Monthly Archives: July 2006

Spotless Minds

It’s been a relatively long time since my last post, and there are a few explanations as to why….
1) I’m pretty much on the computer all day at my internship, so it’s the last thing I want to do when I’m not working.
2) Sometimes the online connections at KoRoot are either occupied or finicky.
3) I don’t always have access to my laptop (for various reasons) during my free time.
4) While I was in Seattle, I used my blog to especially ponder Korean adoptee issues and connect with like-minded individuals. Here in Seoul, I am able to do this in-person bascially 24/7, so I think I feel less compelled to jump online.
5) Some of the things I’ve been turning over in my head are better suited to my private journal rather than a public blog.
6) Living at KoRoot ensures that there are people around to distract me at almost all times.
7) I’ve been spending most of my evenings/weekends socializing and catching up with people I knew from my year here (’04-’05), my Korean family, and fun, new people I’ve met recently.

I had envisioned writing posts nearly every other day while I was here this summer! Sadly, this has not been the case, and writing in my personal journal has been almost non-existent. I’m reminded of when I first moved to Boston and went from living with just my parents to suddenly living with eight other energetic, entertaining individuals. During college, I was consumed with studying while pursuing my alternate-life track, so I had kind of missed out on the frenzy of having lots of people around. Thus in Boston, I felt a little like I’d been released from prison (prison = being a pre-med only child in the Midwest), and I reveled in being constantly surrounded by like-minded people. My extroverted self (that had been repressed for several years) was unleashed, and I indulged it continuously by exploring the city with my housemates and having vibrant conversations in our kitchen until 3 a.m. The result, however, was that I was hardly ever alone and never took the time to reflect. Mid-way through, I made a conscious effort to remove myself sometimes from the living room/kitchen to go do yoga or journal in my room.

It’s not as though there aren’t social opportunities for me in Seattle–it’s just that there, I often have school tasks that make me feel obligated to sit alone in front of my laptop. But instead of writing or reading as I shoud, I often surf the Internet . . . and blog.


Anyway! This afternoon I went to Holt in order to pick up some paperwork (adoption certificate & family registry) that I need to renew my F4 visa tomorrow. It was a little surreal walking over there, since the last time I’d been there was two years ago when I had my appointment with a social worker to view my Korean file for the first time. I remember being extremely jittery and looking at the KoRoot volunteer who accompanied me, Jun, with skepticism at his ability to translate. As it turned out, his presence was unnecessary for translation, but I appreciated having him there for moral support.

I had steeled myself in preparation for the visit, knowing that Holt has a reputation for being difficult and uncooperative. I fully expected the social worker to show me all of the same papers I already had copies of from my American adoption agency. At the most, I was hoping to see some new baby photos of myself and later have the opportunity to meet the foster mother who cared for me for eight months.

I’d grown up with the story that I’d been “abandoned,” that I miraculously appeared on the doorsteps of the Holt Reception Center at two-months-old. No one knew who left me or where I had come from. In cases such as mine, I knew that my only options for searching for my birth family were through the media (newspapers, exploitative television shows). The idea of a media search made me queasy, and I figured I’d cross that bridge at a later date.

I don’t remember what the Holt social worker (I don’t even remember her name now, I just remember that she was pregnant at the time) said exactly to me that day two years ago, but in my memory, Jun and I sat down, she offered us a drink, and then my world turned upside-down.

“Your mother passed away in 2001 . . . . your father is re-married . . . you have a sister . . .”

The story that I’d been abandoned was just that–a story. My parents actually took me to Holt themselves. My Korean files had all of their information all along. Holt had even contacted my father after my first impromptu visit to the Holt offices in Seoul back in 2001.

As the social worker continued to tell me about my Korean family, I was in shock–embarassed as I could not stop crying and was on the verge of hysteria as Jun handed me “tissue” (Koreans use rolls of toilet paper as all-purpose tissue). Jun kindly spent the rest of the day with me, taking me out to lunch and a movie as I walked around in a red-eyed fog. [Sidenote: I am to this day grateful to Jun for being supportive that day, but I stopped returning his calls after he began persistently suggesting that I would feel all better if I would just go to church. Mmmm-hmmm.]

When I was very young, I had a strange game that I would play with myself. I would somehow convince myself that I was not “Sarah,” and that everything I knew about the world was wrong. My consciousness would change, and it was a strange feeling that inspired both uneasiness and curiosity as I came back to reality. I’m not sure if this childhood game was a result of being adopted (or maybe I was just a weird little girl) . . . . But that day at Holt two years ago was like someone else playing this game with me, only it wasn’t a game, and instead of going back to what I knew as reality, an entire new, complicated chapter of my life opened.

This afternoon, I had to ask my co-workers how exactly to get to Holt from the G.O.A.’L office. As I neared the building, however, my instincts correctly led me away from what appears to be the main part of Holt and toward the reception center where the post-adoption services offices are located. I was in a bit of a rush, and quickly exchanged my shoes for indoor slippers as the doorman tried his best to give me unnecessary instructions. Once upstairs, I passed the room where Jun and I had sat two years ago, and I saw an adoptee sitting in there with what appeared to be her adoptive family and a Korean social worker. I quickly received my papers, nodded my head and said, “고맙삽니다,” and left. I was probably in the building for a mere total of five minutes. So simple. No hysterics.

As I was walking to the subway tonight, Santoki and I were looking at my family registry. It has my Korean name, with “제적” in a bold box underneath. Santoki explained that “제적” means that I have been “deleted.” Erased from the family, at least legally. But paperwork did not result in spotless minds for my Korean family, particularly my mother. It did for me, however, because while growing up I had no memories of Korea, except for abstract dreams that went away once I entered school.

I’m thankful now that my mind is no longer spotless and has been sufficiently muddled . . . .



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Protected: Rainy Saturday

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Why I’m Here~

G.O.A.'L Office

So this is where the magic happens . . . . Well, actually, this is where I’ve been spending my weekdays, 10 a.m. — 6 p.m. G.O.A.’L, which stands for Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link, is a unique organization in that it provides services for adoptees returning to Korea, but it was founded and continues to be run by adult adoptees. The multitude of services they provide includes assistance with searching for birth family, translating/interpreting, adjusting to Korean culture, learning Korean language, etc. Basically, G.O.A.’L is an essential homebase for the Korean adoptee community in Seoul, and it is also a member of the IKAA network (International Korean Adoptee Associations).

My role as a summer intern at G.O.A.’L has been ideal thus far, because they provide me with free lunches. But seriously, I am so content to be able to focus all of my energies on helping the Korean adoptee community this summer. This is something I do while I’m in Seattle, but there I’m always doing it “after-hours” in addition to a full load of school-related things, etc. I’m learning more and more about G.O.A.’L as an organization, which I think will be really valuable when I return to Seattle and AAAW in the fall. G.O.A.’L is the only adoptee-led organization in the world that has its own paid, full-time staff. I appreciate all the hard work and patience these ladies (and 산토끼) display.

The main project I’ve been working on thus far is writing an employee handbook that describes the service delivery processes, organizational structure, fundraising, etc. of G.O.A.’L. The most interesting part about this project is getting to interview all of the staff members and seeing a holistic picture of how the organization works. And it seems as though the past nine months of Evans schooling counted for something . . . I’ve been able to talk with them about institutional memory, performance measurement, and the like.

My goal (haha) is to finish the first draft of the handbook by the midpoint of my internship. The last half of my summer here will entail editing the handbook as well as developing some performance measurement standards for the upcoming G.O.A.’L Conference (August 11-13, 2006) and for other programs. I might also have the chance to do some writing about G.O.A.’L and the conference for some publications (e.g. KQ).

G.O.A.'L Office

The photo above shows my little corner of the G.O.A.’L office. We get many visitors each day who are, more often than not, my housemates at KoRoot.

The past year has been very exciting for G.O.A.’L (they finally received funding from the Ministry of Health & Welfare [Korean government]~yay!), and I think there is great potential for the future. Consider this: The peak of Korean adoptions occurred in the mid-1980’s, with approximately 9,000 children leaving each year. Those children are now entering their early- and mid-twenties, which are the prime years for visiting Korea.

August 2007 . . . . we invade!


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Protected: Take me to the funny farm: KAD (and non-KAD) mental health

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My Korean Tongue. Where is it??

Eating breakfast with 외할머니.

Over the course of 9 months in Seattle, I sent my 한국 가족 (Korean family) a handful of e-mails. Some of them were in English, but a few that I sent were actually in Korean, painstakingly composed after lots of trial & error and the help of my Korean teachers/language partners. I think these e-mails, however, gave my family a sense of false hope that when I stepped off the plane in June, I would be speaking beautiful, fluent Korean.

Alas, I even surprised myself with how poor my speaking skills still are!

Although I was able to compose decent compositions and read Korean passages with relative ease at the end of three quarters of beginning Korean at the UW, my listening and speaking skills remain woefully low. Part of the problem is that I already lived in Korea for a year without learning more than survival Korean, so I know how to navigate around by using one or two Korean phrases, basic English, and body language (miming helps). Another problem is that when I start to make a sentence, my voice falters as I search for the right words to say, and by that point, the listener will often jump in and finish my sentence for me. As a former English teacher, I know it’s so tempting to complete a beginner’s half-finished sentences–but it really impedes learning!!

However, those three months of study did count for something. Although I can only understand about 1/16 of what I hear, at least that’s 1/16 more than I could understand at this time last year. Also, I have fewer taxi drivers asking me, “Where you from?” Must mean that either my pronunciation is better, or I’m somehow forming actual sentences rather than what was probably something like, “Sinchon. Go,” last year. My explanation in ’04-’05 for why I didn’t learn much Korean was because as an English teacher, I spent my entire day in language frustration. So repeating the whole process–with myself on the receiving end–was the last thing I wanted to do when I got home at 9:00 at night. Plus, I worked with other foreigners who were Korean-language-challenged and provided an all-too-easy English outlet. Finally, the emotional drain of being an adoptee in Korea sapped any motivation that might have been left to wrap my brain around Korean.

But I was hoping this summer would be different. Although I’m starting my 4th week here, and have yet to crack open the Korean textbooks I brought with me.

It was very interesting living with my aunt, grandmother, and cousin for a week at the end of last month. I got a taste of day-to-day life with them. Due to my somewhat enhanced Korean, I was able to stay engaged almost the entire time, although I have to admit that part of my brain tends to shut off when I hear rapid Korean. It’s similar to what I experienced in science classes in elementary school . . . . my daydreams were beyond my control, my mind wandering to a million different topics and then suddenly the bell would ring and I’d realize I had heard absolutely nothing said by the teacher. My American parents would always scold me for “tuning out.” Perhaps this is why I’ve never been tempted to smoke pot–I don’t need herbal supplements to tune out the world. (Besides, I’ve been told numerous times that my heavy eyelids make me look perpetually high. [I prefer the term “bedroom eyes,” thankyouverymuch.])

Anyway, I’ve been trying to keep myself literate by reading as many signs and advertisements in hangeul as I can. And I find myself recalling some of the obscure vocabulary we learned over the course of the year. But it’s too easy and too tempting to encase myself in an English bubble while commuting in Seoul. Sitting on the subway, I listen to my iPod full of American music and read my American books. And I chose to live most of the summer at KoRoot, which although it is run by Koreans, the house is full of adoptees who don’t speak Korean for the most part.

I feel this need to explain myself, to justify why I’m not throwing myself into full immersion. Why am I not making a more concerted effort to make my insides match my outsides? I realize that as long as my Korean remains so rudimentary, the heart of Korean culture and deeper communication with my family will elude me.

But I think as adoptees, we all have a measure of “Korean-ness” that we’re comfortable with. Although I would definitely learn Korean more quickly if I lived with my family the entire summer, the amount of personal freedom & mobility that I would have to sacrifice by living with them is not worth it to me. Naturally, my family worries about me—what time will I be home, where will I eat dinner, when will I marry a Korean man, etc. etc. I can only take about a week of that from my American parents–and it’s about the same here in Seoul.

One’s relationship with Korea . . . it’s so different for everyone. I know adoptees who have never returned here, and I know adoptees who are living here indefinitely and have been here for over a decade. There’s a Korean adopted guy who’s actually married to a Korean woman . . . and he still doesn’t speak Korean.

Scene from last week: Perhaps some more motivation to learn Korean
On Seoul subway. Line #2.
I’m reading
The Korea Times (English-language newspaper here). Looking at a World Cup article. The lone white foreigner in the subway car suddenly approaches me and asks, “Soooooo . . . do you fancy soccer? Or are you just studying?” Meaning–am I studying English? Will I swoon at the sight of his Western looks? Will such a ridiculous opening line receive a polite response or an ALAG-style double-middle-finger gesture?

I’m sure he didn’t anticipate the latter. But I was too sober to surprise him.

Hm, where are those textbooks……


Filed under Updates

2 Weeks in Korea . . .

Ok. Finally posting. Where to begin, where to begin?? It seems as though things in Korea move at two or three times the rate as events elsewhere. I’ve only been here for two weeks, and already in some ways it’s as though I never left last September.

I’m sitting here in the KoRoot basement, waiting for my photos to upload onto Flickr. Having gone through the pictures, it seems like the IKAA leadership week was an age ago! There’s been a lot swimming around in my head these past two weeks, some of which may not make it onto this blog. I think some of my reticence in posting lately has not only been due to the lack of time, but also due to the same reasons that it took me so long to start my blog last year in the first place. Being in Korea stirs up some very powerful, complicated, confusing emotions for me (as it does for so many adoptees), and it’s difficult for me to process–although it seems to be getting better. Bear with me, as I can tell this is going to be a long post.

So I arrived on Sunday, June 18th. We went straight to the Imperial Palace Hotel (formerly the Amiga Hotel), where I crashed into bed after a looooong day of traveling. I’m glad that I went to sleep early, because the ensuing week of IKAA leadership meetings was, in a word, intense. Intense conversations, an intense schedule, intense fun. We were fortunate to spend two of those days on Jeju Island, the “Hawaii” of Korea. 😉 We stayed at an amazing resort, but most of the time there was spent inside in meetings (although we did venture out to visit the Seogwipo City Hall and a waterfall).

View from our room at the resort on Jeju.

What’s incredible about the IKAA 2007 Gathering planning committee is that we are all such different people–different personalities, different languages, different cultures–but we are bound together by a common passion for connecting with and helping other Korean adoptees. It takes a particular kind of devotion to be able to sit inside a room, talking about liability and conference fees–at 11 o’clock at night. I had some great conversations outside of meetings–the most memorable one being with the president of Racines Coréennes, the Korean adoptee group en France. She was pretty quiet for many of the meetings, because her best languages are French and German, and all of our discussions were in English. But with the aid of some soju over a kalbi dinner, she and I had a great talk, partly because the soju made me brave enough to resurrect my long-dead, high-school-level French. We compared race relations within Korea, the U.S., and France. We mixed French, Korean, and English while speaking. We giggled and stumbled our way to the Korean-style toilet next to the restaurant.

We covered a large amount of material during the first part of the week, all in preparation for the 2007 Gathering. There was some heated discussion at some points. For one meeting in particular, I was nervous. But from my perspective, it seemed to go well, despite the political differences of people in the room.

The latter half of the week was spent running around Seoul, attending various official meetings (National Assembly, Ministry of Health & Welfare [which only some of our group attended–not me!], potential sponsors). This meant: wearing a suit in sweaty, sticky, summer Seoul weather. The week culminated in a press conference at the Sofitel Ambassador Hotel (the hotel for the ’04 and also the upcoming ’07 Gatherings).

Press conference
I’m second from the left, my head entirely obscured by an American flag. U-S-A. [whatever]

After the “official” part of the leadership meetings was over, the 17 of us (plus a few more) stayed up until 4 a.m. to watch the Korea vs. Switzerland World Cup soccer match. We went to City Hall, where thousands and thousands of Koreans, all swathed in red t-shirts, cheered with excited decorum in unison. It was incredible, although I’m sure it was nothing compared to the madness of 2002. Although we participated for several hours of pre-game frenzy, we ended up going back to the hotel to watch the game. Good thing we did, since Korea lost, 2-0. 😦

Dae Han Min Guk!

The soccer game and then the following evening’s festivities ensured that I was extremely tired when my sister picked me up last Sunday . . . I was dozing off in the hotel lobby, when I opened my eyes and suddenly saw my sister walking towards me. I felt like I was in a dream, because I wasn’t sure it was her (I was wearing my glasses and going on 2 hours of drunken sleep) until I recognized the t-shirt she was wearing as a gift I’d sent her for Christmas last year.

I’ve spent the past week living with my aunt and various relatives coming and going (cousins, sisters, grandmother), and we’ve gone down to Suji twice to see my uncle and his family. I notice that I don’t feel quite as isolated as I did last year when I would visit them, because my Korean is better, however lackluster it may still be.

Best thing about staying with my family last week: having my family show me photos of my mother and point out the things similar between her and my sisters and me.

Worst thing about staying with my family last week: when my cousin asked if I was a “twinkie.”

So this morning I moved my things to KoRoot, where I will stay for the rest of my stay this summer. It’s all been a whirlwind, but that’s to be expected. I will blog more later this week about my internship at G.O.A.’L (I’m already tossing around phrases like “institutional memory” and “performance measurement” in the office—wooo-hooo!).

Oh yeah—go here for pictures.


Filed under Updates