Thousands have traveled to Seoul in search of their family tree, including those who get clues about their birth families from TV show called ‘I Miss That Person’
BY ERICA PEARSON / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
PUBLISHED: SUNDAY, AUGUST 5, 2012, 5:10 PM
Jon, 32, joins other Korean adoptees at a barbecue in Seoul along the Han river.
The wave of immigration to Seoul is drawing Korean-Americans who were adopted into U.S. families as babies and are looking for their birth parents — some with the help of a popular TV show.
Every Friday morning, “I Miss That Person” is broadcast across South Korea, and American citizens are frequent guests. They describe birthmarks and fragmented memories in hopes their biological relatives will recognize them, and they answer questions like: “If you met your birth mother what would you say?” and “Did you experience racism growing up in the U.S.?”
Ari Alberg, 32, met his birth mother a week after appearing on the show, thanks to an uncle who realized who he was. “I said, ‘If my family’s out there, I’m interested in meeting them. I don’t harbor any grudges,'” said Alberg, who grew up in Portland, Ore., but now lives in Seoul.
Not everyone has to take such a dramatic step, but thousands have traveled to Seoul in search of their family tree.
Some put down roots. Jon Balch, 32, returned to the U.S. after connecting with his birth family. But this spring, he left Jackson Heights, Queens, for Seoul and got a job delivering wholesale ingredients to American-run restaurants.
“I found them six years ago, so it’s all kind of normal now,” he said at a barbecue along the Han River where dozens of other Korean adoptees from New York, Tennessee, Minnesota and Europe grilled sausages and sipped sparkling rice wine. The event was planned by Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link, which has helped more than 6,000 adoptees connect with their families and convinced the Korean government to allow them dual citizenship.
More than 100,000 South Koreans were adopted by U.S. families in the last 50 years, but the country’s birth rate has plummeted and adoptions have slowed to a trickle. The U.S. State Department says there were only 736 adoptions from South Korea last year. Not all Korean families want to delve into a secret past. Single moms still face discrimination, though that’s changing.
“Korean society is very slowly starting to recognize that alternative families do exist,“ said Alberg, who was welcomed by his biological mom. She is no longer with his birth father, who abandoned him in a subway station when he was 4.
It was a little uncomfortable for Nick Monette, 26, when he met his birth mom for the first time this spring after his adoption agency tracked her down. “It was a real awkward hug. Strange,” said the Atlanta transplant . “She couldn‘t look me in the eyes. I‘ll never forget that. The first thing she did was just really apologize. It was like, ‘It‘s fine.‘“
They got together again in her southern hometwon, Daegu, where she stuffed him with food.
“I kind of feel more like she‘s an aunt,“ he said. “My mom, back in the States, she‘s awesome. She‘ll always be my mother.”