Category Archives: Organizations

Thank you (and some updates)

Thank you to everyone who wrote such supportive comments here in regards to the ridiculous “stereotype party” debacle that happened at the end of March. It really lifted me up at a time when I was feeling attacked for speaking out. This whole experience has reminded me of why I’ve enjoyed blogging these past two years (has it really been that long???). And special thanks to everyone here in Seattle and online who have been so encouraging and have listened to me vent. 🙂

I have still not run into anyone who actually attended the party, nor have I seen any photos (although I did scour Facebook). Apparently, I share not one, but two classes this quarter with the party organizer! She has not come up to me, however, to discuss what happened, which is fine with me. However, I may be stuck in a group with her when my school hosts its annual series of “diversity discussion potlucks.” LOL. I can’t figure out if this is some sort of cruel punishment or an opportunity. Probably both. Maybe I can strip the veneer of politeness and disclaimers off at the potluck and say something more akin to what this blogger wrote over at Resist racism. Love it.





My trip last month to Europe seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. It was really wonderful to spend time with some of my most favorite people in the world: Santoki, S-y, etc. The trip, however, was one of the roughest I’ve had in recent memory. It all started with me barely making it onto my international flight in SFO and my luggage not making it. Thus, I was in the Netherlands for a day without a change of clothes or any toiletries, resulting in massive sticker shock when I saw that deodorant and toothpaste were going to cost me 12 Euros. Also, during an official lunch in Paris with the Korean ambassador to France and other Important Types, I suddenly began to feel incredibly queasy–a feeling that did not subside the rest of the day during IKAA meetings. Basically, I had some sort of food poisoning, and later on at the hotel I got yet another reminder of why I could never be bulimic (I can’t stannnnnd vomiting). The next day, I came down with a massive head cold and spent the remainder of the week coughing and sneezing violently. We also had to deal with harsh weather the whole time—cold, rainy, windy. And nevermind that insufferable woman at the front desk of the La Louisiane Hotel! (S-y, I’m still laughing at K.H.’s reaction to my story.)

Luckily for me, though, I had wonderful friends and the most gracious hosts to take care of me. Amsterdam was smaller than I expected, and it reminded me of Boston–except with canals. It’s a very charming city, and I wish I’d had more time to explore. Arierang was kind enough to host a welcome dinner for myself and C. from New York on my first night in Amsterdam. I realized that I know many more Dutch Korean adoptees than I had thought!

The next day, we drove down to Paris and spent the rest of the weekend with the other members of the IKAA Gathering 2007 Planning Committee. Once the official business was over, I had a few days to do some extra sight-seeing, and during the interim when my stomach was recovered but my nose was still clear enough to taste food, I indulged in excellent baguette sandwiches and tried escargots for the first time. (And I finally made it inside the Musée d’Orsay!)

Before I knew it, I was back on the train to the Netherlands and spent the remainder of the week in Utrecht and Amsterdam. I don’t regret making the trip at all—however, I had to spend a week recovering from my “vacation” once I got back to Seattle, which wasn’t the greatest way to kick off my final quarter of school.

This quarter, I am taking four classes:

  • 2nd-year, nonheritage Korean (this is the 6th quarter of UW Korean I’ve taken!)
  • Program Evaluation (public affairs course)
  • Grantwriting (only meets four times total)
  • Public Service Clinic

The latter is where I will finally complete my degree project–an applied research project that is not a traditional thesis but is still a massive headache. Last quarter I was torturing myself with the question of whether I made the right decision to choose to do a public service clinic rather than my own topic (which would have been related to the Korean adoptee community, naturally). At the time that I chose to do a clinic, I was still thinking that I would get a 2nd masters degree in International Studies, and I figured that I could do something adoptee-related with that degree. After mulling this over endlessly, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that I do not want to put myself through the UW’s MA in International Studies program, given that it is still not quite what I want to do. Ever since I started my MPA program at the Evans School, I’ve been starving for academic work that would feed my soul, not just fill my brain with practical skills. I’ve come to believe that the MPA degree is good as a complement to something else. It teaches you about practical matters such as statistics, budgeting, policy, etc. I do feel that if I eventually make the steps to start a new nonprofit that I have a decent background to do so. However, I am really wanting to focus more on issues that are personally important to me, e.g. the development of the Korean adoptee community, Asian American media representation, etc. Perhaps I will be able to feel fulfilled once I am out of the MPA program, but if something still feels lacking later on, perhaps I will make my way down to UCLA for their MA in Asian American Studies…… (I wish the UW had an MA in Asian American Studies…..they are in the process of developing a certificate program, but there is no word on when that will launch. If it does, UCLA may be permanently out of the picture.)

So even though my schedule seems deceptively open, the fact remains that I feel overwhelmed, mostly because I still have the majority of my degree project left to complete. I am locked into this topic, because the agency I’m doing the research for has agreed to pay the UW $1,000 for my troubles. No pressure! On top of this, my job at the Lindenberg Center has ramped up considerably this quarter, since we are having a 5th anniversary lecture series in May, and I also arranged to have Kim Park Nelson and Laura Briggs (both contributors to Outsiders Within) come to the UW on May 14 as part of a seminar on transnational adoption. And of course, there are my on-going commitments with AAAW, IKAA, etc.

Nevertheless, I think I have emerged from my “winter funk,” given that the weather has turned pleasant and I actually took the initiative to clean–both physical space (apartment) and e-space (email inboxes–what a mess!). I also started working out somewhat regularly again and have been eating better (much easier now that the 7-Eleven around the corner is closed). Now if I can just make it to graduation! My parents and some other extended family will be coming to Seattle for graduation festivities in June, and then my plan is to try to do some temp work for about a month. Then I will be helping with the KIDS Culture Camp during the week before I go to Korea in July. After summer traveling, I’ll come back to Seattle and attempt to find some kind of employment. In what? I don’t have anything specific in mind. Something that’s not soul-sucking but that still pays decently. I’ll have a better idea once September is here.

So I’ll be giving Seattle another chance. 3rd time’s the charm. I want to see what it’s like to live here as a regular, working person (my previous experience here has been limited to life as an AmeriCorps volunteer [no $$$] and a graduate student [no $$$ and also stressed out as all hell]). But before regular working life starts…….

Summer! And also pre-summer travel. Here’s the latest:

  • This weekend, April 13-15: Las Vegas for S.’s bachelorette party! (Weekend of firsts: my first trip to Vegas and my first bachelorette party where I think some sort of penis-like paraphernalia will be required when we go clubbing)
  • April 26-29: San Francisco for Korean adoptee mini-gathering
  • July 19-August 30: Korea
  • August 30-September 6: Hawaii!

Guess what I’m thinking about more: my degree project or the above?



Filed under Community, Conferences, Korean Adoptees, Organizations, Pondering the Future, School Daze, Seattle, Traveling, Updates, Work Life

Winter Funk

I don’t mean “funk” in the musical or odorous sense–I mean it in the February-blah-are-the-skies-still-grey sense. Add to the fact that I need to do all of my data collection for my degree project (final draft due on May 21st) this month, and you can see why lately I’ve just been wanting to run away to a beach somewhere and hide out underneath palm trees while sipping fruity drinks, like a deposed dictator or reclusive author.

Ok, maybe not quite like that, but I can’t seem to shake myself of this heavy avoidance mode I’ve been in since the holidays. Grad school has been wearing me down. I don’t know how people are able to do this while maintaining careers and families w/ kids to boot. And I’m not even in a “demanding” school, such as law/medicine, etc.! Ok, I shouldn’t put down the rigors of my program. Seriously, though, going back to graduate school has changed a lot of things for me. It’s caused me to relapse into the barely contained chaos that comes naturally to me. Somewhere in my early twenties, I learned to keep things fairly neat and organized, such as my living spaces, bank accounts, credit cards, bills, etc. I also became disciplined at eating well and exercising consistently all in the name of feeling good and being healthy and all that crap. It was a huge turnaround for me, and it all coincided with “finding myself,” dropping out of medical school, and writing in my journal a lot. I read a lot of “spiritual” books full of philosophical maxims such as, “If you want a royal road to mysticism, sit down quietly and listen to all the sounds around you.” I tried to become outdoorsy and went on hikes and tried snowboarding. I cut out recipes from Real Simple magazine and attempted to make them before neatly storing them in a small binder with plastic sleeves. I was the clean roommate!

I have no clue where said binder is now; it’s probably shoved under my bed in my parents’ house, collecting dust. I can’t remember the last time I made a meal at home that required more than two ingredients that wasn’t a sandwich. I’ve become one of those people that prefers not to look at her bank or credit card statements, because it’s too painful (ignorance is bliss?). The carpets in my apartment haven’t been vacuumed since September, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to the gym in the past four months, and my studying strategy has become “do it when it becomes an emergency.” Also, the closest I’ve gotten to the mountains the past two years has been glancing at them from the bus window on my morning commute (on the rare day that they’re visible).

I’ve been talking to some friends lately (great post, Amy) about the quarter-life crisis, and I chuckle when I remember that I actually once bought a book on the subject (again, this was back in my “spiritual”-book-reading phase). I guess technically I’m done with the quarter-life crisis, b/c I’m past the age of 25 now and I’ve chosen a field of graduate study? I have identifiable “passions” in my life. Hmm, well, Wikipedia identifies ages 21-29 as the quarter-life crisis period. So I have one more year to get it together. Ha. For me, one of the most interesting parts of blogging and reading other people’s blogs has been realizing that problems/fears/self-doubt/ennui don’t go away with age, marital status, etc. Also, I realize that the wealth of life experience does provide a sort of emotional padding that allows one to bounce back more quickly. So based on my own past experience of being a balanced, healthy person, I know that this is achievable for me. Although I think I’ll wisely forego trying to makeover myself into an Outward Bound-ish, Seattle-crunchy nature-enthusiast.


Let’s see….. 2007 seems to be the year that my friends visit Seattle! It was really great to see M.C. a few weeks ago (hope I can visit her in Boston soon and revisit old haunts), and this past weekend I got to see B. (delicious one) who I’m also hoping to see again in April when I go to the Bay Area. And I’m still looking forward to visits from L.L., K.S., and my parents (graduation!).

I spent some quality time at the Northwest Asian American Film Festival at the end of last month. Went to the kickoff party and saw the first episode of Eric Byler’s new PBS series, My Life…Disoriented. I thought the acting was fairly good, but the plot seemd like a re-hash of countless teen comedy cliches. I also attended the festival on Friday and saw Red Doors (directed by Georgia Lee) and a documentary about the 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors of Comedy (an Asian American comedy troupe from San Francisco). I’d vaguely heard about the former through Angry Asian Man, but then I saw this post from a local blogger — scroll down to read about the film — but only after our tickets had been purchased. Yes, it’s true that most of the daughters’ love interests in Red Doors are white men, but what bothered me even more was that the themes of the film seemed recycled from far superior Asian American films (e.g. The Joy Luck Club [yes, I like that movie! Don’t hate me.], Saving Face, etc.). The documentary about the 18MMW, however, was hilarious and a nice reprieve from the typical festival fare. (I reeeeallly wish I could have seen Journey From the Fall, though. I’ve heard it’s amazing. ImaginAsian is distributing the film, so hopefully it will be coming to a theater near you soon….)

On the 24th, I had a packed day. In the morning, I attended the ACLF/LEAP Leadership Conference and had a brief chance to network with other Seattle-based Asian Americans. I’m really trying to make more of an effort to be more active with the overall Asian American community–not just the Asian adoptee community–here in town. (Many thanks to J.B. for graciously introducing me to countless people this year!) Later on, I went up to Bothell for the KIDS Lunar New Year celebration. For those of you who don’t know, KIDS is an adoptive family group (which basically means it was founded and is primarily run by adoptive parents). This year’s event was interesting, because I brought along two of my classmates from my Asian American Diasporan Social Interaction class. We’re doing a project on AAAW, and I agreed to choose AAAW as our topic, mainly because there are some undercover adoptees in the class that I want to indirectly educate about the group. One of my classmates, a Taiwanese-born-&-raised graduate student of Korean Studies, was so overcome (for some reason) when she walked into the KIDS celebration that she turned to me and said, “I feel like crying!” I simultaneously wanted to laugh and roll my eyes but succeeded in doing neither and instead patted her on the shoulder. I think her only previous experience with Korean adoptees has been through watching K-dramas, so her reaction seemed to be based on that particular mental model.

Last week, I also met with an adoptive mom who has started running an informal group of Chinese adopted teenage girls. She had contacted AAAW with the interest in joining forces with us to have some teen-related events. Our teen program is in dire need of revitalization, so this seemed like a good opportunity to inject some life into it. I went to her house–a rambling, bohemian manse atop Queen Anne Hill–to meet her and some of the girls on one of their group nights. It had been a while since I’d been around anyone younger than 21, so I had to laugh when the girls suspiciously asked me, “How old are you?” and “Are there any boys in your teen group?” (Due to the dearth of male Chinese adoptees, the group has high hopes for our mixed teen group.) The a-mom in charge seemed fairly with-it and rightfully disillusioned with the local FCC chapter. Some of the things I said to her, though, seemed to be new concepts, but it could definitely have been worse. We didn’t get into anything nitty-gritty, anyway, since I had to run out the door to the NWAAFF screenings. I hope that we’ll be able to open up the summer KIDS culture camp to adoptees of all Asian ethnicities. Using that as a springboard, I’m also hoping we can create a more active adoptee teen group that can carry on throughout the year.


Sometimes I wonder if there’s any point to my blogging (especially when sometimes it seems like I have to nag people to read it), but a very cool thing happened the other week that was heartening.  Apparently, another Korean adoptee had recently started a search for her birth family, and she realized that she was left at the Mapo Reception Center, adjacent to Holt Korea in Seoul.  This was a new discovery for her, and she had no idea what the Center was (she’d always been told she was found at the Mapo police station).  So she Google’d “Mapo Reception Center” and came to my blog, which led her to my MySpace profile, and she was able to message me and ask me about it.  Subsequently, she’s found out that her situation was very similar to mine—she’d grown up with the story that she was abandoned as a baby, but the reality is that her parents took her to the Center and signed the relinquishment papers themselves.  She’s currently going through the tug-of-war for information with Holt, and I wish her the best of luck…..


I can see the light at the end of the tunnel…… I think if I can make it through February, my mood and motivation will improve considerably. As S-y would say, I’m such a 7! I seem to do things as either all-or-nothing. Just pointing out the obvious, in case you didn’t know that already. 😉


Filed under APIA Community, Korean Adoptees, Media/Arts/Pop Culture, Musings, Organizations, Ranting, Updates

Interview in G.O.A.’L Newsletter

The following is an interview that should appear in the next issue of the G.O.A.’L newsletter, The OAK. Describes more fully my internship.

Kelli: How was your overall experience being an intern at GOA’L this summer? Could you share with us what it was like being a summer intern at GOA’L?

Sarah: I had a fantastic experience working as an intern for GOA’L this summer! I worked Monday-Friday, 10am-6pm, during the same hours that the office is open to the public. Once a week, I had a meeting with my supervisor, Nicole Sheppard (GOA’L Vice-Secretary-General). Much of my day was spent on the computer, working on various projects (mainly a handbook for GOA’L employees). However, I also got the chance to meet and interact with a number of adoptees that came into the office. It was an incredibly busy summer for GOA’L (July and August averaged around 150 visitors per month). When the other staff members were busy, I usually answered basic questions such as how to apply for the F4 visa, gave directions to KoRoot, etc., to visitors.

Kelli: As an intern, what were some of your duties?

Sarah: My main project was working on a GOA’L staff handbook for current and future employees of GOA’L. The handbook describes the organizational structure, services & programs, administration and regulations of GOA’L. In order to write this major document, I had to interview each of the staff members several times. The handbook is designed for internal use only, but hopefully it will provide enough institutional memory so that as GOA’L continues to grow and change, the staff will be able to have actual documentation of its evolution. Also, the document I created this summer is Version 1.0, which can be updated (hopefully annually) in the future.

In addition to the handbook, I created evaluations for the GOA’L Conference and also compiled the information from the evaluations in a report. I also did some work for IKAA (International Korean Adoptee Associations) at the G.O.A.’L office in preparation for the Gathering in 2007.

Kelli: What was your purpose for doing an internship with a non-profit origanization, especially for GOA’L? How did you become involved with GOA’L? Was it an easy process to find an internship?

Sarah: I am currently in the middle of studying for my M.P.A. (Master of Public Administration) through the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington (located in Seattle). One of the requirements for graduation is the completion of at least 400 hours in an internship where we can apply the analytical and managerial skills we acquire in our school program. Since I am on the Board of Directors of Asian Adult Adoptees of Washington (AAAW), I have some experience working with grassroots Korean adoptee organizations. I chose to work with GOA’L for my internship because while I was living in Korea (2004-2005), I learned about GOA’L and met Dae Won and Nicole. During that time, I attended some GOA’L events such as the General Meeting, Christmas party and discussion forums. I want to support GOA’L because it was founded by adoptees, for adoptees. I also want to support GOA’L (along with AAAW) as a fellow IKAA (International Korean Adoptee Associations) member organization.

I knew that I wanted to work with GOA’L for my internship as early as autumn of 2005. Initially, I contacted Dae-won (GOA’L Secretary-General) about the possibility of working for GOA’L, and then he connected me with Nicole, who ended up being my internship site supervisor.

Kelli: What did you learn most from being an intern at GOA’L?

Sarah: I learned a lot of the intimate details of how GOA’L functions as an organization. As a small, nonprofit organization, GOA’L faces many obstacles in terms of capacity and fundraising, but they are still able to accomplish a great deal by helping many, many adoptees and their families.

Kelli: Is there any advice or tips you’d like to offer to adoptees who are interested in possibly doing an internship for GOA’L in the future?

Sarah: I would encourage any adoptee who is interested in interning for GOA’L to contact Nicole and Dae-won. They are really committed to developing future leaders in the adoptee community and are great mentors. The two of them have a staggering amount of connections and experience.

Kelli: What are some of the advantages or benefits of interning for GOAL? Didn’t it hurt you financially since it was a non-paid internship? How can one manage to work full-time as an intern without any financial assistance?

Sarah: By interning at GOA’L, you are able to support one of the pioneering organizations in the Korean adult adoptee community. In addition, it’s a great opportunity to network with adoptees from all over the world.

Unfortunately, my internship was unpaid, but GOA’L was able to provide me with lunch each day. Luckily, I was awarded a fellowship from my university in order to help cover my costs during my internship this summer. If not for this fellowship, it would’ve been very difficult for me. Although there was little financial reward from my internship, the other benefits more than made up for it. I would encourage anyone who is interested to try their best to find external funding sources for the internship (although it’s possible that GOA’L may be able to provide a small stipend one day in the future).

Kelli: Would you like to say anything more about your internship experience or say anything to anyone before we finish this interview?
Sarah: This was a great experience! It’s really solidified my commitment to the Korean adoptee community, and I hope to be able to better communicate what GOA’L is to other adoptees. I want to thank all of the GOA’L staff for being so supportive and welcoming this summer. Thanks to Dae-won, Nicole, Jin-kyung, Hoya, Joo-yeon, Felix, Eva, and JohnI’ll miss you! See you next summer for the Gathering!

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Filed under Community, Korean Adoptees, Life in Korea, Organizations

Relinquishment and Resilience: Uncovering the Past

미선언니 (Mi Sun, my older sister), 4th 이모 (my mother’s younger sister), me. 2006.8.19


Last weekend, I went to 신림동 with 미선언니 and 보림 (친구, Borim) to visit one of my imos (이모=aunt on mother’s side). It was meaningful, because Borim was the first Korean friend I ever had. We met at Creighton University in January 2001–the same month that my Korean mother passed away. (My Korean identity was reborn while at the same time my Korean mother was dying, unbeknownst to the both of us.) Borim also accompanied me when I met my Korean sisters for the first time in 2005. I wanted Borim to come with me last weekend, not only because I wanted to spend time with her, but I intended to ask my imo some specific questions regarding the circumstances surrounding my adoption.I first met 4th imo (I say “4th” because my family sometimes refers to her that way. She was the 4th child out of seven total to my maternal grandparents) last year at my grandmother’s 80th birthday celebration. I mistakenly blogged about her as being my “5th” imo. Anyway, she used to live very close to my mother. After I was born, she visited my mother daily in order to take care of Mi Sun while my mother cared for me. Last year when I met her, she gripped my hand tightly as she scrutinized my face (she loves to tell me that my face is the same as it was when I was a baby), tears rolling down her own plump cheeks.

At that first meeting, 4th imo questioned whether October 21, 1978 is my actual birthday. She insisted that it was an extremely cold day when I was born, and October in Korea is generally a mild month. None of my other relatives could confirm the validity of the date, so I began to wonder if October 21 was really the lunar date (which would mean that the solar date was somewhere around November 21).

Meeting my Korean family last year was always very intense, and although I was pretty committed to journaling regularly, it was difficult to sort through all of the stories my relatives told me. I didn’t know the specifics of my mother’s cancer, and I’d heard a vague account of my mother trying to reclaim me after taking me to Holt.

So last weekend, I went to visit 4th imo to see her house, eat some delicious food, and uncover some of the past. With the aid of Borim and my electronic dictionary, we were able to discuss many things in more detail.

4th imo lives in 신림동, close to Seoul National University. As we waited for 4th imo to meet us at the bus stop, Mi Sun said that she hadn’t been to 4th imo‘s house since her childhood. 4th imo eventually greeted us enthusiastically and walked us to her house nearby. It is small, but clean and decorated with photos and hordes of small knick-knacks (which always speak to me of fussy old ladies). 🙂 My uncle and cousins were absent, due to work and school obligations.

I’ve often wondered whether Holt or my parents gave me my Korean name, 현아 (Hyun Ah), because my two sisters have the same “middle” name (미선 Mi Sun and 미헤 Mi Hye). So I asked 4th imo about my name, and she said that I was nameless for a while. My mother told my aunt that she was waiting to name me. 4th imo said that 선아 (Sun Ah) was one of the names that she mentioned as a possibility. Then we discussed the fact that while it is common to have children named similarly (e.g. my cousins are 재은 Jae Eun and 재준 Jae Jun), sometimes parents choose to “break the rules” and choose totally different names.

After talking about my name, the topic of my birthday came up. 4th imo realized that she had probably been confusing Mi Sun’s birthday with mine (Mi Sun was born in November 1976), and October 21st is most likely my “real” birthday.

4th imo then began to reminisce about those days, and said that she was waiting for my 100-day celebration (a traditional party that celebrates infants’ good health in Korea). But my party never came, and when my 4th imo asked my mother about it, she discovered that my parents had taken me to Holt. My father was bitterly disappointed that I was a second girl, and he threatened to divorce my mother if she did not give me away. Eventually, my mother gave into my father’s bullying after I was two-months-old. They took me to the Holt Reception Center in December 1978.

My mother described to 4th imo about signing the papers that relinquished all parental rights, including the right to search for me in the future. 4th imo became extremely angry at my mother, and said to her “You should have given her to me to raise!” And so they went together to Holt in February 1979 in order to reclaim me, but Holt told them that I had already been adopted and was in America.

Which was a lie.

I did not go to America until September 1979, with my adoption finalized a few months prior. My story is not unique . . . I have heard many other stories with similar accounts of adoption agencies slamming the door in anguished birth mothers’ faces.

4th imo was very angry with my mother. She said that she didn’t talk to my parents for almost a year after they relinquished me. When Mi Hye was born, she was a very sickly baby, and 4th imo chastised my mother, “You know that Mi Hye is sick because you sent your other child away.” My female cousin was born shortly thereafter, and 4th imo cried bitterly in remembrance of me.

Over the years, 4th imo would watch the search shows on Korean television that showed Korean adoptees looking for their birth families. She was hoping to see me.

I asked whether she had any photos of me as an infant. My sisters’ family photo albums do not have any pictures of me. 4th imo said that she used to have a few, but they floated away in a sudden flood many years ago.

My mother was racked with guilt over giving me away. In 1994, she discovered large black spots on her skin that grew and grew. She was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in addition to a particular kind of leukemia (Borim originally kept saying that my mother had a “black tumor in the blood”).

Our father (who abused and fought with my mother and sisters daily) finally divorced our mother in 1998. My imos and grandmother have told me numerous times that despite my father’s handsome face, he was very cruel. After my mother passed away in 2001, he took all of the insurance money, leaving my sisters with nothing. My father is remarried and living in Incheon now with his young wife and son. I still have not met him and am ambivalent about doing so.

My family has told me that my mother wondered about me often. They all wondered what had happened to me. As she was dying, my mother was convinced that God was punishing her for having sent her daughter away.

I spent some time in 2005 naturally grieving for my birth mother. It was intense in the beginning, as I wrote about in a journal entry from that January:

I think I must be grieving for umma, for her hard life, for the pain she lived through, both emotional and physical. The pain that came from her husband, from losing a daughter. I’m grieving for the fact that I’m not going to meet her, that she never knew what happened to me, that I turned out okay.

I still think of my mother often, but that intensity has subsided. Although we talked about some serious and painful memories last weekend, the majority of my visit with 4th imo was happy and filled with smiles as she showed us photo after photo (after photo) of her family’s recent European tour. As we parted, she gave me a firm hug, and instructed that the next time I visit, I must spend the night and have time with my cousins.


International adoption is complex. What you’ve read above might indicate that I only associate my adoption with pain and sadness. Perhaps I am a “bitter and angry and negative” adoptee. The kind that adoption agencies point the finger at. I think it is incredibly glib and short-sighted to only look at the happy-happy-joy-joy aspects of adoption. Why does acknowledging the sadness associated with adoption automatically label me as being “negative”?

As the wonderful T.S. Eliot quote that Tharon & Della put on their blog says:

We shall never cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will to be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

As many others have written recently on their blogs, I reject the false dichotomy and reductive binary of “happy” vs. “angry” adoptees. I also do NOT believe that every adoptee ultimately “evolves” into re-assimilating to Korean society. Certainly, I do not ever see myself living in Korea again permanently. But some adoptees choose to do so, and I think that vilifying the adoptee community in Seoul without knowing them or speaking to them is ignorance at its worst.

Some of the reforms that Korean people are calling for in regards to international adoption include giving birth mothers a longer grace period in order to change their minds about relinquishing their children. Currently, such a grace period is practically non-existent (around seven days). In the U.S., birth mothers have several months to deal with the complex emotions accompanying relinquishment. Sometimes, it can take many months to determine whether a kinship adoption (such as in my story) is possible.

This questioning that I have is not about trying to re-write the past or to wish that my life had turned out differently. And it is NOT about rejecting my adoptive family and their love (on the contrary, coming to Korea and meeting my birth family brought me closer than ever to my adoptive parents). It is to acknowledge my mother. And it is to acknowledge the thousands of mothers and families that lost something in the process–as well as future birth mothers.

They have stories that are worth hearing.


At the KoRoot 3rd Anniversary party this July, I was privileged to be able to view a screening of Tammy Chu’s new documentary film (a working version), Resilience. The film was also shown at the G.O.A.’L Conference, with the following description:

Resilience tells the stories of Korean birth mothers who gave their children up for overseas adoption. The film explores the reasons and circumstances behind their decision, which was often due to lack of social welfare support and women’s rights. For the very first time, despite stigma and discrimination from their own society, birth mothers bravely come forward to tell their stories of loss, struggle, and ultimately, of courage and strength.

The film is incredibly moving and powerful. I highly recommend viewing it when the opportunity arises (Tammy is planning to submit the finished version at various film festivals world-wide).

Finally (whew! Long post. Knew it was coming, since I’ve hardly blogged this summer), I will share with you a column from a recent edition (2006.8.18) of the Chosun Ilbo, Seoul’s pre-eminent newspaper. The column is Oh Tae Jin’s “Weekend Letter–Finding the Puzzle Pieces Lost for Adoptees.” (In Korean, 조선일보, 오태진의 주말편지, English translation of column provided by G.O.A.’L) I think it shows that Koreans are looking critically at international adoption.

In the dark, young adults were sobbing; some sighing deeply, and some lamenting. 150 overseas Korean adoptees residing in Korea and abroad were watching Resilience, a documentary last Saturday evening. The viewing of the film was the last part of the three-day G.O.A.’L annual conference held in Daebang-dong, Seoul. The 38-minute documentary brings out in the open the hidden voices of guilt-stricken birth mothers, at whom a finger of blame is pointed.

Mother 1: “I got pregnant after coming up to Seoul to work. I left my baby in the care of my relatives, and I was staying in the single-mother shelter. Meanwhile, my brother put my baby up for adoption, not discussing it with me at all.” She is married with the man who is the biological father of the baby. A while ago, her son contacted her from France.
“I was afraid of not having any excuse for abandoning my son. I could spot my son right away in the airport. It was so good to see him, but it was heart-breaking to let him go back to France. I talk with him on the phone, but it is painful not to be able to see him. I have done nothing for him. I hope he knows that I’m praying for him all the time, and I hope he understands the situation and why I could not keep him.”

Mother 2: “I got raped in my room, while I was working at a factory at the age of 16. I left my baby in the care of my relatives, and then my mother told me that she sent away my baby to a rich Korean family. I went on a mad search for my son for years and then finally gave up. Just one day, my son came back from the U.S. It was my happiest moment. I was thrilled to see him again. He told me that he was missing me, too. I didn’t want to let him go, but . . . “

Mother 3: “I ran away from home to escape from my father’s abuse when I was a middle-school student. While I was working at a gas station, I got raped. I realized my pregnancy after 7 months. I went to the Han River to commit suicide. But, I couldn’t make it and just cried my eyes out. The nurse showed me the baby at the hospital, but I didn’t take a look at him and just let him go.”

Her face is blurred out, and she sounds young. “There was no shoulder to cry on to ease my pain of being a mother at an early age. I think of my son whenever I have a hard time. How tall would he be? What kind of personality would he have? I want to be proud of myself when I meet him. Although I’m not a wonderful cook, I want to make him food and take photos with him. I want to see him and tell him how much I love him. I believe he will come and find me some day.”

The documentary ended with the narration, “Mothers took if off their chests and gained hope and reconciliation.” It was adoptees who gave an outlet for birth mothers to tell stories that went unheard before.

Tammy Chu, a documentary director who studied film in New York, said “I learned mothers gave up their children in large part to society.” That is, adoption is more attributable to a patriarchal society and social ignorance rather than the lack of maternal love.

Korean adoptees who steered their lives toward the birthland established an association for overseas Korean adoptees seven years ago. They admit there is emptiness in the heart where the birth family, motherland, Korean language, culture, and people should have been. Adoptees feel confused until they learn what they have missed. Now, they become grown-ups and try to find the missing piece. I hope that Koreans will be able to help them learn about their mother country.

Adoptees share pains and dreams and rely on each other. They are trying to understand their mothers and the country that gave them away. They spend years volunteering at child-care facilities where they used to stay, while leading campaigns to promote domestic adoptions. However, it is regrettable that Korea, their mother country, is still giving up its children for overseas adoption. In contrast, Korean adoptees grow toward becoming proud members of Korean society.

I support adoptees who return to Korea and choose to stay. I support adoptees who prefer to live in our adoptive countries. Most of all, I support what Oh Tae Jin writes in the last paragraph: “Adoptees share pains and dreams and rely on each other.” (He refers to the establishment of G.O.A.’L and other adoptee-founded organizations.)

And I support being honest about the past, sharing our complex stories. Stories that cannot be simplified to good vs. bad, happy vs. angry.


Filed under Adoption (the industry), Community, Conferences, Korean Adoptees, Korean family, Life in Korea, Organizations, Policy

Conference Wrap-Up, Pt. II

This is going to be brief, as I waited too long to finish my Conference wrap-up, and many of my impressions are not fresh anymore. However, I’ve been plugging away at compiling the information from the evaluation forms from the G.O.A.’L Conference, so I’ve at least been thinking about it daily. (Check out the G.O.A.’L homepage for some pictures.)

The opening Friday night session was very interesting as JJT and KPN showed us slides from the forthcoming Outsiders Within book. Particularly of interest were some photos from various photographers, including Anh Dao Kolbe, whom I remember meeting a few years ago in Boston. JJT also read some excerpts from the notorious CHSFS letter that has been circulating. (More on that from me later… the meantime, JJT, Ji-in, Jae Ran, and KT Mee Hee are doing a great job addressing it.)

Saturday was busy, busy, busy, as I started the morning trying to put the finishing touches on the IKAA Power Point presentation. In the morning, I attended a presentation by a Danish Korean adoptee who talked about being in between identities (Danish….Korean) and how her concept of Korean-ness has changed and evolved over the years. Next, I split my time between a panel on domestic adoption in Korea and KPN’s presentation. After lunch, I moderated the panel on Adoptees in the Entertainment Industry, which had Amy Anderson (Korean adoptee comedienne from Minnesota, now based in L.A.) and Philippe Lapairy (French Korean adoptee who is a Korean television star). This was my 2nd time moderating a panel at a G.O.A.’L Conference (last year it was a panel about careers in Korea other than teaching English), and this year’s particular panel was interesting due to the good humor of the panelists and the fact that S.V. translated Philippe’s French. Moderating a panel feels a bit like pretending to be Katie Couric (or maybe SuChin Pak….at least she’s Korean and wears cool stuff like Santino Rice), especially when speaking into the mic. Philippe is so recognizable now in Korea that when he goes out and about in Seoul, he often has to disguise himself by wearing various hats and sunglasses. Amy’s comments were very insightful about the state of being an Asian-American woman in Hollywood and the comedy circuit. She’s currently pitching a sitcom to television networks, and I’ll be rooting for her to succeed.

I took a bit of a break after that panel to relax and chat with Amy, KPN, and T.H. Then those of us who were presenting for IKAA did some last-minute prep and later did our best to make our Power Point as exciting as possible and pump people up for next year’s Gathering in Seoul.

Dinner followed, and then I went back to KoRoot before heading to S Club in Hongdae for the after-party. Amy performed (great lines about Korean taxi drivers), and a band of adoptees (The KoRoots–so named due to the fact that 1/2 the group were residents here) rocked the house. Prior to the conference, I’d felt a bit like I was living in an episode of Making the Band, as I heard various members of The KoRoots bickering (“Doood, we need to be serious about rehearsing.”) But their actual performance was fun and amped–hope they can do the G.O.A.’L Christmas party.

On Sunday, the only event was a group outing to see the SJ B-Boys show, “The Ballerina Who Loved a B-Boy.” Before you gag on the title, let me just say that the show is absolutely amazing, and the b-boys are f*cking hot. I’d heard it was a great performance, but I was truly impressed by some of the avant-garde choreography (mixing ballet with b-boy moves). I wish I’d taken more pictures, but this will have to suffice. They’re just………flexible.

Hope to post tomorrow as well about some issues that have been burning my brain the past week.


Filed under Community, Conferences, Korean Adoptees, Organizations, Updates

Conference Wrap-Up

First things first: about 100 new photos up on my Flickr site. (Looks like I need to add some more family photos . . . forgot to take pictures when I went to eat samgyetang with Mi Sun recently.) This post is going to be rambling and disorganized, just to let you know, because I need to meet some people for dinner in about 20 minutes, but I want to get this down before the work week starts (had Monday and today off . . . fantastic mini-vacation that I’ve spent mostly sleeping).

It was incredibly, incredibly busy in the G.O.A.’L office during the two weeks prior to the conference. I spent a lot of time working on our Power Point presentation for IKAA (which ended up turning out nicely, despite some font headaches), thanks to T.Y. for kicking my ass into gear. 🙂

The first night was Friday, which was basically the opening ceremony/dinner, and JJT & KPN’s presentation of Outsiders Within. I spent a lot of time working the registration table and got a little flustered when some VIPs appeared (a consul from the U.S. embassy, etc.). Everything went very smoothly, though, for the most part. The buffet was really good, as far as Korean buffets go. Had a fun time sitting with C. from Denmark at the “special” IKAA table, which happened to be situated directly beneath the blasting air conditioner. Only time that I’ve been cold here this summer.

The speeches by the Korean officials were mostly non-offensive, mostly forgettable. JJT & KPN’s presentation was cool, and I’m looking forward to reading the book this fall.

This post is taking longer than I thought, so it will have to be continued later . . . .


Filed under Community, Conferences, Korean Adoptees, Organizations, Updates


…for the G.O.A.’L Conference to officially begin. The dinner begins at 7:00 p.m., and I have a feeling most people won’t show up to register until 6:00 at the earliest. Also waiting for the Conference booklets to arrive. Hoping tomorrow’s Power Point presentation doesn’t wig out on me.

Next post will be next week, as I have Monday and Tuesday off (Tuesday is Independence/Liberation Day). Most likely a G.O.A.’L Conference wrap-up…..and one of these days I want to write a KoRoot-themed post.

Highlight of this weekend will be Saturday’s after-party–Amy Anderson will perform, along with an adoptee band…..

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Filed under Community, Conferences, Korean Adoptees, Musings, Organizations