Interview: Jen Feurtado from 'Essentials in Black'
It was a typical evening two years ago in New York City when I decided to spend the rest of the day at a language Meetup. That night I met Jen Feurtado; she stood out in the crowd - not only as one of the few women of color within the Asian language section, but due to her amazing fashion, dazzling smile, and larger-than-life personality that brought a breath of fresh air to those around her.
Jen is one of my strongest black female allies – from talking about our traveling dreams over Korean BBQ to spending the day at Curlfest, I've truly treasured the memories we've built together.
1. Hey Jen! First things first - please introduce yourself.
Hi! My name is Jennifer but most people call me Jen , Jen-Jen, or Jenny. I’m from Honduras but grew up in Jamaica, Queens. I’m a preschool teacher by day and everything else by night. I’m a wannabe chef, yogi in training, shopaholic, cat-mom and a lover of traveling and exploring (that hates planes). I live my life by my five passions I like to call “the 5 f’s”, (faith, family, fashion, food, and fitness).
2. When did you fall in love with Korean culture and language?
I went to a very diverse high school in Elmhurst, New York called Newtown High School. I was blown away by how diverse it was. Growing up in Jamaica, Queens in the 90’s and early 2000’s, unfortunately there wasn’t as much diversity as it’s becoming now. You would have to leave the neighborhood to be introduced to other cultures. As soon as high school came around I felt that I finally had a choice on where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do and see, and so I left and headed over to Elmhurst.
Newtown had all walks of life, shades, languages, and personalities thrown at you all at once. It was a bit of a shock on my first day, but I felt like I was home. I liked the diversity and variety. I had many friends from different countries and loved when we had Multicultural Day - that’s when I first tried sushi and loved it. I was very active in school and was involved in different programs that they offered.
I was on the step team when I met Amy, a Korean-Egyptian girl with such a bubbly personality. We would go over to her house after practice because she lived right across the street, and her mother would fill our mouths full of food. I was hooked. The food was so delicious; I wanted to taste more, learn more, and hear her mother speak to her in Korean. This was all new to me and I was so enamored! And then there was K-Pop and the fashion; I thought Backstreet Boys and NSYNC were enough, but then these K-Pop groups were introduced and I was hooked. It was a great first introduction to Korean culture and language.
Fast forward many, many, many, years later I found myself in a relationship and in love with someone despite coming from different cultures, upbringings, and backgrounds. I didn’t see race or color. I saw someone I loved, and he was Korean. This was my second great experience with the Korean culture. I learned even more about the culture through him and began learning how to speak Korean. Although we are no longer together my love for the culture didn’t end there. I began taking beginner Korean language classes in Flushing, downloaded language learning apps, attended language-learning Meetup groups, and started looking into the possibility of teaching in Seoul.
3. What are the greatest challenges you faced while learning Korean and being in the language-exchange space?
Korean is so so so hard. During our classes, we learned how to write simple notes to our loved ones, one single line wrong can mean something different or not make any sense at all. A lot of my writings didn’t make sense [laughs]. Good laughs and good times. It was fun.
I really wish that I could have met someone in the language-learning spaces that truly was interested in teaching me Korean and not trying to date me. As soon as I expressed that I wasn’t looking for something romantic, but rather someone to teach me or practice my Korean with, they stop communicating.
4. Tell us what your dream trip to Korea would be like!
So like I said in my introduction, I’m a travel-lover – but I hate planes! So, my dream trip to Korea would definitely start off with me flying in business class to Seoul for 2 weeks minimum. I think flying business class would make me forget about how long the flight is – not to mention extra leg room for my long legs!
Upon arrival I’d want to shop, eat, eat, shop, eat, shop and eat. Definitely go to the touristy places like in Myeong-dong, Gyeongbokgung, Insa-dong, Seoul tower, Bukhansan National Park, Changdeok Palace, and Dongdaemun Market. That’s just to name a few. I would love to befriend someone’s halmeoni, (Korean for "grandma"), for some home-cooked food too.
5. What travel/language advice would you give other people of color who are interested in learning Korean?
Don’t be afraid to just dive right in. Don’t be afraid of being a person of color standing out. If you’re not afraid of flying and don’t mind the long flights, and even if you do, just get on a plane and go to Korea. I’m working on my business class ticket as we speak. One of the best ways to learn a new language is to submerge yourself fully into it. Do your research. Don’t give up and YouTube is your best friend.
6. If we want to learn more about you, where can we find you? (i.e: social channels, your own website, etc.)
I can be found on Instagram at @jenjen_inblack. I also have my own Meetup group, “Proud Afro-Latinas and the people that love them”. Please, all walks of life can join us and learn more about one another! My blog is under construction, but if you’d like to check it out you can at, Essentials in Black.