Nafisa Anjum, a Bangladeshi youth, was surprised to find out how many of her fellow students shared her enthusiasm for Korean ballad and hip hop songs in her first day at University back in 2016.
And to her utter delight, it wasn't just the Korean music that they were passionate about, rather many other aspects of Korean culture which as Nafisa would eventually discover, have a crazy following in Bangladesh.
She was just beginning to understand the true extent of Korean cultural impact at that time. Now years later, shared interest in Korean music, dramas, food and fashion has brought Nafisa many friends, not to mention made her life more enjoyable and thrilling.
That being said, it's not only people like Nafisa who have been impressed with this particular trend in Bangladeshi society. Others have been drawn to it as well.
"Korean culture is gaining more and more popularity in Bangladesh. I hope that the Korean Film Festival would serve as a valuable opportunity to promote mutual understanding and friendship between our two people," said HE Mr Hu Kang-il, erstwhile Korean ambassador to Bangladesh, at the Korean Film Festival on 12 October, 2018, at the Bangladesh National Museum.
He echoed similar sentiments in a K-pop festival at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy in July, 2018, which was attended by thousands of fans. In both the cases, he was referring to the growing Bangladeshi enthusiasm for Korean culture which has turned into a frenzy lately. And with it, "Hallyu" has engulfed the country.
What is Hallyu?
"Hallyu", a Korean term, refers to the rapid spread of Korean culture in the form of movies, dramas, music, cosmetic products and such, on a global scale.
The website of the South Korean embassy in Bangladesh describes it as Hanllyu (direct spelling from the Korean word): ha (silent n) "Korea" + llyu "a unique trend" = Hallyu.
It is this Korean wave that is sweeping across entire countries and generations throughout the planet. Some say it is the famous Korean band Seo Taiji and Boys that started this trend in the early 1990s through their performances on various platforms. Others point fingers at South Korea's cultural exports that began in the late 1990s.
Some even say it is the Korean dramas that began airing in Chinese national television back in 1997 that shot Korean culture's popularity up. Regardless of its origin, Bangladeshi youths today have fallen in love with many of the Korean cultural exports like the rest of the world.
The Korean culture, with the active help of South Korea's Ministry of Culture and Tourism, has spread throughout the globe. People around the world have taken interest in the rhythmic music, intriguing dramas and other cultural aspects originated from South Korea.
KCON, the largest K-pop festival and a convention for promoting Korean culture, attracted 1.11 million visitors in 2016 and the fans poured in from all` around the world - from Western Europe as well as from the Middle East. And it is not only about the music; Hallyu, the Korean wave, has something for everyone.
The intriguing and romantic K-dramas have also attracted millions of fans as well as given birth to other fandoms.
Since people want to know about the Koreans' love for food, many of which are delicious items that are traditionally eaten with chopsticks, fans have taken an active interest in K-food as well.
Cosmetic products and other beauty items from Korea have also become of interest for many, making K-beauty also a part of Hallyu.
And just as it has suddenly engulfed many parts of the world, Hallyu arrived in Bangladesh as well, taking many by surprise. Since the two nations share a long partnership of friendship and cooperation, it was greeted with enthusiasm and well-wishes.
Two nations 4,000 KMs apart
Though Bangladesh and South Korea established bilateral relationships in the early 1970s, it took off as the century was about to end.
Korean culture began to solidify the relationship between the two countries in 2010 as the popularity of K-pop, K-dramas and other Korean cultural exports began skyrocketing.
Despite being nearly 4,000 kilometres and oceans apart from each other, the two countries have grown incredibly close in recent years. South Korea is one of the largest investors in Bangladesh with investments totalling USD103 million in the RMG sector worth USD421 million back in 2017.
South Koreans have also set up production units in Bangladesh's SEZs (Special Economic Zones), which host various Korean multinational companies including branches of giants like Youngone Corporation (South Korean Apparel and sportswear manufacturer), that employed 65,000 Bangladeshis in 2018.
South Koreans also have welcomed thousands of migrant Bangladeshi workers over the years in their country. For these reasons, Bangladeshis have already developed a strong bond with South Korea, which was significantly boosted by Hallyu in recent times.
Adiba Islam, the Bangladeshi ambassador to South Korea, stressed the need for good relations between the two countries in multiple interviews. Except for the garments sector, South Korea's steps in medical equipment supply, cosmetics and other sectors of Bangladeshi economy was acknowledged by her.
The fact that Bangladesh is diplomatically close to South Korea should, therefore, be of no surprise to anyone.
Dynamite and the Army
But the biggest influencer among South Korean cultural exports in Bangladesh is the popularity of Korean music. Thousands of Bangladeshis have been listening to Korean bands such as BTS for the simple reason that the music simply 'clicks' with the youth.
When fans of K-music are asked what they like about BTS or other K-pop bands, they give a variety of answers. The most common one among them is that K-pop is simply fun. The music videos as well as the choreography that these songs feature explains why Facebook groups such as 'BTS Army of Bangladesh' have thousands of active members who live and breathe K-pop.
In 2012, PSY's 'Gentleman', better known as 'Gangnum Style', was watched over a billion times on YouTube, signalling the ushering of a new age in the modern world.
Today, that future has been realised. Bangladeshi youths, like many others around the globe, are consumed with BTS super hits such as 'Dynamite', which is one of the most-watched music videos in the world and has already broken multiple global records. The song has won a Grammy nomination and a spot at the Hot Billboard 100's number one position.
Yet, there is something beneath the surface. Though K-pop's rhythmic songs and raps have managed to attract teenagers and young adults in droves across the nation, it has not really had the same impact on other demographics.
The vast majority of the conservative populace in Bangladesh's mostly rural areas has not really cared much for K-pop's massive popularity among urban teenagers.
Regardless, K-pop's catchy songs, rhythmic dancing and fashion have all but mesmerized many Bangladeshis to the point that they would follow the artists' attires closely and bring significant changes to their hairstyles and speech patterns.
Hip-hop and the ballads have truly been keeping them engulfed in the Hallyu wave.
Dramas that 'crash-landed on us'
Another part of Korean culture that has made its way into Bangladeshi society is the flurry of K-dramas such as 'Descendants of the Sun' and 'Crash Landing on You', which have taken many of us by surprise.
The sheer storytelling and compact nature of these series have truly earned respect from people of all walks of life. Fans enjoy intriguing storylines with interesting cliffhangers which are over by the 16th episode.
"One of the reasons I like them is that they're mostly 16-20 episodes long," said Nafisa Anjum Rathi, a K-drama fan and post-graduate student at Jashore University of Science and Technology.
Another young Hallyu fan, Tashif Hossain, an undergraduate student at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, regards the intrigue and twists in the plots as one of the best things Korean storytelling has to offer.
Many others simply love the way Asian culture is depicted in K-dramas. Bangladeshis find identifiable situations in these storylines as they share similar cultural aspects in a society that is respectful to elders and sometimes things like the conservative family structure where arranged marriages are the norm.
Light and engaging love stories have won many fans over from western shows and Indian dramas, which might be too long or too westernized for Asians to relate to.
Straight out of fairy tales
Many of Bangladeshi's K-culture fans idolise the gorgeous actors and actresses from the dramas or music videos. A large portion of the youth has even started to change their lifestyles based on the shows they watch, which has tremendously increased the demand for Korean cosmetics and beauty products in Bangladesh.
Stores in Dhaka and Chattogram, as well as online shops, have also started selling 'trendy' clothing items from the Korean shows. Aspirations to visit South Korea have also skyrocketed among fans, so have the demands for Korean food.
Fancy restaurants as well as online food stores have been offering Korean BBQ, grilled beef bulgogi and spicy kimchi all around the country. This indicates how popular these items have become in our country.
Hybridization and social indications
In the end, Korean culture's popularity in Bangladesh indicates not only the effects of rapid globalisation, but it also points towards the Urban youth's yearning for entertainment, where plots are somewhat relatable, compact and enjoyable.
Interestingly, though Hallyu's reach has not quite penetrated every section of Bangladeshi society, it does have a loyal and large fan base. A few reasons could be closely related to the socio-economic and socio-political realities of the two countries.
It also indicates a change of perception among the younger generation who have embraced the Korean wave more readily than others.
While a small section of the society has ignored or even ridiculed the enthusiasm of K-fans in the country, it has not really stopped Hallyu's march.
The largely conservative society of Bangladesh has yet to label the Korean culture as a destructive force for the native culture, something that has been the case for Indian or Western cultures in the past.
Of course, that could be because of the way Korean culture adapts to a new environment. In many parts of the country, the Korean wave has merged with the local culture creating a hybrid that is more adaptive and welcomed.
Similarly, Hallyu has given us Korean food that can be paired with Biryani or clothes that can be worn with our own. At the same time, it has brought over certain Korean words and styles that have become ours as well.
This means that Bangladeshis, for a certain part, do cherish and enjoy contacts with other cultures. Technological advancements have only reaffirmed our desire to assimilate with those who we consider being our friends.
The fact that in this day and age, when nationalism and ethnocentrism reign supreme in many parts of our world, including certain areas of our own society, acceptance of a foreign culture with such hospitality can only point towards the Bangladeshi youths' love for the relatable Korean culture and broadly, Bangladeshi people's trusting and receptive mindset.