From SDSU graduate to New Zealand influencer



Shanell Peterson and her fiancé, Kishan Chavan, during Holi.

Jordan Rusche, Editor In-chief (She/Her)

While Shanell Peterson always knew she was going to have a “cool” and “crazy” career after college, she had no idea that one day she would become one of New Zealand’s most popular social media influencers.

After two years of starting a YouTube channel, “Kishanell,” with her now-fiancé Kishan Chavan, the couple boasts an impressive 1.47 million followers on the platform.

Peterson, who is from Alexandria, South Dakota, graduated from South Dakota State University in 2017 with a degree in journalism; however, she struggled to decide what she wanted to do with her degree.

After traveling for a while, visiting places like Cambodia and Indonesia, Peterson decided she wanted to move to a foreign country and become a life coach and build an online business.

“I typed into Google, ‘how to move to a foreign country,’” she said, “and New Zealand was the first one to pop up.”

After arriving in New Zealand, she worked as a WWOOFer (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), where she worked on different farms in exchange for free accommodation and food. Eventually, she started working by cleaning hostels, which is where she first met Chavan.

Chavan, originally from India, came to New Zealand to pursue a business management degree and was doing door-to-door sales when he met Peterson.

“In my fourth year, I started my own business, so I used to travel all around New Zealand and do sales, and I used to stay at accommodations like backpackers or hostels,” Chavan said.

Their YouTube channel didn’t start until two years later, in 2019, when Peterson decided to take a different direction with her career plans.

“I had invested my life savings into trying to be a life coach, and that did not work out,” Peterson said. “What I decided to do was I was going to be an Instagram model … but it’s really hard to get people to like, know and trust you and be successful as an Instagram model if you don’t do some sort of content that shows your personality.”

So, Peterson decided to try creating a YouTube channel, which Chavan suggested they do together, and, as Peterson said, “instantly, we saw success.”

Now, the couple specializes in posting lifestyle content, especially surrounding Peterson’s discovery of Indian culture and their experiences as an American-Indian couple.

Peterson and Chavan’s success is no small feat, either. According to Marina Hendricks an SDSU professor who specializes in social media analysis, influencers and content creators have to prove they can bring in a wide audience to possible sponsors to create the kind of following the Kishanell channel has.

“I think it’s the ability to leverage an audience and demonstrate to advertisers or companies that you can bring clients that suit their need,” Hendricks said. “You have to build an audience that trusts you and pays attention to what you post.”

Most influencers gain so much attention because of people’s interest in seeing how others live.

“People like to escape, they like putting themselves in the shoes of someone they admire,” Hendricks said.

Despite their success, Peterson and Chavan’s journey has not been without struggles and challenges.

“Being a YouTuber weighs on your mental health because you’re constantly thinking, ‘how do I outdo myself?’” Peterson said.

Chavan added that it can be difficult thinking of how to keep the audience’s attention after each big project.

“It’s really hard to think, ‘what’s the next big thing to do?’” he said.

Still, there have also been many benefits to the couple after becoming influencers.

“When you learn about the industry, you connect to more people … and you get to learn a lot,” Chavan said. “I have enjoyed my life more doing YouTube than I would have done it normally.

Peterson and Chavan also added that, with both of them coming from small towns, becoming influencers wasn’t something either of them ever considered as a possibility.

“I literally make money being myself, and the more myself I am, the more success I bring,” Peterson said.

Looking ahead, the couple has plans to expand their business opportunities, starting with a new business called Bollywood in Hollywood based in Los Angeles, where they now live. The business, which includes throwing Bollywood parties at various venues, was inspired by the underserved Indian population in Los Angeles.

“When I came here, I saw that there are so many Indians, but there is nothing for them to do, regarding clubs and everything,” Chavan said.

Peterson is also starting a podcast, EmpressPodcast, aimed at intersectional feminists, a viewpoint at how different identities, like race and sexuality, impact women differently. Peterson said her podcast will talk about cultural appropriation, anti-racism and other issues.

And for those who are thinking about getting involved in social media, Peterson advises to “be authentic” and stay true to yourself, especially to those in college.

“In college … I definitely felt kind of alone,” she said. “To all the people in South Dakota State University right now, you are not alone if you feel different. You’re biggest dreams are meant for you, and there are people who are going to love you.”