Throngs of family members waiting to reunite with loved ones ebbed and flowed as passengers wheeled suitcases away from customs and the secure baggage claims at DFW International Airport’s Terminal D.

Cindy Will stood at the edge of the crowd waiting to welcome international arrivals, anxiously holding a sign that read “Jinhyung Park.”

Will has never met Park before, but the Korean-born pianist will be staying at her home while competing at 16th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

“I’m excited,” Will said while peering through the crowd trying to spot Park. “I’m nervous and so excited.” 

The 26-year-old will be the third Cliburn competitor she’s hosted. The first hailed from Italy and the second was from Taiwan. 

As a teacher, Will appreciates the learning and cultural exchange that comes along with hosting contestants.

She remembers eventually figuring out that when her first contestant asked for “a steel” what they really needed was an iron. Tuxedo, she learned, was another word that was hard to translate. And food provided a way to bond, whether it was seeking out authentic Italian restaurants and sushi bars or cooking at home.

“It’s almost like family,” Will said, noting that she is in touch with the contestant from Taiwan.

If you go…

Dates: June 2-18

Location:  Van Cliburn Concert Hall at TCU, Bass Performance Hall and streaming online.

Tickets:  Individual tickets $30-$225. Click here for more information on free events.

The first contestant she hosted got eliminated early on and her second contestant made it a little bit further. But Will jokes that the third time’s a charm and hopes that Park will make it all the way. 

More passengers walk through the terminal and Park spots Will and the sign bearing his name almost as soon as he emerges. The two immediately hug and share a laugh. They shared brief emails after they found out they were matched, but both seemed excited and a little relieved to finally meet in person. 

The screening auditions were his first time in Texas, and Park said he’s excited to be back. 

“I would like to try to do my best, especially on the stage,” Park says. “And then, I’d like to have a great experience with my host family.”

Outside of that, the thing he is most looking forward to is the food.

“Hamburgers, steak…” Park laughed while giving his list. “I’m a really big fan of In-N-Out.”

Will said they can check that off the list right away.

Park and the other contestants will learn the order they will perform on May 31. The preliminary round of the competition begins June 2. 

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Marcheta Fornoff

For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...