|Contestants of the Face of Asia final contest participate in a flash mob, performing along to U.S. singer Keala Seattle's song "This is Me" at Gwanghwamun Square in Central Seoul last Monday. Their performance was part of the two-week-long Boot Camp. / Courtesy of AMFOC|
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Shrin Akther was an ambitious kid, dreaming of working as a scientist in the future at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States.
Akther, who represented Bangladesh in the Face of Asia final contest held in Seoul, Friday, worked hard throughout her primary and secondary school years to make her childhood dream come true.
Her hard work paid off.
She was admitted to Bangladesh's top Dhaka University Department of Physics, which made her feel that she was on the right track for a career in science.
In recent months, however, Akther, now a third-year student at the university, began to rethink her career path as graduation approached, which caused her to think seriously about what she wanted to do with her life once she graduated.
"I realized studying is not everything, so I chose to discover other areas," Akther told The Korea Times.
The tall, thin college student was determined to explore a career path she never imagined before ― modeling.
The local contest in April to select five models to represent Bangladesh drew her attention. She entered and easily made the cut.
Being the "Face of Bangladesh" paved the way for her first international experience.
Akther competed with 74 other candidates from 27 Asian countries in the Face of Asia final competition in Seoul which ran for two weeks, preceded by a "Boot Camp."
The Boot Camp was a preliminary two-week session at which the models honed their catwalk skills, posed for photo shoots and joined promotional events for sponsor organizations.
Insiders said insightful people could successfully speculate who would win the runoff during the preliminary contest because, as always, people don't miss standout candidates.
|Shrin Akther, who represented Bangladesh, poses in an evening dress in the Face of Asia contest held on Friday in Seoul. / Courtesy of AMFOC|
The Boot Camp was a melting pot.
The contestants from 27 countries representing different ethnicities spoke their own languages, which were translated into four. Their cultures were different, too. Muslim candidates, for example, had to observe fasting as the Boot Camp coincided with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Inside the Boot Camp, many of the contestants were aspiring models.
Like Akther, however, some contestants had backgrounds other than the modeling industry. One candidate from Cambodia was a professional photographer and there were others with occupations other than modeling.
During the finals on Friday, Akther's name was not called and she didn't make the Top 10.
Ayuma from Indonesia won the Grand Prize and Guan Ruyi from China won the Face of Asia Female Model Award. Akther's fellow Bangladeshi model Palash clinched the Face of Asia Male Model Award.
But the results didn't upset Akther, as she believed she came to have the opportunity of lifetime. Thanks to the Face of Asia finals, she found her role as a goodwill ambassador for Bangladesh.
"Through me, people came to know that people from Bangladesh are nice and well-mannered. They also recognized that our culture is fascinating," she said. "This is my first foreign trip and I was privileged to experience Korea which I think is wonderful. Korea is clean and the weather here is really nice."
For the models, the weeks-long contest to discover Asia's next top models was much more than a competition to rise to fame.
Many of them were teenagers, and Korea was the first foreign country they had visited. Their first foreign trip happened to be a country that has a strong cultural appeal in their home countries. In Asia, Korean dramas and music have a strong presence, helping Korean actors and singers gain immense popularity with local fans.
Chelsea, who represented Indonesia, is a K-pop fan and her favorite group is BTS, the global superstars. She said she is also a fan of girl band TWICE.
The high school student said she was thankful because she was exposed to Korean culture as well as other Asian cultures during the Boot Camp.
"I was motivated to learn new languages because all the participants came from different parts of Asia," she said. "We spoke different languages and our cultures were different. So there were a lot of things that I had to catch up on as we mingled with one another."
Juhi Nar Singh, a college student who represented Singapore, said the language barrier didn't bother her when meeting other contestants.
"Although they spoke different languages, everybody spoke basic English and there were translators," she said.
Singh said the atmosphere during the Boot Camp was "very competitive."
"The Boot Camp for the finals was much more competitive than the local contest," she said.
Singh was not chosen for the Top 10, but said she was not disappointed.
"Being a model is a dream that I have pursued since I was a young girl. I have worked so hard to come this far," she said. "I am very proud of myself for what I've done in this final contest. The results won't discourage me from keeping pursing a modeling career. I will continue to work hard to fulfill my dream."
Lee Xuan from Malaysia said the entire Boot Camp period was demanding because she and her fellow models from other parts of Asia had to follow a packed schedule from early morning till late at night during the whole two-week period.
"We had to wake up early in the morning and went to bed late at night. We didn't have time to rest," the Chinese-Malaysian said. "Every day we had a different schedule, which was fun."
For some previous contestants, their participation in the Face of Asia final contest in Seoul gave them a boost in show business after they went back to their home country. In countries such as Indonesia and Myanmar, for example, where Korean culture is very popular, models drew attention from home fans even though they didn't make the Top 10.
Previously, some Top 10 winners received a hero's welcome once they returned to their home country.
Myanmar's top actress, singer and model Han Thi was one of the contestants who saw an incredible career boost after the event.
She became Face of Myanmar in 2013 when she was 16 and competed in the finals in Seoul.
Han Thi was not chosen for the Top 10. But she is now one of the most in-demand celebrities in her country and has appeared in many films and commercials.
"The Face of Asia contest was a stepping stone for me to be in the industry," she said. "There are many big changes that occurred in my life after I participated in the Face of Asia final contest. First of all it was my first time coming to a foreign country and competing in an international competition. I was very young and only 16 back then. I learned so many things that changed my life and career and helped me rise as a model in my own country."
Han Thi became a beauty queen in several pageants and represented Myanmar in international beauty contests.
She won the Model Star Award for her hard work during the 2019 Face of Asia contest and served as a judge of the final contest.