We had the good fortune of connecting with Cathlyn Choi and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cathlyn, why did you pursue a creative career?
My early life living in both Seoul, Korea and Brunei on the Island of Borneo in the Pacific gave me a unique perspective on life, as I assimilated into two very different cultures. Growing up I enjoyed listening to English pop songs and watching American movies and TV shows, which inspired me to dream of coming to the US someday and become part of that far off world. However, one aspect that was consistent was my fascination with creative media arts and music, and how it had the power to transcend cultures and languages in sharing the human experience. When I was 9 years old, I saw a schoolmate of mine performing music on a live television program called Stars of Brunei, I knew then it was exactly what I wanted, to be in front of the camera. So I enrolled myself at a music school and learned how to play the electric organ, practicing 5 hours every day after school, until I memorized and perfected how to play 10 songs flawlessly. This led to my first exposure to television media, where I performed live on the same program, exactly a year later. I realized then that I could accomplish whatever I desired, if I put my heart and effort into it. This amazing experience underscored my growing interest and passion in pursuing my artistic career. It opened the doors for me to continue my career in the Entertainment industry in Brunei for the next 5 years as a performer, singer, dancer and fashion model, as a reporter and TV show host in Korea for 10 years before I moved to the US 21 years ago.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
About 30 years ago, when I was reading my dad’s autobiography, I learned that I was almost never born into this world, because I wasn’t ‘planned’ and my mom didn’t want to have a fourth child. However, my dad convinced my mom that I was special and conceived for a reason. I guess that’s why I always had a special bond with my dad. I was told that when I was only 6 months old, I had overdosed on a cough medicine and almost died. When I was 6, I almost drowned in a public swimming pool, and a second time at age 11, in the same pool. In my twenties, I got struck by lightning, not once, but twice. Somehow, I remember those moments very vividly. That’s what led me to believe that perhaps I was special and born into this world, for a reason. Fast forward to mid 80s, after 12 years of living in Brunei, I went back to Seoul, Korea to assimilate myself back into my Korean cultural roots and heritage. In college, I majored in Russian and studied other languages namely Chinese, Russian and French. I also worked as a parttime freelance English reporter for Korean TV stations where I got to interview high profile celebrities and corporate executives who were visiting Korea. Luckily, there were plenty of job offers and career choices for me because back then, there weren’t too many Koreans who were fluent in foreign languages, especially English. However, I was living in a patriarchic society where there were hardly any women who were business owners or corporate executives including the TV/Film industry.
As an entrepreneur, I made a conscious decision to break these societal molds and started my own consulting and language translations business that included providing subtitles for major Hollywood American films in Korean. That’s when I taught myself to play golf because I learned that almost all the business deals happen out on the golf course. While I was running the company, I was also contracted by an educational firm as the Producer and Host of “Screen English with Cathlyn” to record over 150 episodes of an instructional video series, where I taught conversational English using the scenes and dialogues from American movies. 2 years before I moved to the US, I was casted by Arirang TV, an English-language South Korean television network, to co-host a few episodes for a popular travel show called “Let’s Explore Korea”. It was so much fun as I got to travel and sample delicious cuisines in different regions of Korea. This experience inspired me to produce my own TV shows later on in life.
My life’s journey led me to the US in 2000, where I started my new life and career as a technology marketing consultant in San Diego. I successfully rose to an executive level in the rapidly expanding wireless industry for the next 6 years. However, in 2008, I re-assessed my life’s goals and decided to leave the financial stability of the corporate world and migrated back into the media arts space to rediscover my true passion. With my husband’s help, I self-produced and hosted 4 seasons of my cooking show Cathlyn’s Korean Kitchen, which was the first Korean cooking TV series produced in English in the US that aired on national PBS. I was honored with the title, “Korean Food Ambassador” given to me by the media and the Korean ministry of culture. New opportunities soon ignited for me to create and produce more television and film content. My dreams as a little girl living on a faraway island were suddenly became a reality for me.
I also discovered the Asian & Pacific Islander community had very little representation in the mainstream television media. This triggered a paradigm shift in me to advocate for better equity and inclusion for our Asian & Pacific Islander (API) community and to empower our marginalized diaspora in California with a stronger voice in media arts. So in 2013, I founded my own media nonprofit organization, Asian Culture & Media Alliance (ACMA), to create better awareness and understanding of this community through film, television and new media. In support of that mission, I produced the award winning television series, Asian Voices currently in Season 4 production. I recently launched Asian Voices Radio podcast to provide a voice in mainstream media for our community to rise up with a voice on issues, while showcasing the many wonderful contributions our community has had in shaping California’s history and its future. I believe that by helping remove cultural and language barriers that have held this community back for generations, our programs would help replace racial stigmas and archetypes with knowledge, respect and a voice of equity.
My latest project at ACMA involves the production of a documentary film in response to the horrific racial hate crimes committed toward Asian Americans in the United States. I am working on a couple of feature film projects in collaboration with filmmakers and production companies in Korea. I’m also in the process of launching another fun and entertaining online TV series called “Cathlyn’s KFlix Kitchen” this summer, where I introduce some of my favorite Korean dramas and films and the delicious foods that are featured in them. In the media industry, it’s a Show and Tell Business, so I consider myself a Doer, not a Talker.
I never pass up on an Opportunity that comes my way, but I am not the kind of person to wait for one to come my way either. So, I am constantly searching for new and exciting opportunities and still challenge myself to learn new things every day. I admit that the road has definitely not always been smooth or easy, and there were quite a lot of bumps, obstacles, and challenges along the way. In Korean culture, we have a saying, that “Once you draw the sword, you have to see it through to the end.” That’s the mindset I’ve been taught since I was a kid. Basically, I’m the kind of person who always finish what I start, no matter what. As the late author Napoleon Hill said, “Whatever the mind of a person can conceive and believe, it can achieve”.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Being a foodie and chef, I would take my best friend to explore the Convoy District of San Diego and sample delicious Asian foods over a couple of days at some of my favorite restaurants, including Korean BBQ. We’ll spend a day or two at some of my favorite beach spots in San Diego, including some scuba diving or snorkeling along the La Jolla Cove. A day of wine tours and tastings to wineries in San Diego would definitely be on the agenda. A tour of Old Town and the Historic Gaslamp Quarter downtown is a must. Last but not least, a round of golf or two at my favorite golf courses would be an make an ideal way to end the week!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I owe a debt of gratitude to many people in my life. My parents constantly reminded me that I should Never Forget the people behind my inspirations and successes. So, first and foremost, I’d like to thank my amazing parents, for being my life’s mentors and always supporting my life’s decisions. Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Whenever I faced personal challenges and setbacks in my life, my parents told me to never lose hope and always believe in myself. Both my parents were unique survivors of WWII and the Korean War, so I was able to learn many valuable life’s lessons from them. My dad used to remind me every so often that no matter where I am in life, I should always remain humble and be kind to everyone. And with everything I pursue, it should be done with patience, persistence and passion, with some sacrifices. But above all, I should always be grateful for what I have and live every moment like it’s my last. My grandmother who I once lived with in Korea for 7 years taught me that “Simplicity is a Great Virtue”, and that many amazing recipes can be created using only a few basic ingredients. I am ever so grateful for all that she’s taught me. Even though it’s been 30 years since she’s passed away, I still think of her and miss her terribly. I’d like to give a shoutout to my former music teacher Mrs. Wong in Brunei, who taught me how to play the organ and gave me the courage and confidence to perform live on TV at age 10. Thank you! To all my family, friends and fans out there, thank you so much for all your support and for believing in me! Last but not least, I’d like to dedicate this Shoutout to my husband Eric Michelson, who is my best friend, my business partner and soul mate. Without his endless support, encouragement and vision in the past 12 years, none of my shows would not exist today, including ACMA.
Other: Relevant websites: https://acmasocal.org https://asianvoices.tv https://asianvoicesradio.com https://carmamedia.com https://cathlynskitchen.tv https://curious.com/cathlynskoreankitchen/ https://www.imdb.me/cathlynchoi