16 Dec One Chapter of an Adoptee’s Journey Home
By Kim Park
When someone prompts, “Tell me about yourself,” many things come rushing forward, wanting to be said. The various intersections of my identity have crashed, broken, and been reborn. One of those sections is adoption and being an adoptee from South Korea. The grueling questions related to identity have always seemed to be grim reminders that I am not who I physically appear to be. In some way, my presence was a half-truth to the world around me, not entirely Korean and not quite “American.”
Some of life’s questions we ponder as people have always been part of the repertoire. Things such as “Who do I want to be when I grow up?” “What career do I want?” “Where do I want to lay down roots?” “What do I like?” “Who am I” was the common question that would find me at every stage of life. This time I was ready to take the chapter head-on.
I am an all-or-nothing personality when it comes to things of importance. It means that if I decide to do something, I will give 100% of myself to it, but if I’m not, I won’t take the dive. It benefited me in 2009 when I made the tough decision to investigate a life I once lived. Have you ever seen Jumanji? It was like this; you are searching for clues to get back home.
As a natural planner, this unpredictable period was incredibly overwhelming and time-consuming. There wasn’t a day that passed by my nerves weren’t ready to explode. It proved fruitful in terms of receiving new information; in fact, all of it was new. During this time, I learned the term “coming out of the fog” which is used frequently in the adoptee community. It means we begin to recognize denial, the hidden truths of our existence, and have the desire to examine ourselves in the environment we have been placed into.
I saw my world differently and grasped ways to alleviate the mental pressure. I sought information for Korean adoptees, researched therapeutic strategies, and spent more time talking with others. I tried to ignore that not everyone would understand the conversation topic, but it posed another unpredictable challenge.
If an adoptee is fortunate enough to receive decent historical background and it is proven to be as accurate as possible (take this with a grain of salt), one can move forward in a few directions. I took the avenue of gathering immigration records, contacting the international adoption agency, and contacting Korean newspapers in the vicinity I was reportedly born in. Due to legal limitations and stigma in Korea, it took years to correspond with adoption personnel. A less palatable taste was coming to terms with the fact that just because I was born on Korean soil, it didn’t mean I was entitled to anything – the parent’s location, names, or if they were alive.
It has taken thirteen years to collect scattered pieces of history and confirm that I had a life before adoption. I discovered birth families carry their wounds and troubles, too. Unfortunately, those things can negatively impact the children they willingly or unwillingly relinquished. Sadly, not all adoptions are entirely legal and ethical, but that is a deeper dive into the world of adoption.
I hope that sharing parts of my journey encourages someone else to do whatever it is they have been curious about. Stepping into the unknown is intimidating and can shake everything you’ve grown to understand about yourself. It is important to remember that every person is different and how they choose (or not) to venture into their history and identity is one hundred percent up to them. Nobody can dictate or determine your steps, decisions, or emotions.
It would be ignorant to say that searching for the family will justify or answer painful questions because it won’t. So, what is the light in all of this? I did a complicated thing. I was afraid, but I did it afraid. I had the power to determine what direction I’d walk in. And I could choose whether I’d carry certain things or let them go.
If you have found yourself at a crossroads in a similar journey and would like to talk about it, you are welcomed here. Please feel free to reach out and schedule an appointment.
Please take time to review the resources included. There is no better way than to seek out truth and determine for yourself what you’ll do next.
The Korea Times – “Intercountry adoptions 1985-92: A Numbers game for Korea’s national image” https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/opinion/2021/10/801_316412.html
Korean Adoption Services (KAS) – History of Adoption in Korea https://www.kadoption.or.kr/en/info/info_history.jsp
New York Times – “I was Adopted” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeIC1detnD8
Vice Asia – “These Korean Adoptees are returning to their birth country to stay” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdSbuN5p9FU
Korean American Story – https://koreanamericanstory.org/legacy-project/about/
ABC News – “South Korea’s truth commission to probe foreign adoptions”
G.O.A.’L – Birth family search https://goal.or.kr/birth-family-search/