Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wesley Harris
'I Wanted To See What It Was Like As A Black American Man Abroad'
Attorney Wesley Harris was determined to experience life abroad and was searching tirelessly for the ideal opportunity.
“I worked for the US government and I had been applying to jobs over in Germany and Italy, and I could never get an interview with those positions. Then I finally applied for a job in South Korea. And on my first try, I got an interview and got selected all within 30 days. It was insane,” shared Harris about the whirlwind process.
In the thick of the pandemic, the Virginia native packed everything up and headed for the Land of the Morning Calm.
It was the culmination of a long journey for Harris who had been seeking to live overseas for about five years.
“I wanted to experience what it would be like to be in another country and to see how the dynamics change as an African-American male, living in another country. Would I be treated differently? Would I be welcomed? Would I be ostracized? I wanted to know what that feeling was like.”
Prior to his move, he received a job offer in South America but South Korea seemed more appealing because of the safety and because of the human trafficking issues faced in those countries. Harris is satisfied that he chose wisely, particularly as a Black man searching for a more comfortable existence.
“What I love as a Black man is that when I get behind the wheel of a car, I don’t have to worry about the fear of a police officer pulling me over. That has changed my entire dynamic. I was telling a couple of colleagues a few days ago that a police officer pulled up behind me. And I did not know how much I was triggered or how much PTSD I had from being in the United States until that police officer pulled up behind me and everything that I was frightened about in the United States.”
Cost of living overall is phenomenal said Harris, noting that his rent is covered as a part of his compensation package and he takes care of his food and cell phone bill.
“I do appreciate that they keep the cost of living so low that the average Korean can enjoy life here.”
Another plus? The excellent and affordable healthcare system.
“You can walk in and get a root canal on the same day for about $20. In the United States, that’s going to cost you $700 or $800, maybe even thousands of dollars, depending on the quality of care. So, I really do appreciate that.”
That applies to cosmetic surgery as well, where according to Harris, “They’ll make you look like Beyoncé.”
“They can do that here because they have the skillset. Their bedside manner and the quality of care is just a lot higher than you would get back in the United States. In the United States, there’s always this perception that African-Americans are treated with a higher propensity for pain. That’s not the case here. They treat me like I’m a human being. If I’m in pain and I go to get some type of surgery or whatever to get treated, they treat me with the same level of care that they would any average Korean that lives here. And that is something that I think is substantially different from the United States. They’re not trying to make money off of my health. They’re trying to take care of me and make sure that I’m a better person for what needs to be done.”
While the language barrier can make communication complicated, Harris has found a support system in his co-workers who are always willing to step in and translate at any time.
He admits that dating as a member of the LGBT community has also been challenging but he is hoping that will change as he continues to explore other cultures. His long-term plan is to remain in South Korea for a maximum of five years, go back to the US for two, and then venture across the globe again.
“As a single gay man, I just want to see what the opportunity is like out there. I am so interested in seeing what the rest of the world has to offer. I’ve done the Dubai trips, I’ve done the Italy trips. I’ve done the UK trips. I’m going to South Africa next year for a wedding. So I’m looking forward to all of these experiences, but I want to know what it’s like to be immersed in the culture of a country and what it’s like to be an African-American in the country.”
Harris plans to retire in New Zealand and is already exploring and researching what the lifestyle is like over there. He also wants to complete a journey his uncle began years before.
“I am not the first generation to travel. I’m the first generation to graduate from college. I had an uncle that was in the army that stayed over in Germany for his whole career up until his death. So I feel like I’m living his legacy, and I’m exploring the things that he didn’t get an opportunity to do. I’m kind of carrying a torch and I just want to go to as many places as I can before I settle down, but it will not be in the United States.”
You can follow Wesley’s travels on Instagram.