How it's like for a Filipina to study pro makeup in South Korea

We’re all beauty enthusiasts in various stages of our love affair with makeup here at Project Vanity. Some are just starting to dabble, some are already skincare and makeup junkies, and others have turned their passion to a vocation as professional makeup artists. Studying beauty in a formal setting, investing in a kit, and leveling up your techniques are no easy tasks but imagine doing all of that in a foreign country where the language is also totally different from your own!

If you’re curious to know what that would be like, we’ve got a story to share. Meet Kristel Yap, a.k.a. Tellie of the blog Beauty By Tellie, who has just graduated from a pro makeup artistry course in South Korea. SoKor as you know is the beauty capital of the world so we were dying to know how and what she learned there! We chatted with Tellie about making the big move, a first-hand look at K-beauty culture, and of course, the best beauty tips she’s learned from her stay.

The anatomy of the shift

Tellie likens her decision to study makeup abroad to a tidal wave. From believing that life was just about studying, finishing school, and settling into a boring job, she realized that her musings were those of a school-sheltered youth. Kristel explains, “What hit me like a tsunami in the open sea was how uncertain real life actually is. A job was totally not at all like [being in high school or college].”

In an attempt to inject some much-needed clarity to the situation, she opted to give herself a gap year after college to explore her options. While she admits that there were no ocean-deep personal revelations, it was still a precious period of time. “I deeply cherish that I had this luxury of pulling myself away from that slowly suffocating mindset of limiting my own options to what everyone else was doing. Everyone in my batch was getting jobs left and right—and in multinationals, to boot. It was so easy to feel inferior and compelled to prove myself in the same field, regardless of my actual interest in those jobs.”

After her self-imposed deadline arrived, she decided to eschew an extension in favor of landing a job. She reasons, “If my choice wasn’t clear to me by this time, then I would see the world and make it clear to myself.” Thus she found herself working a brief stint in PR and then trying her hand at the family business. And while it was a comfy job with great hours and benefits, she found herself wanting more, four years down the line.

“I started beauty blogging,” she says. “I figured the way to be happy in life is to take care of both basic and high needs. I loved makeup, so I started there. It was hard work and a lot of the internet stuff is so uninteresting to me but I slowly realized what life should have been like. Through my blog journey and the various beauty bloggers I’ve met, I learned that it is possible to do just what you want and nothing else. I’ve met freelancers and creatives who are, SHOCKER, not paupers and happy with their lives. Successful people were always going to be successful, and deadbeats like my ex were always going to find something to blame. So an important question came into my head: Kristel, what can you stomach to do every day, even when your stomach has nothing in it?

So into SoKo

It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment fancy that convinced Kristel to study abroad. The notion of leaving the Philippines wasn’t even in her radar initially but after narrowing her local options down to two schools and finding out that their beauty education philosophies weren’t exactly her cup of tea, she decided to make the selection based on what beauty theory she liked and which school best catered to it. She recalls, “It was a very long decision, first deciding between focusing on Western or Asian beauty. Western beauty has a richer history and has been well-developed through the years but fashionable cities like Paris and LA no longer have the monopoly on the spotlight as trendsetters. I felt that they were starting to look to Asia for ideas, and myself being Asian, found myself highly attuned to this beauty theory.”

Of course, the decision wasn’t without its challenges. For one, the language barrier was going to be an obstacle. “All of my five considerations (Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul) would require me to learn a new language, though I refrained from letting that limit me,” she emphasizes. “If this is what I want in life, I want to pull no stops.”

After careful consideration, K-Beauty was the one that stood out. She cites their attention to detail and their face-enhancing techniques as the deciding factor. “Any country’s daily look is easy to admire, but it is in the specialized looks that you can tell more about a country’s beauty theory. Overall, I liked K-Wedding, K-Pop, and K-Beauty (Television/Media) across the board the most. Even dated K-Beauty is pretty to me!” When asked to explain what makes K-Beauty unique, she notes with admiration, “The colors are so soft, almost nothing, but the end result is such a fresh-faced prettiness that, to me, embodies what makeup should really do.” 

Tellie enrolled in a six-month professional course at the Makeup Forever Academy in Seoul, as well as a language school to help with her makeup classes and day-to-day communication. Her course covered two major segments: beauty (bridal, K-pop, etc.) and art (body painting and special effects). Though there are still times when Tellie ponders what it would’ve been like to get a Japanese education, she doesn’t regret her choice. “After learning more about K-Beauty theory, I cannot imagine being more at home with any other beauty philosophy.”

At the heart of the action

What are the perks to experiencing a beauty and fashion capital firsthand? Tellie says that just being there was already educational in itself. “I may not watch the latest K-Dramas nor follow any idols but living there, seeing what people actually wear on their faces daily, and what my teachers proclaim as pretty versus what they promote in pop culture have given me a fuller sense of K-Beauty Theory. Many have told me I could have easily done everything in the Philippines but I don’t think anyone or anything on the internet can give me this deep of an understanding of the whole picture.”

And of course, it doesn’t hurt to be the first in the world when it comes to sighting new K-beauty releases and trends. “Witnessing the first wave of promotions for whatever new product or trend keeps me ahead of the pack,” she says. “For example, Filipinas are still struggling with the red eye look but having already seen so many variations in Korea give me several ideas on how to pull it off. It feels nice to have some kind of insider info, I’m not going to lie. Of course, I’m also prone to take more risks because of being exposed to more new things but when have I never not liked that?”

Looking to the future

Now that Tellie has finished her studies, it’s full steam ahead with her intention to work in the Philippines as a freelance artist. To maintain her edge, she takes a practice-makes-perfect approach. She shares, “I’m aiming to practice three hours a day whenever I don’t have gigs, to maintain and elevate my skill level.”

For now, she can definitely see herself going down the beauty and bridal route. “When I started studying, I thought I’d be in it only for bridal beauty,” she explains. “I still love bridal but having had practical experience in fashion shows, photo shoots, and actually studying SFX has me conflicted now more than ever. I love the overall atmosphere of weddings: getting to know clients on the happiest day of their lives, spending time with families, and listening to cute love stories are fun to do for work. It doesn’t hurt that I love the wedding aesthetic as well.”

Seeing the products of her hard work on the runway has its own special appeal as well. “My fashion show internship opened my eyes to how fashion work really goes, and I love it as well. I hardly crack under time pressure, and the work goes by super-fast with interesting perks to boot – fashion work earns you an all-access backstage pass to the whole venue, not just a single fashion show. And in terms of couture and editorial practice, I prefer fashion shows to photo shoots as photo shoots can last a whole day!”



Tellie shares that her experience of professional makeup training in the home of K-Beauty has definitely changed her makeup game for the better. She pins the most important lessons into five beauty habits: 

#1 Skincare pre-makeup is a game changer. “Bawal ang tamad sa skincare,” she warns. “This is a Pinay’s worst trait and it’s also the most non-negotiable. We have so many reasons not to use skincare pre-makeup whether it’s the humid weather, uncomfortable feeling, or thinking that your skin is already fine. Skincare helps bind the makeup to the skin layer, and it’s in these small details that you can take your face from an okay to a wow!” 

Especially with the eyes of a trained MUA, it’s easy to pinpoint what gives a good FOTD that polished look. “I used to think dry skin flakes were not visible but making them truly invisible via skincare has made my foundation look so much more refined! I personally love to use the Hada Labo Super Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizing Lotion (an moisturizing toner with a runny texture) on oily skin, while I use the Lotion and/or Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Milk for dry to combination skin types.”

#2 Massage your skincare to lock all the good stuff in. “The secret Korean facial massage is to actually use your fingertips up to your intermediate phalanges (the area above your knuckles),” she divulges. “Use four fingers, from pointer to pinky, to rub your skincare on your face until your skin has fully absorbed the product and your hands feel somewhat dry already. Simply slathering it on top of your skin creates a ‘loose’ layer of skincare that might not be absorbed as well and cause you to miss out on the special skincare ingredients you are paying for.”

#3 If contouring is too tricky, try simple shading. “Contouring can be intimidating for a lot of people, and cheekbone blending often ends up looking muddy or bruise-like,” she observes. “If you want to slim your face the easy way, try applying a simple stripe of a soft-toned brown along the sides of your face and blend it inward. It is your next best alternative to contouring!” 

Shading is quicker, requires less skill, and helps “Tasty Bread” face (flat and wide face syndrome). She advises, “Just remember: the widest section of the stripe goes on the widest area of your front profile and the darkest gradation goes on the outermost part of your face.”

#4 Don’t forget your underline. The Koreans were on to something when they popularized the technique of shading the aegyo-sal or the fatty area of the undereye. Tellie says, “Pinays are rightfully scared of drawing baggy-looking lines under our eyes but neglecting them completely also makes one’s eyes looks too fierce and squinted. Some light shadow in this area can make your eyes look bigger and rounder.”

#5 Try straight eyeliner for a change. She’s seen her fair share of cat eye makeup in the Philippines but Tellie is prefers the Korean trend of a thin, subtle, and straight liner technique that makes chinita eyes look longer and bigger.

Have you ever considered pursuing a career that celebrated your love for makeup? What steps did you take to achieve it?

Images courtesy of Kristel Yap