Cross Culture: Hounsoun Youn

Hounsoun Youn sits comfortably on one of the couches in Fogelson Library, which also happens to be home to Santa Fe University of Art and Design’s Graphic Design and Digital Arts departments. Youn is a junior Digital Arts student from Seoul, South Korea, who is interested in visual effects. She is friendly and humorous as she tells Jackalope about her experiences while being in the United States, her observations about the cultural differences and her interests in art.


Jackalope Magazine: Why did you decide to study in the United States?

International student Hounsoun Youn. Photo by Sasha Hill

International student Hounsoun Youn. Photo by Sasha Hill

Hounsoun Youn: I used to study at a Korean university and I transferred here because I want to get more opportunities for the future. In Korea, we think that America or western countries are much better than Asian countries. When I grew up, I was watching western movies and things like that. I think it’s still like that there. So if I speak good English and I graduate from an American university, it will be more beneficial.


What was your experience like when you first arrived in the U.S?

I was really scared at first. It would be the same thing for anyone else going to a different country. I thought that people might not like me, and I didn’t speak English at all when I first got here. I didn’t know how to order food in restaurants, so I just went to Burger King and picked a number. And then I was able to learn little by little; I had to learn how to order food from the basic things. And I had to hold the door for other people. I had to say ‘sorry’ or ‘excuse me’ when walking around people.

Do you like to do any other kinds of art?

I’m really interested in studio art and film, but I like studio art more. I like painting. In Korea, painting is really hard to learn. There are lots of schools for art, but they only teach things that will help students with their university entrance exams. When I was 14 years old, I went to this school and thought that I could draw what I wanted to, but they forced me to draw classical things. So I really hated it, but that drawing really gave me the basic skills of drawing. But I don’t want to go back.


In Korea, what is the art scene/style like?

Actually, Japan affected our art a lot in Korea, especially in digital art style, more specifically in cartoons. Now the internet in Korea is more developed, we have the fastest internet connection in the world, so we create webtoons, which are online comics. It’s a kind of passion in Korea.


Do you see Korean culture or politics impacting art?

The Korean government was supporting art a lot four years ago, but now they’re focusing more on business. Not many Korean people like to buy art like pictures or paintings. Their lives are really busy, so they don’t really care about art, even though they like it.


What are some differences you’ve noticed culturally between Korea and the United States?

A lot is different. We [in Korea] think about everything as if we are all together as a community, and here in America people think very individually so sometimes it’s really hard for me. Like when I speak, I say ‘we’ a lot instead of ‘I.’ I think being a foreigner in America gives me more opportunities than just staying in Korea. I can meet lots of people and they’re interested in me; they ask where I’m from. Sometimes it’s kind of racist, but I don’t care. I actually didn’t know about racism in Korea, because mostly everyone is Korean. Actually, I think American people are more kind than Asian people. For example, when I entered my first class, they asked so many questions about me. But I don’t do that in Korea…I don’t do that. I know they’re just asking because they’re curious and they might not talk to me the next day, but in Korea we don’t really talk to each other unless we’re good friends. If you go to Korea, people have already made groups of friends that are really hard to get in to.


Since you’ve been in America, have you run into any difficulties?

In Korea I don’t write at all, even in the Korean language. And here I have to write essays and it’s really hard. The grammar and letters are completely different. So I think there is a really big problem with communication.


Did you learn English in school in Korea?

Yes, but my English teacher in high school didn’t know how to speak English with foreigners. It wasn’t helpful at all.


Have you traveled to other places in the world?

Yes, I’ve been to the Philippines many times, Thailand, China, Germany, Poland and Austria. I’d rather be in Europe. They have everything, in Korea there aren’t many traditional Korean houses left because they were all destroyed by some other country, but in Europe they saved it and the architecture is really beautiful. They also treat their artists much better than Asian countries do.


How do you feel about Santa Fe?

It’s a very interesting city. When I got here, I was surprised because all of the buildings are adobe style. It’s cute and funny. I used to stay in California and Florida and I never saw this style in my life.


Why do you think it’s important for artist or young people in general to travel and see other countries?

Here in America, some people only know about America and are only interested in American pop culture. They don’t like to learn about other countries and they don’t want to. Sometimes I feel some…aggressiveness from them. Like ‘America is the best!’ There are some people like that in Korea, but I don’t like it. They live in a very small space without an open mind. They can learn a lot from other countries.


This interview has been edited for style and clarity.