3:28 pm - 02/14/2018

How Han Hyun-min feels on blending in with crowd, newfound fame, studies and positivity

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 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.

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.

sources: The Korea Herald 1 & 2
nekokonneko 14th-Feb-2018 11:38 pm (UTC)
i'm so happy to see my son prosper <3 i'm really curious to see the reality show about him and his family and i ought to watch that english learning show that he's on
fadeintoyou 14th-Feb-2018 11:59 pm (UTC)

I recently watched him on Knowing brothers and just fell instantly in like with him. he’s so good natured and genuine. I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for his reality show with his fam. Sounds pretty interesting and something I’d watch.

On another note, I totally feel him about being in a place where you don’t stand out. Born and bred Asian in the states. I have yet to set foot outside of the u.s. and can’t wait for the day I do so I can be in a sea of people who are also Asian to see how that feels. Granted there’s pockets of Asian communities here but it’s not the same.

jazzygyu 15th-Feb-2018 02:54 am (UTC)
In Europe he's a minority there too though. It feels like he was just amazed at not being stared at cuz in Europe people are use to seeing black people so he doesn't get stared at like he would in Korea. In the states your not gonna get stared at for being Asian like you would if you lived in a homogenous society where your one of the few Asians there.

Edited at 2018-02-15 03:30 am (UTC)
fadeintoyou 15th-Feb-2018 04:51 am (UTC)

Actually, where I live in the states, depending on which part of the state you visit, you will still get stares for being a person of color. Parts of the south are still predominantly white.

jazzygyu 15th-Feb-2018 02:48 pm (UTC)
Can I ask where you are from? Cuz I can count the number of black people on my hand where I live but no one stares at me cuz I'm black. Granted there are other ignorant things I've had to deal with but not staring...sorry I don't mean to dismiss what you've gone through, just never heard of it happening in the US.
degloss 15th-Feb-2018 12:24 am (UTC)
“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.
I almost cried reading that, I'm so happy for the rise of his career. I think it's so interesting seeing the differences with generational diasporas
cosmicdaze 15th-Feb-2018 12:30 am (UTC)
he's such a gem! i'm glad to see that he's doing so well. and i can relate to what he said about blending in and not getting a second glance, but in the reverse. i'm not asian, so when i went to korea i stuck out like a sore thumb. i can't imagine that being my reality everyday as i grow up. even tho i'm biracial myself, mixed black and white kids were a dime a dozen in all the places i grew up.

i'll definitely be checking out that show with him and his family when it comes out.
ty 15th-Feb-2018 02:30 am (UTC)
Beautiful man!
pikapika217 15th-Feb-2018 02:56 am (UTC)
pikapika217 15th-Feb-2018 02:57 am (UTC)
otraera 15th-Feb-2018 03:19 am (UTC)
“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.

omg this line, my heart!!
mjspice 15th-Feb-2018 06:18 am (UTC)
That's so cool. Hope he becomes a bigger name.
audiograms 15th-Feb-2018 06:26 am (UTC)
I have always been a supporter, I worry over him bc ppl sexualise him and he is so young but I am happy he is going well.
misspoirot 15th-Feb-2018 09:43 am (UTC)
HES SUCH A PRECIOUS CHILD. I watched him on Radio Star and he was so funny and lovable ahhhh
sra_interesante 15th-Feb-2018 12:43 pm (UTC)
wow ... people forget he's just 15

he's even younger than somi , kyla or jinsol, let's give him some space too
existingisfunny 15th-Feb-2018 01:01 pm (UTC)
yes, i see this on tumblr all the time. no one bothers to look up his age and they assume he's a grown man and make comments about his attractiveness. i even see a difference in how ppl will call a lot of idols son but they don't treat hyunmin this way. it feels like that immediate sexualization & treating black children as adult and i think it also has to do with him having dark skin.

side note; i also get so frustrated with how hyunmin was assumed to have spoken english because he's black as if he's black american?? i feel like his specific nigerian ethnicity keeps being washed in favor of black for whatever reasons ppl have in doing that.

- a black person
jazzygyu 15th-Feb-2018 02:32 pm (UTC)
People have been really ignorant about him. Like I've see Kpop fans bluntly say he's attractive because of his Korean features. While I'm not trying to erase his identity... he looks more black than he does Korean. It really annoys me that people think the only reason a person can be attractive is because of their non-black side.
sjtaazrz 16th-Feb-2018 04:28 pm (UTC)
To you're first point: I made a gif set of him and was pleasantly surprised at all of the "my son" "precious child" "protect him" tags I saw. People probably are sexualizing him, but, fortunately, I haven't seen much of it.

Secondly, I think people forget that he's not an idol/someone who planned to be a celebrity. For other young, biracial people like Somi or Vernon, people expect them to speak two languages not only because it will help internationally but because there is so much pressure to speak English well for school/job prospects. Having an English-speaking parent around is seen as a free tutor, but Hyunmin's parents don't seem like they were prepping him for anything. His mom mentioned that he didn't like speaking/studying English as a kid, and she just didn't pressure him.

I saw his Knowing Brothers episode, and it seems like the novelty is rubbing off and people are focusing on his personality more.
modestgoddess79 15th-Feb-2018 02:57 pm (UTC)
I can't imagine the kind of alienation he deals with everyday. I'm glad he got to experience traveling abroad.
aviv 15th-Feb-2018 05:37 pm (UTC)
this kid is so precious <3
blck_ink 15th-Feb-2018 08:34 pm (UTC)
he's so cute!! i'm really happy that people are willing to listen to him and his experiences!!
minho_lover 16th-Feb-2018 12:56 am (UTC)
he's such a good kid ;A; wish him all the best
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