Brandon Jones hails from Maryland where he was raised by his Caribbean parents. Four years ago, he made the long journey abroad to Seoul, South Korea. He started working as an English teacher but now works as a professional model and actor.
We spoke with him via email about life in South Korea.
Travel Noire: What inspired you to move abroad?
Brandon: I have always had a love for the Asian culture. In high school, I visited Japan as part of a student exchange program. In college, I participated in various Asian cultural programs and attended anime conventions. After receiving my bachelor of science in biotechnology, I spent two years working as a scientist. My goal was to attend graduate school. However, I made the decision to take a gap year and do something meaningful with my life. In 2015, I applied and was accepted to the EPIK program to teach English in South Korea, and I have been here since.
TN: How has life changed for you since moving abroad?
Brandon: Since moving abroad, life has been an exciting roller coaster of ups and downs. Living in a foreign country with limited financial resources and being away from friends and family can be quite challenging. However, I am continually learning and discovering new things every day. I am currently enrolled at the university, learning the Korean language. In addition, I am traveling to various cities for work, taking in all that South Korea has to offer. Moving abroad has broadened my experiences, perspectives, connections, and so much more.
TN: What is life like as a Black model/actor in a mostly white praised society?
Brandon: Life as an African-American model in Korea is quite thought-provoking and very rewarding. Although there is not a lot of competition amongst minorities, there is somewhat seemingly not enough work for black models. Most designers or companies prefer Caucasian models or actors. As a minority, you must be one of the best in the industry to get work. Once you have the proper entertainment visa and can act, model, and have great camera appeal, the overall work experience can be rewarding. Whenever there is a casting call for black models, my agency will refer me for the job.
TN: Have you faced any discrimination or racism in the industry since being abroad?
Brandon: There is discrimination on various levels everywhere, and not only in South Korea. The answer to that question is: I don’t exactly know. I do not want to confuse discrimination with stereotyping. There are times when I read a script, and when I show up for the job, the script changed, and I am no longer the main actor but instead cast as the “rapper” or “gangster.” I once worked and did a commercial for a company. A year later, I was called back to do the second commercial because the first one was a success. The day before the shoot, the producer called me and said the client changed the lead actress to a white female, so they had to change the male lead to a white male. One’s skin color should not affect one’s ability to work. But, if the product is targeting a certain niche market, I can’t really be up in arms about it.
TN: What has been your favorite experience so far?
Brandon: My experiences have been invaluable. The opportunity to travel and meet interesting people in the industry is remarkable, it has helped me gain industry insight and experience. I have flown to Spain on two occasions to work as a brand ambassador for a Korean company to promote their products. I once hosted the Luxury Modeling Brand Competition and had the opportunity to meet many South Korean and international idols, celebrities, fashion designers and models. Another favorite experience is being able to speak both English and Korean and helping translate amongst my English and Korean colleagues and friends.
TN: Can you offer any advice to those wanting to break into the industry?
Brandon: The best advice I can give to anyone is don’t doubt yourself. If you are free spirited and are looking for a career in modeling and acting, the first hurdle is to learn the language, do your research, and sign up with a legitimate modeling agency. It is not always about the “perfect look,” but about passion and self-confidence. Start small by doing some TFP (time for print) shoots and join online groups to market yourself. Most importantly, invest in a quality photo portfolio album. Lastly, don’t second-guess yourself. My advice is to step out of your comfort zone and go for it. There are so many different types of models needed in Korea and around the world. Take the leap and get out and audition. You have nothing to lose!
TN: Where can we find you online?