Budding influencers find a big audience interested in life in Korea
Daniela González Pérez, a 28-year-old Colombian masters graduate at Ewha Womans University, has more than 121,000 followers on Instagram and 294,600 on TikTok under the username @danigonpe1. Those followers did not come from years of Colombian content, but because she is one of a growing number of influencers who have found success sharing her stories of studying in Korea with the rest of the world.
“The reason I started creating content was because I wanted to show Latin people that there are options,” she said. “I have a lot of young followers, and I always try to teach the importance of education and inspire my audience to look for opportunities to further their education.”
González Pérez has also fallen in love with the overall culture in Korea, especially K-pop. She often creates content related to K-pop based on on-site videos she took while attending concerts. In fact, her following grew explosively after singer PSY reposted one of her videos of his appearance at a university festival on TikTok.
Sasha Smirnova from Russia, also known as @study.in.korea on Instagram, had never actually planned to study in Korea. She visited the country while traveling, but eventually decided she didn’t want to leave and started finding ways to stay here longer.
The biggest appeal of Korea, according to her, is that “everyday something is happening.”
“Seoul never sleeps, Korea never rests,” she said. “Korea is fast, too fast, and I love it.”
To extend her visa, the simplest option was to start studying, and as she looked for information she found that there were many hidden programs that were not promoted enough and therefore not exploited enough. She started her journey as a content creator by sharing information she found about ways to study and enjoy Korea more easily.
González Pérez and Smirnova are part of an ever-growing community of non-Korean creators that have found success sharing their love for living and studying here. The Korea JoongAng Daily reached out to some of those budding influencers to discuss their life here and the pros and cons of living as a content creator in a foreign country.
‘I can do so much here’
Camille Lorgeoux, also known as @an.yongkorea on social media, is a 25-year-old French Korean language student at Ewha Womans University who started posting regular videos last year.
“I felt like I knew enough of the culture to be able to start to share it,” said Lorgeoux. “With the Covid-19 situation, the borders were still closed, and French people are really interested in everything K-pop and K-culture, so I wanted to share more about it.”
Lorgeoux first came to Korea as an exchange student curious to explore a culture very different from her own in 2019, then returned in 2021 on a working holiday visa, before finally arriving as a language student looking to settle in Korea more permanently.
“In Korea, I feel more legitimate as a content creator because the content interests people. While I am simply posting about my life, I am also introducing a culture that can inspire others,” said Lorgeoux.
As of now, Lorgeoux is still a smaller creator on the platforms with around 2,600 followers on Instagram, but finds plenty of opportunities resulting from her social media presence.
Even content creators with smaller followings can find multiple support programs in Korea, such as the Korea Cultural Center’s K-influencer program, which trains them in editing and audience analytics. Lorgeoux is participating in the Gyeonggi Tourism Foreign Supporter Program operated by the Gyeonggi Tourism Organization. The program finances trips around Gyeonggi for content creators.
“In France, with a similar account, people would not care — I would just be a drop in a big ocean,” said Lorgeoux. “Here, I can do so much even with a smaller audience.”
‘Coming to Korea, I felt very welcomed’
Shada Faith Malone is a 21-year-old American Yonsei University student who shares funny skits and other content about her life in Korea on social media. Her content has gathered over 47,000 followers on TikTok under @shadafaith.
“Coming to Korea, being in a different sea of people, I felt very welcomed,” said Malone. “I have a very good community here.”
“When I first came to Korea, my family was not very open to me studying here,” said Malone. “I wanted to show them the good things Korea offers.”
Malone started making content on YouTube when she first moved to Korea in 2018 to share information about the U.S government’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth, and the opportunities that got her to Korea. Her interest in South Korea sparked from her high school’s fundraiser with Liberty in North Korea, a nonprofit organization that helps North Korean refugees in South Korea.
“I learned of the scholarship through an old YouTube video, and I thought it would be a good idea to make an update,” said Malone.
Malone started TikTok after high school graduation, making videos about her everyday life and information about studying in Korea — before she saw her account deleted and had to re-start.
“The saddest part about losing my account was that I had so many memories — vacations, starting college with my family,” said Malone. “It felt like I lost a little piece of myself that I could not get back.”
For Malone, creating content is not all fun and games, as she would receive hate comments branding her as a “Koreaboo,” a derogatory term among K-pop fans for somebody that is obsessed with and fetishizes Korean content.
“Any creator that starts making content about Korea is automatically tagged as a Koreaboo,” said Malone. “People ask; ‘why did you move to Korea? Is it because of K-pop, K-drama, or do you fetishize Korean men?’”
According to Malone, people should understand that there are a lot of people interested in different aspects of Korea, not only K-pop or Korean men and women.
‘Europe could learn so much from Korea’
Burcu Durmuser, known as @juju.inseoul on Instagram, is a German office worker of Turkish descent who posts snippets of her life in Korea and posts related to language, with a growing audience of over 30,000 followers.
Durmuser’s interest in Korea was sparked when her mother started watching K-dramas when she was in high school, and she began to notice cultural similarities between Korea and Turkey, as well as how beautiful she found the language.
Durmuser first came to Korea as an exchange student at Inha University but later returned in 2018 as a Global Korea Scholarship (GKS) scholar for her masters at Yonsei University, intending to settle down. The GKS is a grant from the Korean government to financially support international students’ studies in Korea.
“In Germany, I was seen as Turkish, but in Turkey, I was seen as German,” said Durmuser. “But when I arrived in Korea, for the first time in my life, no one judged me for where I came from. Everyone was so welcoming.”
Durmuser loves everything about Korea, from the people and the food to the public transport.
“I feel like Europe could learn so much from Korea,” said Durmuser. “Korea is very convenient. For example, transport-wise, the KTX is never delayed.”
Durmuser started regularly creating content in October 2021 when she was still a student at Yonsei University. With her page, she aims to be a digital tour guide in Korea for her followers.
“I wanted to start making content as soon as I arrived, to show the country and give more information on the scholarship I got,” said Durmuser. “The road here was not easy; getting the GKS was very competitive and my professors always discouraged me.”
‘Creating content reminds me how lucky I am’
González Pérez started creating content in 2020, right as the Covid-19 pandemic started. She first came to Korea as an exchange student in 2016 and decided to return for her masters in 2020 as a GKS scholar.
“Creating content keeps reminding me how lucky I am to be in Korea and all the opportunities I have,” said González Pérez. “After living here for a while, everything starts to feel ordinary, but creating content makes me think from my audience’s perspective, keeping everything feeling new and exciting.”
Despite her passion, she faces hurdles as she had to balance study and life to create content. Also, as her audience is mainly based in Latin America, she struggles with the time difference when interacting and connecting with her fans.
“Fourteen hours of time difference with my following makes the process more difficult — I post at 3 a.m., and I am awake hours after, replying to comments,” said González Pérez, who said she often trades hours of sleep to keep up with her social media.
“I treat creating content like its a part-time job, except I do not get paid,” she said. “Because my audience is based in Latin America, I find it difficult to find exposure to Korean-based companies or brands compared to Korean content creators who have the same following.”
Regardless, González Pérez sees her content as an opportunity to expand her portfolio, especially as she is interested in the field of marketing and would like to pursue her career in that area.
“I believe if I manage to grow my own accounts, I might as well also be a professional,” said González Pérez, who has since joined the Korea JoongAng Daily as an in-house influencer. “This also means that I’m learning all the platforms.”
‘I feel like I have not even seen half of it’
Smirnova shares information about scholarships, degrees and other academic topics on Instagram, where she saw her audience rise to over 25,000 followers in the span of 11 months.
Smirnova first arrived in Korea in December 2021, intending to only stay briefly before moving on to other parts of Asia. As a digital nomad since the start of the pandemic, Smirnova was accustomed to hopping between different countries — until she became enamored with Korea.
“Korea is not very welcoming to digital nomads at all,” said Smirnova. “But I fell in love with the country and wanted to stay, so I am finding studies.”
During her search, Smirnova realized that Korea hid golden opportunities for students on clunky, outdated websites, and decided she wanted to make the information more accessible.
“Before starting social media, I was a very private person,” said Smirnova. “When I wanted to come to Korea and find a program, I had to research about schools, grading criteria, professors and the language.”
“People are starting to realize that Korea is awesome for education,” said Smirnova. “But Korean sites, like university sites, are mostly in Korean, or hard to navigate— it really discourages students from searching more.”
“Part of my full-time job is research — I do it a lot, and I do it well; not everyone can do that,” said Smirnova. “I find the information, contact admission officers. Korea has tons of scholarships or programs that are uploaded on old pages that fail to promote them.”
For Smirnova, the fun of living in Korea lies in how fast living here is and how much there is to do, unlike in other countries she has lived in.
“I do not have time to live; there is always something new to try, something new to eat. Other countries are not like that,” said Smirnova. “After nine months in Korea, I still have tons of plans; I feel like I have not even seen half of it.”
‘I love how dynamic Korea is’
Mehtap Oezkan, a 25-year-old from Switzerland with Turkish origins, started to post short funny skits inspired by her life in Korea on TikTok last year under the username @mehtapisme. Now, Oezkan has accumulated over 97,000 followers on Instagram and 293,000 followers on TikTok.
Oezkan first arrived in Korea as an exchange student in 2017 at Busan National University, after taking Japanese studies sparked an interest in Korea. She thought as she has learned the Japanese perspective of the history with Korea and the colonization, she should also learn how Koreans see it.
After her exchange, Oezkan returned to Switzerland to work for a local company, but wanting to return, she proposed to open a Korean branch and was sent to Korea as the branch head.
“I love how dynamic this country is,” said Oezkan. “Swiss people like the comfort of the now, and it is very hard to introduce anything unconventional, but I feel like, in Korea, people are more open to accepting something new, like new cafés or new technology.”
“I just started to make videos for fun,” said Oezkan. “only recently I started to post daily, but because of my schedule, if I want to blog, for example, I have to find cafés open at midnight.”
Unlike many of her followers’ impression that she has plenty of downtime, Oezkan is a full-time office worker in Korea, often working long overtime hours, and making videos takes a big part of her limited free time.
“I do my videos after work — I sleep very little, maybe three hours a day,” said Oezkan. “I drink more coffee than water.”
While balancing a full-time job, social media, social life and sleep is a challenge for Oezkan, the feedback she receives from her followers on social media keeps her motivated to continue creating.
“Some of my followers have told me that I motivated them to learn Korean, or that I motivated them to come here,” Oezkan said. “It seems so surreal. It convinces me that it is worth putting in the work and taking the time to make content.”
Although there are also the hate comments she said she now tries to separate baseless comments and those that are actual criticisms she can learn from, recalling a time when she deleted her post after criticism that she used a misleading title as click bate.
“I used to delete hate comments, but lately my followers would reply instead of me,” she said. “I’m trying to see it as engagement.”
BY LAURA SENIOR PRIMO [firstname.lastname@example.org]