KCONAU Interview: Youtuber HojuSara on language learning and Seoul’s hidden gems!

Hello Asia’s Cassandra Monjo met up with Australian Youtuber HojuSara (formerly known as SeoulSarang) during KCON Australia 2017. Run by Sara Holmes, the Youtube channel works as a bridge between Korean and Australian cultures as Sara presents in Korean a range of exciting activities and restaurants from both countries. In this interview we discuss her studies of the Korean language, the societal influence of K-Pop and her best memories from South Korea.

How do you motivate yourself to keep practising Korean despite the difficulties of learning a foreign language?

For me, a big part of the self-motivation was actually starting a Youtube channel. Because I’m not great at self-study – I’m a very lazy studier, but if I have to study for a reason, that’s what happens. So I was like – if make the Youtube channel in Korean then I have to practice my writing, I have to practice typing for subtitles, I have to learn new vocabulary to speak about. So that was a huge part of getting that self-motivation after university.

Is Youtube your main means of practising Korean? Are there any other ways you try to practise your language skills while in Australia?

Youtube is a big way in the sense that it’s put me in the position to go to Korea a lot. But otherwise – talking with my Korean friends and chatting like that is a really good way to just practice in general. Because I find that for me, conversation is the best. Otherwise – I do have a few textbooks that I’m trying to learn a few complex grammar patterns with. And that’s just plain study, but I definitely prefer just learning through conversation.

What kind of role do you think K-Pop plays in Korean society today? What about in Australian society?

As for Australian society – I found out about Korea through K-Pop, and so did a lot of people that I’ve met. And you find out about it through the music but then you get more into the culture and you’re like ‘ooh, there’s more to Korea than just K-Pop.’ But I think it’s definitely kind of like a fishing hook for Australians. And then in Korea, it doesn’t play as big a role as you would think. Coming from Australia, I thought K-Pop would be everywhere – and there is K-Pop idols everywhere in the sense that there are advertisements and things but most people I meet are like ‘yeah, I like K-Pop’ but they’re not as passionate as the Australian fans are as a general. I mean, there are passionate fans, but I think it is interesting how different it can be. It’s really almost like a gateway to Korea.

Do you think it might influence makeup or fashion trends at all?

Oh, yeah, a hundred percent. You often see things filter down – hairstyles, especially for guys. In Korea now it’s quite common for guys to wear BB cream, and in the past that never happened. Some guys even wear eyeliner and it looks good! I don’t know if that will—I think it will take a while to get to Australian men. I think [regarding] the K-Pop fashion, people are more into fashion in Korea in general. Which is nice – that people put pride into the way they dress, that’s very different to Australia too.

You recently appeared on Arirang TV talking about your work as a content creator on Youtube and your love of Korean food. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?

That was really crazy. Because I live in Australia, sometimes shows contact me but I’m never in the country, and this happened to coincide. They contacted me and I went in and they did my makeup and stuff, which was weird because I’m used to looking a bit of a mess on camera.

You never look a mess on camera, don’t lie! Haha.

I always just kind of sort out my hair and stuff— but anyway, I don’t really mind because it was about food, but it was really weird [because] I have a degree in journalism so normally if I’m doing the talking it’s usually me asking people about their shops. I’ve done a few interviews but it’s usually me leading the conversation. So then to be suddenly put in a situation where everyone’s looking at me to answer, it was like— ‘I don’t know what to do, I’m not used to doing this.’ But it was awesome. They were so lovely and really well-organised. It was a cool experience – you’re in this massive studio and there’s like 3 people in there. It was so surreal. It was pretty cool.

On that note, are there any places or restaurants you would suggest for anyone planning on visiting Korea?

Oh, so many! So many. I always have at least like 15 more places I want to film at than what I’m able to. But at the moment definitely the Mangwon area. There’s Hongdae and then there’s Hapjeong, and Mangwon is right next to that. There’s the most amazing jjajangmyeon (black bean noodles) restaurant. It’s really light and it’s just– every time I go now I have to get that. And in that area there’s all these little hole-in-the-wall cafes, there’s some really cool fusion food, there’s another place where they just make this amazing gelato… there’s all these amazing shops where people just do one thing and they do it really well. So you can get great gelato there which is hard to find in Korea. There’s this macaroon shop which is run by these cute sisters and it’s all in vintage retro outfits, it’s all pink and there’s a mermaid… it’s beautiful. There’s another café where the entrance looks like a vending machine on a wall, and you open the vending machine and walk inside and it’s a café in there. It’s insane. That whole area has so many little gems of amazing restaurants.

And how did you find this area to begin with? Were you just exploring?

That’s because my friends actually live at Hapjeong, and they were like, “you have to see this place.” They actually got a place in there right before it started booming so I’ve been watching it grow over the past 2 years. It’s because Hongdae is really busy now but it’s kind of getting overtaken by the brand-name stores, so all the smaller stores have moved to Mangwon. So any place I’ve found is all thanks to my friends. They’re really good at letting me know what’s happening.

You have good friends! I hear that you visited Korea as an exchange student during your time at university. What are some tips you would give to current university students who are hoping to do the same?

I would definitely say to save up before you go. For me, being Australian, you have to pay for yourself if you want to go on exchange. Work hard and make sure you have enough money to live and do what you want there. And work out what university is best for you. For me, I knew I wanted to learn Korean well, so I went to Yonsei’s language school which meant that you were studying from 9am to 1pm Monday to Friday. [It was] like Korean immersion, and then you had other classes on top of that. So for the people in that class there wasn’t a lot of time for partying and stuff because you had a lot of assessments, so if you want to party, that’s not for you. But if you want to learn Korean, it is. So work out what you want to get out of the exchange – if you want to have fun or if you want it to be something more permanent. Be prepared – it’s a lot of paperwork, like applying through your university, but once it’s done it’s so worth it. It’s amazing.

What are some of the best memories from your travels in South Korea?

That’s a tough one – I went with my mum the first few times and it’s really special to me that we got to do that together. Some of the best memories… it was the worst at the time, but mum and I waited for 8 hours in minus 7 degrees to try to get tickets to a TVXQ concert when we first went [to Korea]. We waited outside all day and we got no tickets! We couldn’t by them online because we didn’t have Korean IDs or anything. And this was when they were at the height of their popularity, so they were sold out, but sometimes there are a few seats left or a few extra seats open up. So we went back the next day and did the exact same thing even earlier. Mum burnt herself with a hot pack– because she was so cold, she didn’t even feel that the hot pack was burning her! But we got tickets that day. They were at the back, they were amazing and we had such a good time. And at the time, we just stood around for 8 hours out in the cold on this oval trying to line up with all these other fans. It’s really dumb, but it’s really one of my favourite memories now.

I don’t think that’s dumb at all. I think it’s really nice that you have such a special memory with your mother. You both have the same interest – even if you’re standing there for 8 hours, you’re together, so it’s fun.

Yeah! And it was cool, because back then K-Pop wasn’t very big in Australia. It’s still not huge in Australia, but like– look at KCON, it’s getting there, it’s pretty big. But at the time not many people really knew about K-Pop so it was just Mum and I doing our thing.

Is there anything you would like to say to all the fans who came to see you at KCON Australia 2017?

To the people who could come, thank you so much! It’s been really nice meeting you guys. I still get surprised that I’ve even got people who watch my videos in Australia. It’s really crazy. And to the people who couldn’t come, I’m so sorry, and hopefully there will be more chances in the future to meet you guys. Because every single one of my viewers who I’ve been able to meet in person has been so cool. Not only lovely and nice but also just really cool and interesting people, and I feel really lucky to have such an audience. I can’t thank you guys enough.

Subscribe to HojuSara’s Youtube channel here!