Naelle Song is a Korean woman who grew up in Morocco. She started a YouTube channel to share her love of Moroccan culture; and her positive and upbeat personality has captured the hearts of Moroccan fans. Her channel exploded this year, and she now has over 50,000 subscribers.
By Ryan Kirk
Rabat – I had the chance to interview Naelle on a train between Casablanca and Mohammedia and hear about her experiences growing up in Morocco, her decision to start a YouTube channel, being bullied in high school while dealing with racist comments, and whether she could see herself living in Morocco again full-time.
Born in South Korea, Naelle describes herself as a “mix of everything.” She has lived in the US, Canada, Morocco, Kenya, and is now back in South Korea. Her diverse upbringing is reflected in her YouTube channel’s name: “Moonwha Jjambbong,” which is a Korean phrase that means “Culture Mumbo-Jumbo” or “Melange of Culture.” (Jjambbong is a noodle dish in Korea that is a mix of many things.)
She started her channel in February 2018 at the urging of friends. “Lots of people were saying, ‘Why don’t you do YouTube?,’ so it was the nudge of other people that got me started,” she said.
Within a couple of months, she was known across Morocco, especially among young people who listen to K-pop and love Korean culture. Fans spread her channel through Facebook groups and some of her videos were viewed as many as 140,000 times.
“I did not expect this many followers … I thought maybe 2,000 at the most. I don’t know where all you guys came from! It was mind-blowing. I think I got lucky. Thankfully, I hit a spot where Moroccans were really wanting to hear a Korean person talk about Morocco.”
When asked why she thinks Korean culture has become so popular in Morocco, she points to the entertainment industry: “People start off with Korean music or Korean dramas, whatever entertainment content Korea has produced, and you just get hooked. It’s very predictable, but very addicting. So if you’re hooked on one area of a culture, then you just get interested in their languages and customs, so I think that’s what happened in Morocco.”
Naelle’s most popular videos focus on her interest in Moroccan food, culture, and language. “From my observation, people are more interested in me speaking about Moroccan culture rather than me introducing Korean culture to them. They already know all the words in Darija and the cultural ideas, but they’re really entertained that’s it me saying it.”
Despite all the popularity, not all of Naelle’s experiences in Morocco have been positive. “Growing up in Morocco, to be completely honest, wasn’t very nice. Back then Koreans were far more rare, and kids were very intrigued by my face and my cultural background. Junior high kids are not always the nicest when it comes to expressing their interest, so they would say a lot of ‘interesting comments’ that would be considered racist today.”
In many ways, Naelle’s channel has brought a lot of redemption to her relationship with Morocco. “I’m really thankful that people have gotten more interested in Korean culture – I’m thrilled that people are interested in my culture. I’m really grateful.” She now has fans across the country and is planning an event to meet them all in December in Casablanca or Rabat. The event will include storytelling, photo-taking, and even some musical performances.
So how has her life changed since starting her channel? “Honestly it hasn’t. I just go to the grocery store and get my milk and do my editing … nobody really recognizes me at all in Korea. I’m a very, very ordinary person.”
When asked if she could foresee herself spending more time in Morocco in the future, she commented that “it would be very difficult for me to move here, all the way, but if this goes on and it gets bigger, I definitely see myself coming here a lot more often.”
Tens of thousands of young Moroccans are really hoping that is the case!