CHAMPAIGN – Susie Suh, the first Korean-American singer-songwriter to land a contract with a major record label, will perform at the University of Illinois on Saturday night.
Her appearance highlights the Korean Cultural Center's grand opening celebration at 7 p.m. at Foellinger Auditorium, on the south end of the University of Illinois Quad.
UI students created the center last spring to promote Korean culture and address the needs of the local Korean community.
Suh, who plays guitar and piano, released a self-titled debut CD last year with Sony Epic Records.
Several of her songs have been featured on the hit television show "One Tree Hill." Tickets for the concert will be available at the door and are $10 for students and $20 for the general public. Profits will benefit the Korean Cultural Center.
Saturday's event will also feature two speakers with Korean connections: Mike Frerichs, Democratic candidate for state Senate, and Richard Underwood of Urbana, who spent 51 of his 79 years in Korea.
Underwood's grandfather, Horace Underwood, was a Presbyterian missionary who went to Korea in 1885 and eventually founded Yun-Sei University in Seoul, one of Korea's top universities. Richard Underwood said his grandmother, Lilias Horton, was a Chicago-born physician recruited to Korea to treat the queen, as tradition at the time did not allow male doctors to examine her.
Frerichs' wife, Laura Appenzeller Frerichs, is the great-great-granddaughter of Methodist missionaries Henry G. Appenzeller and Ella Dodge Appenzeller, who arrived in Korea on the same ship with Horace Underwood and eventually founded Pai Chai University in Korea.
The three were the first Protestant missionaries in Korea, and a statue in Inchon Harbor commemorates their arrival on Easter Sunday 121 years ago. The Frerichses traveled to Korea last year to help commemorate their ancestors' contributions to the country.
The Appenzeller and Underwood names are still revered in Korea, said Jin Yong Choi, assistant executive director of the Korean Cultural Center of Champaign.
Champaign-Urbana has many individuals with strong ties to Korea, as well as a large Korean population, Choi said. The UI alone has about 1,200 Korean students.
The center hopes to teach others about Korean history and culture, strengthen the identity of Koreans locally and build stronger friendships between Koreans and the wider community, Choi said.
"I think it's really important," said Underwood. "Even for us, after living so long overseas ... coming back here and setting up housekeeping is a rather confusing thing."
After its opening event in May, the center launched its first official program – a three-week cultural exchange for 10 local middle-school students, half of them Korean and half of them American. The Korean students learned English, the American students learned Korean, and the two groups were combined at the end of the day for cultural activities – cooking Korean food, playing Korean instruments or making traditional Korean fans.
Several activities are planned for this fall, including a lecture series, Korean classes and a Korean movie fest. The center also hopes to work with local schools on international programs.
Down the road, plans include a Korean school and other programs geared toward second-generation Korean-Americans, American families who've adopted Korean children and others of Korean descent who want to learn more about their cultural identity.
The center is a resource for "anyone who's interested in and can enjoy Korean culture," Choi said.