Photo Credit: Courtesy of @amor_maracuja
The Black Expat: 'Brazil Lead Me To South Korea & I Embraced The Unknown'
For St. Croix native and former Florida resident Mikyba Cooper, figuring out life post-college was still up in the air.
After spending some time living and working in Brazil for an internship, she realized that she wanted to travel and create new experiences for herself. So, after doing some research on her own, she made the decision to move to South Korea.
Mikyba has spent the last 3 years living and working as a public elementary school teacher in a city called Cheonan. We had a chance to speak with her about life abroad and she offers advice for those also considering a move.
Travel Noire: What led you to move abroad and why did you choose South Korea?
Mikyba: I ended up in South Korea because of Brazil. As a part of my final internship requirement for my bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management, I accepted an internship in South America. While there I realized I did not want to work in the hotel industry. So here I was, basically complete with my undergraduate experience, deciding I didn’t want to work in my career field, wanting to continue to have international adventures, while still needing to make money to pay off my student loans for the degree I decided I wasn’t going to use.
I was 24 years old and convinced the road laid out in front of me was not going to make me happy and bring me fulfillment, so I embraced the unknown and hit Google to create a new post-graduation life plan. My search landed me on teaching English abroad. Through my research, I found that South Korea offered the best perks and pay for teaching English abroad and that was enough for me.
TN: Overall would you say that moving abroad was a great decision?
Mikyba: Moving abroad was something I decided I wanted, and I was committed to making it happen. It took me three years to get to South Korea, I was denied by EPIK (English Program in Korea) three times, I moved to Costa Rica to take a top-rated TESOL course to make myself a more desirable hire, I eventually gave up on South Korea and started looking into teaching in Taiwan before my current job fell into my lap. I worked hard to get to South Korea, I don’t know if it was a “great decision” to move here, but I do know it’s one I’ve enjoyed. Living abroad has its ups and downs, but for me the greatest adventure has been getting to know myself and deciding for myself who I am. I think it’s great to do something that makes you nervous or afraid and test the boundaries of what you can accomplish and succeed at. Moving to South Korea was that for me.
TN: What has your experience as a Black woman been like during your time there?
Mikyba: Being a black woman has been fun, it has always been fun. Is it hard to be so strikingly different in a mostly homogenous culture? Yes. But, when has it ever been easy to be a Black woman in the States? Black women have always faced hurdles to just live and survive, so living in Korea I didn’t expect it to be much different. I’ve enjoyed being a black woman in South Korea because my otherness, my blackness, me being a woman, the things about me I can not change ARE foreign here, but not perceived as a threat unlike actually being from the U.S.
In the US people’s perception of me and their issues with that perception can lead to me being harmed or ultimately killed, I don’t have that same level of fear living in South Korea. There is prejudice all over the world, where there is ignorance there will be injustice, so in that regard, South Korea is no different. But South Korea’s prejudices are not a direct threat to my health/life like they are in the US. This is not the case for all foreigners, but as a Black American, my blackness is accepted/tolerated a bit more because of my Americanness.
TN: Any advice for those considering moving abroad?
Mikyba: My advice to anyone contemplating moving abroad, do it! You learn so much about yourself when you are in unfamiliar territory. You may move abroad and hate it, you may move abroad and love it! Either way, there is no greater educator in life than experience and travel. The world is so full of wonderful things, you are a wonderful thing that the world is waiting on as well! Especially to my Black counterparts, the US in particular works so hard to box us in and hold us back, go out in the world and decide who you are, what your narrative is, how you want to be received, and find the freedom to come and go as you please. Be prepared to unlearn somethings, be open to learning some things, be confident in stumbling, it’s all apart of the experience.
TN: Where can we find you online?
Mikyba: Instagram: @amor_maracuja.