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!