The Complexity of Visiting Korea, By a Korean Adoptee: NAAM

This is day 28 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees..

I am fascinated by other languages, and especially by the difficult-to-translate meanings of some words. For example, I love the word “fernweh,” German for “farsickness,” or a longing for place you’ve never been to and can never go to. Another favorite is “hiraeth,” a Welsh word that roughly translates to a longing for a place that was never yours, a place to which you can’t return. Both have some relevance to adoption.

Leslie Maes, a Korean adoptee raised in Belgium, has written an article published in The Korea Times about “han” and “jeong” for adoptees. Maes notes that “han” is a Korean word “that could be described as an ‘internalized feeling of deep sorrow, grief, regret and anger.'”  “Jeong,” he writes, “can be described as ‘a feeling of loyalty and of strong emotional connection to people and places.’ ” 

Maes would like to see the Korean adoptee community take on the embodiment of ‘jeong.’ “This emotion is the true gift we get from adoption, and one of the things I am really grateful for.

When looking at the difficult lives some adoptees have had, and how poor adoptee support systems are, it is comforting and reassuring to see how supportive and organized Korean adoptees are, globally. Sure there’s a lot of politics going on within groups and between community leaders, as in any kind of community.

But with a difficult start in life, often no support from Korea, nor from the receiving countries, adoptees are doing a great job in creating and connecting. Most adoptees are doing this work for free and in their free time.”

I’ve known many international and transracial adoptees who do not feel “Korean enough,” or Chinese enough,” or “Black enough,” or “Colombian enough.” One of the frequent losses in international adoption is the loss of one’s original language. Some adoptees of course learn (or re-learn) their original languages; perhaps others incorporate the bits of language that bring comfort to them. Maybe it’s a way of filling in missing pieces.

This article, printed in The Korea Times, is, according to an Editor’s Note, “the 24th in a series about Koreans adopted abroad. Apparently, many Koreans never expected that the children it had sent away via adoption would return as adults with questions demanding to be answered. However, thousands of adoptees visit Korea each year. Once they rediscover this country, it becomes a turning point in their lives. We should embrace the dialogue with adoptees to discover the path to recovering our collective humanity. ― ED.

Intercountry adoption in many ways began with Korean adoptees after the Korean War, and they are the largest group of intercountry adoptees to the U.S., if not globally. I am not aware of any other “sending” country that has offered to promote the viewpoint of adoptees this way. Wouldn’t it be great if other countries followed this example, and amplified, or at least encouraged, the voices of adult adoptees?

I Am Adoptee: NAAM

This is day 16 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

“A community built around mental health and wellness, by adoptees, for adoptees”: that is the focus of the nonprofit IAMAdoptee. Co-founder Joy Lieberthal Rho, LCSW, was adopted from South Korea when she almost six years old. She has worked in adoption for many years, including in private practice with intercountry adoptees and their families. That work was the basis for founding IAMAdoptee, which curates a wealth of mental health resources, directed primarily to internationally adopted people.

The wellness resources include suggestions for how to deal with Covid-19 isolation, lists of adoptee-led groups around the world, and articles and blog posts about a range of adoptee-related subjects. There is a checklist and overview for adoptees considering searching for birth family, with information about South Korea, China, Colombia, Guatemala, India, and Paraguay. In “Community,” you can find information about culture camps and related organizations, about citizenship, about adoptee podcasts, and about adoptee-focused conferences.

Currently, IAMAdoptee is partnering with SideXSide, “a large scale documentary and oral history project, telling the story of 65+ years of inter-country adoption out of South Korea and 100 individuals, born in Korea, 1944–1995.” (I wrote about SideXSide here.) IAMAdoptee is hosting a series of Reflections on the Adoptee Journey, about the topics in SideXSide’s videos, such as Memory, Birth Family Reunion, and Searching for Answers. Each topic features a video from the SideXSide project, and then a reflection/conversation with an “esteemed lineup of intercountry adoptee clinical therapists,” facilitated by Joy Lieberthal Rho.

IAMAdoptee is actively adding mental health and wellness resources to their site. The Facebook page has additional information and resources. One recent post, for example, was about adult adoptees from Greece seeking to reinstate their citizenship.

The vision of IAMAdoptee is “an act of service to the adoptee community, a place for an intercountry adopted person to connect with others.” An excellent way to honor adoptees during National Adoption Awareness Month (November) is to follow their Facebook pages and websites, and to donate to ensure they can keep their good work going.

SideXSide, Side By Side: NAAM

This is day 10 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

Side By Side” or “SideXSide” is an adoptee-led, adoptee-focused online video installation. That is, Side By Side is a collection of 100 stories of Korean adoptees, raised in seven countries, speaking six languages, sharing both similar and disparate experiences.

The filmmakers are Glenn Morey (he is a Korean adoptee), and Julie Morey. From the website: “We did not seek to insert ourselves, as filmmakers, into their truth. In this, we were absolutely determined. That is why every participant was filmed in exactly the same way, on the same neutral background, with the same lighting and composition. We asked every participant to respond to the same four questions, in order to organize their narrative chronologically: (1) Tell us about your origin; (2) tell us about your adoption or aging-out; (3) tell us about how you grew up; and (4) tell us about the years when you became an adult, up until now.”

The filmmakers go on: “These stories, collectively, do not represent a political agenda of any kind. The purpose of this project is only to open an intensely experiential window of oral history, of social and academic understanding, and of empathy through art. We, as the filmmakers, ask you to recognize each story as that teller’s truth in life. We do not present them here to be judged.”

The Side By Side videos are “neither an endorsement nor an indictment of inter-country adoption.” They seek only to “promote a greater understanding of adoption out of South Korea, and perhaps more broadly, inter-country adoption at large—widely practiced, not only in the wake of wars and geopolitical crises that separate millions of children from their biological families, but also in the course of family disruption and poverty.”

The 100 videos can be sorted by birth year, country, subject matter, and more. In addition to the 100 videos, there is also a prize-winning Side By Side short documentary available on the website that is well worth watching. All of the videos and the documentary are poignant, candid, genuine, wise. Some may also have potentially disturbing or triggering content.

The wonderful site I Am Adoptee (“created by adoptees, for adoptees”) is offering a “pairing” of the Side By Side videos with interviews by adult adoptees commenting on the video-stories.

Here is a recent post from the IAMAdoptee Facebook page: “IAMAdoptee presents the online premiere of ’11 Short Stories’ paired with a conversation with IAMAdoptee co-founder, Joy Lieberthal Rho, and clinical therapist, Katie Naftzger, LICSW, adopted from South Korea. Katie shares all the ways adoptees have internalized the telling of their adoption story by others and begin to give themselves permission to take their time in creating their own story. You can view the eighth Side By Side Project video, ’11 Short Stories’ and listen to Joy and Katie’s reflections video on our website here.”

Side By Side is an incredibly powerful project.