I keep asking myself: Why now? What made me decide to finally go to my birth country of Korea for the first time at the age of 48 (last year)?
It felt like the perfect storm of Impulse (My 2017 Year of Yes and vowing to experience everything), Vulnerability (My 2018 Year of giving in to feel everything), and absolutely my Mindful Midlife (My 2019 Year of trying not to regret anything). While it looked like a sudden whim, my decision built slowly. Along the way, roadblocks sent me down deadends, speedbumps slowed me down, but I’m stubborn and love a good mystery – I needed to see this journey to the end. Surprises rewarded me along the way.
- DNA SENT ME DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE: When I finally did my DNA to see where my other non-Korean half originated from, I became fascinated by all of my cousin connections! I read their faces, over-reacting when I noticed any similarities. I’m not really interested in meeting most of the hundreds of cousins, but it amazes me to now see the generations of people that I’m linked to. I’m curious to learn how my ancestors travelled around the globe to wind up where I magically came about in Korea.
Roadblock: There aren’t that many Asians (from the US and especially not Korea) in all 3 of the big DNA companies: FamilytreeDNA, Ancestry, and 23 and me. The companies are just now trickling into Korea and Korean Asians have their large national ancestry ledger and don’t feel that they need DNA to tell them about their relatives.
Speedbump: It’s hard to navigate your genealogy as an adoptee because the minute you surprise someone with your existence, they clam up.
Suggestion: If you’re trying to find relatives, test with all 3 companies and download your raw data into other larger databases. Many people test 1 time because they are only curious about ethnicity so you could miss large chunks of your genealogy that could be listed in a different database. Leave DNA in the area you’re from. In Korea, the database connects the police departments if there are any matches. Also, enlist professionals – or, as I call them, DNA Angels.
Surprise: When the Angels got involved, they shot a laser that parted the seas of cousins to find people so fast it made my head spin.
- INFORMATION OVERLOAD: My neutral attitude towards putting much effort into finding ancestors centered around the number of decades that have passed since I left Korea – not to mention the required language I’d need to communicate what little story I knew. I felt no reason to NOT believe the story in my file and assumed that the record keeping would be poor if files even still existed.
Roadblock: As an infant found abandoned in the street by a police officer, this enabled me to be logged in the Korean Ancestry Registry – though with a family name given to me by the police. However, no note indicated whether my birth year was accurate, or where I came from.
Speedbump: Different information existed at the US vs. the Korean Holt International offices. In some areas, they filled in the blanks from the other file. I learned I’d lived with a foster family and started out as the youngest in the family (before I became the oldest in the family I grew up in). In other areas, the files contradicted each other.
Suggestion: Ask for all of your files and get translators involved if necessary. Request immigration files through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). I saw pictures I’d never seen and read snippets about my preferences and my day as an infant that shed light on my current behavior and preferences. My inner child wept with gratitude after learning that I’d been so carefully cared for by a foster mother. It also wept at the hint that my history could be woven with that of another adoptee listed in my file.
Surprise: Turns out one of my files mentioned which orphanage I came through which suddenly changed my birth city to Busan. My file also hid the name of the person who turned me into the agency. A woman.
- MINDFUL MIDLIFE: At the age of 48, I felt an urgency inside sternly warning me that my life would feel wasted if I never visited my home country. Considering all I have and everything I’ve done, perhaps that sounds harsh and even a little selfish. I started to feel as though I lived to meet this society’s markers, but that my life didn’t feel like my own if I didn’t chase after my roots and learn about Korea.
Roadblock: Korea’s complex culture – they’re just starting to put down the large stigma associated with adoption. The dark veils of secrecy in our adoption files – to help us move quickly into new lives – still hides much of our histories. Conversations are still awkward, and explanations still hazy. It’s unsettling to me when people apologize.
Speedbump: The relationships that yielded mixed Korean adoptees is vast and still ongoing. It felt shocking to learn the whole history when only searching for my first 8 months. Overall, I’m at peace with the past because I can’t change it. We all harbor messes somewhere in our families.
Suggestion: Go when the time feels right. I wasn’t confident beyond every doubt, but failed to convince myself that I should not go. I recognize it’d have been a much different, more superficial and touristy trip had I visited when I was younger or a different crowd, even full-Koreans (who travelled a different historic path towards adoption). I feel like I would most likely have deflected, not absorbed, the impact of my trip back.
Surprise: Though almost a half-century old, I found my inner child somewhere along the journey in Korea. I’m now conscious of her existence and learning to care for her.
In my opinion, adoptees looking for their history hope to answer questions, feel their roots, find their center and perhaps shed light on their purpose. Of course, family members may be a part of this discovery, but for me, that would be secondary to learning my story. I would love to make connections, to see behaviors and facial expressions, but not in a sense to replace the family I have. This is just my experience, every adoptee’s journey and story is unique and their own to share.
So why now? It’s been a year and I’m finally unravelling and untying the threads of information that connect me to my home country. More than anything, I want to get it out and make sense of it. Though I’ve fully touched my Korean history and feel myself rooted in that country, I still haven’t married my Korean and white sides here in America. When I do Korean things, it still feels like a field trip for me: Spend a day in the life of a Korean woman!
Since October is #Blogtober, and I love me a strong deadline, I’m using this as a means to try to push the rest of the story out! I look forward to sharing more of the surprises and stories with you! It may be slightly messier than usual just to get it out. I appreciate you staying with me through this exercise!
What about you?
Have you researched your genealogy?
Did your family come here from another country?
Have you visited your birth country?
Are you adopted?
Have any additional questions? Ask in the comments!
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