How does one prepare for a full-circle trip when one doesn’t know how much baggage there will be?
I’ve been fortunate enough to be granted the gift of a trip specifically catered to the mixed-Korean – often known as “Hapa” – adoptees (KADs) interested in returning to our birth-country to cement our existence in this foreign country. We’ll spend an amazing 10 days traveling through South Korea with the Hapa Mosaic Tour sponsored by Me & Korea. What a gift to learn first-hand about the culture and our shared and unique histories with other KADs.
As a single mom of two kids, I would never be able to afford this trip, nor have the time to research my past and coordinate everything for such a meaningful trip on my own so I’m incredibly grateful to Me & Korea for sponsoring this mind-bogglingly awesome opportunity. When I first put my desire out into the universe to take this trip last Fall, I never could have imagined that it’d be this soon. I’m a big believer in making our dreams known – it’s the first step to achieving them!
After a deposit to commit to this trip-of-a-lifetime, the one expense I needed to take care of – air transportation to Seoul. I figured, for my first trip to my birth country, I must go Korean Air! I love that the flight I booked allows travelers 2 bags so that I may bring a suitcase for my things and an extra for gifts (since they don’t tip in Korea, instead, they give gifts of appreciation) and souvenirs. My sturdy travel companion Lug bag will hold everything I need for my 13 hour direct flights and for the smaller trips where we go overnight to other parts of Korea.
During the flights I’ll spend plenty of time reviewing mental checklists and timelines while hoping that I packed everything I need. Meanwhile I don’t know if I can accurately anticipate the emotional baggage waiting to be unpacked.
CURRENCY ADAPTERS & CONNECTIVITY
Growing up I always felt a nervous vibration under my skin from the combination of being adopted, changing schools often and being an introvert. Too young to call upon words to express such complex emotions, and with no other shared or personal experiences to compare them to, I honestly didn’t believe anyone completely understood me. I just lived despite the feelings not really wrangling the skills to travel through them. Previously, I explained these emotions comparing them to Gwyneth Paltrow’s character living in a parallel existence in the film Sliding Doors knowing that I started life on one path and now existed on a very different one. However, unlike her character, my search focuses not on what I missed, rather figuring out what led up to me switching rails.
In this past year, as I’ve started to connect with other adoptees, and specifically hapa adoptees, that vibration seems so much less noticeable to the point that I don’t even recall exactly how it felt for the previous 40 plus years of my life. I don’t feel like it went away, more like I found other people whose vibrations matched mine. Social media proved its worth to me by taking my sparse landscape of KADs and filling it with 200,000+ others from those in the very first plane of adoptees departing from Korea to the most recent ones. Still, I’m sure that this trip will bring me face-to-face with stories in my head that I’ve dreamed up and those that I could never visualize.
MAPS & TRAVEL DOCUMENTS
Requesting my adoption paperwork from the Korean and US offices of my adoption agency from almost 5 decades ago felt futile. Surprisingly, it only took them 2 weeks to travel back 47 years to pinpoint and send me photos of my American adoption files. Surprisingly, I moved the pinpoint for the start of my Seoul search 200 miles south as I realized that my birthplace originated closer to Busan – a southern beach town in Korea.
I devoured the information as though I’d discovered a treasure map with hidden paths, mysterious clues and a possible buried treasure. Through tears, I read notes detailing ingrained behaviors, spoken words and eating habits as an infant. It warmed my heart to read the words that someone cared enough to write. I’d never known that I’d stayed with a foster mom with older “siblings!” Before now, I imagined a very sterile vision of my first few months assuming I’d been one of many in a rows of cribs in an orphanage. For the first time, my past reached out to comfort me.
LOST IN TRANSLATION (THOUGH TRANSMITTING LOUD AND CLEAR)
I take everything I read and see in my files with a grain of salt. I don’t read or speak the Korean language. I’ve heard many accounts of adoptees finding a thin lining of distraction in their files – though clarification may be offered when visiting the Korean office of their adoption agency. During peak transnational adoption years, some detail fell away as adoptions were “streamlined” to help get more babies adopted. According to one chart, between the time I was born in 1970 to the time I flew to America in 1971, the number of babies Korea sent away grew from 37 babies/week to 52 babies/week with a peak of 170 babies/week being reached in the mid 1980s before it started to slow down.
To this day, the feelings surrounding these statistics shroud some Koreans in a delicate veil, detailed with bureaucratic formalities and mild mea culpas. I never expected the Korean Consulate General to attend a mixed-Korean event in Los Angeles to issue a formal apology to mixed Koreans and adoptees for sending us away, admitting their errors, offering the improvements and extending their warm, formal invitation to come visit Korea. Personally, I can tell by reading the English-written parts of my file (though I have translators working on a full Korean translation) that perhaps the agency fast-tracked me through the system quickly to parents where one was a doctor so I could receive excellent care for the extensive health issues I had as an infant. For this, I’m grateful.
MY FIRST KOREAN ITINERARY
Though I existed for 8 months before being adopted, the opening scene in my mental reel about my life began at 8 months old. In my mind, someone found, processed and adopted me out within a month. Receiving my Korean adoption files recalibrated that timeline. The paperwork shed light on the landmarks I traveled during my first journey through Korea.
When I had children of my own, I remember looking at them at 8 months old, acknowledging that someone in my past faced an excruciating decision that I couldn’t even bring myself to simmer in for a few minutes. Learning that this actually happened at 2 months old, my mind immediately tried to guess whether this age made it easier or harder. There is no good answer regarding timing or reasons. Second guessing does no good now. I’m grateful for my life, for my unique path and, now, the ability to revisit it.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Why now? To be honest, the universe knew the right time. Before, I didn’t have the resources or knowledge to navigate such a distant culture and unknown language, nor did I have the money to do a tour that provides such guidance. I felt taking such a large trip would be selfish and, again, the cost prohibitive. I lacked direction! As an abandoned infant, I thought searches for information would be inconclusive.
I needed to get a better grasp of who I am so that my Self isn’t as fluid while on this journey. Every week since learning I’d join this trip presents moments where I’m hurtling towards boundaries that once I cross them, there’s no pulling back. My story and history have the potential of blowing up in the most exhilarating way and it’s important to know that while this does impact me, it (most likely – fingers crossed, knock on wood) shouldn’t change my foundation.
Thanks to computers, I’m fortunate to have KAD mentors – the “Twinsters” film, working a fundraiser for KindredAdoption.org, AKA Dan’s youtube series, reading books, doing DNA tests to learn my other half, joining facebook KAD groups and attending AKA|IKAA events. After finding a welcome place and ongoing dialogues in these groups, I heard enough stories that caused me to ask “What if?”
Meeting adoptees older than me who successfully retraced their steps, I asked “Why not me? Why not now?” Though the process of applying and receiving notice I’d received the grant for this trip took place during a quick window of time, I’ve actually been preparing for this trip for 4 years.
So how does one prepare for this full-circle trip-of-a-lifetime when I still can’t wrap my head around it? After stops in Seoul, I’ll visit the region where it’s estimated I’m from, based on where police found me. Then we get a personal visit where I’ll visit the first location where I stayed before moving to Seoul, others may revisit their childhood home, or meet birth families if they found them. I’ll visit the Korean offices of my adoption agency to see if more information exists. We’ll participate in Korean culture visiting families and learning delicious Korean cultural skills. We’ll visit a Camptown home where many female employees of these camptowns now reside – honestly, these could be many of our birth mothers.
Hopefully I’ll return with my children someday soon, but since it took me 48 years to get here to begin with, I want this trip to stand on its own and I want to remember all of the details. I’ll prepare with a fresh journal. I’ll take time every day, sometimes in particular moments and take in every sense – what I hear, smell, taste, see and feel. I’ll take tons of pictures and tons of notes and hope that others do too.
To follow along while I unravel the mystery that is my history, follow my social media!
To help support trips like this or to apply for next year’s trips visit me&korea
What about you:
- Have you found surprises in your history?
- Are you adopted?
- Did you find biological family?
- Any resources that helped you out?
- Are you a domestic or international adoptee?
- Did you adopt?
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