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Ronah Naluwooza talks life in South Korea, dealing with discrimination and migrating during COVID-19

Moving to another country in the middle of a global pandemic can’t be easy – but for teacher and YouTuber Ronah Naluwooza, it was an opportunity that she couldn’t pass up.

“I’m passionate about education, particularly English and as an ESL teacher I have to go where the demand is,” she says. 

“I also thought it would be great to experience a new country and culture and despite the pandemic, I still moved.”

Ronah is somewhat familiar with moving to new places and starting a new life. She was born in Uganda and lived there in her younger years, before moving to Devon, UK at 5-years-old with her family where they later settled in Reading.

“I spent the remainder of my childhood and adolescence in Reading alongside my family and I was a very happy go lucky kid despite the challenges I faced.”

Much of Ronah’s upbringing was spent living in predominantly white spaces where she had to navigate through life as a minority – an experience she couldn’t have got through without the support of her family and their ties to Ugandan culture.

“What I love the most about Ugandan culture is the vibrancy and kindness of the people. Regardless of how little people have, they will always host you with love and treat you like their family wherever they meet you in the world and that is reflected in my family,” she says.

“Growing up in predominantly white areas, my Blackness was diminished a lot, especially as a child. When racist incidents would occur, I felt as though I couldn’t defend myself because I was the only one who understood why it was wrong, amongst white peers. Yet, at that age, I didn’t have the knowledge to articulate coherently to my peers why racism was wrong, only that it was.

“Fortunately, my family were an amazing support system. My parents did their best to instil confidence in me and I was able to rely on my creativity and character as a way of escaping the challenges.”

This helped Ronah to devlop into the confident woman she is today. But like many, she still battled with the challenges many Black girls across generations face when it comes to westernised beauty standards.

GROWTH

“There were so many things I did to assimilate and be like my white counterparts. I hated wearing my natural hair out, to the point that I would cry if my mum forced me to. I avoided running in circles with Black men because the comments they’d make about my physical appearance made me feel insecure and I spent a long time wanting to have lighter skin like my mixed heritage siblings, so I would be ‘prettier’”.

Ronah says that it took her a long time to accept herself for who she is and sought therapy in order to do so.

“I focused on the things about myself I had control over and made peace with the things I didn’t. I had to understand where both emotional and physical insecurities stemmed from, so they didn’t come up repeatedly. 

“It’s taken a lot of time and patience to love myself as I do now. I don’t think the process is linear. The majority of the time I uplift myself but every so often I fall back into old habits. I think it’s normal.”

PASSION

Learning to love oneself can be an ongoing process, but one of the things Ronah is particularly proud of is her strength and passion.

“I love my heart and resilience. I’m still able to pour love into people and everything I do despite past hurt.”

This passion to help others is reflected in both her role as a teacher and a YouTuber living in South Korea. As a teacher, she teaches at an English private school and her YouTube channel serves as a platform to see what it’s like to live in this part of Asia and provide inspiration and insight to others – and in particular, Black women.

“I noticed a lack of representation when it comes to Black women wanting to live and travel to Asia and I wanted to create a community of like-minded people who can muddle through it together,” she tells me.

With a strong support network, Ronah has fully immersed herself into life in South Korea and appreciates many aspects of the country.

“I love the food and fashion here,” she mentions. “There’s always something to do and somewhere new to experience. But what I don’t like about it here is people’s initial reaction to me is to be fearful”.

CHALLENGES

Being a Black female teacher in South Korea has been a difficult experience for Ronah who has faced discrimination for both her race and gender.

“People think you’re incapable of doing things independently. When it comes to race there have been countless issues, especially with parents and their children,” she shares. 

“But it’s all very ‘hush-hush’, like parents moving their children from my class to another non- Black teachers’ class.”

One of the other microaggressions Ronah has faced is the assumption that she is ‘unintelligent’.

“For a few months my work was double-checked. One parent even attempted to ‘re-mark’ the work I’d marked for her child. It took a while for some parents to trust that I’m good at my job.”

Despite these difficulties, Ronah’s experience living in South Korea over the past few months has been positive – and she encourages those who are considering moving to keep their head held high and to not let external factors get them down.

“When people stare, take it as a compliment. Don’t take things too personally. Enjoy it and do everything you felt you couldn’t do where you were before. Although it can feel isolating, you’re not the only one. There’s a community of people who are in the same position that also want to meet like-minded people.”

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