Monday, October 18, 2010

and...we're back!

i apologize but i'm having difficulty finding spare time these days. if i'm not working, i'm traveling to seoul to be with family, or doing laundry or cleaning my apt in preparation to travel to seoul. if none of the above, i'm studying korean or trying to squeeze in a few hours of sleep before running again. my life has been turned upside down a bit over the past month or so and i'm still trying to find the right balance.

the past couple of weeks have been really great. since i first met with my birth family, i have traveled to seoul every weekend to stay at the house and visit. the 2 hour one-way trip, though, has been really exhausting and i can't keep up the every week thing anymore. i'll still visit a couple of times a month. little brother hyun-bae was in korea until last night, when he flew back to his university in china. we had a great time together and bonded quickly. he's the sweetest kid you've ever met and smart as a whip. i'll go ahead and take this opportunity to brag about how he speaks korean, chinese, english, & sign language...and is currently studying japanese in his free time. unbelievable. he got the brains in the family, i guess. we had a great time shopping and eating and visiting extended family together. i have to admit that i really adore both of my brothers. it was tough to see hyun-bae go, but that's what skype is for, right? hopefully we will be able to spend a few more days together in january after he finishes his semester and before i head back to the states.

omma & appa and the rest of the family are still spoiling me to death. if i stayed in korea, i'd weigh about 3,000 pounds and be the best-dressed kid around. it's tough, though, needing a translator constantly. it's a little funny to my off-kilter sense of humor, but infinitely frustrating for them. they desperately want to speak to me easily without needing one of my poor brothers around. so i need to learn fast. please pray for me. if i could pay a million dollars to wake up and be fluent in korean, i would. unfortunately it doesn't work that way and i need the time and mindset and energy to put in hours and hours of study time every week. also unfortunately, these days i don't have much extra time and by the time i sit down with a korean book at the end of the day, i last all of 5 minutes before i'm passed out and drooling all over the pages. my proficiency in the language will be crucial to building a healthy foundation for our relationship and is, therefore, absolutely essential.

these days are really stressful as the end of my work contract draws quickly nigh. my korean family wants me to stay as long as i can and my american family wants me back in the states. my boss is yelling at me to buy my crazy expensive plane ticket for reimbursement and immigration wants me to jump through crazy hoops in order to stay legal and abide by the established visa rules. not to mention the fact that i have no job lined up once i get back to the states, and have no idea even which state i'll be living in. i'm being pulled in about a thousand different directions right now and it's starting to wear on me. obviously i brought this upon myself and knew the can of worms i was opening when i visited the adoption agency last month, but nevertheless, it's overwhelming. keep me in your thoughts, will you?

it's amazing to me how quickly my korean family and i are getting to know each other and learning our similarities and differences. as you might imagine, we have a LOT of differences, considering the fact that i grew up in american culture for the past 23 years and none of them have ever stepped foot on american soil. but we also have so many similarities, it's not even funny. i mentioned it before - but i see so much of myself in each family member...there is no doubt that we are blood-related. i was eating breakfast with omma & appa on saturday morning and they started laughing at me. i was so confused but then they pointed to my legs and said "seong-bae! seong-bae!" i have this terrible habit of bouncing my legs whenever i'm sitting in a chair. i do it totally unconsciously but it drives everyone around me absolutely nuts. and sometimes it gets really out of control. if we've ever had coffee together, i apologize if i bounced your mocha or scone right off the dumb table. i've never known why i bounce my legs, but i know it's an obnoxious problem. and apparently, my older brother does the same obnoxious thing. omma yells at him to stop, but he just can't. aye aye aye. we are the same.

they are also getting to know about my sleep problem. namely...that i can't stop. i have a deep, deep love for sleep. hahaha. if it's possible, i'll be knocked out. even if it's not possible. once in college, i fell asleep on the floor of a van while about 9 of my closest friends had the music up about 300 decibels too high and were all seeing who could out-yell/sing each other. to me, it's just a lullaby. hahaha. it's really an issue. and if i'm in a moving vehicle - airplane, train, subway, bus, car, you name it - i'm gone in a matter of seconds. anyways, you get the picture. so last night, i was coming home to cheonan from seoul by bus, and obviously, i was asleep. when my phone rang in a text from my older brother. it read as follows: "hyun-ah...GET UP!!" bahahaha. touche. guilty as charged. also i'm not sure if he put a tracker on me or just has impeccable timing, but he messaged me as the bus was taking the exit to my stop. amazing. all that to say - my family knows me well enough already and they were infinitely worried that i'd sleep right past my bus stop. rightly so. :/

also, it would appear as if mega surprises are nothing new to my korean family. hahaha. my brother explained to me that my grandfather was a north korean who defected, came to south korea, and married my grandmother. about 7 years ago, some of his family from north korea somehow found my family and there was a big, tearful reunion. compared to that, my situation is no big deal! hahahaha.

a few shots from the past couple of weeks to close out this post. meeting my paternal grandmother for the first time. she's as sweet as she looks. my aunt & cousins took me to seoul tower. it was awesome and they're amazing. my cousins also speak pretty good english. appa, hyun-ah, omma.big brother seong-bae.omma.

i'm off to study and sleep.
everyone be well & i'll be back with more pictures sometime within the next few weeks!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

wow. since my last post a few days ago, my email, facebook, twitter, cell phone, etc. have all been blowing up! thank you guys SO MUCH. i have been really amazed by how many of you actually took the time to read that ginormous post...not to mention the millions of you who have written to say how touched you were by our story. it's odd for me to say "our story," because it is still as surreal as ever.

out of this entire experience, i think my biggest fear was not knowing what type of reaction to expect from friends or others outside of the situation. everyone always has their own opinions about everything...including things they know nothing about...and they're never shy to express them. i was terrified that people would misinterpret my decisions as "forsaking my american family" or some other bogus idea...when nothing could be further from the truth. and i was afraid that my american family would be stuck fielding all of the questions and end up really discouraged. miraculously, my fears were unfounded as we've had nothing but positive feedback and encouragement. i can't tell you what joy that brings to my heart. i truly, truly appreciate you and how you have responded to our situation. your reactions have only taken an awesome experience and made it a million times better.

life has not slowed down at all since i came back to cheonan on sunday night. besides hearing from almost every person i've ever met in my entire life, i've spoken with my birth family every day. i can't help but smile when my phone rings in a text from little brother reminding me to wear my jacket so i don't catch cold...or from oppa wanting to know what i did the night before. i literally went from being this strange foreigner in korea to gaining an entire other family overnight. omma called me earlier in the week and the conversation ended up in my hysterical laughter and her screaming through the house for one of my brothers to come and translate. appa messaged me earlier to make sure that i had eaten dinner and tell me how happy he is. i'm not sure when i will ever really get used to this, but i can promise that i don't mind it at all. :)

little brother hyun-bae is only here in korea for a little while longer before he has to return to china for school. so last night, we met up for dinner and he stayed in my spare bedroom here in cheonan. over dinner, he told me that there had been a family meeting and they decided that i needed a new korean name...a different one from what was given to me at birth. though that name was given by my now-deceased paternal grandfather, they all agreed that it was too antiquated and i needed something that suited me better. they took a vote and dubbed me 현아...romanized as "hyun-ah." coincidentally enough, it's pretty similar to hyun-bae, isn't it? :) so i will now be known as 현아 to my korean family. hyun-bae also got to meet my american parents via skype last night. they hit it off immediately, and can't wait to visit in person. appropriately, we ended the evening with some quality photobooth time. i'm a proud noona.

tomorrow, i will head back up north to seoul to spend the weekend at my family's house again. it sounds like they have pretty much got me booked up between shopping trips, meals, and meeting appa's side of the family. forgive me if i totally fall off the radar next week, but i feel like some serious sleep will be in order by the time i get back home to cheonan on sunday night.

a quick story to end this blog. i think it is the perfect representation of how my two worlds have collided. last sunday, omma and appa loaded up the entire family in the car to drive me back to my apt in cheonan. when we arrived, omma instantly started opening all of the drawers and cabinets to see what i had and make sure i was living well. when she opened the refrigerator, she gasped. i couldn't figure out what was wrong...i knew that i hadn't left it empty. then in korean, she said "WHERE IS THE KIMCHI?!" bahahaha. of course! she was legitimately distraught about the situation and i kept telling her it was really ok. i didn't need to keep kimchi in my house because i ate it everyday for lunch at school. she said "well what do you eat for breakfast and dinner?" as if that is the only thing in the world there is to possibly eat for breakfast or dinner. it took my brother and i a few minutes to calm her down...and i still expect her to ship me home this weekend with a 10-gallon bucket of fresh cabbage kimchi.

that's all for now. i'm sure i'll have plenty more stories to tell after the weekend. THANK YOU all again for your love and support. i have been really touched by reading the ecstatic comments you've left on my facebook wall or watching you literally shed tears of joy for me and my families. i am absolutely convinced that i am the luckiest girl in the world to not only have 2 amazing immediate families, but also wonderful friends & extended families, too.

please be well.
know that you are cherished.

Monday, October 4, 2010

i know that everyone has been waiting for this post. i apologize in advance, but it will be infinitely long & still not begin to scratch the surface of my experience the past week or so.

you all know that i was adopted from korea to an american family back in 1987 when i was just 6 months old. i was raised by 2 great parents with 3 brothers and 1 sister and have been ridiculously spoiled and loved by them. in our family, my adoption has always been a wide-open book. there has never been any shame or resentment or ill feelings. i've always loved them and they've always loved me and that is all that we've ever needed. we have always been more than willing to freely & proudly talk to any curious onlooker about how i came to be a casey.

ever since i can remember, my parents have asked and asked and asked if i had any desire to go back to korea to visit or try to find my birth family. i've always said no and always meant it. i have a wonderful american family and have lived a perfectly contented life. i have never had any ill feelings towards korea or my birth family...just no desire to return or search. it seemed like it would be unnecessary and expensive if i really didn't care about it one way or the other.

after graduating college in 2009, the american job market was horrendous and i was unable to find any sort of decent employment. i was frustrated and running out of options. korea nazarene university happened to have flyers posted in their sister nazarene schools and when i saw the advertisement, i saw a good job opportunity. it wouldn't use my business degree, but it was well-paid and would give me the opportunity to travel and see other parts of the world like i had always dreamed of. it just so happened that it was in korea...of all places. honestly, i came solely for the money and would have taken the job if it had been almost anywhere in the world. i applied, got hired, flew here 8 months ago in january 2010, and the rest is history.

once i arrived in korea, my parents started harping on the adoption thing again. "you're just a couple of hours from seoul. why not go up to the agency and look at your file?" by this time, 23 years into it, i was really sick of hearing about visiting the dumb adoption agency. honestly, i initially contacted them back in april just to placate my parents and get them off my back. i found the agency and learned that they did have my file and they invited me to come up and read through it whenever i was able. however, between not really caring about it and working hour complications, i never made the trip. months later, they emailed me again. by this time we were coming up on september, when my parents would be visiting me in korea for a week. i decided that would be as good a time as any to get this thing over with. i scheduled an appt with the agency and told my dad the plan. i kept it a secret from mom until 24 hrs before the appt because i knew it would make her excited and giddy to the point of not being able to sleep at night. after 23 years, i was finally giving in!

on monday, september 20th, my parents and i visited the office in seoul. i had the opportunity to learn about my birth family's mom and dad met, how i had a brother 2 years older than me, how i came to be given up for adoption, etc. it's an odd thing to have someone read to you from a manila folder about your own life. we finally came to the last page of my file and got the shock that started it all. most adoptee's family records have little to no family information given. mine was basically a genealogy. full names & government ID numbers for parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. ms. lee at the agency explained that this was a rare, rare thing and would make a search really easy. the word "search" had never come into my consciousness before that second and my brain almost exploded. we had a quick, tearful family pow-wow, where my parents agreed that a search seemed like the right thing given all of the information that was handed to us. the door seemed TOO wide open. before we left the office that day, i gave consent to initiate search for my birth family.

i hope that it's clear to you by this point that this search was not an ulterior motive for moving to korea. i can't tell you how far this was from my consideration. i came here strictly for travel and work. applying for the job, i had no intention of searching for my family. getting on the plane, i had no intentions. even going to the office to look at my file on the 20th, i had no intentions. i think it's safe to say that it basically fell in my lap.

one week after the visit, on monday, september 27th, i emailed a recent picture to ms. lee along with a letter to give to my birth family. she emailed me that evening to say that she had translated it and would begin the actual search soon. she said normally it would take only 2-3 weeks for her to locate the family. my jaw dropped when i considered that i could potentially be meeting them in only one month. little did i know...

about 48 hours later, on thursday, september 30th, i came into my office at work to check messages after lunch. i had had a full morning of teaching and was exhausted. i was surprised when i checked my phone and had 6 missed calls and a few text messages from the same unknown number. i tried to call back and found it out was the adoption agency...but they were at lunch. when they came back from lunch break, i was in another class. when i finished that class, ms. lee was in a meeting. needless to say, it was an agonizing few hours wait.

we finally touched base around 2 in the afternoon. ms lee asked "do you have a minute to talk?" followed by "i found them." i all but stopped breathing. what happened to 2-3 weeks?! she explained to me that she had spoken to both my birth father and birth mother that morning. they were, not surprisingly, shocked out of their minds. she also told me that i had a 2nd brother...a younger one. as if i wasn't speechless already, that one took the cake. she said both brothers are in university - the older in korea, the younger in china. neither brother had a clue about my existence. my mother said that she wanted to meet with me immediately, but she needed time to explain it to the boys. ms. lee said "so when can you come?" i said "ummm...i don't know! can i have just a minute and call you back?"

after talking with my teacher about working hours and trying to find a time when i could make it to seoul & an afternoon-long game of phone tag with poor ms. lee who had to keep translating between the birth family and i, we agreed to meet on friday, october 1st. as in...the NEXT day. talk about a whirlwind. i left work that day with my head spinning.

later that evening, i got another call from ms. lee. when i saw that it was the adoption agency, i thought "honestly...what else could you have to say to me right now? it's not possible to be any more shocked than i already am." false. she called to tell me that my birth mom had talked to both boys. older brother and father would come with her the next day to meet me. she had already purchased a plane ticket for the next available flight for younger brother to fly back from china to meet me. however, he wouldn't arrive in korea until sunday, so could i just stay the weekend at their house and go with them to pick up younger brother from the airport? my response was laughter. disbelief does something to your brain. confuses your emotions so you don't know whether you're supposed to laugh or cry. i told her i needed some time to think about it...that i still hadn't processed meeting them the next day and i couldn't give an answer yet about a weekend long visitation. in addition, i still hadn't even talked to my parents back in america to tell them what was going on!

after a lot of thought, i ultimately decided - what the heck. why not?! hahaha. that was honestly my mindset at this point in time. so i packed a bag on thursday night, went to work the next day, and jetted to the station to catch a train to seoul.

i met omma (mom), appa (dad), and oppa (older brother) for the first time in 23 years on friday, october 1st. everyone keeps asking me if it was emotional. honestly - it wasn't. i think that everything happened so fast that there was no time to think about emotions. a few tears were shed within the first 5 minutes, but then we quickly moved on to the business of catching up on the past couple of decades. ms. lee came to our meeting as the translator. we talked about everything under the sun for an hour and half. then i grabbed my bag and walked out of the office to go home with my birth family...without a translator.

when we got in the elevator, my brother surprised the crap out of me. he was obviously speaking in korean the entire time we were meeting with the translator. but without that crutch, he looked at me and said in perfect english, "well are you hungry? whatdya wanna eat?" HAHAHAHA. where the heck did that come from?! out of the good Lord's providence, my brother speaks more than sufficient english.

the weekend was a whirlwind. with my less than survival korean and my parents' lack of english, communication was obviously difficult. my poor brother was forced into translating for the sister he didn't know about 24 hours prior. to make up for the lack of conversation, omma cooked enough for an army and stuffed me to the point of explosion approximately every 2 hours. she literally spent hours upon hours in the kitchen every day. she would cut up my food and put it on a spoon and tell me in korean "eat alot!" appa would just smile and stare at me and hold my hand.

over the course of the weekend, i met grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. they showered me with gifts and oohed and ahhed. i stayed up at night to watch korean-subtitled american tv & movies with my older brother. i ate breakfast with appa and he took me to the mall to try to force me into letting him buy me one of everything in every color. between friday night and saturday, my little brother called me 5 times from china to talk. the way...he ALSO speaks english. :)

i see so much of myself in each individual family member - it's not even funny. we are SO related. in appa's work ethic and facial structure, in omma's do-it-to-it/no-nonsense personality, in older brother's (oppa's) dislike of large crowds and affinity to computers and general emotionlessness, in little brother's smile and talkativeness. what do you think...are we related??appa, omma, seong-bae oppa, hyang-ok, little brother brothers obviously took all of the best genes and threw me the leftovers. aren't they so handsome?!appa & omma.little bruddah!i can't tell you how it was to be in my shoes this weekend. surreal doesn't begin to describe it. i still don't fully understand that this is actually happening. this stuff happens in movies...not in real life. yet here i am living it. thousands of adoptees go back to their mother countries every year in search of a storybook ending with their birth families and wind up empty-handed and disappointed at a dead end. i wasn't looking for anything and it all fell into my lap within a matter of days. my life before this last week has more than once been deemed "blessed." i'm not sure what you could even begin to call this.

my american family has been more than amazing during this entire process. (i use 'entire' lightly as it has the connotation of a long and difficult ordeal. this was lightning-fast and surprisingly easy.) brothers and sister and mom and dad are overjoyed for me and 3000% supportive. both families are anxious to meet each other and i actually had the opportunity on sunday to interpret for a quick skype greeting between both sets of parents. it consisted of a quick "hi, nice to meet you" and profuse "thank yous" from both sides, but was awesome nonetheless.

our story, obviously, doesn't end here. we've got our work cut for us. omma and appa are begging me to learn fluent korean as fast as possible...not to mention my poor brothers who are stuck being the translators. i will meet them regularly for the remaining 4 months that i am working in korea and will make visits back here once i leave in january (bummer considering the 20+ hour flight, huh?!). thank the Lord for the internet that will allow us to skype regularly.

there is no handbook for how to handle a situation like this and we are all treading in basically unchartered territory. culturally, personality-wise, emotionally, EVERY way the 2 families are crazy different. i have to learn how to balance the two and there has to be give and take on the part of all involved parties. just learning how i should address them took several days - it's really confusing to have 2 moms and 2 dads. (the decision, by the way, was that american mom and dad are strictly "mom" and "dad" and korean mom and dad are strictly "omma" and "appa.")

keep us in your thoughts and prayers for the next...forever...will you? as exciting and thrilling all of this is, we have to be realistic and know that there are unique challenges on the way. with all of that in mind, though, i couldn't be happier with the way that everything has turned out. i have the best of the best of both worlds and did nothing to deserve it. how lucky can one girl be?!