Soon-young Oh, 39, has returned to her native Korea, twice to live. Each return trip taught this transnational adoptee something new about herself. Her second time moving back to Korea was in 2016, with a husband and a three-year old child in tow. Oh compares the two experiences and on what it means to be a parent to a biological child, and what she wanted to give to her son.
For Anna Merrick Luster, keeping her Korean siblings together at all costs was a promise she kept to her biological parents before they died. But as you'll hear, that meant enduring painful years of sexual abuse by her adoptive father and possible emotional and psychological abuse from her adoptive mother. In this podcast series, we've heard some painful and complicated stories about Korean transnational and transracial adoption. This one is no different. Luster shines a light on an international adoption industry that often has blamed adoptees for the abusive families it has placed Korean children into, rather than acknowledge its own negligence and inaction to protect the very children being placed under a guise of child welfare. It also is an example of abuse that can take place behind closed doors in adoptive families in small towns as well as cities - and where local child protection services, schools and local officials have also failed to act. But despite everything, Luster's story is about resilience and survival and of how her memories of Korea gave her hope, even after being sent thousands of miles away.
Brian Nieken, 32, has known who is biological Korean father is for half his lifetime - they first reunited in Korea when he was only 16. Nieken says as the years went by, important questions remained unanswered. He talks about that disappointment and of coming to terms with tough details about his relinquishment.
Korean adoptee Matt Blesse, 31, is an American who moved back to Korea six years ago. A poet who now spends a great deal of time in kitchens in Seoul, the Californian chef-in-training got cerebral and talked with us about his ideas on adoptee identity and authenticity. We caught up with him on the island of Jeju.
This episode, we'll hear from Adam Kohlhaas. He talks about finding and meeting his biological parents while living in Korea, and how the reunion wasn't really as he imagined it be.
Thank you for listening to ADAPTED. Originally funded by a Fulbright grant (2016-7, Adapted will continue on in some form yet to be determined.
Alexander Paschka: theme music.
Jahzzar: “Friends,” “Silver,” and “Solitude.”
Kai Engel: “Oecumene Sleeps.”
Lion’s Club clip: Sangshow via YouTube.
Logo: Rusty Detty.
Special thanks: Brad Linder.
Robert Ogburn, 57, is a Korean-American adoptee who has returned to the country he was born in -- as a diplomat. Raised an only child, Ogburn's story includes an unexpected adoption twist and insights on how Korea and its perception about adoptees has changed over the years. And like so many other adoptees, Ogburn talks about a quest to know more about his past, and of the all-too common realities of an elusive paper trail.
Austin Johnson, 28, is a Korean-American adoptee and Seoul resident. He's been living here with his wife, Janetta, for the past two years. They came to Korea together and it's ironically, Janetta, who actually been his bridge to Korea: cooking authentic Korean food and being an anchor when life back in his native country got tough.
Not every adoption story is the same. Some adoptees struggle within their adoptive families out of neglect, of not feeling loved or a sense of belonging. Adoptees who return to Korea to live often face other issues too: of confronting their relinquishment and grief over biological parents. Korean-American adoptee Laura Wachs, 28, shares her story, and of how poetry has given her the strength to now help others who are also trying to make sense of their own meaning of family.
Rachel Smith, 23, lives in Cheongju, Korea. She's spent the last two years teaching English on the Fulbright program. Smith talks to us about growing up in Kentucky, what got her interested in coming back to Korea, searching for her Korean mother and how all of this has helped her firmly grasp who she is at such a young age.
Richard Peterson, 31, moved to Korea from New York City nearly nine years ago. A history buff, he immersed himself in Korean history and language in college. But while he reflects on his move back to the country of his birth, he's focused on the present with his wife Emily and their future.
Julien Brulé, 31, is a Korean adoptee from France. Last year, he quit his job and his life in the French countryside to come to Korea to meet his biological mother. Then he took the unusual step to move in with her, despite a language and cultural gulf. For more than half a year, he's been learning more about her and himself as they attempt to write a new story together. He shares his story in French [with English introduction].
Julien Brulé, 31, is a Korean adoptee from France. Last year, he quit his job and his life in the French countryside to come to Korea to meet his biological mother. Then he took the unusual step to move in with her, despite a language and cultural gulf. For more than half a year, he's been learning more about her and himself as they attempt to write a new story together. He shares his story in French [with English translation].
Korean adoptee Leo Chung, 44, was raised in The Netherlands but now makes his origin country his home. Chung talks about his experience in the Dutch military and of developing an interest in Korea from an early age, especially its martial arts. That, and a reunion with his birth family at the age of 20, motivated him to make repeated trips back over his life. But while his reunion with this biological family has far from a storybook ending, Chung has come to embrace his Korean identity on his own terms, including becoming a dual citizen.
Cara Kim Mooney, 23, is a Korean-American adoptee who grew up in upstate New York. She was adopted from Korea at the age of six months, and returned to her country of birth two years ago as an English Teaching Assistant on the Fulbright Program. Mooney wanted to come back to Korea to get in touch with her roots, after a childhood filled with memories of international travel and family support. As an adult, she's grown to love Korea, and accept it too.
Julianna Gonska, 24, returned to South Korea a few months ago to take part in a Korean government scholarship program for foreign students. But while Gonska, an American citizen who hasn't lived in Korea since she was five months old, qualifies for the program as a foreigner, being a Korean adoptee on the program has created complications. Despite being a legal citizen of the U.S., she lacks a naturalization document. As you'll hear, that piece of paper currently threatens everything she's worked so hard to achieve so far.
Korean-American Jonathan DeBlois, 34, opens up about his life after returning to South Korea to live for the past 12 years. Through that experience, DeBlois has gleaned a lot of insight from Korean work culture and society in general, and about his identity as an adopted Korean. Living between two worlds, DeBlois ultimately finds where he fits in, and it isn't a place.
Jonathan Park Oyen, 52, is a retired US Army soldier who now works for the federal government in a similar position he held while in the military. He returned to Korea while in the military, got married to a Korean woman he met while here and has since lived in Korea for about 17 years, on and off, since his adoption as a four-year old boy. Oyen talks about his feelings about his adoption, about military life and of being found by his Korean mother. He also shares what it's been like as a father and how his relationships with his own parents influence his own parenting style.
Korean adoptee activist Kim Stoker,44, sits down to talk with us about moving back to Korea and staying for nearly two decades. She'll also share her thoughts on identity and of how she has forged one for herself here in Korea that resists the pressure of assimilation and acknowledges the many complex experiences that make up an adopted person's life. Stoker was also one of the early members of ASK, or Adoptee Solidarity Korea, one of the first Korea-based advocacy groups by and for adoptees.
Multiracial Korean adoptee Kim Craig, 49, talks to us about her adoption experience, which included childhood abuse. Despite being adopted at the age of five to the United States, she was never given citizenship. As a legal permanent resident, she was able to go about her life like any American, except for a few exceptions. Three years ago, her life drastically changed when she lost her that identification card while on a return visit to Korea for the first time since her adoption. She talks about having to survive in a country where she doesn't speak the language or fit in anymore. Her story is an example of the insecurities and struggle many adoptees without citizenship face, and how easily their lives can drastically change.
Mark Wilson, 31, is a Korean-American adoptee who has lived in Korea for the past six years. Wilson grew up as a typical suburban kid but struggled with feelings of fitting in and dealing with racism on his own in his almost all white town. At college, he befriended some Korean foreign exchange students and started to feel accepted as an ethnic Korean by his new friends. He also spent time as a youth counselor at an adoptee camp by Holt International. Those experiences convinced him to return to and discover Korean for himself. Wilson shares some humorous and touching stories about his life here.
Six years ago, Korean adoptee Hana Crisp, 32, of Melbourne, Australia, found her birth family, including a biological half-brother Subin Kim, 29. Both agreed to be interviewed about their relationship and the reunion process over time. In separate interviews, the biological half-siblings provide a rare glimpse of what connecting and reestablishing family bonds is like after a lifetime apart, and within the context of relinquishment.
Brian Park, 25, is a Korean-American adoptee and is gay. He's been living in Korea since 2014 when he met his birth family. Park is used to feeling different - first growing up in remote Iowa as one of only a few Asian faces, and later as he came to terms with his sexuality in Arizona, among new friends and at a new school. We'll hear about his path to self-acceptance and and how being in Korea has meant having to negotiate a different set of societal norms, and why he does.
Miranda Kerkhove, 41, is a Korean adoptee from The Netherlands. A translator by trade, Kerkhove's interest in her ethnic roots began linguistically and continues today through her devotion to learning the Korean language. Despite moving back to her birth country, Kerkhove describes situations that make her feel a sense of duality, of uneasiness and comfort.
Megan Arnesen, 30, of Plymouth, Minnesota spent the summer in Daejeon, Korea on an English teaching internship. She's a Korean-American adoptee who had already lived in Korea, the land of her birth, previously. This time, Arnesen returned as a new bride and reflected about her reunion with her birth family, being raised in a nearly all-white community in the Midwest and about her feelings about being adopted.
Listen as Madeline Yochum, 25 and Andrew Blad, 28 talk to us about their experiences growing up in North America and what led them to move to Korea. They're also a couple and share their experiences with dating other adoptees and what living in Korea means to them.