I am a Korean-American adoptee in my mid-30s living on the east coast of the United States. (Phew, that’s a lot of information in one sentence, huh?) My husband is Chinese and we’ve been together now almost a decade. He has a big extended family where we live, and a whole extended network of friends and others (those from the same village) who are like family. Plus we live with his family. Given those circumstances, accompanied with the fact that most of my friends are Chinese, sometimes my life feels overwhelmingly Chinese and it takes an effort to bring out any Korean semblances.
But I try.
It hasn’t been easy. It’s taken me about a decade to figure stuff out; my feelings on birth family (search), being Asian American, what being Korean means to me; the cultural and biological stuff that goes along with being an interracial adoptee.
This stuff (for lack of a better more all-encompassing word) is complicated. For each adoptee, how (and whether or not) we choose to deal with it, is very individual. For me, I worked through things by a NUMBER or ways.
- Through dating. Asian (Chinese and Korean) men. I know this sounds weird, but learning about culture through their lives and families helped me gain an understanding of my own; how it could/should fit into my life, why/how it could be important, what exactly it meant. At times, since I knew nothing about these cultures, it was like an education for me: learning the food, holidays, traditions, movies, parties and pop culture, some of the language. It also brought me into the world of Asian America and taught me what it meant to be a person of color in the U.S. since I’d grown up (like many international adoptees) thinking I was white.
- Through extracurricular activities/organizations such as Gund Kwok, the only Asian women’s lion and dragon dance troupe in the U.S.; ASPIRE, a networking and career development organization for Asian American women, and other various arts, cultural, and professional organizations. It helped me to befriend people (for me, specifically women) who knew who they were ethnically and culturally; who weren’t lost and confused about these identities like I was. In a sense these strong Asian women became role models (sometimes guides or explainers, especially during wedding planning) for me. Some of them are my closest friends. I’m grateful to them.
- Living in (traveling to) Korea. I’ve been to Korea 5x: 2000, 2001, 2009, 2010 and 2012. I lived in Korea (Kimhae, 4 months) in 2001 and (Seoul, 6 months) in 2010. I know 4 months and 6 months is not a long time to live there, but the experience of living there and visiting is a completely different. Visiting is fun; you have endless free time and money. You spend your days shopping, meeting up with friends, exploring, and eating great food. Living there brings out a lot of the difficulties and struggles inherent in living in a foreign country coupled with the complexity of being born there, looking like you’re from there, but lacking all that comes along with both of those circumstances. (Like speaking the language, having family ties, and knowing the culture.)
- Making Korean friends. Recently I’ve noticed that some of my best friends in this world are Korean. And Korean American. I didn’t seek them out because they’re Korean; it just happened. Sometimes when I would relax and open my mind (and stop complaining about how much I missed Korea or that Korean things were available here) Korean people, events, and opportunities seem to be everywhere. Specifically though these friendships (some 11 years old) mean a lot to me, more than I could ever explain.
- Birth family search. It took me awhile to get to the point where I felt comfortable searching for my birth family. I was against it for years because first I needed to figure out the cultural stuff first. (Although I didn’t realize that at the time.) I did an EXHAUSTIVE search for my birth family and had a lot of leads but in the end came up with nothing. I don’t think much about it anymore; it can take over your life if you let it. And I’m not letting it any more.
- Bringing Korea to me. When I first got back from Korea in 2010 I had an incredibly hard time adjusting back to life here in the U.S. An adoptee told me once she thinks it’s harder to adjust back to life in our post-adopted countries (ie U.S., Australia or Europe) after going to/living in Korea than it is to adjust to being in Korea coming from the western world. I agree. It’s jarring. You feel lost, displaced; like no one understands you. It takes a while. For me, about 5 months. With a lot of therapy, talking to friends, and effort, ie reaching out to the Korean community here. I ended up starting a cultural exchange program for Korean nationals new to the U.S. and Americans interested in Korean life and culture. In a sense, as my husband said, I brought Korea to me.
Now, while I don’t at all claim to have it all figured out, I’m MUCH better off than I have been in the past. The overwhelming sadness seems to have dissipated and feels bearable, at least for now.
And as for what the future holds, in the fall I’ll be having a baby who will be Chinese, Korean-American. So I’m glad I’ve put in the effort to try and figure things out BEFORE the baby gets here. Again, who knows, things could change and I could be thrown on my ass again (as has happened in the past; sometimes I feel like I have everything figured out and then in the next minute I feel like I got tipped upside down in being okay with Korean-ness and adoptee-ness).
I write this blog because it helps me to sort things out. I don’t post as much as I used to because I found it more rewarding for me to communicate directly with friends who understand me who give me feedback. (Sometimes it sucks to write to no one and get no comments.) Also, I write in hopes it may help others who are in similar situations.
Thanks for stopping in!