Developing a global community of Korean adoptees

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Developing a global community of Korean adoptees

Todd Kwapisz grew up the only Korean in a small town in Michigan. One day his parents told him, “We want you to go back to Korea so you can learn about yourself.” He went in 1990 as a teenager. The visit, he recalls, was “profound.” He visited orphanages and saw the care the children received. Upon returning to the United States, he eventually became involved with Holt Children’s Services.
Liselotte Hae-jin Birkmose doesn’t remember having anything to do with Korea until she turned 27. To begin with, there were only about 200 Koreans in Denmark as she was growing up. Until recently, there were no Korean restaurants.
But when she reached her late 20s, she decided to learn Korean so she could search for her birth parents.
These are two of the people behind the Korean Adoptee Gathering 2004. Mr. Kwapisz helped organize the first gathering in Washington, D.C. in 1999; Ms. Birkmose helped organize the second one, in Norway in 2001.
Mr. Kwapisz, along with a few others, had a vision of gathering adult adoptees together. And they did. They discussed general issues like post-adoption services, race and searching for birth parents, and even facilitated bone marrow donation. “Several members had leukemia, and we thought it was important to assist our community,” Mr. Kwapisz says.
A few Europeans made it to D.C. and returned “enlightened,” says Ms. Birkmose. The subsequent gathering in Europe was more difficult because of the many languages, but once it had launched, it seemed that a community was forming.
With the third gathering underway, Mr. Kwapisz calls the experience gratifying and humbling. But what they really hope to convey is that the adoptee community is a global one. “We want Koreans to know we are very successful as a community,” he says. “It’s not about money, or the degrees we hold. We are citizens of the world, and we want to be recognized for who we are.”

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