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White Dust

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There is no school today, as it’s a school holiday:  the founding of the school.  Despite having much to do, I am distracted.

In the absence of air-conditioning, the fan emits this low noise pollution, sucking in organic matter through the window and blowing it and formerly undetected fine white powder from the installation fabric across everything.  It clings to every surface and then to my half naked body which moves restlessly from place to place to place.  It’s pernicious, this grit.  How many cleanings will it take for it to disappear?

I try to make myself feel better:  I watch movies, I pick up and drop several projects, I go for a walk, I check out another health club, I look for activities to join, I remember I should eat, etc., but nothing engages me and I just make the circuit of my room over and over again.  I feel lost.

Jane’s writing from the TRACK blog grabs my attention:

Each misplaced, forgotten, thrown away, ripped-up, spilled-on, smeared, misstamped, lost and found again later tag still represents one child, one file. We keep finding stray tags now — one at a time, sets of them– unlabeled, unaccounted for. I found a stray tag today next to the door of my apartment, next to the garbage can and the shoes. “Where do you belong, little girl? How did you get here?”

I feel like that lost tag.  I am that lost tag.

I am out of place.  I am out of time.  Despite my best efforts, I am always orphaned and alone and abandoned.  Love is a privilege denied me.  The losses collect. The white dust is like the grief I can’t wash away.

I know it’s not finished and it’s badly edited, but I don’t know how much longer I can linger on this and stay healthy, so here is my unfinished video gift to Kim Sook Ja and all the other Korean adoptees out there in the world who, despite their best efforts, sing private songs of lamentation when they long to sing for joy:

I hope they have some company, wherever they ended up:  someone to take their part and soothe them.  This is the best I can do:  say I understand the loss and isolation you have felt/feel.

You are not alone.

Written by girl4708

August 8, 2010 at 2:31 am

Practical Hints about your Foreign Child

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I can’t embed their streaming video, but here’s the link to Deann Borshay’s compilation of post Korean War footage of Korean children, justaposed against an instruction manual for how to care for your newly adopted Korean children, circa 1961.

Sara and I saw this at the exhibit at the Wing Luke Asian Art Museum downtown Seattle, and it was stunning, in the literal sense, to watch.

There is little I can say about the cultural insensitivity and racism of the people saving us. I cry inside thinking how the same things are being done to children all over the world, whose new adoptive parents really have NO CLUE what the child came from and what the child goes through to assimilate.

Written by girl4708

July 19, 2009 at 5:29 am

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Sacred Crane / Patron Saint

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Here I sit at Hakbaui, which is “crane rock.”  As I was listening to the story (below) of why this rock was so special, I of course had to marvel that the first and only time I’ve been out hiking in Korea, it leads me here of all places.
A gentleman’s daughter was living in Haksan, and one day, she went to Seokcheon well for water.  She drank the water from a bucket upon which the sunlight is brightly reflected, and she gave unexpected birth to a baby.  She felt ashamed that an unmarried woman had given birth to a child so that she wrapped the baby up and threw him away at the Hakbaui.  A few days later, the lady went back to Hakbaui and found a white crane came there to cover the boy with its wings, and in the early morning the crane put a red-colored fruit into the baby’s mouth and disappeared.  She realized the infant was no ordinary child and raised him.  The baby became a Buddist priest and attained the highest position of Guksa (National Priest).  After returning to Haksan, he constructed Gulsansa Temple.
Hakbaui is known as the place where Boemil (810-889) a main god in the Gangnueng Danoje Festival, was thrown away when he was born without a father.  The tale of birth for Boemil Guksa (National Priest) involving Seokcheon and Hakbaui is portrayed in Jodangjib of “Samgukyusas (The Story of the Three Kingdoms)’ and in the local history of Gangneung written by “Imyeongji’.
So here I sit, in a country where they used to let their unwanted children die of exposure, at a place where an abandoned baby got a second chance at life  by some mythical crane.  In Gangnueng, they so revered this Buddist Priest that they deified him in their shamanistic rituals.  See Korea?  abandoned babies have great potential.  And mothers should raise them, even if a miracle crane doesn’t appear.

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May 29, 2009 at 2:21 am

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Family Geometry

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Thinking about papercraneprayers’s comment about being uncomfortable in family photos got me to thinking about my own family photos…

One time, in an art class, the instructor was talking about composition and how people groups almost always form a “circle of love” and she demonstrated how you could overlay a circle connecting them – how hands held, arms entwined, heads positioned towards each other, etc. completed these circles physically drawing out the circle of their relationships.

Thinking about this and papercraneprayer’s comment, I realized then that there is NOT ONE photo of me and my parents in anything resembling a circle of love or even close enough for anything resembling affection.  There aren’t even any photos of me being held.  And people wonder why I have intimacy issues…I mean, come on – look at the lack of circle in this photo!  In every photo I have.  In every photo of my siblings with my parents as well.

And of course the adoptive parents are okay with the skin color difference:  they’re not the odd man out.  But ask the dark little girl in the photo above how she feels about it.  Her answer will be affirmative because her parents are within earshot and she feels fear and obligation, but every cell in her body will be squirming in discomfort.

I wonder if adoption agencies bother to look at people’s family albums?  I bet they don’t.  Would you send a child to a family that has NOT ONE candid photo of fun or affection?  No of course not.  But adoption agencies only look at income, criminal background checks, health records, letters of recommendation, and inadequate social worker home studies.  All of which any psychopath with any skills at all or socially inept and maladjusted person could pass with flying colors.

People have said to me in the past that this fate of mine had nothing to do with adoption – that these things happen in non-adopted families too, that some children are born into bad families and also don’t have any choice, that it is the luck of the draw.

To this I vociferously disagree:  adoption is an opportunity to do better than chance.  A half dozen entities, coordinated by my adoption agency, all were guilty of negligence in their duties.  Adoptive parents are too often just processed and not really screened – and they complain about the hoops they have to jump through.  Well, there aren’t enough hoops.  There isn’t a magnifying glass big enough.  And nobody’s really looking through one anyway.  Not in any meaningful way.

Apart from being sent to a dysfunctional family, just being displaced and forced to assimilate to a totally foreign life took its toll.  “Young Sook is a bright, happy child and makes friend easily.”  (paraphrase from orphanage report)  Note there is no post adoption report.  It would have said, “Leanne is a very shy child that behaves well.”

The real me was crushed.  Something terrible happened.

And it was called international adoption.

Written by girl4708

May 25, 2009 at 1:14 pm

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Disbursed and Returned

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Am I anywhere different?

The scenery doesn’t really change. I’m still inhabiting this body. I’m still outside looking in.

This is my first myspace generation type narcissistic self photo, taken in the bathroom of the Seoul Folk Flea Market. I like how it could have been taken anywhere, and I am standing still and the rest of the world is moving around me. It just seemed like what I should do at the time. And later, after attending the Disbursed and Returned exhibit about returning adoptees, it wanted me to post it and write about it.

Rev. Kim Do Hyun, speaking to the Korean audience of subway go-ers passing through the exhibit, wrote:

Having to continuously explain your existence is not necessarily a pleasant thing….When international adoptees no longer have to explain and justify their existence, the returnees are liberated from the coercion of continuous self-explanation.

And yet I don’t have to do that here, not really. I recognize Rev. Kim is trying to elicit understanding from the Korean people, and the point he made later was that it is not us adoptees who have explaining to do: it is the Korean people who should be making explanations to us.

Here, I WANT to explain my existence, but nobody really wants to know. As soon as you open your mouth, they can tell, and they’d rather not talk about it. You are a reminder of their shame. And in the United States, with every new encounter, I had to explain my existence. And the best one of all, that I got with alarming frequency, was, “What ARE you???” I am not one of you, obviously…

Here, I blend in. Here, I am not one of you, though it’s obvious I should be.

I really liked what Maria Hee Jung, returning adoptee from Denmark wrote.

I think most adoptees realize that they don’t really have a country that is truly theirs, when they come to Korea. I think it would actually be easier for me to be accepted and to feel comfortable in a third nation without blood relation and anything else.

Tobias Hubinette, Swedish adoptee, wrote in Comforting an Orphaned Nation

It is precisely in the interstitial space, oscillating between this still unfinished reconciliation with the past and still on-going imagining of the future, that the adopted Koreans are appearing as comfort children in order to ease and console the homeless and orphaned Korean nation.

Our return, for the 500+ of us who have done so, is perhaps even more important for Korea than it is for us. We adoptees were sacrificed in exchange for a better life: because they couldn’t see that they were already free, that it was only their colonized mind-set that enslaved them, and that they had the power to make change within themselves. They need to see and recognize us so they can move on to the next phase of their personal development.

A particularly well-written assessment of Korea’s desperation to do ANYTHING to get ahead, the later shame of such desperate acts, and the denial of desperation and erasure of those acts, was written as an article entitled, The Korean Adoption Syndrome by Dr. Kim Su Rasmussen, PhD in History of Ideas, Seoul National University:

International adoption is a vector of deterritorialization in modern Korean society. The Korean adoptee syndrome is a politico-historical phenomenon that involves more than 150,000 adoptees who have been subjected to involuntary migration. And with the exception of a hyper-sentimentalized portrait of adoptees and their reunions with their birth families, which merely functions as a screen-memory, it is a phenomenon that has been wiped from the collective awareness in Korea. There is no mention of international adoption in Korean history books, nor is it part of the curriculum in Korean elementary or middle schools. Myths and deliberate distortions of the history of international adoption are widespread. Only the most progressive elements of Korean society are able to see international adoption as a dark side of the militarized industrialization of the modern Korean society. International adoption is a constitutive blind spot in the modern Korean society. The Korean adoption syndrome raises a number of questions about the phenomenological experience of adoptees returning to Korea and their historical and political position in the Korean society. While the traditional approach is to explain international adoption by referring to various antagonisms in the Korean society, I maintain that the study of international adoption provides a unique opportunity for us to gain understanding of modern Korea and its phenomenal rise in the international order of industrialized nations.

My journey to Korea has been forty years in the making. My radicalization has been forty years in the making. It is not enough to sit back and observe and let this life happen to me. Fatalism is not productive. And people who read my works volley back to me that I am negative or angry. And to that I say: Sorting through this morass of complicated issues is a positive action. Coming here to live is an act of bravery. Confronting Korean society and questioning the world’s assumptions about adoption is based upon a love of humanity and a faith in the capacity of people to change for the better. You must turn over the soil and make a new bed before you plant new seeds.

Dr. Kim Su Rasmussen also wrote about Self-Rejection and Emancipation:

Returning to Korea is a journey of discovery. It is a discovery of an entire world of sounds, smells, and extraordinary sensations. The magical country that was only a vague fantasy during childhood and adolescence suddenly becomes very concrete: the pushing and jostling in the subway during rush hour, the army of impeccable suits and high heels, the ringing of a bell in a Buddhist temple, the unbearable hot and humid summer. It is a pleasing shock to discover that for some people, the Koreans, this is the center of the world.

However, returning to Korea is first and foremost a journey of self-discovery. It is an experience of radical disjunction between the past and the present, the West and the East, the mind and the body. It is a threatening experience that destabilizes and decenters the world of the adoptee: returning to Korea is an experience of oneself as an other; it is an experience of radical deterritorialization in which everything, including the very core of our self, is being questioned; and it is, at least potentially, an experience of emancipation and empowerment.

So yeah, I’ve been abandoned and exiled and abused and marginalized and silenced and OF COURSE that makes me angry! But once upon a time, I didn’t know I was angry. I was uncomfortable, but couldn’t verbalize it. Later, I realized that internalizing discomfort was really hurting me.

I can ignore my discomfort and swallow my anger and hurt myself, or I can work to make it so no child in the future has to experience such avoidable trauma. Righteous anger has powerful energy, and channeling that energy is how the world changes for the better. I am certainly destabilized here, and it effects me. But I try to learn from the past and persist into a future where I can contribute to society in the most meaningful way possible.

This is what optimism looks like.

Written by girl4708

May 23, 2009 at 11:30 am

New Year / New Life

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Best Wishes for a great new year and years to come!

I’m sitting in my almost empty fragrantly cedar cabin in Washington
State, after having given away a lifetime of possessions, my goods
reduced to two suitcases full of stupid clothes I would rather replace
in Korea if I had the cash, and an instrument I can’t yet play. Last
day before I mop the floors, turn in my key, and spend three weeks at
my daughters prior to boarding the plane for TESOL training in
Thailand. After the training, I’ll spend a week in Seoul at Koroot,
doing the requisite orphanage tour, traveling to the nearby mountain
town of Wonju as personal identity sleuth, and then on to my new
teaching position in Anyang.

As I sit here avoiding cleaning the oven and contemplating this life,
it’s quite stirring to think about the future and the past and the
epic in between. Almost 3 years of mystery followed by 42 years of
what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, followed by starting over
halfway around the world in a place I know nothing about yet feel I
know on a cellular level, is almost too incredible for me to
comprehend. Do you ever think that way? Do you ever think about how
unbelievable and incredible this odyssey is we’ve been sent on?

Transracial, transcultural, intercountry adoption feels like a brief
interruption of an inviolable destiny. I blinked and I have a head
full of gray hair, but I feel somehow like I am a 3 years young old
soul, picking up where I left off.

In this generous moment, I want to thank Holt for f’g up my life so
badly. It’s made this homecoming all the more sweet.

I’m just grinning ear to ear and bursting with love love love love
love for all of you and wanting to wish you half of what I feel right now.

Holt orphan 4708

Written by girl4708

January 1, 2009 at 3:03 am

First Trip Home

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OAKs in partnership with G.O.A.L. sponsored the First Trip Home adoptee search trip this December.

See the Youtube posted videos below:

Written by girl4708

December 13, 2008 at 3:37 am

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In Their Own Words

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from Mother Jones magazine

In Their Own Words

October 24, 2007

Since the end of World War II, over 100,000 Korean infants and children—approximately one out of twelve Korean Americans—have been adopted into American families. While there are no statistics documenting what percentage of them have been reunited with their birth families, it’s clear that the number is growing steadily. As the oldest and largest population of transnationally adopted people in the United States, their experiences of search and reunion shed light on what the future may hold for younger generations of adoptees from China, South America, and other parts of the world.

When you grow up in a culture you can read cultural cues and subtleties. You can read a situation and you can make reasonably sound gut-level judgments about people and situations. But when you are going to a completely different culture, you have to learn everything new.

Yet if you look the same as everyone else, then they have the expectation that you will automatically click right into the language and culture and understand what’s going on and be able to read Korean people’s behavior like Koreans can. The expectations for adoptees in Korea are of course much higher than they are for complete foreigners just based on physical appearance, which is completely unfair, but they can’t tell just by looking at us that we were raised, for the most part, by white Americans.

It’s under these circumstances. . .that we are trying to re-enter contemporary Korean society and build relationships with people who are both completely foreign to us and who are also our families. Neither we nor our families are guaranteed to be people who are patient, gifted with languages, and culturally flexible, or possess the economic means, time, and lifestyle necessary to actually build a relationship over these almost insurmountable barriers. Nor are we guaranteed to be psychically strong enough to handle the extreme stressor of a reunion in our lives, especially after the adoption and separation itself takes such an emotional toll on mothers and adoptees.

—Jane Jeong Trenka, author of the memoir The Language of Blood and coeditor of Outsiders Within: Writings on Transracial Adoption

I’ve been in reunion for ten years. When I see my birthmother I’ve definitely seen the pain and the hurt a little bit less, but it still is there. And I wonder if it is still valuable for her to see me. I know she feels guilty and I know she feels shame and that it’s an awkward relationship because she knows that in some ways she failed. I’m there to let her know that everything is okay. But I also question whether or not it is helping her.

The second time I met my birth mother, I wanted to give her money. I was with a second-generation Korean American gentleman and he said, “No, you can’t do that.” And I asked, “Why not?” I didn’t have a lot—I was 25 years old—but I wanted to give something. And he said, “I can’t explain it, but you just can’t do it.” So I ended up going with him and taking my birth mother to a Korean barbeque, which is an expensive meal in Korea, and she just ate a small little bit of rice and water and didn’t touch any of the meat. And she asked, “What kind of parent am I letting you pay for this meal?” And that’s when I got it: Nobody could have explained it but just from observing her I understood that in Korea you take care of your child, even if that child is 25 or 30. That is the relationship. For me to give her money would have lowered her status as a parent. Now that I’m married it’s different and I can give because it’s like I’m a different kind of person. But one needs to be respectful of all of these cultural nuances.

—Hollee McGinnis, policy director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research and advocacy institution.

When we first met I thought, “Wow, I could have had this parallel life in Korea and it would have been a lot different.” It was the best choice for my dad to put me up for adoption. I could definitely see where he was coming from and what he thought would be the best option for me. But I don’t really dwell on it because it’s not my life. In truth you can’t regret that other life because it’s not yours. I think of both my families as one unit. I feel pretty comfortable saying, “I’m going to see my family,” but it kind of confuses people because I don’t distinguish between my Korean dad and my American dad because I see them both as my dad. They feel like one family to me. It feels like my family has grown. Really all my connections to Korea have made me a better person.

—Daniel Martig, an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota

When she was dying, my mother told one of my brothers, “You have a sister and she went to America.” But there was no context for that statement. And so when my brother asked their father—who was not my father—what she meant he just said, “I don’t know.” That happened quite some time before I found them.

[Having a relationship] is not easy because they don’t speak English and I don’t speak Korean and they live in Korea and I don’t go there very often. But certainly I’m in contact with them when I’m going to go. I have friends who are willing to be go-betweens for us and send messages back and forth. It’s not an easy relationship just in terms of logistics.

The difficulties are much less emotional because we are siblings [and not child and parent], but even so there are many. For example, I had so many questions to ask them such as, “Why was I adopted?” And they were really quite puzzled by this because other countries aren’t so open about their feelings and emotions on any level—and certainly not about something as intimate as adoption. You cannot just transfer Western culture and feel like this is the way it should be.

Susan Soon keum Cox, vice president of public policy and external affairs at Holt International in Eugene, Oregon

Adopted children whose birth parents named them deserve to carry that piece of their heritage with them, as it is one of the few parts of their birth histories they can lay claim to as part of their very own, real, authentic, true-life stories. Adoptees, such as myself, whose names were given to them by social workers, nurses, or orphanage intake workers may find that although those names don’t represent a piece of their birth histories or bloodlines, they nonetheless represent pieces of their rightful histories.

Of course others among my fellow adoptees will feel differently—perhaps ambivalent or otherwise less attached to their pre-adoptive identities, as I have at various stages of my life. But for me, today, Ji In, although not a name given to me by my umma or abeoji, is as real a part of my Korean heritage as I’ll ever have.

It reminds me that I am who I am today because of the choices made for me by other people. It represents to me the wrongs done to my umma and many, many others like her that left her with no freedom and no chance to give me a name that linked me to her or to my sisters. The fact that my Korean name is dissonant among the matching names of my three Korean sisters, whose names fit together as harmonies in a chorus, is a scar on my flesh that I bear proudly and with a sense of profound loss. We do not match, but we know why.

—Ji In, a Hawaii-based writer and editor and the author of Twice The Rice, a blog that in part explores her experience as a transnational and transracial adoptee

Elizabeth Larsen has worked for both Sassy and the Utne Reader. She wrote about her daughter in this year’s Choice: True Stories of Birth, Contraception, Infertility, Adoption, Single Parenthood, and Abortion.

Written by girl4708

November 14, 2008 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Scattered Seeds

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Getting Ready for Korea

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After the adoption file stonewalling I decided I needed to go to Korea and investigate my history on foot.  By some strange twist of fate, our economy just happened to tank at the same time.  Because my profession (architecture) is on the front line of the market battle, it has been one of the first industry’s hit.  And hard.  The writing is on the wall, the work has been slowing, and looking around I see a reduction in jobs and workforce.  I am essentially over-qualified and too old to be hired for the few jobs available in my area.  So what the hell.  I might as well get to REALLY know my culture.

My investments disappeared and I have been essentially laid off. I think the gods are trying to tell me something – don’t wait – go now.  I don’t understand the forced urgency about this, but I will embrace it and try to have the adventure of my life.  And who knows?  It may instead be coming home to the land of the morning calm.

Talking to one job recruiter, he kept complementing me on how I had done my homework.  Well, I have never been one to hoard my lessons, so I have assembled my most valuable resources (replace my college transcripts for your institutions, however!) so should you, too, wish to return you can have one clearinghouse spot from which to gather the information you need specifically for Korean Adoptees seeking to teach english in Korea.

Enjoy, and the links are assembled in this Getting Ready for Korea jetpack.

(It is Washington State focused right now, but I will be sure to update it into a more general resource after I have completed my document gathering)

Written by girl4708

October 19, 2008 at 3:16 am

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The Han of Being Kyopo -or- Korean, interrupted…

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I’m taking a crash course in Korean. Han is not one of the words on my vocabulary list, but I’ve known Han all my life.


from Wikipedia

The Korean poet Ko Eun describes the trait as universal to the Korean experience: “We Koreans were born from the womb of Han and brought up in the womb of Han.”[3] Han connotes both despair at recognition of past injustice and acceptance of such matters as part of the Korean experience.

The Television show The West Wing also referenced the trait in Episode 5.4 (entitled “Han“). The episode concludes with Bartlet, the President of the United States, realizing his own personal understanding of the esoteric concept; “There is no literal English translation. It’s a state of mind. Of soul, really. A sadness. A sadness so deep no tears will come. And yet still there’s hope.”

As part of the Korean Diaspora, the over 160,000 children sent abroad for adoption, it is natural that we, too, carry Han with us, deep in our souls.

Recently on the K@W (Korean Adoptees Worldwide) board was the following post:

The words Kyopo <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_diaspora> and Dongpo
are general terms that refer to Korean-blooded people who’ve lived the
majority of their life outside of Korea. The “literal” meaning of Kyopo is
derived from the Chinese characters “KYO” – meaning vagabond or wanderer and
“PO”-meaning placenta where one can translate this to “leaving the mother’s

The Kyopo adoptee, therefore, was born in the womb of Han, forced to leave the mother’s womb and sent abroad as vagabonds and wanderers.

Han has been, for me, like the kryptonite fears of Superman. Again, from wikipedia:

When Superman followed the time trail of a piece of red rock that weakened him, he was able to trace his origin back to Krypton for the first time

Soon I will return to my mother country. Soon I will learn what it is to live literally in the womb of Han. This kryptonite that handicaps me here in the United States – will it be my source of strength in Korea? Is it the key unlocking my origins, my sense of place, my identity?

I always thought of Korea as a coarse place, a rugged, inhospitable place. In all things, it seemed less refined aesthetically than Japan; less diverse than China. I would look at photos of Korea in the Lands and People geography encyclopedia of my youth and be disappointed it wasn’t as cultural as Japan or as historically rich as China. But now. Now I am beginning to think of Korea differently.

Just their word for greeting, for instance, is so civil, has such depth and meaning: annyeonghaseyo, which translates literaly to, “are you at peace?” I am beginning to appreciate the rough-hewn nature of their aesthetics, which are boueyed by an esoteric sensibility forged from persisting against all odds. There is nobility and beauty there. That, despite fighting off continuous attack and colonization by marauding hoards throughout history, being almost continuously on the defense in a state of seige, they choose to greet one another with, “are you at peace?”

It’s a profound question, a good question, one that instantly makes me care about those I am sharing this troubled Korean experience with.

I have hope.

Written by girl4708

October 19, 2008 at 2:31 am

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Some Repatriate

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Here are a list of resources for those interested in doing so.  The List will be continually added to, so do revisit.

OAKS:  Overseas Adopted Koreans

Written by girl4708

October 4, 2008 at 8:17 pm

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Adoptees Perceptions of International Adoption

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take a moment to read the amazing Evan P. Donaldson Adoption Institute

survey of

The Gathering of the First Generation
of Adult Korean Adoptees:
Adoptees’ Perceptions of International Adoption

Written by girl4708

October 2, 2008 at 5:52 pm

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