, and everyone I knew at that time was puzzled by my decision. I was asked ‘why to go to Korea?’ very frequently. Even my mom thought I was crazy. (laughter) Now she understands. My friends also ask a lot of questions to me about Korea before traveling here.”
Iman focused on the interview
You have stayed here for three and a half years. Have you noticed Korea’s unique strengths, if any?
“Korea’s public transportation! Subways and buses are comfortable and fast. I could not go anywhere without a car in Minnesota, but I can easily go to places without a car here. Also, the only thing to do in Minnesota at night is to go to nightclubs, but Korea has many shops open at night which makes Korea’s nightlife more exciting. Lastly, I like how easy and fast it is to deliver food in Korea.
Have you personally changed after coming to Korea?
“I certainly became much more independent. I was able to get parents’ help in the United States, but not here. To get a room, I used an app called ‘JikBang’ all by myself. I also visited a hospital alone when I was sick… Under this circumstance, I became more independent.”
Do you have any advice for people who are coming to Korea in the future?
“Korea is very hot and humid, so I advise you to bring a small portable fan. If you do not have it, you cannot go outside. It is a necessity to carry around in the Summer. It is also nice to have an external battery. When you are out for a long time, you might suffer from battery shortage. Umm… also… ah! Naver maps have an English version, and it is great. It is useful when finding directions. It was more useful than google maps. I also recommend ‘Mango plate’ application. Using the app, I could find restaurants around me according to my taste. Most blogs are written in Korean which makes it hard to consider, but this app is in English with useful information like operation time and reviews.
Have you faced any difficulties staying in Korea? (question from ekdbf7878)
“Communication is particularly challenging to me, especially when receiving treatments in hospitals. It is difficult to communicate with doctors because they can only speak Korean. Only Itaewon has hospitals that use English, but they are too expensive.”
Iman is taking a look at JoinusWorld website.
Life in Korea must have been uneasy due to communication issues. Joinusworld is managing an information-sharing website for foreigners having difficulties accommodating in Korea. After taking a look, can you share your thoughts?
It seems very useful. I like the accuracy and details of the answers and the system that allows anyone to ask or answer questions. I especially like the Travel and Society and Culture category. It would be useful for travelers visiting Korea. Umm… I like the layout but the overall design seems dated. It looks like a design from 2006. (laughter) People might not be interested because the design makes the information seems dated. It would be nice to modernize the design.
Have you faced any discrimination or difficulty in being a Muslim?
Yes, I have. Most were old people, but some even told me to take off my hijab. I am not forced to wear my hijab. It is my decision, but some seem to not understand this.
Also, it was hard to see the comments on YouTube. I used to be unaware of this because Koreans have a tendency to not speak directly, but now I know what they were thinking of me after reading their comments. One viewer anxiously commented, ‘could this person do something bad in Korea?’ Contrary to the comment, I have done nothing bad even though I stayed here for over three and a half years.
I felt that compared to Americans who are straightforward, most Koreans do not voice their opinions directly. They usually express in an indirect stare or glance. Reading the comments, I felt really sad that Koreans, in fact, thought about me in this way. This made me think that everyone looking at me has negative emotions towards me, and I began to sense others stare whenever I go outside.
Iman posed for JoinusKorea’s sign
Any last comments or any future plans?
I like to see that Korea is gaining popularity recently. People from all over the world are now interested in East Asia and especially Korea. Now everyone talks about Korea. Just like how BTS gradually became a popular idol group, Korea’s culture and the economy are also gradually developing. I think this is the power of the media.
My future plan is to work at English-radio related field. To do so, I am traveling to different places in Korea and studying Korean to know more about this country.
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