In eight days

. . . I will be on a plane to South Korea. I am embarking on my third trip to Korea since 2000 (also the third trip to my birth country since I was adopted) – interestingly, I will arrive in Seoul on the 20th, only one day shy of the day the metal stork brought me to Minneapolis on July 21st, 1971. Thirty-five years later, I’m coming full circle.

Only this time instead of coming to the U.S. alone, sitting on an escort’s lap (my parents did not come pick me up, instead I was delivered to them by a "helper") I will be surrounded by Mr. Harlow’s Monkey and my two children ages 9 and 13. This is the first trip to Korea for the Mr. and the kids. I am thrilled to finally be at a place in my life where I want to include them in this journey, which has been such a struggle for me for so many years.

FolkvillageThe first time I went to Korea, I traveled with a group of 7 other
adult Korean adoptees from around the U.S. I only knew one other person
in the group, and it was a tough trip. Tough for many reasons – I
didn’t really know who I was, I was just in the beginning stages of
exploring my Korean identity, and I was doing a birth family search.
Along the way, many in our group began to fight with each other, a
result of the immense stress we were under. I witnessed three reunions
as some in our party found their Korean family members. Each time, we
were treated to a big, bulgogi dinner and it was really tough to be
happy for our friends while feeling despair that our own searches were
coming to dead ends.

My adoption has been both a burden and a blessing and I don’t dwell
on either of those dichotomies very often. It’s true that I have
enjoyed great privileges as a result of my adoption but I don’t feel
obligated or responsible to proselytize to others with words like grateful and thankful.
While I do feel grateful and thankful for many things in my life, I do
not feel grateful that I lost my country, my language and my Korean
family through adoption.

But I also don’t feel that I’ve suffered a burden that has so
damaged me that I need to be pathologized. Do I have "abandonment"
issues? Ya betcha. Do I feel that I’ve been able to accomplish some
things despite my "issues"? Absolutely. Do I feel that many adoptees
struggle their whole lives with a paradoxical tug-of-war with their
thoughts and feelings about adoption? Most that I’ve met have.

I’d like to think that this time, I’ll be much more centered. I’m
not looking for myself this time, maybe that is the major difference.
I’m so glad that I had the chance to take those two other trips to
Korea, able to wander aimlessly in the streets and feel like I was just
one more Korean in the flow of pedestrians walking down the sidewalk as
one drop of water flowing down the river Han; so indistinguishable from
all the others that no one would be able to pick me up and emphasize my

I’m expecting this trip to be hard in other ways. Especially dealing
with Mr. HM in a country that is still quite homogenous and hoping the
stares and whispers are kept to a minimum. Having to explain to people why I "look" Korean but can’t speak the language and won’t know all the customs. I also hope that my kids
learn to be proud of the country they are a part of even though they
live so removed from the daily life of a Korean kid. They are at an age where I think it will be shocking to them, even
though they live in a diverse neighborhood, to see all Koreans,
everywhere they go. They know that I
am adopted; they know I am sad that I’ve lost so much. They will be
traveling to my orphanage and they will see the city where I was likely
born. We will go to the mountains and temples near my birth place and
they will get a historical perspective behind their almond eyes and
dark hair and small-bridged noses.

Here in America, I have only been able to give them a very cultural
tourist sense of Korea. Sure, we eat often at the Korean restaurants in
town; I cook Korean food a fair bit, and many of my friends are Korean.
But there is often this sense that "Korea" is this old, folk tale of a
country. They will be shocked at how cosmopolitan Seoul is. I hope they
see more similarities in the two countries than differences. I hope
they come back to America with an understanding that we are part of a
larger global community. If my dream comes true, Korea will be more to
them than a geographical location, a type of food and a language that
trips up their tongues. I hope their taste of Korea is so delicious
that this becomes just the first of many more adventures there.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

10 thoughts

  1. Happy and safe travel. I think your dream will be realized in that your journey will be more to your children than a tourist location. I don’t think you can travel to another country (especially where you have cultural heritage) and not experience more than you imagined. I hope the best for you all and a coming together in a deeper and shared way.
    Best to you all.

  2. Best wishes for a wonderful time.
    And keep in mind that we really appreciate your sharing your life with us.
    I’ll think about you and your family and Korea while you are there.

  3. JR,
    I too hope this journey starts a family tradition for you and yours.
    Oddly, our family will be touching down in Beijing at the same time. And your last sentiment of wanting to give your kids all the dimensions of Korea for their own is exactly what I hope for my 6 yo. She is excited to be returning home and we so hope that this is the first of many returns for her.
    Best wishes for a safe and wonderful journey.

  4. I got the chills reading this post; it was beautifully expressed as always.
    I’m so excited for you and your family and the many other fellow KADs who will be joining you upon this voyage. I can’t believe how quickly this trip seemed to come!
    I’ll be thinking of you. . .may safety, good health and good fortune abound in Seoul for you, your family and our many, many brothers and sisters who you’ll be journeying alongside in the country of our birth.

  5. You Betcha I’m a Minny boy. I spent seven years in Seoul. I originally was in the military. They sent me to language school in California to study Korean. I spent two tours there, but decided I wanted to be a civilian there. I have a degree in English Ed, so I went back and taught there for five more years. I loved it there as you probably could tell from my comments to your post on the Kimchi Mama’s site. I actually know my way around Seoul better than Minneapolis and St. Paul.
    Sounds like your kids would love a ball game. It’s always better outside than inside at the Metrodome. If you want to stay in Seoul to go to a game…your best bet since two teams share a home stadium (always a home game at Olympic Baseball stadium). The easiest way to get there is to take the #2 subway (green line)to the Chonghap Undongjang station. That station puts you out at the Olympic baseball stadium and the main stadium for the 88 Olympics. You know that the subway is a cheap and pretty darn effective way to get around.
    Harlow…I’m very jealous. I just talked to friends who went back for a week over Memorial weekend. It sounded so fun…our little vacation is a couple of days up in Park Rapids… Not clearly in the same ballpark at all.
    Have a great time!!!

  6. I am so happy for you and your family to be able to take this trip together. Have a fantabulous time. I’m gonna miss you!!!!

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