I did what I’ve done for almost every blog post I started to write this year, I made it too complicated. So this is version 2, the simple version – what I wanted to say without the unnecessary framing that makes me sound more profound than I am.
The place I feel the most at home is Seoul, South Korea and now I realise it’s because that’s where I have been my most authentic myself. Funny that a country where the majority of the people are Korean is where I feel the most like myself.
It’s normal when growing up to feel like you don’t have a place, and I hoped that feeling would settle down when I went to work, or university but it didn’t. I was born and raised in Nigeria, but I’ve lived in the UK for long enough that I consider myself English first and ethnically Nigerian. That comes with baggage. In the UK I’ve been called a ton of different slurs that imply I’m not proud enough of my heritage. That I’m trying to be white, or that I hate being black. When I go to Africa I feel like an ‘other’. I’m ‘The English Girl’, nothing is expected of me and there’s disappointment all around that I don’t know certain Nigerian things. I’m going to be really honest, it’s been exhausting trying to navigate that and feeling guilty that I’m not more or less of something.
My year abroad was the first time in my whole life where I was Dee. No-one knew me from before and instead of doing that thing where you reinvent yourself, I let out the longest exhale and was just myself. There was no expectation of me to be something else. There was no, “black people are like this” or “Nigerians are like this”. I felt free to explore who I was, to indulge in the cute, to cut my hair how I liked, to experiment with how I looked. That was a completely new feeling to me, to just be myself with no template – nowhere I’ve been in the world has had that impact on me. It’s why I love it there.
I didn’t feel like there was any particular hatred directed at me because I was black in Seoul. Tbh, every time I’ve gone back the less interested in me people seemed to be. The colour of my skin didn’t matter it was that I was foreign. There’s this dream sold to migrants to the UK that you can belong if you are a good worker. That you must try to be a good citizen so that you too can be British. You start to believe it, until one day something happens and you’re reminded that you’re an other, an outsider. That realisation is painful. If you don’t try, that’s worse because you’re refusing the culture. So you’re stuck working towards something that can never truly happen for you. I appreciated in Korea that there was no pretense. I got to be me, Dee the foreign person and all my weird quirks were okay. I wasn’t expected to fit in, I’m not Korean how could I? There’s nothing I’m supposed to be, there’s no long history of how black people should be there. I can be myself, and that’s cool. Really cool.