Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Dream...

I have come up with an idea that sounds a bit out there, but I think I shall pursue it. I am thinking of going to Busan next summer and living there for a month or so. We have friends whose parents have 2 apartments in Busan. We stayed with them when we were there in April. If they would let us rent their extra apartment for the time we want to be there, we could actually live in Korea and let the kids experience life in Korea. I am including another A-mom and her children in my dream too. We are thinking of trying to find a private Korean school who might let the kids attend for part of the day during that month (Korean school aren't out until late July). In exchange I would be happy to volunteer with their English classes. We could also hire a Korean tutor during that time. Busan is about an hour by bus from my son's Halmoni, so we could see her and his brother on weekends. My kids love the idea. I would think we could improve our Korean dramatically while we were there.
Ahhh... dreaming....

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What's in a name????

The biggest mistake we made during the adoption process was not keeping our children's Korean names as part of their legal names. We use their Korean names at home, at Korean school, with our Korean friends, but they are not part of their legal names. I really regret this. Recently, my son asked me if we can legally add it, so we are investing how to do this through the court system. Poor kid.. he'll have 5 names since I gave him 2 middle names and he doesn't want to drop any. My daughter hasn't asked for this, but we'll changer hers as well, I think.

This really hit home for me when we escorted home SeungJu from Korea to the US. He was known by this name for 9 months. It is a part of who he is. It is who he was to us... and when we handed him over to his family they called him by his American name and it felt strange to me. I did the same thing, so I am not judging. I don't know if they kept his Korean name or not (I hope so). But this experience really made me realize the importance of keeping a child's Korean name... it is a real part of who they are, it acknowledges that their lives began before me, in another place. I know this is important to many Koreans as well. My daughter's foster mother kept saying her Korean name over and over and asking, "You know who you are?" My son's Halmoni was very happy that my son knew he used his Korean name and that he could write his name in Korean (I'm not sure she even knows what his American name is).

So.... if you are in the process of adopting I encourage you to keep your child's Korean name as part of his/her legal name. It helps to recognize that this child had a life in Korea prior to coming to the US. It helps your child keep a part of him/herself, I think, that is sometimes lost.

I'm curious what others think.... please post.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Our Homeland Journey

This is the write up I did for Wide Horizons for Children's website.

“How was your trip to Korea?” our friends all asked when we returned after our two week trip. I struggled with how to answer this question briefly. Fabulous? Beautiful? Exciting? Life changing? All of these fit and more.

My husband and I have two children adopted from Korea. Our son, age 11, was adopted through Parsons/Eastern Social Welfare Society, and our daughter, age 9, through Wide Horizons for Children/Holt. When we adopted we talked about taking them to Korea when they were 9 & 11. We were surprised how quickly time flew and we found ourselves needing to plan our trip!

Our children have responded to their adoption stories in very different ways. Our son, Brady, is proud to be Korean. He talks about being Korean, adopted and his feelings about his birth family all the time. Our daughter, Marcy, is much more reserved and will only talk briefly about her adoption before changing the subject. This trip helped both of them. Our son saw the land that he is so proud to call his own. Our daughter finally opened up about her feelings of abandonment and loss and shared with us what she could not before. She saw so many beautiful people who look much like her, and who called her pretty (she has wanted to be blond with curly hair since she was four).

We spent our first week in Seoul on our own, exploring the city. The subway system in Seoul is very easy to use with maps and public announcements in English. While in Seoul we went to Seoul Tower, the Secret Garden Palace, the DMZ, Lotte World amusement park, Insadong (shopping) and NamDaeMoon (more shopping). We stayed at the Eastern guest house where Mr. Shin made us feel right at home. And we ate a lot of delicious Korean food.

Two days were spent at Eastern and Holt meeting foster mothers and seeing babies. Both agencies were wonderful at facilitating these meetings, giving the children gifts and a Korean lunch. We had created a small photo album for each of our kids at an online photo store showing the kids through the years. This was a very helpful conversation piece, and the foster mothers truly seemed to enjoy a glimpse at the kids’ lives.

Holt arranged for a volunteer translator to take us to the hospital where our daughter was born. The staff there was so kind. They gave us a tour of the hospital and showed us the nursery where our daughter spent the first few days of her life. This was incredible for all of us.

After many e-mails Eastern finally agreed to help us search for our son’s birth mother. When we left for Korea we knew that they were not able to locate her, but they had located his birth grandmother and a younger half-brother, who were very surprised to learn about Brady! After we arrived we found out that we were going to meet them. We were able to travel to Eastern’s Jinju office where their wonderful social worker and a volunteer translator introduced us to our son’s birth family. This experience filled a hole in my son’s heart. He is so happy to have met them. I cannot begin to describe to you the experience of seeing my son being held by his halmoni or holding his brother’s hand. This experience was life changing for our whole family. I will be very honest – I thought Eastern would not work very hard to find our son’s family due to his age. I have heard and read so many stories of misinformation and “save-face” situations that I doubted them. I was wrong. In our case, they worked very hard for our son and were incredibly kind. Our one-hour meeting turned into almost 4 hours, including dinner. This was a Saturday, so all of the people involved gave up time with their families to help us. We are so appreciative.

One thing we learned on this trip is the increased importance and need of financial support for the adoption agencies. With Korea’s goal of increasing domestic adoption, all babies are now required to remain in Korea for five months before they can be placed internationally. This is placing a large burden on an already full system. Babies are staying in foster homes longer, which increases the need for foster families. The cost of care takers, doctors, food, diapers, etc. for the increased time is huge. Seeing the babies at both agencies, and the wonderful care takers really brought this point home for my husband and me. In addition to seeing our children’s foster mothers, we were able to see foster mothers bringing their babies in for check-ups. These women are amazing. They love the babies as their own and give them such a wonderful start in life. We have so much respect for them and all they do. We met one woman who was in her 70s and had fostered over 50 babies!

While traveling around Seoul we were stared at a lot. This was rather disconcerting at first. In part, it was because a friend traveling with us is a rather tall, blond woman and she really stuck out in the crowd, but mostly it was the American family with the two Korean children that seemed to intrigue people. We did receive a few scowls, which we had been prepared for, but by-in-large the people we encountered were very kind. Many people tried to speak to the children in Korean. They are able to introduce themselves, say hello, good-bye, thank you, etc. which seemed to really please the people we met. Many people came to my husband or me and in broken English blessed us, thanked us or told us what wonderful people we were to have adopted “their” children. We noticed that the “village” idea of raising kids is still prevalent in Korea. We were so touched by some of the things said to us. Older people freely touched our children’s faces and told us how beautiful they are. For our kids this was an affirmation of love, they are not unwanted by their birth country, but rather loved and celebrated. One gentleman on the subway even gave us Korean language lessons!

The second week of our trip we used a travel agency to visit Jinju, Gyeongju and Busan. All offered us so many wonderful things to see and do.

We ended our trip in the way we had dreamed of – escorting a baby home to his family in the US. This was emotional for us in so many ways. We met with the foster mother and baby the day before our departure so that the baby would feel more comfortable with us. She showed us the photo album she had made, the hanbok she had purchased and told us how to care for our young charge. She cried for much of our visit. The next morning on our way to the airport we went to Holt to pick up the baby. The whole foster family was there to say farewell. They sobbed as the young one was strapped onto me, hugging us and blessing the baby that they loved so well. It was heart wrenching to walk away and hear them cry. It really made us appreciate all the more the women who had loved and cared for our own children.

On the other end of our long flight we had the honor of presenting a son to his family. Our children were able to see their joy and get a glimpse of what it was like when they arrived home. My husband and I recalled our own joyous “airplane days” and shared in the family’s happiness.

If you are thinking of going to Korea with your children we would tell you to go! While the homeland tours are wonderful, if they are out of your budget don’t give up the idea of traveling to Korea. We were able to do our trip for a fraction of the cost of an organized tour. You have to be adventurous and willing to hike around a bit, but it can be done. For our children, seeing their homeland, the people, the culture and the historic places was life-changing. Both feel more strongly connected to their cultural heritage. They both have new-found pride in being Korean, they both met people who knew and cared for them in Korea. We are now very motivated to learn more Korean and are looking forward to our next visit.

My first blog...

My first blog... where to start? As the mother of two children adopted from Korea I find myself reflecting on the beginning of our journey. It started online - I found adoption agency information online and joined a member board on AOL for people starting the adoption process. The women on that board became my support group along that part of the journey. As my children have gotten older (now 9 & 11), I find that the support groups and "culture" days friends have fallen out of touch. We are all so busy with our lives and that of our children. Their "Korean-ness" is only one part of them (albeit a LARGE part). We have taekwondo, dance, instruments, homework, etc. to take up our time now. But I am finding the need for support and information is greater than ever.

This past April we went to Korea for the first time. It was life changing. I wrote about that, and will post that in a separate blog, along with some pictures of our trip. It has only refueled my desire to do more for my children, to help them be Korean.

So, it is my hope that by getting my thoughts out here, I might find other parents like my husband and I. Parents who fully embrace their children's "Korean-ness", who are striving to find ways to help their children incorporate it into their view of themselves.