I am a Korean adoptee. At 29 years old I returned to my country of birth, South Korea. The decision was easy for me. I wanted to check this trip off the list before we expanded our family.
A motherland tour is emotional and thought provoking for any adoptee. I think what helped me was our mindset leading up to the trip…with 0 expectations. We booked the nicest hotels we could find in each city we planned to visit. I made a list of things we wanted to do and places we wanted to see. This was supposed to be a luxury vacation before we embarked on parenthood. It turned out to be so much more than that…
After deciding to go back I initiated a birth family search. Mostly, it was a formality. I never had an intense need to know more about my origins but I also didn’t want regret. I filled out the necessary documents and officially submitted my intent to search.
We finalized our itinerary for the trip. We had so much fun stuff planned! I checked in with the adoption agency often in the months leading up to the trip. I would find myself anxious and hopeful whenever I got a reply from the agency seemingly caring more than I would have admitted at the time.
Almost exactly two months from submitting my intent to search I woke up one morning to the email that would change my life as I knew it.
Six years later in the year 2020 I am ready to share my story. I encourage all international adoptees to consider returning to their birth place at some point, with or without a birth family search.
Realizations from my motherland tour:
- Stepping off the plane at Incheon I had an immediate sense of peace being surrounded by people who looked like me. I was one in the crowd for the first time in my life. Nobody knew my story or questioned why i was there. In S. Korea I was never the only person of color in any given room or environment. I would often have reality checks with myself which were almost out of body experiences as I couldn’t believe I was back surrounded by my original culture and language.
- Going back meant so much more to me than I could have known before the trip. Or maybe meant so much more than I could have admitted to myself. It was seeing and experiencing a culture and language that I will never be a part of but there were moments throughout the trip where I felt a sense of belonging. A feeling not often felt in the States as tolerance is not the same as belonging.
- Being there made me sad. A different kind of sad being Korean than I had experienced growing up. Until then I had only experienced racial negativity being Asian in a white world but this sadness was a sense of loss. Now knowing what it felt like being in Korea I knew once and for all that I would never truly fit in there either. You can look the part in passing but with any interaction with shopkeepers, waiters, etc. they knew I was American in an instant. I guess through all of the adversity growing up in America maybe I had in the back of my mind that I could always go back to Korea and feel normal. This trip was confirmation that was not the case.
- The biggest realization I had was probably that nobody can or will understand these feelings of loss being immersed in a country and culture where you look the part but which you share no part. I believe only transracial adoptees have a chance of understanding the complexity of emotions I was feeling. Not my husband, my adoptive parents, my birth parents or birth sisters.
Seeing my birth country further solidified who I was then and more importantly who I am today…a Korean adoptee. My children are descendants of a Korean adoptee. A different topic for a different day…
Being a transracial adoptee is messy and complicated. I returned to S. Korea to simply check it off my life list but the realizations and clarity of identity I gained was far more than I could have expected. The time spent in Korea was happy and sad, fulfilling and draining, full of clarity and added confusion. I realized that who I am today actually had very little to do with who I was when I left South Korea at 9 months old. I control my destiny regardless of my past and I shall live without fear or regret.
Thanks for reading!