Getting things started

I decided to stop waiting for my alien registration number and just get things rolling phone-less, bank account-less, and passport-less.  It’s been working out great so far.  Yesterday, a new Korean friend took me around SNU (my new school) and treated me to iced tea and egg tart in a coffee shop on campus.  (Koreans really are super-hospitable.)  And today, another new friend helped me get a campus map and tagged along while I met my new teacher!

First of all, she is a very sweet person.  I could tell that from her emails and had heard that from others, but meeting her in person exceeded all my expectations.  I happened to interrupt her while she was in the middle of meeting with the rest of her students, but she immediately welcomed me in, gave me a hug, and noticed my friend outside and invited her in.  She had us pull up chairs to join the circle of students, introduced everyone to us, and offered us pizza and chocolate.

When everyone else left, I FINALLY got to sit down with her and talk about what this year is going to look like.  She asked me what I hoped to learn and accomplish, and I basically told her I wanted to learn about Korean music, both old and new.  She said, “So it doesn’t have to be Isang Yun then, right?” and got up to find me different Korean pieces to learn from the books on her shelf.  Just like that, all the specifics of my proposal were tossed out the window; it was kind of exhilarating.

After I told her the pieces I was working on, she suggested I give a recital at the end of the year.  I hadn’t been sure if that would be possible since I’m not officially enrolled at the school, so to hear her say that was such a relief!  It was like having my identity handed back to me – I am not primarily a “researcher,” but a performer!  It was also a relief to discard Isang Yun’s incredibly difficult pieces with obscure/dubious connections to Korean culture in exchange for some relatively easier pieces with more obvious Korean origins.  YES.  She understood the heart of my proposal without even having read it.

So in the spring I will give a recital featuring Korean and American pieces.  That will be the big finish and culmination of all I learn here.  (I also hope to study some sort of traditional Korean instrument while I’m here, but I’m not sure I’ll be including that in my performance.)

While finally having a clear goal for my time here felt refreshing, I was even more struck by my personal interaction with the professor.  At one point, she suggested I learn the Barber Sonata instead of the Barber Souvenirs I had been planning to learn – “Be ambitious!” she said.  (Evidently my lack of ambition, as well as my limited knowledge of 20th century music, were immediately apparent.)  Instead of making me feel embarrassed, her words made me feel cared for.  My entire interaction with her today, from the way she welcomed me into her studio to her patient persistence in getting me access to the practice rooms, made me feel cared for, but I was especially touched by her care for me as a pianist.  Today, while acknowledging that there are no strict parameters for my study here, she exhorted me to make the most of this opportunity.  I need that kind of exhortation in my life.

A year ago, I randomly asked if I could potentially study with her because I needed an “affiliate” for my Fulbright application and because I happened to know one of her former students.  From the beginning, I was surprised by how warmly she offered her support, and now, I see her becoming a mentor in my life.  Without assurance of being well paid for the time she invests in me (she told me today that she doesn’t want me to pay her per lesson because that isn’t the way they do things here), without having ever met me before or even heard me play, she is choosing to guide and care for me.  I am incredibly grateful.

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Elizabeth is an American living in South Korea who believes in destiny, miracles, and living life intentionally. She holds to simple faith in a complex world, values the beauty of the everyday, and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is always learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

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