Exchanges keep adoptees balanced

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Exchanges keep adoptees balanced

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Park Jin-ah, 17, a student at Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, visited Korea two months ago. She came along with John and Joanna Kim, who had adopted two Korean children, Gregory, 7, and William, 5. The Kims wanted to expose their children to Korean language and culture.
Mrs. Kim rented a house in Itaewon and sent her two sons to the Seikwang Church kindergarten daily. After kindergarten classes are over, they learn taekwondo. “The landlord took us to the East Sea and to amusement parks on the weekends. The kindergarten didn’t even charge us. Koreans are very kind,” Mrs. Kim said.
The Kims adopted Gregory in 2000 and William two years later. In the United States, they wanted their two sons to retain their Korean language and culture and gave them private tutoring. Mr. Kim also tried to teach them by himself, but those efforts were not enough. Then they met Park Jin-ah, the chairwoman of the Korean Culture Outreach program at Philips Academy, a group focused on adopted ethnic Korean children.
While she was involved in the program, Ms. Park learned that there were many American parents who want their Korean adopted children to be educated in Korea during vacations. But it was difficult for young children to travel to Korea alone, and there were no programs for entire families to stay in Korea for a while. Ms. Park and her parents, who live in Korea, found the house and the kindergarten for the Kims.
“The biggest issue for an adoptee is confusion about their identity when they are adolescents. Thus there are many American parents who want their adopted children to study Korean language and culture when they are young,” she said.
Mrs. Kim added, “There are almost 70 households who adopted Korean children in my hometown. I thought that the adoptees would have no uncertainties about their identity if they learn about both cultures.”
Ms. Park set up an exchange program to connect American families and their adopted Korean children with families in Korea. Children age 3 through about 12 are eligible to attend elementary school. The program provides a place to stay and help in sharing language and culture during vacations. Linking families is done on the Internet (http://cyworld.nate.com/kaep). American families with Korean adoptees can learn Korean culture without spending a lot of money.
The benefits flow the other way as well. In the program, Korean families can go to the United States and stay together, as opposed to only sending their children there to learn English.
After connecting the two families, Ms. Park is now trying a more systematic approach. Twenty American families have already shown interest in visiting Korea through the program. She plans to start operating a full-scale exchange program next summer after finding Korean families willing to participate in the program.
Interested families can visit the Cyworld site and read the instructions in the “profile” section. They also should provide such information as the age of their children, the schools they attend, where they live and their reasons for wanting to participate in the program. Family photos are welcome
The outreach group at Philips Academy, Ms. Park’s parents and Joanna Kim review the applications and interview prospective families.
“It takes a lot of effort, but linking families has to be done carefully,” Ms. Park said.
“I hope the participating families will not be afraid of cultural differences. They should have open minds and try to make friends,” she added.
“If possible, I want to come here every year. It is a good opportunity to learn subtle cultural differences,” Mrs. Kim said. Picking up a pair of children’s shoes with the backs crushed down to the sole, she said, “This is Korean style.”


by Jo Do-yeon

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