Interview at Rileys in Uganda blog

I did an interview with Keren Riley from the Riley's in Uganda blog. You can see the interview in full (and since I have so much to say it's pretty long) at Keren's blog.


Riley's in Uganda blog

For those of you who may be interested in family reunification and orphan care and thinking about/problem solving child welfare issues in the African context, you should check out the facebook page the Rileys created, Alternative Care in Uganda.

Thank you Keren!

I’m back

It's been a busy few years, and it's not slowing down any. But I missed having a space to write about adoption in a more personal and less academic way. So, here I am, and we'll see what happens. I won't be updating as regularly as I did in the past, but I wanted to chat about adoption.

What No One Told Me About Adoption

Grown In My Heart hosted a blog carnival this past weekend called What No One Told Me About Adoption.

Interestingly, several years ago I wrote a piece for a project that was never published, an anthology of creative writing by Asian/Pacific Island women living in the Midwest. I titled my piece, Things They Never Tell You When You're An Orphan In Korea.

When I wrote this piece I had just started coming to terms with realizing the impact adoption had had on my life. The mask I'd been wearing as one of those "happy, well-adjusted" adoptees crumbled. I had not yet gone back to college, I had not yet become a social worker. I had just returned from my first trip to Korea, a trip that did not go well. I had not yet found "my people," those adoptees with whom I could really understand, who "got me." I felt I was being honest with myself but was conflicted because my feelings were not being recognized or validated in the books I read about adoption or in the volunteer work I was doing with adoption agencies. I was definitely a work in progress.

Reading the blog carnival made me go back and look at what I'd written a very long time ago now. And while I no longer necessarily agree with everything I wrote back then, there are definitely some nuggets that still resonate. I'm posting an excerpt of that piece today. Although I won't post the whole thing (there are some very private and personal things I included that I wouldn't want made public, like where I lived and my birthdate), I wanted to give you readers a small glimpse into the Me I Was Back Then. Those of you who are adoptive parents might want to keep in mind that I was in my late 20s-early 30s during this period. If you had asked me even a few years earlier I would have told you that everything was fine, that I had no negative feelings about adoption ever, that adoption was always a wonderful thing. Of course, that wasn't entirely true.

The point is not that there is a right way or wrong way to feel about adoption, the point is that every person who is adopted has a right to own their feelings, either way. And, things change. Having children changed things for me. Going to Korea changed me. Reading and educating myself about adoption changed me. Working and volunteering with adopted children changed me. Working at adoption agencies with prospective and adoptive parents changed me. 

However an adopted person thinks or feels about adoption comes from their own experiences. Adoptive parents and adoption professionals will never know what an adoptee will think or feel about their adoption experience. What I do know is that whether you personally agree or disagree with an adopted person's opinion about adoption it is not your place to tell someone that how they view their experience is wrong. You can support, you can empathize, you can offer other perspectives. But remember that those other perspectives are just that – other perspectives. Your perspective as someone who is not adopted is not better or more correct than the adoptee's perspective.

In my experience the more you try and tell an adoptee how they are supposed to feel, the more likely they will stop telling you how they feel altogether.

Continue reading

New Year’s Updates and Reflections

I managed to survive the first semester of a doctoral program, and only vowed to quit twice (just kidding, I loved almost every minute of it)! I have to admit one of the refreshing parts of being in graduate school is the time I have to focus on learning. I love to learn new things. I also really enjoy being in an atmosphere where, believe it or not, I do not talk about adoption all the time. While the majority of my assignments do have an adoption theme (since I am already working out possible ideas for my future dissertation), I am not surrounded by other adoptees or adoptive parents or adoption workers. And for the past 5 years I think that has been my whole life.

In addition to taking a break from blogging here, I have also made the decision to take a break from being an "adoption professional" for a little while. I quit my part time job in early December, and turned down three requests for speaking even though it was tough to say no (especially since I did all these last year).

I think I just really needed a break from adoption. Nothing personal against adoptive parents, but I was feeling so pushed and pulled in all directions. And while I don't want to make too big of a deal about this, one thing I really get frustrated about is that somehow I'm now expected to continue to "give back" to the adoption world – to professionals, to adoptive parents, and to the "future generation of adoptees" – but at the end of the day, I'm just a person with a family and friends and although I've certainly done well turning lemons into lemonade, it got to the point where I wondered why I was doing all this.

What I learned was that I had a choice. I had no choice about being adopted, but I had and still have the choice to figure out good boundary setting and to say no if I felt like I needed to say no.

Not to be too dramatic or anything, but spending all my time on adoptive parents and other people's adopted children was leaving me with very little time for my own children and family. So, I've been working on correcting that imbalance. I may even be able to blog now, more often, now that I've eliminated a few extra things from my schedule.

I'm not a resolution kind of person, but I do love the New Years as a time to reflect and to re-organize and re-prioritize. So, this New Year's has been an awesome one for me. I even have had time to work on me more, picking up some old projects I've not had time for (like knitting, I've been a fiend and finished several projects over the break), spending a lot more time with my kids, exercising, eating healthier. I even put my super-sized schedule on a diet! I feel refreshed and ready to go for the next semester. I hope everyone out there, if you're still checking in on this fairly dusty blog, has had a happy new year. A new quote for my next year: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." — Plato

Life in the fishbowl

I’m about 3/4 of the way through Signe Howell’s book, The Kinning of Foreigners: Transnational Adoption in a Global Perspective
and while I’m finding it a very interesting read, I’m also finding myself surprisingly sensitive to feeling
like a caged monkey being poked and prodded for the purposes of
research and science.

I’m always conscious of being in this strange world as an adult transnational and transracial adoptee who is also an "adoption professional" and soon to be adoption researcher;  this third space,the proverbial fence or tightrope, attempting to balance or straddle (or whatever overused cliché seems applicable) between didactic notions of being.

Research has tried to define me in terms of these dyads – Am I more Korean or American? What has had a greater influence in my life, nature or nurture? Are we, as adoptees, researched from a perspective of our strengths or our pathologies? Studies seem to indicate we’re "well-adjusted" or completely f*ed up. What is given more credence, empirical research by "professionals" or the personal narrative?

And so it goes with how I’ve used my life in the adoption fishbowl thus far.

I think it’s pretty common for individuals who were adopted to use personal narratives as a vehicle for making connections – personal, psychological and spiritual – with each other. The personal narrative has been very important for me. Through sharing my experiences in exchange with other adoptees I was able to normalize my experiences and that helped bring me out of isolation which I’ve learned is so common among transnational adoptees.

The problem with sharing the personal narrative is that eventually it feels very pathological. Not only do you risk sounding whiny, but you also risk being critiqued. Unlike research, however, what’s being critiqued is your very essence. Especially when it seems people really want drama-filled, angst-ridden stories. We tend to gravitate towards Brother’s Grimm or conversely, Disney’s happy-ever-after endings. My life just hasn’t been that tragic nor Pollyanna. That’s why I bristle when people want to use strictly anecdotal evidence to prove a larger point.

I’m cognizant of this and so I set boundaries around what information I share. Knowing that everything that is written on a public blog is open to anyone with internet access means I sometimes struggle over whether to share something personal or whether to highlight yet another research study. Both are important; one must see one’s experience as both a singular existence and as part of a pattern of larger social behavior too. Sociologists and psychologists compare you with a cohort of others and
look for correlations in either your socialization and/or genetics with
your current status and rate you on some bell curve of "normalcy." 

I also question the dependence on research studies. Call me cynical too – it’s not that I mistrust all researchers who happen to also be adoptive parents – but I’ve learned to be wary because sometimes there are biased researchers. Either way, as I’ve said before, we need to take both into consideration. For example, I know that in a so-called random sample study on the "adjustment" of transnational and/or transracial adoptees the outcome might be that adoptees are "well-adjusted." Usually the metrics for what constitutes "well-adjusted" are things like mental health diagnoses, behaviors (often reported by adoptive parents, not the adopted individual), whether the adoptee has friends, or scores in a certain range on some ratings scale. If I were to take those research studies at face value, I’d have to agree that it looks like transracial/transnational adoptees do, in fact, do well.

But there are two concerns I have about these "adjustment" studies. I have the additional information of being closely connected to adult Korean, transracial and international adoptee groups and from personal narratives and anecdotal stories I would say the studies don’t show the whole picture. Many adoptees "look" from outsiders to be "well-adjusted." So as I told one of my former co-workers who once described me as an example of an adoptee who is "successful" – just because we appear this way doesn’t mean we don’t have or have had a lot of really hard times in our lives – and still, as adults, struggle to reconcile what we experienced with our adoptions. If those questions were asked differently or if the research was measuring other aspects of our lives, we might see some very different results.

Secondly, even if those numbers are small, they are important. For example, the number of adoptees I know who were physically, sexually or emotionally abused by their adoptive parents, for example, are shocking. Yet most adoption professionals and adoptive parents are extremely unwilling or unable to give this information any credence because 1) it’s not an empirical study and 2) the numbers are so small that compared to the large overall numbers of adoptees who aren’t abused by their adoptive parents, it can’t be considered legitimately an issue. This is where professionals and parents say things like, "the numbers aren’t any different than parents who abuse their biological children" or, "it’s statistically insignificant." And while both those statements might be valid, it doesn’t invalidate that some adoptees are abused by their adoptive parents and that it’s just wrong and adds another layer of trauma on that adopted individual.

All of this is not to debate the merits of research or conversely to promote the personal narrative but just to say that sometimes I step back and look at my life and realize how much bigger this whole adoption thing has become. I have spent years trying to make sense of my adoption and the majority of the work I’ve done has been with the help of other adult adoptees. I’m this weird hybrid of adoptee, adoption professional, adoption researcher. Three hats to wear, three-headed hydra, always trying to combine them all together. Neither the personal narrative nor the research tells the whole story. Both need to be considered as important aspects of explaining the experience. Sometimes science can provide a name to a feeling or behavior, but it just can not explain at the core what my experiences were or how they made me who I am today.

Sometimes I just feel strange being the subject and object of research. Every now and then, like tonight, reading a book about how transnational adoptees behave and think makes me realize how strange my life has become. I guess that’s part of the reason why I work and study adoption as well as live it in my own life. I didn’t want to always be looking at other people from inside the fishbowl.

Where am I?

The Global Korean Adoptee Community Heads to Seoul

SEOUL, Korea – The International Korean Adoptee Associations (IKAA)
Network will host the IKAA Gathering, the only international conference
of its kind, scheduled to take place from July 31 to August 5, 2007 in
Seoul, Korea.  The opening ceremonies for the IKAA Gathering 2007 will
be held on August 1, 2007 at the Seoul Race Park and are expected to
draw the attention of Korean government officials and attendance by
representatives from our sponsors.

Building upon the foundations laid by earlier Gatherings in
Washington D.C. (1999) and Oslo, Norway (2001), the most successful
Gathering to date took place in Seoul, Korea in 2004.  This Gathering
brought over 400 Korean adult adoptees to Seoul and paved the way for a
future Gathering, one of a different nature, one that would transcend
differences within the international Korean adoptee community and
foster the collaborative efforts of the ten well-established IKAA
member associations, the IKAA Gathering 2007.

With over 400 attendees from 15 different countries already
registered, the IKAA Gathering 2007 is expected to garner an attendance
twice that of 2004.  The Gathering 2007 will be larger in scale and
will present participants with a program that includes the Adoptee
World Cup at the Seoul Race Park, the ArtGathering at Kyunghee
University, the Research Symposium and Workshops at Dongguk University,
a Fashion Show, social activities and other events encompassing both
traditional and contemporary Korean cultural elements.

IKAA associations will each be fully responsible for a part of
the program, with smaller groups and individuals also presenting
sessions, contributing to the diversity of the program and reflecting
the broad and varied perspectives and experiences of the Korean adoptee

Sponsors for the IKAA Gathering 2007 include, the Overseas
Koreans Foundation, the Korea Racing Association, Samsung, the Korea
Culture Network, the Cheontae Buddhist Order, the Ministry of Health
and Welfare, Sofitel Ambassador Hotel, Kongju National University,
Kyunghee University, and Dongguk University.

Formally established in 2004, IKAA is the largest existing
network of international Korean adoptees, reaching out to thousands
worldwide.  All IKAA associations are well established within their
respective communities, organizing regular events and activities, and
have an organizational structure and membership comprised almost
entirely of adult adoptees.

The IKAA Network was created to better serve the international
Korean adoptee community, to promote the exchange of ideas and
information, and build bridges between Korea, Korean adoptees, and
adoptive countries.

In conjunction with the Gathering 2007, the IKAA webportal will
launch its own online community to provide a space for adoptees to
continue communication and the sharing of information.

For further information please check out: or sign up for the IKAA newsletter: (subject line: newsletter).

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.

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Celebrity Adoptions and Outsiders Within on Addicted to Race

Celebrity Adoptions and Outsiders Within on Addicted to Race podcast

Carmen and Jae Ran discuss celebrity adoptions and the book Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption.

This episode features the song “Spit It Clearly” by Dilated Peoples, courtesy of Spectre Entertainment Group.

Carmen is joined by guest co-host Jae Ran Kim in this episode. Jae Ran is a writer, teacher and social worker. She was born in 1968 in South Korea and was adopted to Minnesota in 1971. Her most recent essay can be found in the new anthology Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption. She blogs at Harlow’s Monkey and is a columnist for the New Demographic blog Anti-Racist Parent.

Click here to hear the podcast.

Interview on Asia Pacific Forum

Last night I was interviewed by Chitra Aiyer, host of Asia Pacific Forum on WBAI 99.5 in New York. From their web site:

Blogging Transracial Adoption

What is the connection between experiments conducted by psychologist
Harry Harlow on monkeys and attachment in the 1950s and the
contemporary experience of transracial adoption? To answer this and
more, we turn to JAE RAN KIM, social worker, teacher, writer,
transracial adoptee and author of the popular blog, Harlow’s Monkey:
Experiencing the Social Experiment of Transracial and Transnational

I’m way towards the end, after Leah Sicat, Jesse Lokahi Heiwa and Ishle Park. You can find it linked from the APF website or you can link from here.