A few weeks ago, while Skyping with my family my sister asked me if any of my students had said anything about my hair. As an African American my hair is about as opposite as it can be from my Korean students’ hair. On top of that I wear my hair in twists which is not the mainstream look that my students would see in American media. At the time I had nothing to tell her. Little did I know that later, on that very day, I would have my first “hair” talk with my students.
On that day I had worn my hair down. Since I arrived in Korea I had almost always worn my hair pulled back. Quite a few students in each class exclaimed “Teacher, your hair!” When they saw me as if I had made some huge change and now looked completely different. My younger students just commented on the change while my older students took it as an opportunity to ask about my hair. They wanted to know how I did my hair like that. I had to actually show them using one girl’s hair because they were so curious about how I did it. And then they were also curious how it could stay in twists.
In another class, my students were very curious and when I showed them how springy my hair was they were inclined to touch it. And I let them. I don’t know. I understood the curiosity. I only have 5 students in that class so I didn’t feel overwhelmed. I didn’t mind…Until the next day when while I bent down to pick up something someone had dropped and my students began to touch my hair saying how springy it is. Luckily this was a great teaching moment. I explained that while the day before it was okay to touch my hair, it’s not nice to just go touching people’s hair. I made sure to explain that whenever they go out and see someone’s hair that looks different they should either just look or ask the person if they can touch their hair. I emphasized that just touching people’s hair was rude and not a nice thing to do because no one likes to have strangers touching their head. They understood and said sorry which I didn’t expect, but I thought was really sweet. Today one of the student asked if he could touch my hair. Even though I said no, I was really proud of him for asking.
I’m not gonna lie. On the inside I feel a bit awkward about having to explain my hair. I know people don’t get it, but to me it is as familiar as my own skin. How do I talk about something I’ve always known? Something that is part of me. That’s like someone asking me to explain why my nails grow the way they do. “Um they just do. I wasn’t in charge of creating myself.” I get anxious when the students stare for a few seconds after I attempt to explain my hair, myself basically. But I mostly feel good. I know it’s curiosity and who else could they comfortably ask these questions to? In a short time I’ve become quite fond of my students. I’m happy they want to talk to me outside of academics. So I don’t mind the questions, the few minutes of awkwardness, struggling to explain things they will never 100% get. I don’t mind. I don’t mind at all.