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Rediscovering the Beauty of Hanbok
Rediscovering the Beauty of Hanbok

Hanbok Content Creator 'Hanbok Girl Mona', Younghyeon Lee (Business Administration, Entering Class of ‘15)

The Joseon Woman Born in the 21st Century

Younghyeon Lee is known for making headlines by posting her record of traveling around the world wearing hanbok on social media such as Instagram. With Younghyeon herself saying that she was 'born in the wrong century,' she has been working as a hanbok content creator as well as an influencer through her channel, "Hanbok Girl Mona," promoting the beauty of hanbok and its culture both at home and abroad. Younghyeon promotes hanbok through a variety of contents such as travel pictures and records of activities taken in hanbok, and instead of unilaterally accepting hanbok as traditional culture, her channel serves as a cultural bridge so that anyone can naturally rediscover the beauty and value of hanbok so that it can be brought into their daily lives.

Beyond 'Pretty Dress,' Hanbok Is a Culture

Younghyeon's love for hanbok began since childhood. While hanbok is usually worn during traditional holidays like Seollal (Lunar New Year) or Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving), her extraordinary affection for this traditional dress often forced her parents to take out her hanbok stored deep in the wardrobe as she insisted to wear it all the time.

"I've loved hanbok since I was a kid. There was no particular reason. Come to think of it, I was fascinated by the splendor and the exterior volume of hanbok, which resembled clothes for princesses. When other friends would draw western princesses from fairy tales, I recall drawing oriental princesses. I guess  I've been interested in oriental culture since I was young, maybe that's why I fell in love with hanbok?"

Younghyeon learned the value of hanbok, clothing that represents the Korean culture, as she participated in various international events in high school. Be it her participation in the 'Jeju International Youth Forum' as a panelist, or 'World Conservation Conference,' which is also known as an 'Olympics of environment,' where solutions for global environmental issues are discussed, in which she volunteered as a translator, she was always dressed in hanbok. Younghyeon's avid interest in foreign languages and cultures has brought her to master them to an outstanding level, and this also contributed to her love for hanbok, as she saw hanbok's hidden value as a medium of culture rather than it being just a pretty dress.

Pursuing the Dreams at Yonsei

It might come as a surprise to know that Younghyeon is a business administration student at Yonsei instead of majoring in fields such as fashion or art, especially when considering her love for hanbok and her current occupation as a hanbok content creator.

"I had interests in too many fields. Until high school, I wanted to study astronomy in university, and I also prepared for the art school entrance exam. Then when I decided to quit preparing for art school, I came up with a new dream to do art management, since I had interests in business and it can be a point of convergence with my existing love for art. In the field of art management, I had ideas on travel businesses that incorporate traditional cultures such as hanbok rather than exhibitions and performances, and with the desire to pick up knowledge about business and its mindset, I decided to enter the department of business administration."

Upon entering the Department of Business Administration at Yonsei, she managed to learn basic business knowledge and its perspectives through her major lectures. On top of that, she also managed to satisfy her interests in hanbok and traditional cultures through her extra-curricular activities. In particular, she recalls her time in ‘Harang,’ Yonsei's Korean culture promoting club, to be the most meaningful and joyous.

"I participated in Harang as a founding member in 2015. We were able to plan and execute various campaigns to enjoy hanbok more easily in daily life. We celebrated Hanbok Day in Sinchon and Hongdae by holding a one-day festival that combines the hanbok experience, traditional games, and traditional food tasting. Additionally, in Harang, we designated a day once a month where club members would attend their lectures in hanbok. The club also wore hanbok as a group during the Akaraka Festival or Yon-Ko Games drawing a lot of attention."

The goals of these activities were clear: the 'everydayization' and popularization of hanbok. However, it was through these experiences that Younghyeon realized the limitations of popularizing hanbok. Even though good events can be planned to increase the exposure of culture to the public, there was still little that can be changed to the fact that hanbok is 'uncomfortable,' and insisting the message to wear it at the expense of inconvenience was just a one-sided recommendation. Acknowledging that simply forcing the culture does not prove effective, Younghyeon learned that making the public attracted to hanbok themselves would be a more effective solution. Her journey as a hanbok content creator thus began, as she accumulated pictures taken in hanbok on her social media account, one by one.

Traveling around the World in Hanbok, an Intersection of Interests

Younghyeon Lee, as a hanbok content creator, began gaining attention when her photos wearing hanbok at various locations around the world became a hot topic at home and abroad. The photos, which showcase the color and style of hanbok, blend with famous landmarks in Asia, North America, South America, Europe, and Africa, show the true beauty of hanbok in itself. She traveled to places with little familiarity to people in hanbok to take the pictures; be it Madagascar, the Sahara Desert, Lake Parón in Peru, or Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. The beauty of travel with a beautiful exotic culture, it was a plan that could not fail, and of course, the reaction from the public was hot.

"To confess, promoting the Korean culture around the world was an unintentional, secondary goal that somehow managed to be achieved. It was an adventure that was made possible with my love for traveling, hanbok, and photography, which combined to become a goal for me to travel in hanbok that I love while taking pictures of professional quality.  My dream of traveling around the world came true when I went to Milan, Italy as an exchange student. I was telling myself that 'I'll leave when I want', with Milan being a hub of European transportation. I secured time to travel by attending all the lectures in two days, and I managed to prepare funds for the necessary expenditure by working 3 to 4 part-time jobs in Korea before my exchange program. These processes might look tough, but they were a joy to me since I loved to subject myself to new challenges. A lot of people are surprised, but I was not afraid to travel around the world myself."

From Hanbok Girl Mona's Instagram @hanbok_travelarts
Photography by @lepida_jeju (1, 5), @yojin98 (9)

While traveling around the world, Younghyeon sometimes had to hike in the high mountains 5,000 meters in altitude, and sometimes there were so many things to take care of, but at the end of the day, there were more pleasant and proud memories for her. The reactions from people she met as she traveled were beyond her initial expectation. Above all, she felt that there was a change from the backpacking travel that she went previously.

"When I went for backpacking travel in the past, some people would make mistakes that I was wearing a kimono, and there were also times when people thought I was Chinese. There was hardly a knowledge about hanbok back then. On the other hand, in the recent trip around the world, there were a lot of people who recognized hanbok as a traditional Korean costume. They would often introduce their culture to me, and I think it was hanbok that made opportunities for such cultural interactions easier. I think there was a huge contribution from K-pop artists such as BTS. Overall, It made me realize that hanbok is being rediscovered as a 'hip' culture all over the world."

Younghyeon's experience sharing the Korean culture around the world through hanbok means the most to her, and it still serves as the inspiration for the present. As a result of her effort, it is common to see foreigners from various countries visiting her social media account to express their interest in hanbok and Korean culture. The reaction in Korea has also changed more positively than before. Initially, when she first started uploading pictures, there were a considerable number of negative views who would ask "Why do you wear hanbok that is uncomfortable?", but now there are more positive reactions who would give comments such as "hip," or "beautiful." These changes, to Younghyeon, were the most meaningful.

Even now, she continues her work as a hanbok content creator. In particular, she is collaborating with the Korea Tourism Organization, the Korea Tourism Development Institute, and the Jeju Tourism Association to produce content related to traveling in Korea. She is also producing and uploading content such as hanbok experiences with foreigners living in Korea, informing the world how to enjoy hanbok naturally.

Dreaming Hanbok to be Clothes for Everyday

Today, Younghyeon has over 100 sets of hanbok in her closet, most of which are hand-designed by herself. In addition to merely wearing hanbok, she would design their color and shapes while also choosing the materials to make hanbok that suits her. Considering her aesthetic talents and interest in art, one might think that she could pursue the dream of being a hanbok designer, but she will be focusing on promoting the beauty of hanbok and allowing many to feel it. She plans to continue creating new content while wearing the 'culture' known as hanbok.

"There was a time when I thought about starting a hanbok brand, but not anymore.  My goal is to promote the beauty of hanbok so that the public can realize its charm, eventually becoming attracted to wear hanbok naturally.  In addition to being a content creator, I want to challenge myself to the performing arts to deliver my message to more people directly. Though hanbok designer is no longer my dream, I think it's my job to be an inspiration to help designers work better."

Younghyeon, who is always passionate about trying new things, is also dreaming of another path, not limiting her career path to hanbok-related fields after graduation. In particular, she is interested in IT start-ups where she could be engaged in a lot of challenging tasks. However, her activities as a hanbok content creator will continue without stopping.

She is preparing for a future different from most university students, shows confidence about her future where based on her strengths, she could work in the field that she loves.

"The future I dream of is a little different from a normal career path. I can't say what the answer is. Sometimes, because of realistic problems such as money, we make different choices than what we want to do. I'm no different. Like my friends around me, I sometimes find myself worrying about these realistic problems. Nevertheless, I think it is possible to dream of a more challenging future than a stable one because I am still young, and I have faith in myself. After all, I am confident that I can resolve these realistic problems in the future, and I have a firm belief that whatever I do now is contributing to my future career instead of being a mere hobby.  If you're afraid of what you want to do, I want you to have faith in yourself."

'Hanbok Girl Mona' is another name for Younghyeon. The nickname 'Mona,' does not carry a special meaning, it was just a name that many people, including foreigners, can pronounce easily. This is what hanbok means for her, clothing that can be easily enjoyed in everyday life without the need to have a grand value - a daily culture. Younghyeon Lee dreams of a future where hanbok can approach many people naturally so that their daily lives become more beautiful.

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