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The Chat With The Artist Formerly Known As Harlow’s Monkey: My Conversation With JaeRan Kim

JaeRan Kim with family, photo by Kim Jackson/HERE project.

There isn’t much I need to say to introduce the person, the myth, the blogger formerly known as Harlow’s Monkey.  But . . . I do need to say one thing to adoptive parents.  If you’re looking for great role models for your sons and daughters, look no further than here in MN.  We are fortunate to have accomplished adult adoptees like JaeRan in our backyard.


Land of Gazillion Adoptees: What the heck is Harlow’s Monkey?

JaeRan: Oh boy, well – when I decided I wanted to start a blog about my take on being a Korean adoptee, I couldn’t think of a clever name for the blog. I had recently been talking to my partner about Harry Harlow and his monkey experiments and how they related to adoption and he said, “you should call your blog Harlow’s Monkey!”

Harry Harlow was a behavioral psychologist who studied how baby Rhesus monkeys adapted to maternal deprivation. In other words, if you separate a baby monkey from its mother but provide food and basic necessities, will it still survive? At that time, basic necessities were really the first two levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (what we think of as shelter, safety, food, clothing). What Harlow found was that baby monkeys didn’t do so well without their mothers, even when they had all the basic needs met. So then Harlow put some baby monkeys in a cage with a cloth-covered, wire monkey “mother” and others in a cage with a wire monkey “mother” without cloth. The babies with the cloth mothers did much better, because if they were scared or needed comforting, they would cling to the soft cloth. Harlow determined that it was the quality of the comforting that was more important to the baby monkey’s development and well-being than the basic necessities.

I called myself “Harlow’s Monkey” because the impetus to adopt internationally is to save children from institutional life, where we would receive all the basic needs met but lack the comfort and emotional needs that a family can provide.

When I started the blog in 2006 I had no idea it would be so widely read. It was meant to be for adoptees like us, but it turned out that a lot of adoptive parents and adoption agency workers read it regularly, too. I’m really grateful for that blog. Because of that blog, I’ve been able to put down a lot of my half-baked thoughts about adoption and being a Korean adoptee, all during a time when I was working in foster care adoptions for the largest county in Minnesota – dealing with a lot of conflicted feelings about adoption in general. The blog gave me the space to work out my ideas and put me in the path of some great opportunities. I would not be where I am today without having Harlow’s Monkey. I’m on hiatus from it right now and writing another blog that is more broad than just adoption.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Nice! You’ve got to be one of the busiest folks in the MN adoption community. Minus your day job, could you please give a run down of your activities?

JaeRan: Sometimes it feels like I live and work adoption 24/7! Currently I’m a full-time graduate student at the University of Minnesota pursuing a doctoral degree in social work. I have just finished my coursework and written exams and my goal this summer is to write my research proposal for my dissertation, which will be to explore the connection between children adopted internationally and their interaction with public child welfare services due to problems in the adoptive home (for example, if the adopted child is placed in foster care or residential treatment, etc) and what role – if any – disabilities play in placement stability.

Other adoption-related projects I’ve been involved in this year include conducting a program evaluation of the MN ADOPT programs for the Minnesota Adoption Resource Network (MARN), serving on the advisory board for Adoptees Have Answers (AHA), presenting several webinars about adoption for AHA, and as we speak I’m preparing for Pact Camp in California, where I will be keynoting and working with the teen groups.

Last year I was also a fellow in the Leadership and Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND)  program at the U of MN’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau, and my focus was on the impact of disabilities on adopted children and families, again really focusing on internationally adopted children with disabilities.

In addition to my school and work, I also have a family – I have two children (17 & 13), and I couldn’t do any of these things without the support of my awesome partner John.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: (Wow. When do you sleep..?) Could you talk about your day job? It sounds awesome.

I’m super excited to talk about my day job! I’m the project coordinator for a brand-new certificate program called the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate. The PACC as we call it, is the first of its kind in Minnesota. The goal is to increase the availability of and quality of mental health workers that really get the core issues around adoption and the impact of adoption loss, trauma and grief, multiple placements, etc. for the adopted individual and birth families and adoptive families. In addition, this program will help educate child welfare workers on how to think through the clinical implications of adoption and permanency (that’s code for how social workers talk about foster care) – that is, when a worker is making the decision to place the child in an adoptive or foster home, are they helping the family understand the child’s loss and grief, and are they helping the adoptive family think through what questions to ask a therapist working with them or their child.

We expect this program will increase the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to work with adopted individuals, adoptive families and birth families for professionals. The certificate program begins in September.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You were involved with the Here project/Here: A Visual History of Adopted Koreans in Minnesota.  For those who don’t know, what did you do and what was the most gratifying?

JaeRan: Kim Jackson was one of the first Korean adoptees I got to know when I first became part of the Korean adoptee community in Minnesota. For the Here project, I was first asked by Kim if she could take my photograph for the book. I was in the process of legally changing my name to my Korean name and she asked if she could document that day. Later, she asked me if I would write the Forward. Then, Kim thought it would be helpful to add some historical context to the book and she asked me to write the introduction which is an overview of adoption and places Korean adoption in Minnesota within the larger context of adoption.

Everything about being part of the Here project has been amazing. The most gratifying part for me is having that photo of me in court included in the book – it’s the documentation of the day in my life that I re-claimed the Korean part of my Korean American identity, with my family and friends there to support me. I always get choked up when I think about it. I am so appreciative that Kim had the foresight to capture that moment.

3 Comments on The Chat With The Artist Formerly Known As Harlow’s Monkey: My Conversation With JaeRan Kim

  1. Go Jae Ran! You’re the best! ^ ^

  2. I was crushed when she stopped blogging! ❤

  3. Jae-Ran Kim is simply remarkable.

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