Overseas adoptees find mutual support

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Overseas adoptees find mutual support


On Saturday evening in a bar in Sinchon, northern Seoul, a gathering of overseas Korean adoptees was held to celebrate Christmas in the country of their birth. The Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to adoptees, has held the annual parties since it was founded in 1998.
“At first it was a small party ― only around 30 adoptees attended,” said Choi Jin-kyung, an administrator for the organization. “However, as Korea becomes increasingly accessible to adoptees through the Internet and other cultural products, many adoptees feel much closer to their country. At this year’s party, more than 150 adoptees showed up.”
The bar, which was warm and cozy to make up for the chilly weather outside, was decorated with a Christmas tree, ornaments and gifts, one of which was the opportunity to take free Korean classes at a university language school.
Heidi Park, 22, who came to the party with her Japanese classmates from a Korean language class, said that she thinks of herself as a “Korean-American.” However, she later asked the reporter to change her last name from American one to Korean, “Park,” to represent her Korean heritage.
According to the House for Korean Root, an organization to help adoptees by providing accomodation and various assistances, currently around 200 Korean adoptees are staying in Korea to learn the culture and language of their mother country. Those who share similar experience bond easily and voluntarily organize small activity groups.
“This is the third time I’ve attended the Christmas party, and I feel like these people are my family,” said Pierre Dehaut, 29, an adoptee from France who came here three years ago to work at a Korean company as an engineer. “I often participate in events that several adoptees’ organizations offer, and this summer I went to Jeju Island with other adoptees.”
On Dec. 10, around 20 adoptees visited the House of Root in Jongno, central Seoul, to participate in an event to learn how to make kimchi.
Although some covered their nose at the pungent smell of the garlic, most were eager to listen to the volunteers, who talked about how to prepare the most popular and fundamental of Korean dishes.
One attendee who gave his name as Jonathan, 30, from the United States, said, “I still remember the taste of kimchi that I ate with my family when I was young. I feel Korean whenever I eat kimchi.”
But for overseas adoptees, who are often caught between their biological and their national identities, the foremost concern is to be reunited with their biological parents. They try to find their biological parents through adoption organizations, the police and the media, but only about half ever succeed in being reunited with their first family.
Nicole Sheppard, 28, who came to Korea as an exchange student in 1997, returned in 2000 to learn more about her birth country. She now works as an internal advisor for the Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link. Ms. Sheppard has since found her mother; her cousin also attended the party. Things have not been entirely patched up, however: her reunion with her mother must be kept secret, because her mother’s family are unaware that she had a child and gave it up for adoption.
Mr. Dehaut found that his parents have passed away, but he has kept in touch with his uncles and aunts in Masan, South Gyeongsang province.
“I felt that I was discriminated against in France because of my appearance, so I decided to apply for a job in Asia. But here I feel like I am discriminated against again because I cannot speak Korean,” Mr. Dehaut said. He recently found a job with a French company, leaving his Korean employer who he felt discriminated against foreigners.
Kim Do-hyun, the president of the organization, said a large number of adoptees fail to find their parents and leave Korea disappointed, in part because they cannot understand the society. According to Mr. Kim, Koreans typically ask adoptees personal questions about problems they might have had in their youth or try to force them to find their birth parents in Korea.
“We should help them keep their identity as Koreans, but at the same time, we should respect their life as a member of another country’s society,” Mr. Kim said.

by Kim Soe-jung
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