by Ami Kim
It’s been almost four years since I left Charlotte, NC to begin my soul-searching journey around the world. I sold my car and gave away and/or sold 90 percent of all my belongings. After a year of bouncing between the west coast of the USA, Costa Rica, Egypt, Ethiopia, Paris and back to the west coast, I decided to do the next best drastic thing: go to South Korea for a year and teach English :) And coincidentally at the same time, I was just at the beginning stages of seeing my first batch of curls on my baby fro after doing a 2nd “big chop”.
Crown Care in a Foreign Land:
When I first arrived in South Korea, I had enough hair product to last for a little over a month. I also did no research prior to arriving about what products I could find in that region of the world related to my specific hair type. In retrospect, this is something that I highly suggest for anyone who plans to live in another country long-term: do your research on what may or may not be available in the country. Also, researching the details of the water, air quality and humidity / arid tendencies of the weather (which can affect the nurture regimen of one’s hair) is also key thing to do.
After the first month, I realized my afro was getting long enough where I needed a pick for my fro. Unfortunately, I had no pick so I went to the nearest place I thought would have one: an African accessory store in the central underground subway station near my house. I got there and looked around yet saw no picks. So then I asked the store clerk “Do you have a pick”? Curiously, she looked at me with a blank face. I got a piece of paper and tried to draw a pick. She said “A fork?” At that point, I realized I had much to learn about being prepared to live abroad as a curly-headed traveler.
I contacted my family with a slight sense of desperation (after doing some Youtube and blog research on what my hair needed as it got longer) and asked my family to ship me some items including a pick, a wide tooth comb, a deep treatment conditioner and a satin head wrap :)
I also realized that the water in the city I was living in was very “hard” (meaning more acidic than other cities I had lived in) and stripped the moisture out of my hair rapidly. So I had to have a more intensive conditioning regimen because of this and moisturize a lot more than I had in the past.
The ethnic demographic of South Korea is very homogenous. Therefore, my Korean colleagues, neighbors and students were always drastically shocked when my hair changed because the Korean hair type has generally on type: straight. However, my hair seemed to change from day to day. I would put it in a ponytail and my colleagues would ask if I had gotten a “perm”. I would part my hair and where double ponytails and they would ask if the parts “hurt”. I’d wear my hair in an afro and my students asked me if I was wearing a wig. It was an adjustment to answer their awe-struck inquiries about the different textures my hair could articulate.
I also realized and began to take much more joy and pride in the versatility of my hair. My hair became not only a contrasting attraction for others but an amazing opportunity to express myself and embrace the versatility as it grew longer.
Universal Products: I realized that two products I could find basically anywhere (including South Korea) would save my life in a moisture crunch: olive oil or coconut oil. I was able to buy organic olive oil and use this as a moisture ceiler while living in Korea when I ran out of conditioner or a store-bought deep treatment mix.
Resources: Some websites (like Iherb.com) deliver hair products to South Korea for a very reasonable cost. This can be sometimes much cheaper than asking family members or friends to send products/hair maintenance items from home.
What My Crown Likes: I also found that my hair loves high-humidity environments and dries up and tangles extremely in harsh, cold weather (South Korea has very cold winters). This showed me what environments my hair flourishes in.)
Protective Hairstyle Frequency: During a particular sequence of living in South Korea, I was doing the protective hairstyle known as the two-strand twist. They were easy and quick to do which is why I liked them. However, I noticed though, that in one particular place on my head, I had breakage and it came from doing the two-strand twists a little too much. I learned that varying what kinds of protective hairstyles one does is key and also not overdoing protective hairstyles is just as protective as not doing them at all.
Overall, I have learned to pay closer attention to the environments I’m in and how they affect my hair. I have also gained more confidence in being able to adapt in various situations and still know that my crown’s flow and glow health can be maintained beyond all comfort zones.