I’ll never know for sure what could have happened, but I only became more set in following my instinct as a woman.
During my 3rd year of university, I was studying for a semester abroad in South Korea.
I’ve been working part-time since I was 16. On a student visa in Korea, I wasn’t permitted to get an official part-time job.
So I decided, to make a few extra bucks while I was there, I would start tutoring in English.
In the height of my tutoring work, I had three students I was meeting with regularly. I would have a new student reply to my advertisement maybe once every few weeks.
One potential male student, I remember very clearly.
He was in his late-twenties and wanted to improve his English so that he could have better work opportunities. That was a pretty standard motivation for my students when it came to reaching out to me for conversational tutoring.
Nothing was out of the ordinary with this situation... not yet at least.
We agreed to meet outside the gate of my host university to walk to a nearby café 2 minutes away and chat about the potential of tutoring.
Meeting in a public space.
Even at 20-years-old, I knew I needed to be careful and protect myself from any possible dangers. My Momma had taught me right.
The world is a dangerous place for women. My parents and I have watched Liam Neeson’s “Taken” together (both a blessing and a curse).
For that reason, this potential student and I met at the gate outside of my school, a well-tread and public space on a busy street, where we could then walk to the coffee shop.
I walked outside the gate, and was greeted almost immediately by a Korean man in his late 20s who was easily 6 ft. tall. He was visibly larger than me with a bulky build that towered my not-so-tiny frame. For the average Korean male, he was taller and larger physcially in a lot of ways. That was surprising, but despite his possibly threatening stature, he was still a Korean man. Culturally, based on my experience, I found Korean men exceptionally respectful.
I felt safe in this country and culture. That false sense of security almost got me in big, big trouble.
The fear of being rude can almost overshadow one’s intuition.
Soon after our greeting, he motioned to a car parked by the curb. It was a black SUV with tinted black windows.
“Get in, I will drive us. It will be faster.”
I hesitated for a moment. Dozens of thoughts ran through my head all at once. Such as:
1. Korean culture tends to be safer, I’ve never had a negative experience.
2. In Korean culture, refusing an offer is considered incredibly impolite, and can truly cause offence.
3. Perhaps this man was just trying to be thoughtful?
In a foreign country, not wanting to offend anyone, I initially agreed to accept the ride. I needed another client, needed the money to travel, and didn’t want to lose this potential student before I even landed the deal.
We started walking towards the car, and the closer we got, the more my instincts started screaming at me that something was very wrong with this equation.
I decided that avoiding causing offence wasn’t worth the risk of putting myself in danger.
My heart beat more rapidly. The SUV was so standard-looking. The windows were tinted. Something was wrong. Something was off.
And wait a minute, it would be faster to just walk to the café than get in the car and try to find parking. What the f*ck was I doing?
So I went back on taking up his offer for a ride.
He insisted I join him.
“No, it’s fine. It’s only a 2-minute walk, I’ll go grab us a table and meet you there.”
He insisted more, even opening the passenger side door, and motioning firmly for me to get in.
I refused once again, more firmly.
I still can’t forget the moment when I saw his body tense a little, and he looked around, noting how public the space was that we were in. My heart sank as I hoped I didn’t just see a guy’s ulterior motive be foiled.
He gruffly said something along the lines of “fine”. He then got into his car and drove off.
I walked toward the cafe, unsure if he would even be there to meet with me.
I sat in the café, waiting, and eventually, he showed up 10 minutes later.
“I make a lot of money. Western women like men who make a lot of money, yes?”
I cringed, holding my cup of coffee, feeling so incredibly relieved that I was in a highly public space.
I kept trying to talk about tutoring, he kept asking me personal questions like:
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“What are you looking for in a man?”
“What are your favourite things to do?”
Again, I was desperate for the money. So even though I felt super weird about him, as long as we were meeting in highly public spaces and I was getting paid, I was down to tutor him.
I told him to text me if he wanted to continue with lessons.
We’d agreed on a price, we agreed on frequency for tutoring lessons.
And I never, not once, heard from him after that.
I still shiver at the thought of what his real intentions were, and what might have actually happened if I’d gotten into his window-tinted SUV.
This goes to show: always trust your instincts.
Don't be afraid of being rude and blunt -- say what you need to say to get yourself out of a suspicious situation.
At the end of the day, safety must come first. And while we as women have been raised in a society that tells us to be meek and mild, we don't owe any of that shit to anyone.