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“Coming to Korea is like being a teen-ager again and that you have to relearn about yourself and who you are.”: A Dispatch From A 20 Something KAD Living In Korea

I’ve know Rae and her twin sister Lea for a few years.  They are very intelligent, driven, and, like mot recent college grads, creating a life that works for them in the “real world.”

Rae and I chatted over e-mail after I posted my interview with Miguel Lindgren.  She had some questions for Miguel and his wife Monica.  Rather than commenting on that post, I asked for her to send the questions my way and also asked her a few questions about life in her country of birth.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You have some questions for Miguel (and Monica), whom I interviewed for a previous post.  Could you talk about them?

Rae: I was curious about the factors and experiences which have lead both Miguel and Monica to consider their adoption a blessing.

I was also curious how Miguel and Monica have dealt with their loss of language, nationality, natural parents, and ability to fluently navigate their birth culture – all things which adoption strips of international adoptees.

Although I do not know the upbringing and experience of Miguel and Monica, I do not think that even a positive experience with adoption can rectify the losses that mostly all international adoptees face regarding their country of birth.

For people like me who choose to move back to their country of birth, there are constant reminders to us that we are foreigners.  The ability to not speak fluent Korean, speaking Korean with an accent, or not being able to speak at all is a reminder of what adoption can do to a human being.  The awkwardness of not even knowing how to cook or eat a Korean BBQ or drink soju, the national liquor, is another reminder that through adoption, a culture and tradition was lost.

Another thing I was curious about is whether or not Miguel or Monica have done any personal research (without the aid of an adoption agency) about their circumstances of adoption.  Have they met their biological families?  Do they have a relationship with their natural mother and father?

Having been in contact with my Korean mother, I can see how adoption has affected her.  It is easy to see how adoption has affected your mother when she calls you on the telephone crying about how she has failed as a mother; or how she is unable to meet me again due to her intense feelings regarding the adoption.  Although I am unsure about the exact circumstances of my adoption because her story seems to change a lot, I can still see the way adoption has put a hole in her life and that because of adoption, we are unable to have a relationship at all, despite having tried.

I live in Korea now, have learned some of the language, yet I am unable to have a relationship with my Korean family.  Some people call it “going back to your roots” – but for me I wonder how close to my roots I can really get if I am not fluent in Korean language or culture and I can’t even have a relationship with my Korean mother.  There is something very symbolic of the roots and the family tree.

Although I agree that adoption may be helpful in some situations, have Miguel and Monica ever thought of advocating for the preservation of the biological family?

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: How’s it going in Korea?  Is it what you expected?

Rae: Life in Korea has its ups and downs.  I think I’ve had my best and worst times in Korea.  When you first arrive you can have a lot of fun.  People are very easy to meet and many adoptees are willing to make friends with you or help you out.  There are lots of parties and you better improve your alcohol tolerance if you plan on coming.  There is something always open, so if you are bored or hungry, you can always find something.

Though moving here is harder than I anticipated.  I think for each adoptee, the experience of coming back is different.  Some come just for visiting but some like me come to stay and do not know when they will return to their adoptive country.  I think for people who have plans of living here without a plan to return in one, two or even three years it can be difficult to adjust.

There is a distinction between the visitors and those actually living here because for the visitor they only come back for a short period of time.  In this time there can be trials, too – but for the visitor they are here to have a good time or maybe here to teach English.  The visitor comes to Korea to party in Seoul, meet friends they haven’t seen in a while, to do a birth search, sight-see, participate in a summer camp, etc.  I think that this can be a really lovely way of experiencing Korea because like I said, you are here to have a good time, experience Korea, and in the end can return to the familiarity of your adoptive country.  That is the purpose.

Though I think those living here may face a different sorts of challenges.  We are not really visitors, cannot afford to take cabs home from the bar all the time, shop at Myeong-dong every weekend, and we are definitely not here to sight-see before we return home.  I have heard from some friends that coming to Korea is like being a teen-ager again and that you have to relearn about yourself and who you are.  I agree with this – that living here really puts you to the test because unlike the visitor, where the purpose of coming is more clear, the purpose of those who stay is more ambiguous and I really think for each adoptee it may come down to something different; something that one must discover for their self.

Right now for me I feel in a low-point.  I am not ready to give up here, yet – but I also haven’t really discovered what it is that makes me want to stay and continue my dream of living and building a life here.  I am at a point where I am wondering what I am doing here.  I know there is a purpose but I don’t know what it is.  Though, today I saw a pungmul drumming performance in the streets of my neighborhood and I felt happy because everyone was out in the streets enjoying it.   It felt really organic and natural this way and I liked it.  Although there is Korean drumming in MN, I know that normally it is arranged at a certain time, in a certain space and for a certain reason.  Here I felt it was very natural for me to see this in the streets and it made me feel happy about being in Korea.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: What advice do you have for young KAD graduates or soon to be graduates thinking about living in Korea?

Rae: For those thinking about coming to Korea, I can offer only a bit of advice.

One.  Think about something you might want to do while you’re here.  Study, teach, anything.  If you speak fluent English and don’t like kids or teaching (like me), you might have a problem because teaching is the main source of income for a native English speaker is to teach.  If you have something to do here you might have a little less chance of feeling completely lost, though I can’t guarantee it.

Two.  If you plan on working here, wait until you come to Korea to find a job if you want any sort of control about what area you’re working in.  Come to Korea, get your F4 (special visa for overseas Koreans) and then start looking for jobs.  Both jobs and birth family searching are much easier to do while you’re actually in Korea – so unless you really need the free ticket a job can offer you, wait until to you come to start looking.

Three.  Try not to have expectations – something which is easier said than done.

If you’ve always wanted to move to Korea, it’s better now/late than never!

2 Comments on “Coming to Korea is like being a teen-ager again and that you have to relearn about yourself and who you are.”: A Dispatch From A 20 Something KAD Living In Korea

  1. Hi, I’m a Swedish Korean adoptee. I wonder if I might add your blog to my blogroll?

  2. Rae, thanks for your input, it is certainly food for thought and I appreciate the dialogue on issues of adoption. I think this kind of dialogue leads to great introspective and I welcome it. Keep in mind that these responses are my opinions and they do not necessarily represent Monica’s views. I repeated your questions in quotes and followed them with my answers in brackets below the questions.

    “I was also curious how Miguel and Monica have dealt with their loss of language, nationality, natural parents, and ability to fluently navigate their birth culture – all things which adoption strips of international adoptees.”

    [Adopted at age 14, I think my adoption experience is rather unique such that some of these issues apply to me in a very different way that they would apply to children adopted in their infancy. For example, loss of language did not really apply to me. As a Spanish speaking teenager, I learned English as a second language. I was very fortunate that I retained my fluency in Spanish and picked up English at a time when, according to linguists, my brain was still malleable enough to learn a new language rather easily. Loss of nationality is an interesting idea. I have always considered myself Colombian even if I am not technically a Colombian citizen. I identify with the people of Colombia whom I remember so well and not so much with the geo-political entity that is the country of Colombia so I guess I’ve never felt that I suffered a loss of nationality. Today I am connected to the Latino community and share in the culture, etc. but I have to say that as time goes by, it is more important to me to simply be connected to the community in which I live. As for natural parents, I was raised in an orphanage from infancy to my adolescence and I think in some ways I went thru the phases of grief for the loss of my natural parents during that time. I certainly came to terms with the fact that I did not have parents prior to being adopted. It never crossed my mind that I could be adopted. I do have to say that after my adoption I did have some “residual” grieving to do as in the midst of a family I was forced to confront, once again, the loss of my natural parent. I think this was a natural and logical response to being reminded of the ideas of family and parents when I was placed in the midst of people who care deeply about me, and I for them, and yet look so much different than me. So did I feel that I was stripped of something through my adoption? I don’t think so. I was fortunate to feel that nothing had been stripped from me, but much was added on to me.]

    “Although I do not know the upbringing and experience of Miguel and Monica, I do not think that even a positive experience with adoption can rectify the losses that mostly all international adoptees face regarding their country of birth.”

    [I can appreciate your perspective here as I’ve known other adoptees that would agree with you. In my family, 8 of us were adopted (that would make 12 of us when you include 4 biological children) and not all us had the same adoption experience. I would venture to say that some of my adopted siblings would tend to agree with you on this subject. I however have a different view. I really don’t think I can empathize with you because my story is so different. I don’t know what my feelings about adoption would be if I had been adopted as an infant and having to wrestle with issues of identity as a young adult. I guess I did my “wrestling” as an orphan among the people of Colombia which offers is a totally different dynamic. I also did some of that “wrestling” as an adopted teenager, again a totally different dynamic here. But my sense is that adoption should not be viewed as a zero-sum game of gains and losses. I think that doing so is akin to entertaining what-if scenarios that have no real answers and thus can lead to the proverbial slippery slope. I know this probably falls into the category “much easier said than done,” but I do think that rather than focusing on losses, of the past, , real or perceived, one should focus on where one is and where one wants to be in the future.]

    “For people like me who choose to move back to their country of birth, there are constant reminders to us that we are foreigners. The ability to not speak fluent Korean, speaking Korean with an accent, or not being able to speak at all is a reminder of what adoption can do to a human being. The awkwardness of not even knowing how to cook or eat a Korean BBQ or drink soju, the national liquor, is another reminder that through adoption, a culture and tradition was lost.”

    [I agree and can empathize with you on this one. After living in the US for a few years, I think I would feel like a foreigner moving back to Colombia. But I think that eventually, I would find a sense of community there. I think I would have the advantage of being able to speak Spanish, etc. but yet even here in the US, when am among Colombian’s I feel a bit like t he “odd man out.” Even Colombian’s and other Latinos think of us adopted Colombians as a sort of “special” type of Colombians/Latinos; not 100% but close enough!  – This used to bother me somewhat when I was younger, but I’ve come to realize and accept that that I do not neatly fit into the strict definition Colombian or Latino and that it really is up to me to decide how I define myself. Somewhere along the line I decided to simply be myself; the product of a rather odd conglomeration of philosophical perspectives, ideas and values that borrows from the cultures of Latinos, Colombians, Europeans, Swedes, Norwegians and Lutherans! And I’m okay with that!  I think that spending time and energy to fit into a definition can be fruitless and self-limiting.]

    “Another thing I was curious about is whether or not Miguel or Monica has done any personal research (without the aid of an adoption agency) about their circumstances of adoption. Have they met their biological families? Do they have a relationship with their natural mother and father?”

    [I’ve thought about this topic a great deal as I’ve been lucky enough to witness other adoptees make connections with their biological families. I think this is probably one of the hardest things that an adopted person can choose to undertake. I think this type of inquiry is a double-edged sword that can leave the adopted person positive, negative or somewhere in between. As an orphan of essentially 14 years with no paper trail to speak of, I’ve decided that having no paper trail to chase is a blessing in disguise. Knowing my inquisitive nature, I do think that if I had something to go on to help me discover my biological family I would have probably gone down many a trail to see where it would lead. In retrospect, having seen others do exactly that, I’m glad I did not. For others, I do think it is the right thing to do as it can bring a great sense of healing and closure.]

    “Although I agree that adoption may be helpful in some situations, have Miguel and Monica ever thought of advocating for the preservation of the biological family?”

    [I have mixed feelings about this one. I think I have a problem advocating for an ideal for the sake of the ideal. The only thing I know for certain is that the best place for a child is within a loving family that cares for and nurtures the child. If that family is the child’s biological family, I think that is ideal. If not, that is okay too. As long as the best interest of the child standard is being applied.]

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. “Coming to Korea is like being a teen-ager again and that you have to relearn about yourself and who you are.”: A Dispatch From A 20 Something KAD Living In Korea « kim saebom
  2. “Aside from supporting family preservation, I believe that the whole business aspect surrounding adoption is pretty sickening.”: My Conversation With JG | Land of Gazillion Adoptees

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