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A Chat With Hanna Vanharanta, the Finnish-Hong Konger YouTuber Vlogging Her +852 Life
by: Rubin Verebes
April 12, 2022
Hanna Vanharanta is not your average university freshman – and definitely not a normal 19-year-old.
Studying at the University of Hong Kong, the Finnish-Hong Konger balances schoolwork with managing an international online reach boasting over 300,000 followers across social media.
Her day-in-the-life vlogs uploaded on YouTube, recording her life studying, living, and exploring Hong Kong, have garnered over 204,000 subscribers tuning in to her city chronicles.
The Beat Asia caught up with Hanna to quiz the Eurasian YouTuber about her Scandinavian-Asian background, what YouTube means to her, and the future for the admired Hong Kong-based influencer.
Hanna was only 14 years old when she created her YouTube channel and had the idea to post videos of her life. “I remember my first video I posted was 25 facts about myself; it is no longer on my channel!” she told The Beat Asia laughing.
“At CDNIS (Canadian International School of Hong Kong), there was this YouTube craze, and everyone wanted to be a YouTuber. I was with my friend doing it and I was like; this is pretty cool. I started like talking to myself in the mirror [and reviewing beauty products].”
“I did [the videos] just for my friends; no one was watching it. It took me a year to just get 200 subscribers, but I just loved doing it. Over time, I kept [creating videos], and I found that I liked to do more vlogging-style videos and kept doing it.”
When Hanna began her series of YouTube vlogs in 2017, she had no intention of nurturing a community with a heavy subscriber count or have anyone but her friends routinely watch. From grade 9 to high school graduation and entrance into university, her fans have seen the “literal progression of [her] life.”
“I can document [my life] and share my experiences of what I’ve done, which I think is cool. Everyone in the comment section, my fans and subscribers, will also [share] their [childhood, high school, or Hong Kong] experiences, and talk about your life as well. I have a little community here.”
Hanna’s YouTube channel has “blown up” twice in 2018, where the Scandinavian-Asian saw a rush of views, subscribers, and fanfare to her channel, and she could see a future for her online growth.
In November 2018, Hanna published a daily vlog titled “A day in my life in high school,” a 12-minute video covering her morning house routine, class experience, and life studying in grade 10 at CDNIS.
With only a couple thousand subscribers at time of publishing, views for her hyperlocal-Hong Kong vlog of her international schooling experiences garnered hundreds of thousands of views. As of March 2022, the video has garnered more than 2.19 million views.
Earlier in June 2018, she released her most formative video - “DNA test// Eurasian’s NDA test” - representing a directional shift in how Hanna viewed her mixed background.
At the behest of her parents to discover more about her Eurasian identity, Hanna initially dismissed the video idea as a waste of money. “When I [released the video], it gave my channel more of an identity. It answered a lot of questions people had about me, like, what I thought you were just Finnish who just spoke Cantonese!”
The Finnish-Hong Konger discovered that she was 50% Asian, of which 33.3% of her background is mainland Chinese and 8.3% Southeast Asian, and 49.8% European, 38.1% being Finnish and 6.4% Swedish.
What it means to be a Hong Konger, Scandinavian, and Eurasian are questions that have both troubled and intrigued Hanna on her online discovery of what her identity means to herself and her youthful community.
“Having a multinational identity has a lot of perks. I see the world very differently from someone who's just Finnish or from Hong Kong. I think that [being mixed] has shaped my identity.”
Hanna admits that she struggled with her European and Asian identity when she was younger by “not looking very Scandinavian and Chinese.” Her Eurasian cultural makeup has pushed the Hong Konger to appreciate her local identity and sustain her spoken Cantonese.
“When I was small, I wanted Hong Kong people to look at me and know I am from Hong Kong. That really bothered me as a child.”
She told The Beat Asia that codeswitching, however, is not a thing that she will practice in her YouTube videos. With fans locally and abroad, her diametric identities as a European woman who speaks Cantonese and a Cantonese local who has European blood means that Hanna can appeal to both groups. “My mixness becomes my identity.”
“Personally, I see myself as just a random girl who likes making videos for fun. It started off that way, so I never really changed how I saw myself doing it. For many Hong Kong people, my videos are basically this white girl who also speaks Cantonese and has Chinese mom.”
“For Westerners who watch my channel, people in Europe or in [North] America, they see [the real] Hong Kong through my videos. Most just want to see what my life is like in Hong Kong.”
For even a YouTuber with more than 200,000 subscribers, having fans in real life, as Hanna said, “does not feel real.”
“When people first began recognising me, I was so awkward and it was terrible,” she said smiling, “I think I even disappointed them with how awkward I was.”
Hanna calls her subscribers “best friends” and is passionate about the growth of her community of besties. When she meets fans in Hong Kong, she told The Beat Asia that she takes time to listen, talk, and get to know them. “It’s so cool to get to know them. You make a new friend!”
Similarly with J Lou’s clannish #ricefam, the mammoth online community tuned in to her YouTube channel, Hanna also seeks to have a name for her fanbase. “I feel like we’re a little community growing together.”
When Hanna received her Silver Creator Award from YouTube, a nickel-plated award bestowed to channels reaching 100,000 subscribers, the recognition from the platform didn’t truly feel tangible.
“It was cool [to receive the award], but it doesn’t feel real because I really don’t think people watch my videos. There’s a number of how many people watch my videos each time, but it doesn’t connect with me until I meet my fans on the streets.”
Hanna spoke to The Beat Asia on a hot Friday afternoon via Zoom in her childhood room, taking a daybreak from her dorm life at university. During term time, Hanna can usually be seen socialising and studying at the prestigious St. Johns College at University of Hong Kong (HKU).
“Life has gotten more interesting in dorms and [my] social life has been much better,” she said.
Entering university in September 2021, Hanna began a degree in communications and journalism as a “flexible” route for her YouTube channel and other online pursuits.
“I want to pursue [a career] in communications [in the future], whether it’s human resources or marketing. I want to be creative and [create] campaigns; this was the closest route to choose that.”
With a change in environment from high school campus in Aberdeen to university campus in Pok Fu Lam, Hanna admits she felt trepidation of the big life change and how that would reflect on her YouTube channel.
“I went to university, and I was terrified that my viewers will not watch me anymore. Because it is a [huge] transition. Previously, I had a uniform and was sharing my little world. Now, I’ve grown up.”
“I was truthfully surprised that people still watched my videos. But at the same time, I think the style of my videos changed with vlogs showing my daily life. I was worried that they would not like it. I think so far it has been a very positive experience.”
As for the future, Hanna is optimistic she can continue YouTube for as long as she has something interesting to say. “When I’m 60 years old, I’ll still be doing a day in my life [vlogs],” Hanna said chuckling.
“I think when I began YouTube, I had no idea what it was going to be and what happened. I think still today this holds true. I have no idea what's going to happen to my channel and what my future is going to be.”
“I definitely want to continue making videos. I love editing and I love making videos from miscellaneous clips of my day into a full video. In the end, I think it's such a cool concept.”
Hanna wants to “branch out” in the coming months and years and work with other Hong Kong creators or artists creating content for her channel. “The sky is the limit and I think we can do so many cool things.”
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