For 600 adoptees in 12 countries, a homecomingAt least 600 Korean adoptees, ranging in age from 20 to their 50s, will be returning to their mother country next year from 12 nations, including the United States and Australia.
The Korean Adoptee Gathering, slated for Aug. 4 to 8 at the Sofitel Ambassador Hotel, celebrates the 50th anniversary of Korean overseas adoptions.
The gathering is being held to recognize the Korean adoptee community and experience worldwide, and to provide an opportunity for Korean adoptees to develop a unified voice, according to Timothy Holm and Todd Kwapisz, members of the planning committee who recently visited Seoul from Seattle.
“There are a lot of sad stories of adoptees in search of their natural birth mothers in the media, but there are a lot of successful adoptees working as doctors, lawyers and businessmen,” Mr. Kwapisz said. “And the gathering is an opportunity to show how we have turned out.”
At the event, adoptees will discuss nationality, relationships, cultural attitudes and jobs. It will allow adoptees to connect with each other in the hopes of creating firm bonds.
Theirs is a large, though widespread, community: around 3,000 Koreans have been adopted overseas every year since 1973, according to the National Statistical Office.
The first gathering of this kind took place in 1999 in Washington, D.C., attracting 400 adoptees. The second was held in Oslo in 2001.
Mr. Holm himself is an adoptee, born in 1957 in Seoul and adopted by a family in Oregon in 1959. His adopted father worked in the lumber business and in the hotel trade.
He made his first visit to Korea in 1977. “When I arrived at the airport, President Park Chung Hee’s wife was [just] assassinated,” said Mr. Holm, who was 19 at the time, “and we were met by soldiers who took us to the National Cemetery and forced us to pay our respects.” Yet Korea somehow felt comfortable, Mr. Holm recalls. On his second visit here, he met his wife, and on his third visit they married. That was 15 years ago.
Mr. Kwapisz, who as a baby was found outside a motel in Seoul in 1972, was adopted by a family in Michigan one year later. He said his first visit to Korea “opened up a new side of me and gave me a lot of pride, and it made me realize that I was thankful for the opportunity given to me as I was adopted.”
The gathering is sponsored by the Overseas Koreans Foundation, the Korea Society and the Child Welfare League of America.
For information about participating, visit www.adopteegathering2004.org.
by Lee Ho-jeong