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Dreaming of music

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Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2011 8:00 am | Updated: 5:22 pm, Tue Jun 28, 2011.

Images of Julie Andrews dancing across the field in 1965's "Sound of Music" were among the sources of inspiration that drove Sookyoung Kim to achieve her dream. She was 5 years old and living in South Korea when she first watched the award-winnning film.

Kim and her family moved to Ahwatukee Foothills four years ago because her husband was pursuing a master of business administration degree. The original plan was to stay until he finished and go back to her home country.

A year later, he had completed his degree, but Sookyoung's pursuit of her own dream kept her here.

She applied for a degree in musical theater at Arizona State University three years ago and, much to her surprise, was accepted.

"I wanted to be an example for my two kids; I wanted to show them your mom is very strong," Kim said. "But there were three barriers - language, cultural and a generation gap - that I had to overcome."

She had learned some English while living in South Korea but pushed herself to improve because her professors said she needed to if she wanted to have a chance at achieving the degree.

"They thought I wasn't going to make it because my English was not very good," Kim said. "I was suffering in my first year."

At 41, Kim was the oldest person in her classes and coming from another culture where performances involved a different tone, she had to learn how to develop and produce American musicals.

"The emotion between performances in America and Korea are different," she said. "(Korean musicals) are about sorrow and mourning while American musicals are more uplifting."

Her other struggle was integrating herself into the community. She joined the Horizon Presbyterian Church of Ahwatukee Foothills and found help there.

"Before I came here, I thought Americans were selfish with their privacy," she said. "But everyone was so nice to us and willing to help out after my husband went back and it was just me and my children."

Three years after being accepted into ASU, Kim became the first Korean nationalist to receive the degree. In fact, she received two master's degrees in music theater performance, one in Broadway musicals and one in opera.

"Sookyoung was a wonderful asset to our musical theater program," Kimberly Marshall, director of the ASU School of Music wrote in an email. "She brought to her studies a tremendous work ethic and passion for singing. She was an inspiration to her fellow students and professors. We are delighted to know that her master's training at the ASU School of Music will enable her to create a strong program of musical theater in Korea."

With her degree, Kim is returning to her home across the Pacific Ocean in mid-June. There she will work on performing American musicals, in English, for her fellow Koreans.

"I have always wanted to perform an American musical in Korea," she said. "I got the degrees and it was the first day of my second dream."

Her goal is to entice American actors to South Korea to perform classic American musicals. She will use subtitles for her performances by way of video projection.

"I'm very sad, but I have to go (back)," Kim said.

As one last thank you to the people who have supported her over the last few years, Kim will be hosting a free performance at Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 5.

Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or troemhild@ahwatukee.com

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