By Lim Ji-sun
Kim Han-won (30; American name: Kimberly Johnson) clearly remembers the moment two years ago when she got off the plane after arriving in Korea. “Oh my god, everyone looks like me.” For some time, she was unable to move. Kim, who was adopted at the age of three years old and went to live in St. Louis in the United States, grew up in a village with hardly any East Asians, constantly hearing the question, “Where are you from?” When she was young, this was a question she herself found hard to answer.
When Kim was 20 years old, she received a letter from her biological father through Holt International, the adoption agency that arranged her adoption.
“After your mother and I divorced, I sent you to be adopted. I missed you every day,” he said. In 2006, Kim invited her father to her wedding in the United States. He cried for a long time. The sight of her father’s tears made Kim resolve to travel to South Korea. Two years ago, she and her husband, a banker, abandoned their stable jobs and came to South Korea with no set plans. They are currently working as English teachers while studying Korean.
On April 19, Kim and 13 other international adoptees received Korean nationality through dual citizenship. At 11 a.m., the Ministry of Justice held a ceremony where the adoptees were presented with certificates of citizenship. This year, an amendment to the law on citizenship that allows foreigners who satisfy certain conditions, such as having outstanding talents or having previously left South Korea for adoption overseas, to acquire dual citizenship, came into effect. The April 19 ceremony was the first time since the amendment came into effect that overseas adoptees have acquired South Korean citizenship.
After the ceremony had finished, the adoptees sat around and talked among themselves. Sin Tae-ho (33), who said he has been on TV and radio seven times in attempts to locate his original parents, lived in the United Staets, but rushed back to South Korea every time anything to do with restoring his original citizenship came up.
“I took part in a conference on restoring citizenship last year, and I came to South Korea in January this year as soon as applications opened for restoration,” he said. “I still have not found my family, but from now on I want to live in Korea with my Korean wife.”
“I still haven’t found my Korean family,” said Kim Geum-yeo (24), who was adopted by Canadian parents as soon as she was born, “but the feeling of emptiness that I used to get for no reason when I came to South Korea is starting to get filled up again. Everything has been hard since I started living in Korea last August: getting a mobile phone, using banks, getting medical insurance, visas and so on. Now that I have Korean citizenship I want to live here confidently.”
Sin seung-yeop (40) and his wife, both of whom were adopted to the Netherlands, both acquired Korean citizenship. On April 19, they attended the ceremony with their three children. “I applied for restoration of citizenship so our children could feel proud that their roots lie in Korea,” he said.
Those applying for restoration of citizenship can receive Korean citizenship even without giving up their foreign citizenship, as long as they sign an oath not to make use of the latter while in Korea. International adoptees wishing to acquire Korean nationality can obtain information on the procedure to be followed from the Ministry of Justice’s Nationality & Refugee Division (tel. 02-500-9224).
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