Note: I am only one person and do not speak for all Korean adoptees (KADs). When I make statements about “KADs feeling one thing or another” I am speaking on behalf of myself and many of my KAD friends/people I know. Obviously in no way am I speaking on behalf of the entire community.
For the first time in 5 years I see news of KADs moving/going to Korea and I’m not jealous. I see their photos and updates, and instead of immediately feeling envy manifest as a sinking pit in my stomach, I shrug and go “Oh, that’s nice” and move on with my life. It’s great to be able to do this, to realize I am no longer locked into the longing. Jealousy can be a prison. Being out of that jail is freeing.
Five years ago I returned from living in Korea and all I did was pine for Korea. For my friends there. For the pace of life. For the chance to be part of Korea. For the fantasy life I could have had had I grown up there.
I was Korea-obsessed. I stayed up all hours of the night chatting with friends in Korea. I watched dramas and cooked Korean food and talked about it every chance I got. The only place I considered traveling to was Korea; all trips pointed there. I dragged my husband there with our first son in 2012 to meet my friends and show them what I was talking about and pining for. We all had a blast but it didn’t do anything to quell my obsession.
Now, 5 years later, I pine to travel to southern Spain. Hawaii. Austria. Norway. I am able to still think about Korea, and my friends there, fondly and with love, but more at a distance. Korea is still part of my life and who I am but it’s only a component of what I think about and what I long for. It’s only part of what makes me me.
So what happened? How did I get over my obsession?
Part of it has been time. A lot can happen in five years. I’ve had two kids. In a big sense they’ve grounded me. They enabled me to stop obsessing about my Korean birth family since I instead created my own birth family here in my home city. That in itself has been gratifying and solidifying in so many ways. (Separate blog post?)
In 5 years I’ve volunteered at a Korean church, a Korean arts and cultural organization, and I created a (now defunct) language and cultural exchange group for Korean and Americans. I took a Korean language class (that was awful). And for almost two years I’ve been running a KAD literature and film discussion group where we discuss books and films about Korea and transracial adoption. Those things have all helped me find my place and the right aspect of Korean-ness I need in my life.
But what’s been truly instrumental for me is the Korean moms group I run and the friendships I’ve made with other Korean moms and their kids. This group is the best way for me to keep the aspects of Korean culture I love and need, in my life. And I value their friendships immensely. Through them I learn about Korea and Korean life (and family life) and I am able to keep my connections alive. They also remind me a lot of my friends in Korea (whom I miss dearly!)
A friend explained: “You got a sense of what it was like to live there and since we never had that it’s like we have to catch-up or compress/imagine all of what it would be like.” We’re always wondering. We’re always longing. Exactly. We got that taken away from us so we’ll never really know. 6 months or a year, even 10 years of living there is nothing compared to living there a lifetime.
I don’t know how other KADs return from living in Korea and smoothly integrate back into their life. It’s been such a struggle for me to find the right balance. But now that I have it (dare say I have it?) it feels freeing. I can breathe easier. Obsession was always holding my breath, wondering when would be the next time I’d experience something Korean and pining for that next experience. Now I have faith and serenity that it will come when it comes and if it doesn’t I’ll make it happen myself.