Korean adoption

Feeling oddly at home in my estranged home

The closer we got to arriving in Korea, the more surreal it all felt. The moment we stepped inside the airport in Incheon, the strange surroundings and an unfamiliar country across the globe felt oddly familiar. It's hard to explain and even harder for me to understand the reasons why myself. 

As we zigzagged through Seoul rush hour in the tax if from the Incheon airport to our hotel in the financial district area of Seoul, the sights, sounds, and people felt comforting, exhiliirating and frightening all at the same time. 

We arrived at our hotel around the same time as everyone else and room assignments were being provided and dinner plans debated. My family decided to get settled in and explore the area nearby on our own in search of dinner. It felt empowering to be exploring "my city" despite having no idea where we were and my Korean and ability to read Hanguel is considered a beginner's beginner at best. Again, I can't explain it nor can I understand this feeling myself. 

I'm not sure if it is the fact that I'm in the majority as far as other individuals who look like me versus generally be the "other" in places such as Minnesota. Maybe it's because "home"ecompassses not only state of mind and space, but also a sense of belonging even in a country where I didn't belong when I was born and sent halfway across the world. 

We spent some time wandering around after dinner and absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells all the while wondering, "I wonder how different life would have been if I had grown up here."

Traveling back to the place that was the first place I knew and left...

As I travel across the ocean from my adopted home to my birth home, I have no clue what to expect and I anticipate surprises along the way. This entire journey up until this day has been filled with ups and downs. My sister and I were first drawn to this particular tour of Korea for adoptees because it w promoted by the US adoption agency as a tour where everyone on the trip has a personal connection to Korean adoption. The long time tour director and post adoption worker were both personally connected to Korea and Korean adoption and really understood the adoptee experience and what a trip like this means for so many adoptees and adoptive families. These two agency individuals that were initially with the tour when we signed up were insightful about the Korean culture and sensitive to the adoptee experience. We were excited to be able to have this first time experience back to our birth country led and supported by adoption competent professionals.

About 3 months prior to this trip, we received several emails over the course of a very short period of time that the long-time tour director was retiring from the agency followed by the abrupt departure of the long time post-adoption worker, both of whom many people had established relationships with in particular the post adoption worker who was helping us all find out more our adoptee stories. New staff were announced via emails from the agency and no opportunity was provided to discuss or talk about how this affects everyone especially given that wasn’t simply a sightseeing tour of Korea, but for many of us this was the first time we were revisiting our birth country and learning about our history and our “birth stories” 

For many adoptees, especially transnational adoptees, we don’t have the “birth stories” that individuals who were raised by their birth families have such as “you were born at this time, and this is where we were, what we were doing, what the weather was like, who was there, etc.” All we have as far as our “birth stories” is what the adoption agencies choose to share with us, and often this is limited or in many cases not accurate, vague, or missing information. Therefore, returning to our birth countries is more than sightseeing or visiting orphanages and single mother homes which are presumably a source of the adoptable babies and children for many adoption agencies. Returning to our birth countries is about learning parts of our stories that are often unclear, even when we are able to get what little information that is available.And while everything I’m writing seems very obvious to most individuals who genuinely understand or even acknowledge they can’t fully understand the adoptee experience and dont’ assume to know what it is like, and approach it with open mindedness, sensitivity, compassion, and respect, this was not understood by the new US adoption agency staff who are now leading and supposedly supporting us on this once in a life time experience. 

Despite efforts made to convey how impactful this change in staff/leadership was/is to us as tour participants, especially given the fact that the staffing of the tour director/leader(s) and post-adoption worker changed so close to our trip, and these new individuals have no peronal connection to Korea, Korean adoption, or Korean culture. It took a lot of effort on our part just to get them to acknowledge these facts, AND to admit they have each never been to Korea before this trip. When we tried to emphasize that this alone changed the whole tone of the trip, in addition to the fact that we as adoptee were experiencing loss with the agency staff we had established a working relationship with, the new agency staff and leadership failed to understand where we were coming from. They brushed off our concerns with responses such as “you will still have a great trip because we have a great in-country tour company” to“let’s not use labels such as adoptee and Korean adoptee because we are all people and individuals”also “I’m an adoptive parent of children from Vietnam and have led many trips to South East Asia” (person finally admitted they never have been to Korea, but tried to say that she understands the Korean adoptee experience and Korea simply because she adopted children from Vietnam) when trying to ascertain their connection to Korea and Korean adoption, and the Korean adoptee experience. The list of examples of things these new people have said both through emails, phone conference calls, webinars, and tour orientation meetings is never ending.  These are simply a few examples. In short, the new post-adoption professionals messages via any mode were received as condescending, hurtful, dismissive, and ingnorant. Rather than say “yes, we want to understand your concerns as this is YOUR TRIP as adoptees and adoptive families” they simply became defensive trying to defend the fact that they lack adoption competent knowledge, skills, and experience, and personal connections to Korea and Korean adoption, and the Korean adoptee experience...and are now leading this tour. It doens’t feel great when you know more than the post-adoption professionals charged with supporting us on this personal journey. 

Since they took over the tour, communication and support from the new agency staff and leadership has as been misinformed, inconsistent, and questionable at best. Post adoptions services essentially stopped after the previous person left and no additional information was worked on or found for either me or my sister. Providing wrong information to us, which we had to corrected, suggested they didn’t even read our files or ge to know our histories. And ironically enough they are now the new gatekeepers to our past. 

This is just a glimpse of what has transpired since we began this journey. I’m eager to see how and what unfold and look forward to sharing the experience. I’m trying to accept what is as far as the disappointing new post-adoption agency staff charged with leading and supporting us on this journey. I’m grateful to have my sister and parents along on this journey. And thankful there will be two support staff/volunteers who have volunteered on this particular tour a number of times before and one is an adult Korean adoptee and one is a Korean adoptive parent. I’m determined to keep my focus on this trip as my experience and my tour. 

My experience so far illustrates the imperative need to have adoption competent professionals with personal connections to adoption as adoptees providing post-adoptions services. I think the sad and unfortunate part is that I don’t think my experience with this particular “birth-land” tour offered by this particular US adoption agency is that unique in the sense of post-adoption services provided by individuals with little or no connection to the adoption and adoptee experience outside of formal/information education and training related to their post-adoption service job. However, I could be wrong and would love to have you share your own experiences with birth country tours provided by adoption agencies post adoption services.