Connections beyond Korea

Tour leaders (left to right): Sandra McLaughlin & Kourtni Rader

As I sit in the Incheon airport waiting for my flight back to the states, I’m thinking about the last 2-weeks of my life and how the tour has impacted the people who traveled with us to Korea. I remember last year thinking, gosh, the next tour is in 2011—seems so far away. Poof, the 2011 tour has come to an end in Korea, but the memories, connections and experiences will continue forever. Seeing people connect beyond the tour makes my heart sing and for many there will be more ups and downs not only after the tour, but in life. A door has opened and the people on the tour have walked through that door. For some the door may close behind them and for others the door will be wide open. In my heart of hearts I believe Korea will be a special place for everyone who joined us this year.

As for me, Korea has become an extension to the woman I’ve become and the woman I continue to be. Although I grew up in the USA and live in Oregon, a small portion of me continues to live in Korea and beckons my return. I’ve seen connections continue after the tour with many looking forward to returning, some even expressing interest to move to Korea. In many ways, it’s difficult to let go and sit on the sideline–waiting for an email or FB post from people I’ve grown so fond of and who have become more than just friends, they’ve become family. I never thought in a million years I would share this softer side of me…but here I am opening my door for others to enter and look forward to taking the journey with another group in 2012.

Thank you for taking the journey with us–see you next year!
Sandra and Kourtni

What I have learned…

Kayla Tange, adopted in 1982, California

Korean Folk Village

Coming to Korea has been an amazing experience for me.  It has been more and less than I expected.  More, in the sense of support from the group and the amazement I have for my own culture and country.  Less, in the sense of the honest disappointment I have for not being able to meet my birth mother while on this trip.

I have learned so much about myself and others in the group in this past week.   It has been so therapeutic to talk to everyone about their stories and to share mine.  It has been wonderful and also painful at times, but the support and comfort of knowing that there are things that do not need explanation is very refreshing.

Although I have not had a chance to meet my birth mother, I have learned new information and understand the culture a little better and feel I can put many of my resentful feelings to rest.  I have come here to visit my country, birth city and birth mother, but I truly believe I have come here to forgive and I feel like I can finally start doing that.

I also have to add: hats off to the husbands who were on board.  It was very cool to see the unconditional support for your wives.

Reflections on being an adoptee…by Brendan Killian

Brendan Killian, adopted 1987, Massachusetts

Every year, the lotus flower blooms beautifully above the surface of the water.  Every year, its petals fade and it retreats back into itself, biding its time for the following summer.  The flower itself repeats this cycle without knowing why.  This is simply its nature.  This is what it is like to be a Korean adoptee.  Every year we have the chance to bloom with ever increasing beauty, full of life and happiness.  Yet, like the lotus flower, we float on the surface of our adoptive lives, the only ones we know and love.  Each year, in tune with the change of the seasons, our petals fade and we do not know the Why.  We only know the How.  Lotus flowers do not require the Why.  They instinctively take for granted their roots that extend deep under the surface of the water and ground them permanently in their perennial cycles.  But we adoptees need to take an extra step to connect all the parts of ourselves; from the air above the surface of our skin and our eyes down to the submerged silt of our bones and our hearts.  Alas, this, too, is part of Our nature and we are beautiful, resilient, and whole.

Blessed since birth!!!

Posted by Sabrina Gatton, adopted in 1972, Ohio

Cooking Class

Wow, it still seems so very surreal to be in the country of my birth.  I realize more and more how very blessed my life has been thanks to many people, but, in the beginning to Harry and Bertha Holt who began Holt adoptions in Korea in 1955.  It was emotional to see their grave site.  During our time at Holt, I remembered a picture of Bertha Holt and myself many years ago and to see in person the work she started is wonderful.

I had always been told I was from Seoul, but during my birth search for this trip, I was given the name of another city:  Anyang.  I went there yesterday in hopes of finding out more.  We went to the county office and I thought that was the office from years ago, however, after speaking through a wonderful translator to a staff member I found out more.  I asked him if he knew of anyone who may have been in the town in the early 70’s.  Right away he called a man who had been here.  While we waited for the man to arrive, the staff member brought out a picture book of the town and showed me a picture of the county office back in the 70’s, which is the office I was taken to by an unknown lady.  Seeing that picture brought tears for sure.  I had hopes of seeing things back then, but didn’t expect it so soon.  Once the man arrived to the county office I asked him if he knew about the dairy farm/church I had been found at and he said he did.  The farm/church are gone now, but, he knew the location and we were off and running to see the area.  It is now a market.  We also saw the previous county office where my county office may have been located and it is now a nursing home, which made me laugh a little since I work in a nursing home.  What a wonderful day to finally be able to see where I came from.

Thank you Harry and Bertha Holt, Holt International and Bethany for putting this tour together.  Memories to treasure for a lifetime for sure.

Tears, hugs, love, and lots of kimchi!

Posted by Bethany Ankerson, adopted March 1988, Wyoming

Bethany and Foster Mother

The last few days here have been so full of emotions. Emotions that I hadn’t known were hidden deep within my heart. The group of people I am with, who I now call my friends have been incredible. Together we have experienced so much in the last few days, together we have shed many tears, and together we have shared the joy of coming back to the land of our birthplace.

Tuesday we went to Holt’s office and those of us who were adopted through Holt reviewed our files with a social worker. In the beginning we watched a brief film about the history of Harry and Bertha Holt. Once it began and the speaker went on to talk about adoption and the hope children have for their future through adoption, this brought forth tears from me. I cried because I am a product of this hope, a living testimony because of my adoption. A very emotional time for most of us there. Next came my file review and following that, my meeting with my foster mother. Reviewing my file and adoption records went well. Nothing too suprising, I knew most everything a week prior to my trip. And then my visit with my foster mother was so much different than I had ever expected. Upon seeing me, she was hysterical. Crying, hugging, smiling, and talking. Just her way of hugging me felt like I had known her forever. And instantly I felt a connection with this person who cared for me as an infant. One of the first questions I asked her was if she remembered me. To which she replied, “Yes, of course I do!” After awhile we left the office and ate lunch together with our group and the other adoptees who had brought their foster mothers along too. Looking back at our meeting was far more important than I realized. She told me that she had cared for one to three hundred babies through foster care and that I was the first baby to come back and visit her. Experiencing the joy of her seeing me, and seeing the happiness on her face was precious. I am so thankful meeting her was made possible.

Unwed Mother Home

In the afternoon we toured the baby’s home, and Holt’s facility in Ilsan. Seeing the mentally handicapped and disabled in Ilsan was difficult for me. Just the physical and mental state of their health was hard for me to see.

And today…the day we visited the unwed mothers home. Wow, it was as emotionally draining as Tuesday or perhaps more. Being there and having conversations with the birth mothers, and then listening to us as adopted ones answering their questions made it very personal. Yes, again many tears and crying from my deep inside of me, feelings I hadn’t allowed myself to feel as an adopted person. Just hearing the universal thoughts and feelings we have experienced as adoptees and having a time of bonding as a group because of our similarities was healing.

These last few days have been deeply emotional, yet so fulfilling to discover things about yourself and your past you didn’t know even existed. And seeing the hand of God and His faithfulness being displayed throughout my life, even in the little details of my early beginnings has been really rewarding. I am blessed beyond my hopes and dreams.

Through my eyes…

SWS

Post by Matt Anderson, adopted 1983, Michigan

Taking the long taxi ride to a place I haven’t been to in over 27 years was surprisingly calm.  I believed I knew what was in my file and there would be no new information.  Of course I was hoping that there was something more about my past that I could connect to my mother with, but if there wasn’t, that wouldn’t be the end of the world.  When we arrived at Social Welfare Society looking at the SWS sign was surreal.  Thinking I had been in the place at one point of my life even though I didn’t remember it caused some strong emotions inside of me.

We then watched a promotional video that made me even more emotional.  Of course that’s the purpose of the video, but still seeing the unwed mothers speak briefly was rough, especially thinking my mother was in the same situation with me.  After the video we individually met with a social worker to go over our files.  It was basically the same information I had already received from Americans for International Aid and Adoption, which was what I expected.  Seeing the original copies in both Korean and English was something great to see.

The social worker said she had some updates for me.  First it was about my foster mother, who was unable to meet with me, but really wishes she was able to.  While I was disappointed, I understood the circumstances and didn’t want to be a burden to her.  The social worker said she would call one last time to see how the foster mother was doing since I was going to be in Korea for a little while longer and if she was feeling better, she would set up a meeting.  Sandy suggested we get a picture of me and give it to the foster mother which I thought was a great idea.

Then the stunner came, they had an update about my mother.  Coming into this tour I did not want them to find her.  I had all sorts of emotions in my head and heart about looking for her, but in the end I decided I didn’t want to look for her at this time.  When I explained to the social worker I didn’t want to see my mother, she was shocked.  But since she knew, I asked her what the information was.  Unfortunately, my birth mother denied ever having a baby in 1983 (the year of my birth).  My heart sank.  As a matter of fact that was the last thing I wanted to hear.

The social worker then explained that once denying having a baby, there was no more she could do since the mother would not cooperate.   She suggested we could try contacting her again while I was here, but could not do so without my permission.  I told her I didn’t want to pursue this any further right now, since I figured we could find her again if I ever wanted to try again.  While I’m sad I’ve been denied, I’m happy to hear my mother is still alive, has a family and possibly is doing well for herself.  To be honest, I’m excited to think I potentially have brothers and sisters I never knew about.  And while I may never meet them, they are still (potentially) out there.

The rest of the day I was in a fog.  And to be honest, two days later I still am.  However, I’m really lucky that my roommate on the tour was here for me last night and listened to me and when he explained his story I realized I was not alone.   I don’t know what I would have done had I just gone to bed without talking to him and I’ll forever be eternally grateful for him listening to me.  I also have to thank my parents who I called immediately the next morning and listened to me and cried with me.  I don’t know what I would do without the strength of my parents who have been supportive of me my entire life.

One night later speaking with more adoptees (and their husbands) was also great, because we all listened to each other and while we all are in similar situations, they still are different.  However no matter what those differences are, I knew they were there for me and would listen and be supportive.  I don’t think I would have been able to do this search on my own, without the support of the fellow adoptees (and of course their husbands).   This tour has been a godsend for me and I’m really happy I came on it, even if my outcome was not ideal.

Tomorrow we are going to an unwed mother’s home, which we are allowed to skip out on if we don’t feel comfortable going to, but I want to go.  I’m not sure how long I’ll last without crying (like I am right now as I type this up), but if there’s anything I want to say to them is that they should do what they feel is best for themselves and their child.  I wish I could tell my mother I am fine, I’m healthy, happy, have led a good life for the past 28 years, I’m going to live the rest of my life to the fullest, I’m happy and thankfully to her I was born and I am not upset with her.  She may not have raised me, but she’ll always be my mother and I’ll love her.

Thank you Holt and Bethany for hosting this tour, doing all the wonderful work behind the scenes to ensure this trip with 18 strangers goes well.  And thank you Social Welfare Society for making my visit to the agency that helped me settle into a new life as an infant help me reconnect with my past a wonderful one.  SWS went above and beyond my expectations of how they treated us adoptees and while something got lost in translation regarding my mother, I am definitely not upset with anyone involved in the process.

Coming Home

Post by Amy Patterson, adopted in 1971, Texas

Amy Patterson

Walking through the door to Holt Korea offices I had no idea what to expect. Although Kourtni and Sandy had prepped us for a possible emotional-filled day, I couldn’t imagine it would be too emotional for me.  After all, I already knew most if not everything that was in my file, and I wasn’t one of the adoptees who planned on meeting a foster mother today. How emotional could it be?

We were led downstairs to a meeting room and Director Kim came to the front of the room. She began by welcoming us back to Korea, and in that moment my world turned upside down.  My life began here, maybe not in this building, but right here in this spot with Holt in Seoul, Korea. Tears threaten, in this moment I belong; I have come home completely unaware that I was away all these years.  I am all of a sudden whole, never knowing that I had a sense of loss buried deep inside my heart. Today my heart is healed, I’ve come home.

As a Korean adoptee living in America, it isn’t uncommon to get the age old question, “Where are you from?” The folks who ask, aren’t looking for the answer I’m about to give. And whether out of spite or a need to feel 100% American, I never give them the answer they want. I’ll make them squirm to figure out the ‘right’ question to ask….I don’t know what I want them to say, but it looks different from “Where are you from?” My shift today changed everything. The question “Where are you from?” is now absolutely the right question, and the answer, “I’m from Korea.” feels 100% right.

Adoptees at Holt Office

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