I was so excited to interview Sookkyung Cho who received her DMA in 2013 and just accepted a piano faculty position! Her passion for teaching was exemplified during her years at Juilliard where she served as Morse Fellow in the Office of Educational Outreach.
Tell us about your new job!
This fall, I will be joining the faculty of Grand Valley State University in Michigan as an Assistant Professor of Piano – Artist Performer. My main duties will include teaching and mentoring piano students, developing an active studio, and performing on and off campus. I am very excited!
What was the hardest part about getting your DMA?
Getting through the Comprehensive Exams… It just seemed the more I studied, the more I did not know!
Describe your transition to U.S. culture.
When I first came here, I spoke almost no English. So, I think the biggest challenge in transition was not to new culture, but to a new language. I was so fortunate in that my sister and I were the only ESL students in school, and our ESL teacher spent two hours with us every day. There was so much to read each day (mostly from English and U.S. History classes!), and my ESL teacher would do all the reading and give me summary each day. She was so devoted…
You’ve been in the U.S. for a while now—what is something about moving here that surprised you?
There was so much that surprised me… I grew up in Seoul, and the first town that I lived in this country was Narragansett, a small town in Rhode Island. Imagine the shock! From a perspective of a high-school junior though, I think what surprised me the most was the way each subject was taught in public high school – there was so much discussion and so many essays to write for each class! Oh, and I will never forget the senior prom!
What are the challenges of being an international student?
Above all, being far away from family. Spending holidays away from home is never fun! These days, we have smartphones that allow instant texting, etc., but I remember the first year I was at Juilliard, most international students only used phones in our dorm rooms! (That makes me feel really old – haha)
How were you made to feel welcome at Juilliard?
KCCC (Korean Campus Crusade for Christ) had weekly meetings, and I made a lot of friends there. My suitemates were awesome too – we would hang out in the common area quite often. I think in my first semester at Juilliard, I was just in awe seeing all the talented people around me.
What is the most common misconception about Korea?
It seems some non-Koreans think North Korea is a great threat to South Korea and that war may break out anytime. But, if you visit South Korea, you will see that this has been going on for more than half a century, so South Koreans are not as sensitive to North Korea’s threat as many non-Koreans think.
What are the main differences between your home culture and U.S. culture?
I used to think that there were many cultural differences, but, now I seem to think otherwise. I have grown more individualistic and self-protective, which I once thought was a result of cultural assimilation, but now I seem to think it may be a result of having lived alone for long. Also, there are so many cultural differences within the U.S. according to the regions (which always fascinates me!), it is a little hard to say what the unified U.S. culture is!
What advice do you have for other international students?
Know your goals and know you are special. It is a lot of commitment to be away from home, and it is not worth the effort if you do not believe in yourself and you do not know what your calling is. Believe or not, we waste so much of our energy doubting ourselves. Be friends with those who love you and are positive. And love and support them back!