This Land/Our Land: Talking with Jiji, classical guitarist

This interview is part of This Land/Our Land, a music video project bringing together six young musicians from immigrant backgrounds to perform a new arrangement of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” The arrangement is by From the Top host Christopher O’Riley. Watch the video here.

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…America is so big, and it felt very different. I was kind of scared, but actually very excited (to study) music.

Jiji points to her home country on a giant globe in New York City

Jiyeon Kim goes by Jiji, and moved to America from South Korea when she was 15 years old. We talked to Jiji while filming This Land/Our Land in New York City. The responses below are edited for clarity.

What do you remember about your first night in America? 

I remember flying to Cleveland, and actually, the flight got delayed in Detriot, and I had to spend a night at the airport. And it was this really scary feeling. I was all alone. I couldn’t speak a word of English, and I was just kind of stuck there. And then, the next morning, they put me onto a different flight. I remember going to Cleveland, and (feeling that) America is so big, and it felt very different. I was kind of scared, but actually very excited (to study) music.

Did you have any culture shock, coming from South Korea? 

Oh, I remember the first day that was really a cultural shock: the people that you don’t know but you go to school with, and they say, “Hi. How’s it going?” and “What’s up?” and I remember not knowing what to say, thinking “Who are you?! And (why) would I talk about my personal things to you?” And I would just, like, run away.

What drove you to leave home and come to America at such a young age? 

I was really passionate about classical guitar, and at the time, my (current) teacher/mentor came to Korea and gave this master class. I remember just being mind blown, and I immediately expressed my feelings of wanting to study with him. And then, he was just like, “Well, you’re in! Come to CIM (Cleveland Institute of Music)!” And I said, “Okay! I’m coming!” And so, I just told my parents. And they were kind of shocked, but they were supportive, and so, here I am!

Hear Jiji on From the Top Show 227.




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