Monday, April 30, 2012

if i was posting a status update right now, it would read as follows...
current mood: thankful :)

i recently began grad school and our first assignment was to write an autobiography. i groaned and rolled my eyes with the rest of my classmates when the professor gave us our homework. i approached the assignment with a "complete as quickly as possible" mentality, but was surprised when i started typing and didn't stop until i had practically written a book. i've included a few excerpts below:
I was born in a suburb of Seoul, South Korea to a struggling young family and adopted to the United States at the age of six months.  Raised in the Nazarene church, my parents instilled in me early on the values and beliefs that I hold to today.  I grew up in Connecticut and Ohio and moved to Tennessee in 2005 to begin my undergraduate work.  After earning my Bachelor’s degree in 2009, I spent all of 2010 in South Korea teaching conversational English to elementary school students.  That year provided me many opportunities for personal growth and development; I will always remember 2010 as one of the single most formative years of my life.  During the course of the year, I was also given the rare and unique opportunity to reconnect with my birth family.

After returning to the U.S. in 2011, I came back to {my alma mater} to work as the administrative assistant in the Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of the Provost.  I absolutely love my job because it is a new adventure daily.  When I come in every morning, I have no idea what new challenges that particular day will present.  My biggest projects currently include planning next month’s Commencement ceremonies and assisting my boss in the reaccreditation process that is required of the university every ten years.  Both are extremely challenging and time-consuming, but I am thankful for the invaluable knowledge I am currently gaining from these experiences.  When I was first hired, my boss told me, “You know {this} is a great place to be a student, but it also a wonderful place to work.”  I could not agree more.  I am very thankful for a job that I sincerely enjoy waking up for every morning.

On the rare occasion that I find some spare time, I enjoy knitting, baking...traveling, reading, catching up with friends, or watching the Food Network.  I also love eating – I am a major “foodie."  Whenever possible, I enjoy meeting up with my sister or three brothers.  Unfortunately, we are spread out across the country, so we rarely have that opportunity.  One of my two Korean brothers is also currently in the U.S., studying English in New England.

I am currently working to become more actively involved in the adoption community - writing articles, attending conferences, conducting interviews, recording podcasts, etc.  In addition to traveling as much as possible, my future plans include working in some sort of position that will utilize both my mind for business and my passion for helping adoptees and their families.  

I am very humbled by and grateful for all of the opportunities that have been presented to me in my short 25 years of life.
i've been able to see a lot in my first 25 years and am so eager to see what the next 50 will hold! :)

Monday, April 16, 2012

hi readers,
i am honored to be featured on the Adoption Voices Magazine website this week. you can read part one of my interview with friend and executive editor Jane Ballback HERE. the first installment, appropriately titled Culture Shock details some of the struggles i experienced during my time living in Korea. stay tuned for the remainder of the story!
meeting my Korean family has caused me to think a lot about things i never thought about before, things i never had a reason to think about. suddenly having a little brother who could easily be your twin is a strange experience for a girl who grew up without knowing anyone who even vaguely resembled her. we look the same, we have the same mannerisms and facial expressions, we like a lot of the same things. all of this causes me to really think about heritage and genes and bloodlines.

it is no secret that South Korea has been, to put it frankly, a country well-known in the world of baby exporting. i don't have numbers or statistics to share, but if you compare the number of international to domestic adoptions in Korea, i think you would be shocked. i had a hard time understanding this during my time in Korea. why were there so few domestic adoptions within the boundaries of the border? coming from a country like America, where everyone i know has their own "adoption story," i was baffled.

the answer came to me slowly, after the culmination of a long string of experiences during my year in Korea. for Koreans, it all comes down to bloodline. your family, the ones who you share genes and blood with, the ones who you look like - they are of the utmost importance. this fits with the Confucian society of Korea, where respect/honor for your elders and ancestors (both living and dead) is an important core virtue. (for more on this, see my post on Seollal.) this is also why child relinquishment is such a dishonorable thing in Korean society, why so many Korean mothers are currently living with the deep, dark secret they can't entrust to anyone, with the picture of their relinquished child forever embedded deep into their mind's eye. this is why my brothers didn't know of my existence until 2010 -- 24 years after i was born.

this brings me to the real reason for this post - to celebrate the unsung heroes: the foster parents. in my case, my foster parents were a Korean couple who have taken in and cared for literal hundreds of orphaned children. they intended to adopt me as their own, but were just over the age limit and instead only cared for me in their home until i was adopted to my American family 6 months later. in a culture where bloodline is so important, these people have spent their lives taking in orphans as their own, receiving dirty looks and awkward stares from neighbors who likely considered them to be "weird"or "strange." my thoughts have gone to them frequently over the past year, and ultimately led me to reach out to Holt to find them. after they were successfully located, i sent the following letter for translation:

I have been thinking about you lately and felt that I needed to send a letter to thank you for the care you provided me during my first few months of life. I understand that you may not remember me because you have taken in and cared for so many other children. I would not expect you to specifically recall a small baby that you only had for a few months 25 years ago.

Let me tell you a little bit about my life. I was adopted to a loving family in America back in 1987 when I was only 6 months old. I have 3 brothers and 1 sister here and they are wonderful. I love my family so much and they have been so good to me. I graduated college in 2009 with a degree in business management. After graduating, the American economy was very poor and I was unable to obtain employment. I ended up getting a job in Cheonan, South Korea, teaching conversational English to elementary school students. I lived there for all of 2010. After I had been there for 9 months, I was able to meet my birth family in Seoul for the first time since 1987. It was a very special time for us. I lived with them for about 2 weeks and visited them on the weekends until I returned to America in 2011. I have two Korean brothers who are close to my age and I am very happy to be able to know them now. We have a difficult language barrier, but we have been able to communicate decently well. My younger Korean brother came to America last year to study English so that we can communicate easier. I am very thankful. I am now working at a university in America in the office of the academic dean. It is a great job that I love and it pays well. I am also a full-time graduate school student. I will graduate with a masters degree in business administration after a couple of years.

During my time in Korea, I learned about how important bloodline is to Koreans. I believe this is why so many Korean babies have been adopted to other countries -- because Korean people have difficulty welcoming someone into their family who does not share the same blood as them. This is why I am so thankful for you -- because you have cared for 100+ babies in a culture that finds this strange. You have spent your life making a good life possible for many young children -- how can we thank you enough? I hope that one day I can thank you in person. You deserve a high honor and reward.

Omma, thank you for all you have done for me. Thank you for caring for me when I cried and changing my diapers and feeding me during the night. Thank you for taking me in even though we did not share blood. Thank you for being my omma when I did not have an omma. Everything in my life is possible now because of you. I hope that one day we can meet and I can thank you in person. Until then, please know that you have not been forgotten. Please know how thankful I am for you.

I am attaching pictures of me with my American family and my Korean family. I hope you can see how happy I am now. Thank you again. If you have time, please send me a letter or pictures of you.


to all of the adoptees and adoptive families out there,
i hope that one day you will have the opportunity to thank your unsung heroes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

i got to see my little brother over easter weekend for the first time since he left TN last fall. perhaps more importantly, i also got to introduce him to my American family for the first time...ever! we met up at mom & dads house and even had an extended family gathering so that he could meet all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins. rather than listening to me blab on about it, i decided to let him tell you about the experience...

in his own words

it's been a year and a half since we met and you've been in America for 9 months now.
your life is so different from 1.5 years ago!

Before, I never imagined I could study English in the U.S. Now I'm talking with my sister in English. It's a little crazy. I never could have imagined. I had seen your parents and your house via Skype, but now I am here. I feel it is so surreal. Before, I wasn't interested in America, but now I want to live here forever.

what is your favorite part about America?

People. Americans are more kind, more outgoing, more open-minded.!
I love eating pizza, cheeseburgers, macaroni & cheese, cupcakes, root beer..

we decided you would come to meet my family about a month before Easter break.
were you nervous?

I worried about feeling awkward because it was our first meeting. I was worried about communication problems and cultural differences.

what did you do to prepare before coming?

I met my American friends for English conversation practice. I asked my friends about American culture and I bought some gifts for my American parents.

so now you are actually here. how is it?

Everything is different from how I imagined it. When I met your parents for the first time in the airport, I felt so comfortable, as if I was meeting my Korean family. Even though we have some problems in conversation, I don't feel so shy and they really try to understand what I am saying. It's good. When I talk to my family in English, I don't need to be shy because they are my family. My first night here, I couldn't sleep because I was really enjoying the feeling of being in the house with my family.

what has been your favorite part about the trip?

Family. When I am at school alone, I feel like a stranger in America. At first, I didn't know anybody so I was so lonely. But when I came here, I just felt like I was at home.

what was your favorite activity this weekend?

Just eating breakfast together. At school, I have to eat my breakfast alone. I have nobody to say good morning to. But every morning this weekend, mom was preparing breakfast and dad was reading the newspaper and my sister was coming to my room to yell at me to wake up.

how was meeting all of the extended family?

It was awesome. They welcomed me and they said they were so pleased to meet me and had been waiting for my arrival. They were really excited to meet me. Conversation was OK. I didn't need to worry.

what sort of differences do you notice between Korean homes & American homes?

I don't need to eat kimchi every morning! Before, I never thought rice was a heavy food, but now I can understand that it is really heavy. Also...dogs in the house! In Korea, we can't have pets in the home. I want to bring them with me when I leave!

anything else to add?

I will really miss here & my family & pets too when I have to leave. I'll be back soon!

Now I feel so special in the world because nobody else has 2 families - 1 in their country, 1 in another country. I was so shy about my story so I couldn't tell anyone -- it wasn't comfortable. But now I'm so proud of my families and my name, Nate, which means gift of God. When I was in language school, nobody else had a name with any meaning.

I like Skyping with my Korean family while I am with my American family.
It feels so rich, not in money, just in love of family.

I want to find another family -- #3! It would be so fun.

Since coming to America, I have met some adopted friends who couldn't find their family in Korea so I want to work for them after a few years if I have some chance. I hope they can find their family. It should be nice and you couldn't imagine that before you find your family.

I am the happiest person. Thanks to God! And tomorrow for the first time I can go to church with my family. God must be really happy to see our family all gathered together.