I Desire the Fruits of Knowledge and Music

Shinnshill Park, immigrated from South Korea

I Desire the Fruits of Knowledge and Music

It’s 2021, but we’re talking about 1993. I originally had ten questions I’d prepared to ask her, but it’s all out of order now—and it’s better that way. It comes more naturally and feels like a conversation rather than an interrogation. There’s me at my desk predicting if I’ll be able to take notes fast enough, and there’s Dr. Park sitting in what looks like a gamer chair. I wonder, for a moment, if it actually is one.

I don’t find out, worried I’ll sound foolish.

She tells me she came to America around 1993. She’d just finished her undergraduate degree and wanted to pursue her education further. Although she didn’t have a specific career goal in mind, she knew she wanted to learn more. She hesitated—her mother told her, “If you want to have this opportunity, to go to America and study music, you go now or you will never go.” So, she crossed the ocean and settled in Hoboken, New Jersey, attending Westminster Choir College to earn her master’s degree.

 It was a small college—lacking the party scene some of her friends and relatives had told her about. She found a group of friends who had also come from South Korea, who understood each other and helped each other navigate life in America. She says it was “fun and exciting” to live on her own for the first time. I don’t know how her description isn’t terrifying and lonely. It’s hard to imagine doing that.

But she did—settled in Hoboken, independent and free, worked her way through college despite the struggles that she faced. When she got her master’s, she didn’t stop—she went to get her DMA at USC.

Dr. Park didn’t intend to stay here after finishing her education. “The first few years, I was actually planning to go back to Korea after I graduated. I was actually packing when one of my friends who was actually my predecessor at Westridge got another job at the last minute and asked me, ‘Shinnshill, I know this job that is opening at the last minute—are you interested?’” Figuring it’d be better to at least have some job experience in America, she applied for the job and got it—chorus director at an all-girls school in Pasadena called Westridge.

Sixteen years later, she’s still here teaching at Westridge. After a couple of years, she became a full-time teacher and her citizenship status was taken care of. “I thought, maybe this is where I need to be.”

Although her life is in America, she still considers South Korea her home. It has been a while since she visited, but she still calls her mother every week. She checks South Korean news every day and knows what’s happening in South Korea, including the newest dramas, the weather, and who the current popular singers are.

Even without a specific career ambition in mind, Dr. Park got her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate. Education pushed her to America, education kept her there, and education is what she passes on, year by year, at Westridge. “In my case,” she says, “I just wanted to learn more.”

“I just wanted to learn more.””

— Shinnshill Park