10 Things Only Korean Adoptees Understand

1.  USA is the #1 country where Korean adoptees are sent.

America is the number 1 country adoptees are sent to because um… duh America is number 1 for everything else such as having the highest average earnings per person, having 83 of the 400 best universities in the world, and American consumers make up 30% of the world’s purchasing power which should make the US a natural place for a baby to be sent to.  And then every once and awhile you meet an adoptee from France or a Nordic country… Because it seems that all Korean adoptees went to countries with a generally high standard of living.

2. Relying on adoption agencies (like Holt) for simple things like birth records and family / medical history.

Even for the well organized adoptive family and adoptee, getting our birth records, citizenship, or adoption records is at best a headache. We don’t have the luxury of knowing even what our birth parents looked like, let alone things like family medical history and the usually complicated backstory of how we came to be adopted. Whatever we want to know, we must go through Holt, East Social Welfare, and Social Welfare Society (the Korean agencies responsible for 99% of overseas adoptions) to get it and even then it has been translated from Korean and in some extreme cases falsified or changed beyond recognition.

 3. G.O.A.L is the most comprehensive organization helping adoptees in Korea.

When an adoptee first lands in Korea or does a google search on being a Korean adoptee they will see GOAL mentioned most prominently or most often. And yes GOAL really is that big. GOAL is an all-encompassing behemoth of an adoptee organization offering to help you with every aspect of the Korean adoptee experience such as birth family search, visa, social clubs, scholarships, etc. They even helped get the people who produced that “offensive” SNL Korea sketch to apologize.

4. Dreaming of what your family looks like.

Have you ever dreamed about what your family looks like? Probably not, right? Why would you dream about something so basic as that? When I was growing up, I always wanted to know what my Korean parents and sisters looked like. I wanted that Korean connection in my life. Most of us adoptees, even if we haven’t conducted the hassle that is the birth family search, have at least wondered about our birth families; what they look like, do we resemble each other, who do I take after most. At university graduation time while everyone worried about what companies to apply to and what internships to get next, I (and I’m sure other adoptees like me) was packing up my bag and preparing all of the adoption paperwork I might need in case I ever did want to search for my family in Korea.

5. Lacking cultural identity.

Just like America, and oh yeah… the rest of the world, we Korean adoptees are a melting pot of different ideas, backgrounds, and experiences. Essentially we are the “twinkie”, yellow (Asian) on the outside, white (Western) on the inside. Just kidding.  No we may not have one solid cultural label that we can put on ourselves but that’s what makes us unique. We are the best of both societies, we can blend in anywhere and enrich whichever society strikes our fancy.

6. Having mixed emotions about the “motherland”.

Let’s roll with this melting pot theme here too.  Some of us love Korea, some of us love to hate Korea, some us don’t really care about Korea or being adopted. That’s it. We are different, we come with our own package of opinions, experiences, etc.  all of which are fine and dandy by me.

7. Not being fully accepted by either Korean or American society.

“What?! You don’t speak Korean?? But you look soooo Korean”? Or it’s American cousin, “Ohmygosh your English is like perfect! How did you learn it so fast?” are probably the most common but also one of the most annoying questions adoptees are asked when we first meet someone. It’s almost as if nobody listened to “Hi, I’m a Korean American (Canadian, French, etc.) Adoptee” part of your introduction. People in Korea will be shocked by your lack of Koreanness and people in America will be shocked by your thoroughly American accent and style. Go figure.

8. Being compared to every famous Asian.

“So you’re adopted from Korea? Does that make you like Korean-ese”? Oh well at least you got it sort of right? You correctly identified Korea as different from China and Japan. If we grew up in America of course we know and feel some sort of kinship with actresses like Lucy Liu, Zhang Ziyi, Jamie Chung, and Sandra Oh but can the average person pick out the ethnic Koreans from the crowd? If you guessed Jamie Chung and Sandra Oh you’d be correct. Lucy Liu is Chinese American and Zhang Ziyi is just plain Chinese. I think it’s pretty easy to guess who we feel more connected to?

9. Being asked if you’re from North or South Korea. Duh.

Oh if I had a penny for every time someone asked me something like the above, I would be a millionaire many times over. But no, most, if not all adult-age Korean adoptees are from South Korea. Only recently have North Korean authorities started quietly exporting babies through China.

10. Our family connections and feelings about family are far from average.

“Oh because you’re adopted and in Korea it must be easy to know your Korean family?”. All joking aside, the birth family search is hard and many adoptees fail to get the answers or results they desire whatever they may be. My best advice for an adoptee or anyone else looking to get in touch with their roots is to stay strong, keep trying, and meet lots and lots of Korean people. Let these friends become your Korean family.

More Stories
Disaster relief for foreigners in Seoul
How To Get COVID-19 Disaster Relief for Foreign Residents in Seoul, South Korea