Korean adoptees head back to birth countryIn 1999, 400 strangers from around the world gathered in Washington, D.C., to share stories, concerns and hopes for the future. The one thing they all had in common was that they were adopted from Korea.
Not only were they able to network on an international scale with other Korean adoptees, they were able to dialogue about the adoption experience and attend workshops on adoption, culture and ethnicity.
That first International Gathering of Korean Adoptees came about with the help of the Korea Society; Evans B. Donaldson Adoption Institute; Also-Known-As, an American adoption services center, and Holt International Children’s Services. The second international conference in 2001 in Oslo, Norway, was hosted by three Scandinavian Korean adoptee associations.
Liselotte Hae-jin Birkmose, president of Danish Korea Club, calls that gathering “a landmark event that connected adoptees cross culture and cross country.” Ms. Birkmose, who was adopted in 1970, was one of the first generation of Korean adoptees who went to Europe.
Now, for the first time, the gathering will be held in Seoul. About 400 adoptees over the age of 21, from 15 different countries, have registered for the conference.
Organized by the Danish Korea Club, Also-Known-As and the Asian Adult Adoptees of Washington, the convention will be held at Sofitel Ambassador Hotel from Wednesday through Sunday.
While international surveys on the collective experience of adult Korean adoptees are still lacking, there are an estimated 200,000 Korean adoptees worldwide, with 100,000 in the United States.
After the Korean War, which created many orphans or left parents unable to care for their children, the first Korean adoptees went to the United States. According to organizers of the first Korean adoptee convention, back then, many people considered international adoption a crazy social experiment. Social workers said, “They’re cute babies and delightful toddlers, but what will happen to them when they grow up?”
Todd Kwapisz, a member of the international planning committee and one of the founding organizers, says he hopes to show Korea that adoptees have prospered. He was adopted by an American family in 1973.
“We left the country as children,” Mr. Kwapisz says, “and are coming back as adults. We’ve succeeded in the countries we have grown up in.”
After hosting a reception for the first participants, Korean Ambassador to the United States Lee Hong-koo wrote an open letter to them. In it, he said, “Although many of you have grown up in the U.S. or Europe, it is important to cherish your Korean heritage, and recognize the role you play as a bridge between the land of your birth and the land where you now live. I hope that all of you will have the opportunity to visit Korea to re-establish these connections with your past and your future.”
That opportunity is now. In addition to meeting fellow adoptees, participants will get a chance to go to a hanbok fitting, see a performance at the Korean National Theater and visit Gwamun temple.
by Joe Yong-hee