Updated: May 26
Dealing with Black Hair When Abroad
My natural, thick black hair is beautiful and I wouldn't trade it for anything, but that doesn't make taking care of it abroad any easier...
In the United States, there were plenty of black hair stores, salons, and resources around to not even have to think about my hair that much. No matter where I am, I know I can find a black hair salon or at least the products I need to do my hair at home.
When abroad that's a different story.
Let's take my time in South Korea for example. When living in a small-ish Korean city as an English teacher, I realized I was going to have to figure out what to do with my hair. I used the resources I had and the connections I made to find black hair salons and stylists, but I kept coming up at dead ends.
Teaching abroad was what I wanted to do and I had secured a year-long position. Getting my hair done couldn't be the thing that took me out.
After being in Korea for about 3 months it was time. My new growth was turning into a mini fro and it was getting hot so I was starting to sweat...
I looked into getting my hair done by another expat in the country, but the unreasonable prices and distance from my small city made that a quick no. Folks wanted me to pay more to get my hair done in someone's kitchen that I do to at an actual salon in the States with my trusted beautician? That's a hard pass.
My options were to travel hours away to pay an arm and a leg to get my hair done in someone's kitchen or take my chances with a Korean salon (LOL, no). Neither of those were good options so I turned to my last resort... ME 🙃
To find someone that would be able to do my hair I looked in the mirror... Literally.
To be honest, I didn't come to South Korea with high hopes of finding a black hair salon in 군산시 (Gunsan City). I didn't even come with the hopes of finding black hair products. So, I brought my own. There's plenty of things you can buy abroad that you don't need to bring with you, but black hair products don't always fit in that category.
Before leaving home I got a versatile style that would last me a while. There are a lot of moving parts when moving to a new country and taking one thing off your plate in the process can make a big difference. Doing my own hair is not something I look forward to. If there's one thing I'll drop 80 dollars on it's this scalp.
In many parts of the world, black hair is still a mysterious thing. People are often fascinated and intrigued by the versatility and pure magic that is our kinky naturalness. Maintaining that world wonder is another story especially when living abroad.
The search for a good hairstylist was disappointing, but I couldn't put it off any longer even though I wanted to so one Saturday morning I began the process.
It took me a day to wash and retwist. Yes, I took many multi-hour breaks. My neck almost broke from the weight of my wet hair when I was washing it in the shower.
The next day I styled it into the bob you see pictured. Who told me to try a new style on my own??? I'm considering retwisting and styling an arm workout.
South Korea was a challenge, but what about countries that are familiar with black hair?
I spent 5 months in Dakar, Senegal volunteering as an English teacher and just knew I was going to be able to get my hair done there.
I wasn't wrong... but I wasn't right either.
Similarly to South Korea, I got a versatile style before moving to Senegal so I wouldn't have to worry about my hair immediately after landing. As soon as I touched down I was surrounded by beautiful Black people with hair that looked like mine. From afros to dreads to Senegalese twists, I felt at home 🏡
After a few months it was time to stop ignoring my new growth and start figuring out how I was going to get my edges together. I had made plenty of friends and reached out to get hair salon recommendations.
Once I found a salon, I reached out via WhatsApp and made an appointment. Easy.
I got there and immediately felt comfortable when I ran into another Black expat getting his dreads retwisted too. I mean what were the odds? We started chopping it up and exchanging travel stories. Come to find, he had lived in South Korea, the very destination I would end up going next.
Then, it was time to go to work. After getting a good wash and condition, it was time to start retwisting.
Three women pulled up chairs and began working on my hair. We love an efficient salon, okay?
Less than an hour later I was done, but there was just one problem...
The retwist method wasn't what I typically used in my hair. I thought I had confirmed the method beforehand, but with the language barriers (yes, barriers with an s) who knows what message was received.
Although it wasn't what I was expecting, it was still cute and my scalp felt refreshed. It just wasn't something I would do again because I like what I like. Period.
Living abroad sometimes means having to be extra resourceful and finding ways to do things yourself. From making some of your favorite foods to getting your hair done. There may not be a place to get what you want so you can either do it yourself or go without. In this case, I chose the former.
Whether it's a super homogenous country like South Korea or a country that you think will be able to do what you want, it's always best to air on the side of caution just in case.
For me, I've decided to just do my own hair for the time being. It's annoying and time consuming, but I like the comfort of knowing what I'm getting and it's free so the budget traveler in me is happy 😂
Not having to do my hair everyday or every week is a blessing, but still... Doing my own hair? Overrateddddd. All jokes aside, I DID THAT and continue to do it.
Just know I call my hairstylist expeditiously every time I get back in the States 🤣
Since transitioning into remote work, I've continued to do my own hair, but every now and then I see what the options are for me to get a professional to work their magic. So far it's either been too expensive, too far away, or the classic no response, but I keep trying.
The good thing is now that I'm working completely remote I have the freedom and flexibility to do my hair when I want to. There have been times when I was in meetings with wet, freshly washed hair.
Team Camera Off 💪🏾 All day, everyday!
Having flexible hours gives me these opportunities and I love it. Hell, I've even taken my computer to my hair salon in the States to get my hair done professionally on a weekday without having to use my PTO. We're working smarter, not harder.
This lifestyle definitely comes with ups and downs, but it's taught me how to be adaptable, resourceful, and a lot more! I'm joyriding around the world and even if there are fewer stops at the hair salon, the journey continues!
Have you ever gotten your hair done abroad? Drop your experience in the comments 👇🏾