Category Archives: Musings

To Willow Janowitz: You’re not alone….

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I’m a bit incredulous, given the fact that this is the first time in months that I have logged into WordPress to actually blog rather than delete my spam comments. I’m not sure if anyone will read this anytime soon, but I am clawing my way out of obscurity to comment on the insulting and highly offensive blog post that Tama Janowitz wrote over at The New York Times‘ new blog series, Relative Choices.

In “The Real Thing,” Ms. Janowitz writes:

A girlfriend who is now on the waiting list for a child from Ethiopia says that the talk of her adoption group is a recently published book in which many Midwestern Asian adoptees now entering their 30s and 40s complain bitterly about being treated as if they did not come from a different cultural background. They feel that this treatment was an attempt to blot out their differences, and because of this, they resent their adoptive parents.

So in a way it is kind of nice to know as a parent of a child, biological or otherwise – whatever you do is going to be wrong. Like I say to Willow: “Well, you know, if you were still in China you would be working in a factory for 14 hours a day with only limited bathroom breaks!”

And she says — as has been said by children since time immemorial — “So what, I don’t care. I would rather do that than be here anyway.”

Although the entire post is breathtakingly dismissive and flippant of the very real and serious differences between raising a biological child and raising a transracially & transnationally adopted child, the above section is what has been cited by Lisa Marie Rollins, Ji In at Twice the Rice, Jae Ran at Harlow’s Monkey, Susan at ReadingWritingLiving, Carmen at Racialicious, Resist Racism, Kev Minh at Borrowed Notes, Paulo O. at Heart, Mind, and Seoul, and Sun Yung Shin. And it is also the section that had me shouting, “What the f—???” at my computer screen at the end of Monday.

There are many reasons this struck a nerve amongst so many of us, #1 being that such a glib, self-satisfied piece came immediately after a heart wrenching and thoughtful post by Sume; reason #2 being that even though this is a blog in the Op/Ed section, c’mon people—it’s still the friggin’ NYT. It’s a huge platform, prestigious, enormous readership, blahblahblah.

A lot of the aforementioned people (my fellow adoptees/bloggers and allies) who are more widely-read and more frequently published than moi (I’m including Shannon Gibney and Bryan Thao Worra in that group as well, although I know your responses have not been published yet) have made much more eloquent and incisive critiques about “The Real Thing” than I was able to muster at 5:36 p.m. PST on Monday evening. But what we all have in common is that we submitted comments on Ms. Janowitz’s post–and we were all censored. No, our comments weren’t edited, they weren’t published at all.

Here is what I wrote:

“Well, you know, if you were still in China you would be working in a factory for 14 hours a day with only limited bathroom breaks!”
This is the type of emotional blackmail that so many transnational adoptees have to deal with, and it is the source of a lot of pain and guilt. Parents who make this kind of statement do two things: 1) reinforce the “savior” myth by showing how bad & dirty the Third World is and how lucky the adoptee is to not live there and 2) guilt the adoptee into being “grateful” for being adopted.

Another thing that transnational and transracial adoptees often have to deal with is being perpetually characterized and dismissed as petulant adolescents, forever “bitter” and “complaining” as this blogger characterizes a recent anthology by some “Midwestern Asian Adoptees.” Being critical of our experiences as adoptees and also being critical of the systems that make up adoption does not necessarily mean that one hates one’s parents. There is tremendous loss (as well as gain) in any adoption, and acknowledging this loss does not mean that all of these adult adoptees resent their adoptive parents. Many of us wonder about our biological parents–who even though we may not have met them (or may never meet them), are very much real in that they exist, or at one time existed, on this planet.

Short and sweet, right? (Maybe not sweet, but it was well less than 400 words, as I was told is the word-limit for blog comments at Relative Choices.) No profanity, no name-calling, I didn’t personally attack Ms. Janowitz, etc. However, my comment was not approved, and yet this comment was deemed acceptable:

That you can blithely joke about stereotypic Chinese children’s labor to your child–even if it was planted in this column just to be kind of mindlessly provocative (as I suspect it was)–speaks to a deep moral obtuseness. It doesn’t matter if you were joking.

The difference? The above comment was made by an adoptive parent, not an adult adoptee. I suppose directly calling Ms. Janowitz morally obtuse was more palatable than what I had to say about the emotional blackmail. Do all adoptive parents engage in this kind of projection of parental insecurity that passes as joking? No, and I didn’t say that they all do. But there sure are a hell of a lot out there that still say these things, although I have recently been lulled into thinking that such archaic ideas were a thing of the past since the types of adoptive parents I’m apt to run into at conferences these days are the ones hysterical with being culturally sensitive, etc.

This just feels all too familiar as well, because once again, people of color are being told by the white liberals to “relax” and “lighten up” and “find the humor.” How many times has this happened? I’ve lost count—both in media representation and in my own life (see: Stereotype Party at the Evans School!). So of course, the majority of the comments that were approved on Ms. Janowitz’s post all say things like, “Brava!” “Hilarious!” “So true.” Meanwhile, those of us with a rather different interpretation have been shut out in the cold, save for the two or three that made it through.

Even though I agree with Shannon Gibney in that the personal narrative genre in adoptee writing is dead or near-dead, I am going to inject some of my personal background and thoughts here since my fellow TRAs are doing such a good job dissecting how purely awful Ms. Janowtiz’s post was.

What made me incredibly sad while reading the post was thinking about the all-too-real pain that the blogger’s daughter, one Willow Janowitz, must be experiencing at being the butt of her high-profile mother’s jokes. Whether or not she has read or will read “The Real Thing” (and whether or not she will read/not read my little blog post here), I would like to say to you, Willow, that you are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of other adoptees who, like you, have grown up in families where the insatiable need to normalize, to forget, to erase difference drives parents to say such (unintentionally) hurtful things to their children. It is so hard—SO HARD—as a 12-year-old transracially/transnationally adopted child to articulate why we sometimes feel conflicted, confused, and sad. And so sometimes we express this complex whirl of unremembered memories, feelings, and thoughts in reduced phrases—“I hate you.” Yes, I said this at times to my adoptive mother while I was growing up. Yes, my adoptive mother loved (and loves) me fiercely, as much as your mom blasts all over the NYT that she loves you, Willow. Yes, I still speak to my adoptive mother today, at least once a week and often more. Yes, I love my adoptive mother. But I still remember those fierce arguments we had. I still remember those hateful things that my adoptive mother said to me, out of maternal insecurity and fear. I still remember every time that I told her, “I hate you.” And I still remember how another part of my heart iced up–frozen and locked away–each time it happened.

So yes, Willow, I agree with your mother in that I do think you should write everything down. Girl, write all of this shit down. So not only can you tell your therapist (there is no shame in therapy!!!), you can tell the other adult adoptees that I hope you will one day meet. Because there are a lot of us. In fact, there is a global community of us. We are out there (even though by reading the NYT one wouldn’t think so), and we have voices, and we support one another. And we would support you. The whole “biological” vs. “real” competition is a farce. Our birth mothers were and are real. I wrote that they were real because they existed on the planet—and I meant to also add that they’re real because they exist in our hearts. And no matter what kind of sarcastic trumpeting your adoptive mother writes about how she is so for real, it’s ok for you to know that our first mothers loved us, too. My Korean mother died six months before my first trip back to Seoul. But I know–I KNOW–that she loved me. Our first mothers loved us, and it’s ok for us to love them back. It has absolutely nothing to do with the love you have for your adoptive mom. It doesn’t make that love any less, even if she worries it will. Because it is different, and being an adopted child is different than not being an adopted child.

So write it all down, because it’s not about holding onto grudges, it’s about processing. Catharsis. We can laugh together at the misplaced humor, at the bullshit. Because this is some bullshit. And you can one day forgive (or not forgive) your mother, as I have come to terms with and forgiven my parents, for their unintentional ignorance, and be happy in yourself and your life as a whole person.

But I do not forget. Forgive, yes. Forget, no. Because if we forget, then we are silenced.

Can’t wait to hear what you have to say one day, Willow.

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27 Comments

Filed under Adoption (the industry), Media/Arts/Pop Culture, Musings, Revisiting the Past

Interesting Weekend+

I wasn’t going to post until the end of the month, but the last four days have been extremely interesting, and I want to blog about it. Plus, I also want to procrastinate. (No surprise……. however, I don’t know when/if I will ever get around to addressing the things that I listed previously. I’m always doing that….making lists of things to blog about and then not doing it. One of the people I met this weekend said in her brief bio that one of her hobbies is making lists–which she regards as its own literary form.)

Anyway, I spent Friday–Sunday at the Wallace Falls Lodge for the opening retreat of the ACLF Community Leaders Program. I actually first heard about this program two years ago when I was apartment-hunting after first returning to Seattle from my year in Korea. One of the rooms I was looking at was in a condo owned by a Vietnamese American guy in the Central District. The room was too small, but he was nice and when I told him I was going to be starting at the Evans School, he recommended that I check out the ACLF program. I looked up the website, was intrigued, and made a mental note to look again another time. Later that year, the ACLF program coordinator (and Evans alum) sent a message to all current Evans students regarding a one-day ACLF conference in Shoreline. I attended and felt relieved to be in a room full of politically-active and community-minded APIAs. It was a great networking opportunity, and I loved being able to talk to the Evans alum who understood and sympathized with a lot of my frustrations regarding grad school.

I’d wanted to do the ACLF Community Leaders Program last year, but the majority of the program takes place during the summer, and of course I spent last summer in Seoul. So this time around, I am really thrilled to be able to participate in the program, mainly because I want to be able to network with other local APIA leaders in a way that goes beyond “hi & goodbye” (which is what I mostly experience at local events). Emphasis here being on “local” and “APIA”—I love networking & establishing relationships with other community leaders, but most of the people I meet are specifically Korean adoptees who are decidedly not local to Seattle.

So, I carpooled to Wallace Falls with two of the other participants, dozing off due to being exhausted from worrying about (yet not writing) my DP. When we arrived, many of the ACLF board members greeted us. One of them asked us, “Are you ready to have an intense weekend?!” Err…yes? I was a little surprised by the question, because I had the impression the weekend would be a relaxing time in the woods. The weekend did end up being more intense than I’d anticipated–although it wasn’t a bad thing, I think, as I’ll explain later.

I am NOT a fan of ice breakers, but the one we did after the welcoming dinner was the best one that I can remember doing. We each gave the background story and meaning behind our name(s). Even though the room was chock-full of people (there must have been at least 30+ people in the room), I was interested in every story. And I was struck how this was the first time I’ve ever been in a structured program designed for the APIA community as a whole. The diversity in the room was incredible. And even after the board members left and only this year’s CLP class remained (along with our facilitators), we were still a very diverse group (Chinese American, Korean American, Japanese American, Filipino, Vietnamese/Laotian, Pacific Islander, hapa/mixed, Iranian American, etc.).

It had been a long time since I’d been on a retreat (not since my AmeriCorps days) and even longer since I’d been on such a touchy-feely retreat. (Touchy-feely in the sense of emotional and personal…..no hanky panky ensued.) Probably not since my CCSJ days at Creighton have I been in a group that emphasized personal sharing so much. I definitely enjoy personal sharing; however, I left the weekend with little insight into what my fellow participants do in their professional/organizational positions. I’m hoping that I’ll learn more about that as we go along in the program.

Since the weekend was full of sharing our personal backgrounds/heritage/stories, naturally a lot of what I shared had to do with being adopted. During the names-ice breaker, I shared how my new Korean name is Mi-ran (in order to match my sisters, Mi-sun and Mi-hye). Afterwards, one of the other participants said quite sincerely how my story sounds so sad, and asked, “What was it like meeting your Korean family?”

I never know how to respond to this question (although I didn’t mind that she’d asked it). It’s not something that’s easily summed up into a one-sentence answer, so I usually just say, “It was complicated.” Throughout the rest of the weekend, I was a bit paranoid about coming off as the “sad adoptee.” (Like that photo of me in ColorsNW which seems manipulated to make me look like the “sad adoptee”–but it was eyeliner, not a tear!) The reality is that there is indeed a lot of sadness (if that’s even the right word) in my personal story and in a lot of stories about adoption–because there is a sense of loss, identity confusion, etc. However, I think the “sad adoptee” label can often be dismissive, and people can make the assumption that an adoptee’s acknowledgment of loss somehow translates to rejection of adoptive family, bitterness, lack of objectivity, etc.

I hadn’t been in a retreat environment like this since doing my year in Korea, and I realized that I hadn’t openly shared my stories from my current perspective to complete strangers before. Well, I have talked about my experiences, but usually I’m talking to other adoptees or classmates from grad school, or I’m in a more professional setting like an interview. Normally, I’m pretty calm when I relate my story, precisely because I want to dispel the image of the “sad adoptee,” and I don’t want to give the impression that I have “issues”–because then I fear I will lose credibility.

For some reason, though, on Saturday night, during our “personal symbols sharing,” the environment in the room made me feel extremely anxious about appearing vulnerable. I think it might have been the language we kept using about “safe spaces”—something that I value, but it contributed to the atmosphere of group therapy. My face felt flushed the entire time as I waited for the moment when I felt comfortable to share; others were tearing/choking up only mildly during their sharing. I ended up going after the other two Korean Americans shared; most of us talked about our families, and I was no different.

I brought this random folder that I keep in my room that is labeled “birth family” and has bits and pieces from 2004-2005 when I was in Korea. It has translated letters and email correspondence between my Korean family and myself as well as various photos (including a group picture of all the Korean adoptees from the 2004 Gathering). All the activities we’d done earlier in the day had been leading up to me talking about how I found my Korean family, so I started relating the story–a story I’ve told many, many times since everything happened two years ago.

My voice was shaking, though, which is not normal for me, and then I was horrified when I tried to keep talking and no words were coming out. I was talking about the irony of how my Korean mother passed away just six months before my first visit to Korea in 2001 and how I never had the chance to meet her. Before I knew it, I was crying in front of the group and ready to die of embarassment. And I’m not talking about just a trickling tear, I was actually trying not to sob while my eyes and nose were running. Everyone was incredibly supportive, however, and eventually I was able to finish the story while clutching tissues someone handed me and focusing on a log pole in front of me. There is something gutteral about the emotions surrounding adoption, I think, because it is such a major event in our lives that happens (most of the time) before we are fully conscious and self-aware.

I was worried about this public display of raw emotion, because the nature of this program is professional, and also I was worried about my aforementioned fears of being labeled “sad,” etc. I’m also a bit concerned because during the weekend I didn’t get to talk much about my involvement with the adoptee community beyond my own issues, and there were also no opportunities to talk about the complex transnational issues in adoption. But I trust that these opportunities will present themselves in one way or another during the next six months of the program. I’m hopeful that it was a good thing to have such an honest reaction in front of the other participants…..as long as they don’t think I’m crazy. 😉

Overall, I am really excited about embarking on the CLP program. The retreat was a nice opening, and I was amazed how I was connected to almost everyone there through mutual friends. I continue to marvel at how small the active APIA community is in Seattle….

********

The other interesting part of the past few days was hosting Kim Park Nelson and Laura Briggs for a seminar on transnational adoption at my university on Monday. All the maneuvering it took to bring them both here paid off, because the seminar was thought-provoking and a nice break from my regular routine. We were even able to sell three copies of Outsiders Within. 🙂 I hold a lot of admiration for both of these women for being so fiercely intelligent and unafraid of confronting the dominant (sentimental) rhetoric surrounding transnational adoption.

My Korean professor actually canceled our daily class so that everyone could attend the seminar (she even threatened to take off points if people skipped it.) And then she proceeded to ask some of the most interesting questions during the discussion period. There was also a Brazilian transracial adoptee in the audience who was visibly moved by the seminar and thanked all of us profusely for holding it. (A few of my Korean classmates left early, and it was obvious that they had been forced to attend. And one elderly white woman left in a huff–Laura guessed that she must have been an adoptive parent.)

So even though the seminar attendance could have been better (I especially wish that more of the faculty members who I know have adopted children had come), the seminar itself was meaningful for a few people, and that’s what matters.

*********

I will end with a hilarious vignette that took place on Sunday night.

KPN joined a few of us for dinner & discussion at Tamarind Tree, a popular Vietnamese restaurant here in Seattle. It was KPN, two of my Korean adoptee female friends, and myself. We had a really great talk about a wide variety of topics–Kim’s piece in Outsiders Within, her course on Korean adoption at the University of Minnesota, issues within our community, etc.

All of a sudden, this random white woman approaches our table. She leans down and places her hands on KPN and JB’s backs. I think she must know KPN personally, so I look at her expectantly.

She says,

I’m sorry to interrupt, but I just had to come over here to tell you that you are all SOOO beautiful.

As soon as the words tumble out of her mouth, I immediately start laughing hysterically. I was laughing so hard, I couldn’t breathe. Meanwhile, KPN has a look of confused irritation and JB & HP have their lips pressed shut with disdain at the woman.

KPN eventually says, “Ok…….Thank you????”

I think the combination of my laughing fit along with the others’ annoyance gave the lady a definite “go-away” vibe, so she quickly apologized again for interrupting and then scurried back to her own table.

It was all so incredibly bizarre. The room was full of Asian people of varying ethnicities, including the restaurant servers and owners. HP and I were wearing rumpled fleece, and I still smelled of campfire smoke from the night before. Possible reasons for her approaching us:

  1. She’s an adoptive parent, and she was excited to see what her daughter might someday grow up to be (Sassy Hour ladies, you can feel me on this).
  2. She recently returned from a trip to Asia.
  3. The four of us really are that stunning.

I expect weirdness like that in Kansas City, but not Seattle….. guess it never hurts to have these kinds of reminders of what’s out there!

Everytime I think of that lady, I start laughing to myself now–I’m sure she’s glad to have had that effect on me.

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Filed under Adoption (the industry), APIA Community, Community, Korean Adoptees, Korean family, Ranting, Seattle, Updates

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.

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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?

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

ALAG

I uploaded my Europe pics last night…… feel free to peruse! I promise to write a little about the trip soon, but first I must vent about something that I simultaneously couldn’t believe and yet expected from people at my school……..

I received the following invitation to a party this week (came from someone in my graduate program):

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Hello All!

What better way ring in the new quarter than a good old fashioned theme party!?!

This Saturday, March 31st, join me at my place for the theme party of the year! The theme for the evening will be Stereotype. That’s right, throw away the urge to be politically correct, culturally competent, and sensitive to diversity and let the urge to judge and categorize shine through! Come as your favorite stereotype!!!

When: The evening of Saturday March 31st. 8:00 pm

Who: You and whoever you want to bring. The more the merrier!

What to Bring: A kick ass costume and the beverage of your choice!

Hope to see you all this Saturday!!

Your theme party lovin’ friend,

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Naturally, I was disturbed by the idea of this party……it came from someone I didn’t personally know, but I knew a good number of the other invitees on the email list. Immediately, I thought of the trend of “stereotype” and “politically incorrect” parties that have sprung up at college campuses across the U.S. I conferred with Carmen, and she was kind enough to arm me with an array of Racialicious links documenting these parties from the past year.

So here is the email that I sent out to all the party people:

——————–

Hey, all—I understand that the whole point of this party is to not be politically correct, and in no way am I trying to say what people should or shouldn’t do, but I wanted to point out a trend that has been happening on college campuses that are similar to this party’s theme….. (I’m also not accusing anyone here of any malicious intent.)

I’m sorry to be a wet blanket, but honestly the first thing I thought of when I saw the theme for this party was the “Stereotype Party” that was thrown by students at Tarleton State University (in Texas outside Fort Worth) this year on MLK, Jr. Day. Here’s an article: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,246884,00.html

Also, a “politically incorrect” party at Macalaster had the following costume: “A particular costume choice by two students caught the attention of Paul Maitland-McKinley ’09, president of the student organization Black Liberation Affairs Committee (BLAC). Maitland-McKinley learned of the party last Friday, Jan. 26, from an anonymous student who was present at the party. The costume involved one student dressing as a Ku Klux Klan member, with a second student wearing face paint to appear dark skinned. The costume also included a simulated noose, one end in the hand of the Klan-costumed member, the other end around the student with the blackface’s neck.” (From The Mac Weekly, the student newspaper)

And here are more links about similar parties (with photos) at other universities (Clemson, Texas A&M, UConn, Arizona, William Jewell, Macalaster, Santa Clara, etc.):
http://www.racialicious.com/2007/01/30/clemson-university-students-also-throw-gangsta-party-on-mlk-day/

http://www.racialicious.com/2006/11/14/blackface-at-texas-am-dialogue-not-condemnation-is-needed/

http://www.racialicious.com/2007/02/12/university-of-arizona-students-celebrate-mlk-day-with-blackface-party/

http://www.racialicious.com/2007/01/26/tarleton-state-and-u-conn-law-celebrate-mlk-with-ghetto-and-gangster-parties/

http://www.racialicious.com/2007/02/08/blackface-at-william-jewell-college-and-kkk-costume-at-macalester-college/

http://www.racialicious.com/2007/02/22/santa-clara-university-students-mock-latinos-with-south-of-the-border-party/

I apologize if I’m coming off as an over-sensitive, uptight bee-yotch with no sense of fun, but I felt like I had to say something here. I know that we at the Evans School generally strive to be “politically correct, culturally competent, and sensitive to diversity” in our day-to-day lives……is being so such a burden?

——————–

I decided to email everyone, because it was Thursday night, the party was on Saturday, and basically my point was not to say, “Don’t have the party, you ignorant racists.” My point was to raise some awareness about these parties that have been going on. Did I think that Evans people were going to show up tomorrow night in blackface? No. Did I think that the party organizer had bad intentions in throwing the party? No. (You know what they say about good intentions, though.) However, having a party where the invitation urges people to “throw away the urge to be politically correct, culturally competent, and sensitive to diversity and let the urge to judge and categorize shine through” opens the door for all kinds of horribleness. I think a lot of people at our school think that somehow we’re exempt from being in the wrong in these kinds of things, simply because most of us identify as “liberal.” Lighten up! We’re not perpetuating negative stereotypes…..we’re just having fun!

I was encouraged to receive some supportive messages from other Evans students, saying that they hadn’t been aware of the extent of these other parties. But then I received this gem from a person (not an Evans student, but a student at UCLA) who is a friend of the party organizer (emphasis mine):

Sarah,
I believe you are out of line. Not only is your email, sent out in mass to all of [name removed]’s friends, presumptuous and accusatory, it also paints ignorance onto a group of people who are not, in fact, ignorant. I find it ironic that the concerns you raise are connected to remaining sensitive and socially conscious, and yet you have displayed no tact or sensitivity in so proudly reminding others of how they should behave. Parody is often a form of humor that expresses, not acceptance of, or insensitivity to, but resistance to commonly held misperceptions. I also believe that passive aggressive, self-righteous behavior, such as you have displayed, needs to be eliminated more than politically incorrect behavior. I think that emailing [name removed] herself about your concerns would have been an appropriate, and yes less bee-yotchy, way of dealing with the situation. Please consider a less judgmental, more kind way of dealing with your classmates in the future. Calling yourself a wet blanket does not shield readers from realizing you have passed judgment and dampened a social event planned by one of the most sensitive, caring persons I’ve ever met. However, I don’t believe you know that, not being a friends of [name removed]. I am a friend of [name removed] visiting for the weekend. I received your email and found it more offensive than the links you included. If you’d like to come and discuss your views, I would certainly accommodate that.
Cheers,

Nice, right? I’m not sure how expressing my opinion as tactfully as I knew how translates as being passive-aggressive.  What would have been really passive-aggressive would be if I had gone to the party and surreptitiously taken photos and posted them on the internet.  (Not going to do that, though–I do not want to be anywhere near this party on Saturday night!)  I decided against emailing the party organizer alone, because I thought it would be helpful to have everyone who had been invited know about these other parties.  If this makes people think twice about their costume for the party, then I think that’s a good thing.  But I guess I’m getting painted as a bitch in the process.

Ultimately, this has served as a reminder of how disappointed I’ve been in my graduate school experience overall. (More on that later.) I also continue to wonder if Seattle is really a place that I can call “home”…..

23 Comments

Filed under Politics, Ranting, School Daze

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.

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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.

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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…..

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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. 😉

9 Comments

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

Heartbreaking

1) People were buzzing about this at the conference this weekend. It’s heartbreaking to read about the boy’s father….
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/15/AR2006101500205.html

There are just so many things wrong with this scenario . . . difficult to know where to begin. This is a case study of how international adoption can be so incredibly f*cked up. The colonizers and the colonized. Now I have to add Madonna to the same list of celebrities (Angelina Jolie, Gwen Stefani, Woody Allen) whose artistic work I respect but because of their ignorance and obliviousness about their white privilege I can’t f*cking stand them. I suppose Madonna has always been a master at cultural appropriation, so this is just taking it one step further. Not sure I’ll be able to listen to The Immaculate Collection the same way again.

(Updates on the trip to NYC forthcoming. Yogurt soju, you’re a friend of mine.)

5 Comments

Filed under Adoption (the industry), Ranting

Three posts in one: My Korean name, School, Therestofmylife

(**Fair warning: The following is a long post. Feel free to skim or come back for repeated viewings at your leisure.)

Being in Seoul often feels like being strapped to a rollercoaster . . . the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, with unexpected turns that flip you upside-down and make your stomach drop. In stark contrast, being in Seattle for me feels much more like taking a carriage ride through a park. It’s slower here, and during the ride I feel safe, calm . . . and a little bit bored. Hmmm, but the leisurely pace of this ride is picking up as classes have started, and I seem to be oblivious to the fact that I’m taking 18 credits during this 10-week quarter.

I’ve especially noticed recently how quiet it is in Seattle, so there is nothing to drown out my thoughts. Even the UW campus has a laid-back feel (I think the massive trees and brick buildings seem to absorb a lot of the buzz and sound). My roommate went to a conference in Yakima (yeah, I have no idea where that is either) this week, so it’s been very quiet in our apartment. It’s a welcome respite, although I do miss hanging out on the 2nd floor of KoRoot, lounging and chatting with people.

During one of my visits with my family this summer, my 외숙모 (uncle’s wife) suddenly turned to me while we were eating lunch and asked, “How would you like to have a new Korean name?”

She said it so nonchalantly, but I was surprised she brought the subject up, because my Korean family generally calls me “Sarah” (although they sometimes refer to me as 현아 [Hyun Ah], but not often). My name had recently been a topic of conversation in our family, however, since it remains a mystery as to whether my Korean mother named me before taking me to Holt. Most likely, my name is from the people at the Holt Mapo Reception Center. I’ve never been especially attached to my Korean name of 현아, mostly because I have difficulty pronouncing it correctly (I usually have to say my name at least twice or three times to native Korean speakers before they understand). The “현” is very breathy (you know, like “Hyundai”). Besides, for the first 21 years of my life, my American family and I pronounced my name as “휸아” (Hyoon Ah), until B. visited and pointed out that “Hyoon” is not a name (or even a word) in Korean.

My sisters’ names are 미선 (Mi Sun) and 미혜 (Mi Hye), so 외숙모 suggested a few “미” names for me. The one I liked the most was 미란 (Mi Ran or Mee Ran). The meaning of Korean names are derived from their 한자 (Chinese) characters. There can be several meanings, but 외숙모 said that “미” = beauty, while “란” = orchid. “란” can also mean “loneliness,” but I’ll stick with “orchid.” I like this name, not only because it is much easier to pronounce, but it gives me some unity with my sisters.

Last year, my Korean language instructor called me 현아, so some of my classmates were confused when I introduced myself on the first day of 2nd-Year/Non-Heritage Korean class as 미란. Our current instructor is actually the head of the Korean language department (a brilliant, very non-traditional Korean woman), and she was puzzled when I said, “제 미국 이름은 Sarah에요. 그러지만 저는 한국 이름은 두 개 있어요…..” (My American name is Sarah. But I have two Korean names…..) I then explained briefly in my awkward Korean about how 현아 is the name my adoption agency gave me, but 미란 is my Korean family name.

It’s been interesting having 김선생님 call me 미란 the past two weeks. The process of adjusting to this name was similar to when my instructor began calling me 현아 regularly last year. At first, I have a delayed reaction, but gradually I’m beginning to feel a sense of ownership and recognition with my name.

I know many of you out there can relate to this. 🙂

I’ve met many adoptees who have let go of their American names in order to reclaim Korean names, and I’ve also met adoptees who go by their Western name in their adoptive country but prefer to be called their Korean name while in Seoul. In my own case, I’ve always strongly identified with “Sarah,” and I still have a hard time imagining myself as anything but.

Although lately …….

I don’t know…..lately when I’ve been seeing my full name written out, even with the “Kim” squeezed in the middle, something seems missing. I’m not sure when I would go about trying to legally change everything, and I don’t know what sort of combination I would like…..

For now, I’m satisfied with the warm feeling that washes over me when 김선생님 turns around and calls, “미란씨?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here’s what I’m taking this quarter:

  1. Policy Analysis (3 credits, Evans core)
  2. Nonprofit Financial Management (3 credits, Gateway course)
  3. Mediation & Negotiation (3 credits, Evans elective)
  4. Education as a Moral Endeavor (3 credits, “Values” elective)
  5. 2nd-Year Korean (Non-Heritage) (5 credits, undergraduate course, doesn’t count towards my G.P.A.)
  6. Leading & Managing Groups (1 credit, Skills workshop)

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But I’m not pulling my hair out (yet), because #4 and #6 are just credit/no-credit (meaning that grades aren’t given out), #5 doesn’t affect my G.P.A., and #3 stops meeting after the first week of November. I really love #3, because my instructor is well-prepared and very entertaining. #2 is more like a necessary evil…..I didn’t overcome my fear of Excel spreadsheets in Budgeting last winter, so I decided to try tackling it again. I admitted this during our first class of #2, and the professor immediately began repeatedly using me as an example in class. #1 is a required course of all Evans students, and it is dreadful thus far.

I also have a work study graduate assistant position through the Marc Lindenberg Center, which is a research center at the Evans School focusing on humanitarian action, international development, and global citizenship. I’m glad to have this position, although I admit that this is more for my financial aid needs rather than career track, because int’l development is not my area of interest or expertise. I’m limited to working only 6-8 hours/week, but it should be interesting, because I’ll be helping them with MLC-sponsored events throughout the year, in addition to spending hours welcoming visitors to the MLC office.

My Tuesdays are really heinous, because I have #5 at 8:30 a.m., followed by #1, #2, and #3. I finish the day at 9:00 p.m. But I always seem to have at least one day like that during the week in every quarter at the UW.

Thus far, I’m still easing myself out of vacation-mode. It hasn’t occurred to me yet to stay in on a weekend night, and I’ve been slacking on reading and studying in general. Those of you who knew me back in the day would be amused/horrified. In Korean class, I regularly sit next to a sweet girl who was in my class last year and is a contemporary version of my former self. She’s always ultra-prepared, memorizes everything, and asks anal questions regarding assignments. Sometimes we partner up during class to practice dialogues, etc., and after she corrects me for the 2nd or 3rd time, I have to smile to myself and think, “Ahhh, youth. Where did my ambition go? Ah, yes, it’s probably hanging in the closet along with my white coat.” (med school reference)

Similarly, being a 2nd-year graduate student means I am much less anxious and more realistic about my studies. In our pass/fail, 1-credit leadership course, we were forced–I’m sorry, selected–into groups for a project. The only thing we need to complete is a presentation on a leadership book that we were assigned. I’m in the group with another 2nd-year Evans student, and the rest are 1st-years. The other 2nd-year student suggested that we divide the book into sections, we each read our designated section and report to the rest of the group. I chimed in my support for this fabulous idea. The 1st-years looked aghast, and one of them said, “Well, I think we should all be responsible for reading the entire book…..Even if we do split it up, I think I’ll go ahead and read the whole thing.” While the other 1st-years nodded their heads earnestly in agreement, the 2nd-year student and I just looked each other for a moment before breaking out into gales of laughter. (In reality, it was more like smirking at each other, but you get the drift.)

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What am I going to do after graduation in June? Well, I have a busy summer ahead (ahem, IKAA Gathering 2007). And then……..

???????

Since dropping out of med school, I’ve had a loose idea each year of what my next step would be. AmeriCorps……East Coast…..West Coast……Korea……grad school…… Even though I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go and when, I at least had a pretty good idea and some gut instincts.

I feel a bit lost in this respect now.

The way I see it, I have basically two options: continue in school or get a job.

But the “continue in school” part is a bit tricky.

If I had unlimited money and unlimited time, I think I would just collect master degrees like Angelina collects third-world babies. I’ve actually been admitted to the UW Jackson School of International Studies. But I’m not sure a Master of Arts in International Studies (MAIS) is for me…….of course I’m interested in globalization and the theories behind it…..but do I want that to be a professional track for me?

I’m also drawn to getting a Master of Social Work (MSW) as well as an MA in Asian-American Studies. The UW does not offer the latter, unfortunately. I would have to go to California, most likely UCLA. And yes, UCLA does have that tempting MSW/MA 3-year program. But. It’s. Los. Angeles. Yuck.

(In my fantasies, I would also have time to get a Master in Arts Administration, but that’s completely out of the realm of reality here.)

Every professor I’ve spoken to in regards to my triple-master-degree plan has scoffed and said, “Why don’t you just get a PhD?” Of course, the people saying this to me have PhDs themselves. I just don’t see myself being so solitary and writing a dissertation. But lately I’ve been wondering if this indeed might be the best path for me.

Another thing I’m weighing is how long to stay in Seattle. Even though Seattle can bore me, I don’t think I’ve yet seen everything the city has to offer. I’m not quite ready to abandon the Pacific Northwest for California.

I know my parents are just waiting for me to get a “real” job. And truthfully, I’ve never been in a job that I was going to be at indefinitely……I’ve always had an “end date” looming on the horizon. An escape route.

People keep asking me, “So…..what do you want to do?”

“Marry a rich man/win the lottery and serve on volunteer boards?”

“Hahahaha! No, really, what do you want to do?”

“Errr….”

I know that I want to keep working with the Korean adoptee/international adoptee community. In what capacity? Well…..

I will be attending a research conference on transracial adoption in New York City next weekend. I’m hoping that can shed some light on my conundrum. Plus, I get to kick it w/ J.R. and K.P.N. 🙂

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Filed under Musings, Pondering the Future, School Daze, Seattle, Updates, Work Life