72 hours in Sweden–yeah, Sweden the country


Just had to clarify it was Sweden–one of my friends thought I said “Cleveland” when we were talking on the phone. Needless to say, she wasn’t too impressed. 😉

Anyway, go here to see pictures. I’m so glad/grateful that I had the opportunity to go–that’s got to be the understatement of the year.

Adopterade Koreaners Förening (AKF) is a Korean adult adoptee organization in Sweden. It was founded in 1986, so they held a conference last weekend to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Quite impressive–they are true pioneers in the adult adoptee community. AKF is the oldest group of its kind in the world!

Lately, I’ve been talking with other adoptees about why it is that the Korean adoptees who were adopted to European countries seem to be so much more organized than their American counterparts. From what I’ve heard, the European groups seem to have more solidarity with one another, more enthusiasm, more participation, etc.

Well, in Sweden, for example, 90% of the ethnic Korean population is made up of Korean adoptees. Only 10% of the Koreans in Sweden are immigrants in the traditional sense. This is the exact opposite of the figures in the U.S. (1 out of every 10 Korean-Americans in the States is an adoptee). Although Asian-Americans make up about only 4% of the overall U.S. population, the number of Asian-Europeans (I’m not sure anyone even uses this term) pales in comparison. Thus, Korean adoptees in Europe seem to be even more isolated than they are in the States, given that there aren’t many other groups of Asian ethnicities.

I’d met European Korean adoptees before when I was living in Korea (’04-’05), but this was the first time when I spent a significant amount of time as the clear minority–I was one of only seven American Korean adoptees at the conference (there were 200-250 conference attendees). I’m beginning to see that the casual arrogance and privilege that accompanies U.S. citizenship is somewhat analagous to white privilege. Anyone who is not of U.S. nationality is pretty much forced to know something about the States anyway, due to America’s saturation of global media, economics, politics, etc. And how many Americans know the difference between the Dutch and the Danish? Which one describes people in Denmark and people in the Netherlands? (I’ll guiltily admit to getting those confused all the frikkin’ time.) In some ways this weekend, I felt like the quintessential dumb American, as a flurry of languages circulated around me while I stood there, mute.

The graciousness of our Swedish hosts was limitless. Every member of the AKF board made a special effort to introduce themselves to us and offer their assistance. Taxis to/from the airport were unneccessary–they picked us up and dropped us off themselves (thanks to three cars provided by Kia, one of the conference sponsors). M.T. (the first chairperson of AKF) even let me use the computer in his office on Friday afternoon so that I could register for my autumn quarter Evans classes (all while we were in the midst of our day-long meeting…..more on this later).

T.H. and I flew out from Seattle on Wednesday night on SAS (building up my Star Alliance miles…..free ticket to Korea, here I come). I was a bit stressed out, since I’d spent the previous two days doing everything in my power to cover my ass for Wed-Fri. at school, which was harder than I’d anticipated, because everything seemed to happen at once. I gave an interview for a TA position over the phone as I finished packing on Wednesday afternoon. Also had to finish up an assignment on the plane and then e-mail it from the hotel on Thursday. I’m currently swimming/drowning in things I need to address in the next few weeks…..eh, but I don’t want to think about that now. Gotta finish processing this weekend–the good stuff!

There were many, many highlights to the weekend, and one of them was most definitely being able to participate in the IKAA leadership meeting on Friday. This was my first time attending one of these, and it was exhilarating to be in a room with 10 different adoptee organizations represented (6 European, 3 American, 1 Korean). Several of the people were adoptees that I’d heard of but had not yet met in person until that day. We discussed a variety of things, especially the upcoming Gathering in 2007. Each of the IKAA organizations will be sending representatives (many of them the same people who were at the meeting last Friday) to Korea this June (only a month away!!!) to further plan for ’07 and also hold a press conference in Seoul to make an official announcement. I will be attending these meetings in June as one of the AAAW representatives. What a way to kick off my summer in Korea (my internship with G.O.A.’L will commence immediately after the week of IKAA planning).

I cannot overstate the importance of IKAA’s formation to the adult adoptee community. We are making a difference (having sent an official delegation to the Hague Convention last fall, for example). We are making our community stronger by networking with one another.

Saturday was also a highlight, because I got to hear presentations from Kim Park Nelson, Tobias Hubinette, and Eleana Kim. All three are doing cutting-edge research about Korean adoptees (Kim and Tobias are both adoptees themselves), and I admit to feeling a bit giddy at being able to talk with them. K.P.N. was fabulous–excellent presentation, fun conversation afterwards.

On Saturday night, there was a lavish gala dinner. Assigned table seating–which meant that I was the only American at my table, and I sat next to a Korean man who worked in the Korean embassy in Stockholm (and his wife). The dinner passed quickly, and then a DJ took the stage, the older “special guests” went home and those of us left procceeded to tie one on. The first few songs were Abba, which resulted in the Swedes taking to the dance floor with enthusiasm while the handful of Americans made a bee-line for the bar.

We stayed up until 5:30 a.m., which probably ended up being a good thing, because I don’t feel all that jet-lagged now. Nothing too, too scandalous to report. Although there are some good off-blog stories I might tell you sometime. (One involves surprising Santoki in the room—oh, it was priceless!!!)

Overall, I came away from the weekend feeling excited about our emerging community.

I’m juiced up for the mini-gathering.

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8 Comments

Filed under Updates

8 responses to “72 hours in Sweden–yeah, Sweden the country

  1. great pics, sarah김 🙂 it looks like you had a great time! (btw, a bit grin to the santoki story)

  2. this is awesome…i’m so excited to hear about your experience and will continue to ask hundreds of questions while we become your roommates for a week. cannot be more excited for the mini…ahhh!! cannot concentrate on work any longer, and it’s just tuesday!

  3. sounds like a fabulous time. i heard you met my friend k.p.n. who was a presenter. when i saw her last night she was in a fog and dead tired, but said it was a good conference. she also mentioned that she now has many more reasons to be embarrassed at our country (as if we didn’t have enough already)!

    i hope to be at the ikaa conference next year, i think i’m going to present as part of akconnection.

  4. wow, sarah! it sounds like an amazing trip. thank you for all the great details!

  5. That seems like quite the trip, what a great opportunity. Kya and I will have to get all the dirt from you next week.

    Side comments (photos):

    The Kina candy is kinda’ odd.

    Love how focused you look when your wine glass is about to be filled. Hahaha!

  6. fabulous trip! i am excited for the IKAA gathering and am glad you are a part of it! also glad you met KPN, a good friend of ours here in mpls. she is stellar.

    look forward to hearing more about your internship this summer. rock on!

  7. lucky…
    sweden sounded like a blast.

  8. im excited by your excitement
    summer 2006 here we come

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