John Park*, 34, is a kinship Korean adoptee. Park is an alias because he does not have legal status in the U.S., despite being brought to the U.S. from Korea as a young child and later adopted by Americans. Adoptee rights advocates estimate there are at least 35,000 foreign-born adopted people in the U.S. who, like Park, never received U.S. citizenship. Efforts to fix an immigration loophole in adoption in 2001 did not address individuals adopted outside the law's restrictions on age and approved arrival visas. Advocates are hoping to change that with a new bill this year, though passage has so far proved politically challenging. Ultimately, Park's adoption story is about survival and circumstance, pain and redemption. And hope.
Note: This episode contains themes of child sex abuse and violence.
Greg Norrish, 32, is about to launch a new venture in South Korea with everything he's learned after more than a decade in kitchens in the U.S., and about fourteen months in his native country. The experience of planting himself amidst an exploding foreign food scene in Seoul has also given him a chance to learn more about himself, reflect on his adoption from Korea and understand more about his native country -- including confronting uncomfortable attitudes on gender and violence, which has exposed a darker side of Korean modern society.
HyoSung Bidol-Lee, 50, is on a quest for healing. Bidol-Lee survived unspeakable tragedy before being adopted to the United States with his twin sister at the age of six years. Raised in the Midwest, he thrived academically and athletically, meeting many conventional benchmarks of academic and career success. But true happiness and peace eluded him. He went back to Korea this year to reflect about his life and to seek answers.
Warning: This episode includes topics of suicide and homicide.
Hojung Audenaerde, 45, has navigated identity and displacement her whole life, starting from her intercountry adoption from Korea to Flemish Belgian parents in Italy at the age of two. The family then relocated to the U.S. where she grew up around Americans, but never became one. Later, she went to India to study a specific practice of yoga which she later taught in Europe. But someone happened in 2012; she met her Korean father, which started her down a path of discovery about her own feelings about separation, Korea and of learning to walk alone.
Sanne Mogensen, 32, is a Korean adoptee in Denmark. She is a leader in her country's Korean adoptee community, and talks about what that has meant to her, what it was like growing up in Denmark, racism, and about her own search for identity. And, being Danish, she sets the record straight about hygge.
Eric Sharp, 38, is a Korean-American actor and playwright. He was adopted from South Korea at age two. Raised in Des Moines, Sharp talks about finding his professional footing in the Twin Cities within a strong Asian-American acting community, on how being a transracial adoptee influences his politics on casting and auditions; he also shares an evocative account of reuniting with his Korean biological family and what he's learned about himself and them over time.
Michael Thielmann, 41, is a Korean adoptee who lives in Toronto, Canada. He grew up in Minnesota in a family where his mother, grandparent and siblings were all adopted. It wasn't until meeting his Korean-Canadian wife that he really understand what being part of a Korean family was like. And as he and his wife made the decision to try to adopt themselves, it also opened a door to his own grief.
Kate Powers, 35, is a Korean adoptee who now has been reunited with her Korean biological family for 12 years. Adopted as an infant by a couple in Missouri, Kate talks about navigating her relationship with her Korean family after decades of being apart, and about coming to the decision to make peace with her adoption and of the past.
Korean adoptee and New York City-based actor Brian McCormick talks about playing the lead in "A Korean Drama Addict's Guide to Losing Your Virginity," a play by Hmong-American playwright May Lee-Yang, that recently had a sold-out run in the Twin Cities. Now in his 30s, McCormick's story includes a circuitous route to acting despite a path in front him all along, how being a transracial adoptee influences how he approaches roles and casting calls, and his take on the current movement towards more Asian-American representation in Hollywood. There's late-night run-ins with Prince and he reveals how he and his high school friends first learned about dating and women.
Joy Alessi, 52, is a Korean adoptee who never received her U.S. citizenship via her adoption. A resident of Houston, Texas, Alessi is now working with the Adoptee Rights Campaign to advocate for citizenship for intercountry adoptees amidst a tough political climate. She also details her adoption story, which exposes an old loophole in U.S. immigration law, and the resiliency she's developed to keep moving forward.
Kim Thompson, 42, is an adopted Korean who spent eight years living in Korea in her 30s. She talks about that experience including covering topics like white privilege, Western privilege, navigating her queer identity in Korea, tattoos, and on her post-reunion relationship with her biological mother. Raised in South Florida, Thompson also reflects returning to the United States and making sense of the transition to life in Minneapolis, and what lasting effect Korea has had on her.
Matt Fetzer, 43, a Korean-American adoptee, ate Korean food for the first time less than one year ago. To understand why four decades went by before he tasted the cuisine from his native country is to understand the impact of transracial, transnational adoption and how disassociated adoptees can come to feel towards their biological origins. Listen as Fetzer takes you along his journey on his first trip back to Korea since his adoption and on what he's discovering about himself and what ultimately may be his future.
Robin Anderson, 45, is a Korean-American adoptee who has been living in Korea for the past three years. He talks about his decision to return and of his path to landing a teaching position at arguably one of the most prestigious universities there, Seoul National University. Anderson is also frank about discussions he's had with his parents about his decision to make Seoul home, for more or less the rest of his life. He also talks about what he'd like his students and Koreans, in general, to know about adoptees.
Michael Mullen, 48, president of Also Known As (AKA), a New York City-based transnational adoption group, raises a thoughtful take on his identity as a Korean-American adoptee; that being an ethnic Korean, an American and an adoptee are three separate identifiers that are equally important. Mullen recalls moving to Korea after watching the '88 Summer Olympics and how that and a second relocation to Korea and the years after helped him realize that just focusing on reclaiming his Korean heritage to compensate for not being raised in a Korean family wasn't fully who he is. Mullen is also a father of two and discusses about what passing on his adoption experience to his kids looks like.
Author and Korean-American adoptee Julayne Lee talks about her new collection of poems, "Not My White Savior," and of the importance of maintaining an authentic voice. Now in her 40s, she now lives in California and is active within the vibrant literary scene. Lee also discusses her thoughts on identity and of how she hopes the work will impact the larger adoptee community.
From Not My White Savior, by Julayne Lee, Copyright 2018. With the permission of the publisher, Rare Bird Lit.
Morgan Pearson, 27, is a Korean adoptee who grew up in the Twin Cities suburbs and talks candidly about her struggles with race and identity, alienation, sexual abuse and addiction, and mental health. Part of her personal exploration involves participating in a short-term study program in Korea, during her first trip back to her native Korea. A budding comic and podcaster, Pearson talks about how she is finally able to look towards a healthy future after shedding many of her demons.
Alex Hamel 31, is about to move back to her native country, Korea, for the third time. A Korean adoptee, she talks critically and honestly about her adoption experience and describes the evolution of her own identity and relationship with Korea.
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.