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[Newsmaker] [My Hangeul Story] Sujan Shakya’s journey from Korean beginner to TV personality, author

By Choi Jae-hee

Published : March 5, 2023 - 16:10

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Sujan Shakya is most likely the first and only Nepalese national who has authored a Korean-language bestseller in Korea.

Born and raised in Nepal, he arrived in Seoul for his first study abroad experience in 2010, with very little knowledge of the local language. He was studying Korean as a beginner at Dankook University that year.

Twelve years later, in 2022, his book, “Utmost and Personal Nepal,” about his native country, co-authored with Hong Sung-kwang, landed among the top 20 bestselling humanities books on Yes24, Korea’s largest online bookstore, with a recommendation from a super influencer in the local book scene, former President Moon Jae-in.

Writing a book in Korean was something that 34-year-old Shakya never thought he would be capable of doing when he first started learning the language, he said in an interview.

“To continue higher studies in Korea, I needed to learn Hangeul. Once completing the beginner’s level, I tried to stay away from international students who used English or Nepali. I tried to be more friendly with Koreans so that I could learn their language and culture,” Shakya said.

Sujan Shakya poses for a photograph in Seoul during an interview with The Korea Herald in June last year. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald) Sujan Shakya poses for a photograph in Seoul during an interview with The Korea Herald in June last year. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)

In college, he studied urban planning. Upon graduation in 2014, he started working for a local defense contractor company in Seoul.

The next year, he starred in an episode of JTBC’s multinational talk show, “Non-Summit.” With his Korean proficiency and wit, he earned a spot among the foreign national cast of the weekly show, which opened the doors to more TV appearances in programs like MBC Every1’s reality travel show, “Welcome, First Time in Korea?”

While doing TV jobs, he continued to work for the same company. He has also worked with South Korea’s Justice Ministry since 2019 as an interpreter, helping with the application and screening process of refugee applicants from Nepal.

“Because I studied Korean, I have become a global cultural ambassador representing both my home country, Nepal, and South Korea. I was able to write a book in Korean and publish it as well," he said.

Learning Korean was not always easy for him. He recalled an embarrassing mistake he made as the emcee of the wedding ceremony of one of his friends.

When announcing that the bridegroom was entering the hall, he used the word, “ipdae,” which means "military enlistment," instead of “ipjang,” which means one's "entrance into a certain space."

“The sentence structures of Korean and Nepali are similar, but I always had difficulties with words which were based on Chinese characters. Some four-character idioms and local dialects were major hurdles too," he said.

Even now, Shakya makes an intentional effort to overcome any remaining language hurdles. He watches Korean dramas and films without subtitles and always tries to use words or expressions he has picked up recently when talking to Koreans.

“Connecting language study with the things I love and want to explore helped me to learn faster. Memorizing 100 Korean words is good, but I believe learning 10 words and using them effectively is a much better way of learning,” he said.