Friday, August 26, 2011

if you & i are facebook friends, this post will not be news to you. but i'd like to officially announce to my blog readers the next episode in the sitcom that is my life -- namely, my little brother hyun-bae moving to the states!
(i know...i was shocked, too!)

just when i thought things were starting to slow down & i finally felt like i was beginning to ease back into "american life," i got a phone call from korea. this was just about 3 weeks ago. hyun-bae & our parents had decided that it might be time for him to take a break from school and start preparing for his mandatory 2 years of military service. somehow, that idea evolved into him moving to tennessee!

i'm pleased to say that i'll be picking him up from nashville international airport very soon on september 8th. that following week, he will begin an intensive english language learning course at a local state university. as of now, the plan is for him to stay in america for 1 year to study.

we've had a stressful few weeks with the massive amounts of paperwork, rushed mailings, and visa interviews, but i'm excited for the opportunity to spend the next year with my brother. one of my only regrets in life is missing out on 22 years of being a big sister.

wish us luck. who knows what else the future might hold? life is crazy, unpredictable, & beautiful.

Monday, August 22, 2011

two of my most vivid memories of first realizing "wow, this 'new' family is going to be really complicated" took place, strangely enough, at the eye doctor's. at our first reunion, omma (korean mom) & appa (korean dad) were extremely concerned about my horrendous vision. they said that i'd inherited that from appa's side of the family and that both he and my younger brother had undergone LASIK surgery to correct their near blindness, with fantastic results. they also informed (not asked!) me that i would be receiving the surgery a month and a half later in november.

one weekend in late october, my brother hyun-bae and i were out for a saturday afternoon of food & shopping in myeong-dong. omma called to tell us (again, not a request!) to stop by the eye doctor's office to get surgery information before we came home. it was within walking distance of where we were, so i didn't mind. we walked in the front door and the nurse was immediately in our faces, offering complimentary beverages and asking how she could help. (i really miss the great customer service in korea!) the conversation went a bit like this...

nurse: (babbling in korean)
hyun-bae: (in korean) sorry, would you mind speaking in english?
nurse: (in english, confused) oh, sure. so which of you will be receiving surgery?
{i timidly raise my hand}
nurse: ok. and he is your boyfriend?
hyun-bae: (in korean) no, she is my sister
nurse: (in english, surprised) oh! umm...ok...

{we complete info session}

nurse: (in english) that's about it. do you have any questions? i'll give you this info packet to take home and review.
me: yes, one thing. could i get 2 info packets? one in english and one in korean?
nurse: (in english) oh sure! can i ask why?
me: oh, i need one to take home and read. and i also need to take one to my mother to read.
nurse: (unable to hide her bewilderment) oh. of course...


i had worked for several weeks with the nurse, asking a million questions about the procedure before finally scheduling my surgery. i was able to work mainly with just her, because her english was much better than anyone else in that office. by the time surgery day arrived, my brother had already returned to china to finish out his semester, so omma was accompanying me to make sure that surgery went well & i got home safely afterwards. as a refresher, omma speaks no english. (by this time, i had studied enough korean to handle basic conversation).

nurse: (in english) hi whitney, can i get you a drink while you wait?
me: i'll have coffee please.
{the korean word for coffee is 커피 or kupee, so similar enough that omma could understand my request in english}
omma: (in korean, to nurse) no, she'll have orange juice.
me: (in korean, to omma) what did you just say? orange juice?
omma: (in korean) yes, you can't have coffee. it's bad for your health and keeps you from sleeping well at night.
me: (in korean, throwing hands up dramatically) what the heck, mom?! i'm not a little kid!
nurse: ummm....
me: (in english, to nurse) i'll have coffee please.
omma: (giving me the stink eye) hmph!
nurse: (standing awkwardly, trying to diffuse the tension) wow whitney, your korean is coming along nicely!

i recall each of these situations with humor now, but remember them being overwhelmingly awkward at the time of occurrence. and i really feel for that nurse, who always seemed to be stuck in the middle of mass confusion.

it's complicated. i understand that, for many adoptees, the first hurdle to overcome in reunion is the birth parents dealing with their immense shame for giving their child away -- an unthinkable, unforgivable sin in many eastern cultures. in a shocking number of cases, birth parents ultimately choose not to reunite when given the choice, because they simply cannot face the humiliation that comes with the public knowledge of, "yes, this is my child. yes, i gave him/her away eons ago. yes, i live with that shame every day." so i try to be understanding in difficult situations with my birth family, and thankful that they are willing to "claim" me.

but in the kopee situation, i just couldn't take it anymore. as much as i try to be understanding and reasonable, i also need my birth family to understand who i am now -- that since the time they gave me up, i've developed into a tough, very independent, very strong-willed woman. no matter what koreans want to tell me about the cultural differences in age between korea and america, i will still affirm that i am an american. and i resent being treated like a child. and at that moment, i resented my omma overstepping her bounds and telling the nurse that instead of coffee, a cup of orange juice with a sippy straw would better suit a child like me.

i think this was the point when i first put my head in hands and thought, "what have i done?!"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

one thing i am really guilty of when it comes to blogging is telling every story and painting every picture in a way that my readers will see through rose-colored glasses. i don't really know why i do it, but it's a flaw i've become painfully aware of. i think that may be why the 12/13/10 blog might have been a bit of a shock for some of you -- because it took such a different tone from the rest of the year's entries. i've come to the conclusion that, not only is this is not fair to you because you're only seeing one side of the story, but it is actually a true disservice. and it's stupid of me because, no matter how i might try to portray it, you guys are smart enough to see that my life is most definitely not a perfect fairytale.

one major point of frustration for me these past 10 months has been the severe lack of resources out there for "post-reunion" adoptees. these are those (few) individuals who have been given the opportunity to meet with their birth families. this shortage of information is certainly understandable as reunions are a bit of a rare phenomena (i've heard the statistic that only 2% of adoptees have this opportunity, though i personally feel that this number might be a bit understated), but the fact remains: we do exist! so why is there no information out there? the little information that i have come across could barely be considered POST-reunion because the story always ends with the picture of the happy, smiling faces of the family AT the reunion. so the question is: what comes after that?

though some might beg to differ, i definitely feel like there is this common misconception in the adoptee community that post-reunion adoptees are the "lucky ones." please don't misunderstand me: i feel incredibly blessed to have been given the opportunity to experience all that i have in the past 10 months! however, i think many people forget that it doesn't all end with the reunion pictures. there is a whole life to be lived after that. and it's not all smiles. and honestly, i've had more than one occasion when i've thought to myself, "if i'm supposed to be one of the lucky ones, how come i'm not feeling very lucky?"

there is so much i wish i'd been told before i met my birth family in that tiny Holt conference room last year. for starters, "once you make the decision to meet, you can never take it back. this will affect every part of the rest of your life." or "boundaries are healthy. don't be afraid to draw them early." or "the language barrier is debilitating. it will be extremely frustrating and more than difficult for your family to communicate the things you so desperately want to communicate." if only i'd known then what i know now...

so, in a bit of a turn from what has become this blog's "norm," i'm going to begin sharing bits from the other side of the reunion. of course i am happy with the place my life is currently at. of course i wouldn't change my decision to meet my birth family. and of course i will still be sharing stories about the joy that has come from that reunion. but i want to be honest with you and show you that reunion isn't the perfect cure-all that it has, at times, been made out to be. i think my readers deserve that.

while i don't have a PhD and i'm certainly no scholar on this topic, i think i do have some valuable life experiences to contribute to the adoption discourse.

so i hope that this will be helpful to you...
// to my fellow post-reunion adoptees: you are strong, courageous, and commendable. i hope you can feel comfortable sharing your experiences and adding to the discussions.
// to those adoptees who are searching: i hope that this will give you some "food for thought" and help you prepare mentally and emotionally for what may be in your future.
// to parents of adoptees: i hope that this will help you understand what a rollercoaster this experience could be for your child. strap yourselves in and get ready for a crazy ride.
// to the adoption community as a whole: i hope that this will be an honest look into the side of the story that has been largely untold. please don't be angry at me for that.

// to all of my readers: thank you for your ever-present love, support, and genuine interest. i hope that you, too, will each feel comfortable adding to the dialogue. our unique views & opinions make this whole experience what it is. when it comes to navigating these waters, i think it's true what they say: there's no such thing as a stupid question.

Monday, August 15, 2011

hey y'all! (i live in TN now, remember?)

long time, no see. have you been well? i hope that you're surviving this scorching summer. the nashville heat has been absolutely relentless the past couple of months and left me wondering - "what in the world was i thinking moving back here?" you know it's been a rough summer when you're relieved to see temperatures back down to double digits.

i just wanted to touch base with my readers (if i still have any of those?) to let you know what the past couple of months have looked like for me. besides the "growing pains" i've experienced moving, starting a new job, and establishing myself as a young professional, i've definitely felt the effects of culture shock/re-entry to "normal" american life much longer and much more acutely than i'd ever care to admit. it's been a tough journey, but i can feel things getting better and for that, i am thankful.

one resource i've found recently that has been of great help to me is a wonderful organization called KAAN, or the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network. i happened upon them, believe it or not, through a facebook friend just a few weeks ago -- and only 2 days before their annual conference. i took a last-minute leap of faith and drove all night after work to atlanta to participate in the weekend's offerings. i had no idea what to expect going into it, but i was pleasantly surprised. one thing that many participants expressed, which i can completely relate to, was a sense of "whoa. for the first time in my life, everyone here is just like me." i'm really encouraged by the sense of community i've found as i've dipped my toes into the "korean adoptee world" and i've been pleasantly surprised by how welcoming everyone has been. if you're interested in more information about KAAN, their website can be found here: they also have an active facebook page.

as a heads up, i'd also like to introduce you to a great blog called my second mama that can be found here: the blogger, jane ballback and i have been in contact on and off for the past several months, and i'm excited about a project that is currently in the works. i can't tell you too much now, but hope to have more information to share within the next few months. jane is a wonderful lady with a big heart for the adoption story, and i'm anxious to see what the future will bring for her. for now, just get yourself acquainted with her & her story, because this will not be the last you hear of her here.

i'll wrap this up by saying that, while this blog started as a way to document my "year in korea," i'm foreseeing an evolution that will follow my personal growth & development. while i am definitely no scholar on the topic of adoption, i have seen & felt its effects very strongly (maybe for the first time) on my life this past year and that has given me a lot of experiences to share. i have no idea what exactly this will turn into, but i am willing and anxious to be a part of the adoption discourse and see where this will take me & you & this blog.

i hope that you will be willing to take this journey with me. i think that there will be a lot for all of us to learn.