When Nigerian-Korean model Han Hyun-min went abroad for first time

By Rumy Doo

How biracial model feels on blending in with crowd, newfound fame, studies and positivity

Published : Feb 14, 2018 - 16:33
Updated : Feb 14, 2018 - 18:11

When Han Hyun-min met with The Korea Herald last spring, the then-15-year-old budding model had never traveled outside of Korea. He had never even been on a plane.

Since then, the Nigerian-Korean model has quickly ascended to global fame. He began garnering modest media attention after debuting on Korean brand Heich Es Heich’s runway during the 2016 Fall-Winter Seoul Fashion Week. His striking visuals and smooth walk had caught fashion insiders’ eyes.

In November, Time magazine named him one of the 30 most influential teens of 2017, and his celebrity status skyrocketed. He’s been interviewed by international fashion magazines and modeled for Nike. Han has become a variety program regular on Korean television, entertaining viewers with his easygoing demeanor and schoolboy ingenuousness. He’s fulfilling his wish to travel extensively, filming TV shows and photo shoots all over the globe.

Now in his first year of high school, Han sat down for a second interview with The Korea Herald on Feb. 7 at a cafe in Seoul’s Dongdaemun shopping district, almost a year after our first encounter. He arrived after a long commercial shoot in Gangnam, clad in his school uniform and looking slightly tired but with the ease of someone who’s been through the grind numerous times.

Han Hyun-min poses at a shopping mall in Dongdaemun, Seoul, on Feb. 7. (Park Keon-woo/Inspire-The Korea Herald)


Han Hyun-min poses at a shopping mall in Dongdaemun, Seoul, on Feb. 7. (Park Keon-woo/Inspire-The Korea Herald)


Han recalled our last interview as if reminiscing on a distant memory. “Wow,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s true, I had never been abroad then.” During the past year, however, he has traveled to Europe twice for photo shoots, as well as to North America and Southeast Asia.

“Europe was so nice,” he said, having visited big fashion cities like London and Paris and parts of Portugal. “It was exactly as I had imagined it. Every single building was beautiful.”

From a model’s point of view, London’s fashion had been particularly impressive, he noted. Shops carried niche items that would not have been deemed popular in Korea. When it came to everyday attire, people seemed to march entirely to the beat of their own drums. He took in the street style, both punk and bespoke suits, which he witnessed on the streets of London, drawing inspiration and archiving the looks in his mind.

What struck the biracial model most when gallivanting abroad, however, was neither the different tastes in fashion nor the exotic architecture, but the sensation that he did not “stand out.”

In Korea, the dark-skinned, bushy-haired, 191-centimeter-tall model makes heads turn. Whether out of curiosity or admiration, people tend to do a double take when they spot him, he says.

“But in Europe, they didn’t look at me twice. They just passed by. There were people on the streets who resembled me. It was a kind of feeling I had never felt before in my life,” Han said.



On television shows, Han has frequently told stories of both the subtle and outright discrimination he has experienced growing up here. Friends’ parents would tell their children not to play with him. Insensitive kids would throw around racial slurs. Blatant stares and invasive questions filled his childhood. “There were times I wanted to hide in a hole,” he says. Each time, however, his mother would tell him, “You’re special.”

Han says he regards the Time magazine selection more as a symbolic gesture than an acknowledgement of his current achievements. “I think they’re hoping that more people who look like me or have grown up in backgrounds like mine can have the courage to do bigger things,” he said.

Recently, Han says he’s been able to feel the widening diversity in Korea. His social media accounts flood with messages from other biracial young people living in Korea who say he’s given them confidence. “I think I’ve learned to enjoy people’s looks and the spotlight,” he says. Through Han, fans have come to the realization that being different can now be an advantage in Korean society.
 

Han Hyun-min poses at a shopping mall in Dongdaemun, Seoul, on Feb. 7. (Park Keon-woo/Inspire-The Korea Herald)

Han Hyun-min poses at a shopping mall in Dongdaemun, Seoul, on Feb. 7. (Park Keon-woo/Inspire-The Korea Herald)


In the near future, Han will focus on gaining more experience as a model, both on the runway and in commercial shoots. School is not a priority, he says candidly, with a laugh. “I’ve never been a studying kind of student.”

His next project, premiering this month, is JTBC reality show “Stranger.” Han, the eldest of five siblings, will star with his family and detail his everyday life. He had just finished shooting the first episode prior to the interview. The camera had followed him around at school, as well as at fashion shoots and at home, offering glimpses into the life of a biracial family in Korea. “I joke around with my younger siblings a lot, so that should be fun,” said Han.

In the far future, the model dreams of launching his own clothing brand or perhaps living abroad for a few years. Whatever he pursues, however, Han hopes he can spread positivity through the stage he’s been given.

“I just hope all people can be happy,” he said.

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)  

Park Keon-woo (parkw@heraldcorp.com) and Ahn Sang-yool (koolsangon@heraldcorp.com) contributed to reporting.



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The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation