ALEXANDRIA — After four years of living and working in New Zealand, Shanell Peterson returned to her hometown of Alexandria this month, bringing her new fiancé and business partner along to visit her family and the small community in which she grew up.
She also brought 1.42 million of their friends along with them.
Peterson and her fiancé, Kishan Chavan, are YouTube content creators who chronicle their life and adventures in New Zealand and beyond on their channel, known as Kishanell. Their videos have captured the attention of viewers around the world, especially in New Zealand, where they are among the top ten YouTube channels in terms of subscribers. They currently have 1.42 million followers on the platform.
Peterson, 26, said she was happy to return home and see her family after such a long stretch, but she has loved sharing the experience with Chavan and their social media family.
“I was 16 years old and one of my favorite things to do was watch YouTubers do eyeshadow tutorials or what’s in my bag videos,” Peterson told the Mitchell Republic during a recent interview. “I tried that when I was 16. I still have those videos on my solo channel. They’re cringy. But I’ll never take them down, because that was the beginning of a passion for me.”
Her road to becoming a social media influencer had its start in a love of travel she developed while in high school. When she had an opportunity to take part in the People to People Program, an organization that aims to break the cycles of fear and misunderstanding through bringing people together, she and her family helped her reach her goals.
The trip would take her to Australia, and she knew the cost of travel was going to be steep. But with a little effort, she made her goal.
“So my dad worked overtime, and I did bake sales and I went door to door asking for donations, and we raised the money so I could go. That’s what started my love of travel,” Peterson said.
After graduating from South Dakota State University in 2017, she planned to move to Sioux Falls, pay off her student bills and pursue a career in business, despite the fact that she wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to do. But her instinct was telling her to head back out on the road, so she soon abandoned her plans and instead visited Indonesia and Cambodia.
When she returned to South Dakota, her vision of her future had changed.
“On the flight back from that magical week I didn’t want to stop. So I called the Sioux Falls property manager and told them I wasn’t going to move in. I canceled all my plans, and as soon as I got home I typed in ‘how to move to a foreign country’ into Google,” Peterson said. “And New Zealand was the first to pop up.”
She obtained a work holiday visa and began her next journey on the other side of the world. She found work in exchange for free room and food at an organic farm. She worked shifts at a local cafe. And she kept up the bathrooms and guest rooms at a hostel in New Plymouth.
That was where she met Chavan.
“Kishan was doing door-to-door sales and had a room at that hostel,” Peterson said. “It was late at night and he was doing paperwork in the common area. I was listening to a podcast on the couch, and he picked up a guitar.”
Peterson said it was a quiet night and she hoped Chavan wouldn’t play the guitar for fear of waking other guests. She need not have worried.
“I didn’t even know how to play,” Chavan said with a laugh.
The native of India who had moved to New Zealand, a country of about 4.9 million residents, to study and start his business didn’t need to know how to play the guitar for the pair to hit it off. They soon found themselves spending more time together and, eventually, falling in love.
Peterson had continued to make YouTube videos off and on, but when it came time for her to focus on a steady career, Chavan encouraged her to pursue her dreams. They began making reaction videos of Peterson watching Indian Bollywood movies and trailers for the first time. The videos proved to be very popular, as fans of the film genre were taken by the American girl from South Dakota experiencing something of which they were already fans.
“People enjoy watching foreigners seeing Indian movies and trailers for the first time. So we started with that and it took off. In one month, we had 10,000 subscribers,” Chavan said. “Then we did a video where she tried Indian snacks. That was our first million-view video. So we started doing that kind of content and had 100,000 followers in two or three months. It was very fast.”
Their following has only grown. They are currently ranked in the top 10 of YouTube creators in New Zealand, and they are also the No. 3 ranked creator in the country on TikTok. They were previously ranked No. 1 on TikTok with 2.4 million subscribers, but the couple had more fun working with YouTube, which also pays them for their content. They haven’t posted a TikTok video since January and have only fallen two positions down the list.
They hired a video editor who works out of India who receives their video footage and turns around a completed video by the following day. The couple posts new videos daily, ranging from simple day-to-day activities to a chronicle of Peterson traveling from New Zealand to India on her own to visit Chavan’s parents. That was another popular video that resonated with viewers.
“She met my parents for the first time without me, and she vlogged her journey from New Zealand, leaving me to go to India to see my family, and people really enjoyed it,” Chavan said.
“One little note is his parents don't even speak English. And I think people go crazy over the fact that we can still love and accept each other even though we don’t know each other’s language,” Peterson said.
That love and acceptance will be taken to a whole new level in the near future when the couple will be married. Chavan surprised her with his proposal on her 26th birthday, and both a traditional Indian and American wedding ceremony is planned with families and friends of the couple invited to both ceremonies.
The pair expect they will continue to produce their videos well into the future and believe their subscribers will enjoy watching as plans and details of the wedding emerge. As those plans develop, they will continue to produce the kind of content they enjoy making, such as the tour of Alexandria Peterson gives viewers - with Chavan behind the camera - during their recent stay in her hometown. They posted several videos of her return trip to South Dakota, which for Chavan was the first time visiting the United States.
“I like it. It almost feels like India to me. It’s a small town, people are close to each other, the neighbors and everyone are very friendly,” Chavan said. “Her family accepts me so much, and we do many things together.”
Chavan said he loves the way he and Peterson complement each other’s strengths.
“I feel like we’re a great team. If we’re together, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. She’s really good at organizing and planning, and I’m really good at executing things,” Chavan said.
Peterson admits she did not see being where she is 10 years after her first efforts with makeup tutorials on YouTube. But with a future that includes world travel, a husband, a new family and doing what she loves for 1.42 million subscribers, she finds herself emotional after a few seconds of reflection.
“I always knew that I was going to be a successful business woman, but I never knew what it would look like. I’m very grateful to Kishan,” Peterson said, her voice cracking. “That makes me emotional, because I feel like I could have been successful without him, but with him by my side, I feel like we can do anything.”