What About Children Who Were Adopted by Koreans?

Guest blogger Kasey Buecheler is still living and studying in Korea. She is involved in an organization which seems quite unique to me. InKAS Mentoring: Normalizing Domestic Adoption in Korea offers a mentoring program to domestic adoptees in Korea. The service is provided by international adoptees like Kasey who want to help change the situation for Koreans who were adopted within Korea.

We spend a lot of time talking in the adoption world about the first choice for children is to stay with their biological families. The second choice is usually to keep a child in her own culture, in her country of birth, rather than sending her to a family in another country. But in Korea there is still a stigma associated with adoption.  Kasey and her peers want that to change and in the meantime they are helping other adoptees.  Here is information from their website.

For international adoptees, the concept of a “closed” adoption is difficult to grasp. While Korean children who are adopted internationally are met with unconditional love, domestically adopted children face a much different environment — one filled with secrecy, shame, and varying degrees of societal scorn. The government is trying to promote domestic adoption and eliminate the secrecy that perpetuates the stigma behind it; but unfortunately, Korean society and its emphasis on bloodlines needs another push. InKAS, with its ground-breaking mentoring program, aims to provide just that.
Through InKAS‘ “Mentoring Program: Promoting Awareness of Korean Domestic Adoption” we provide a safe atmosphere for domestically adopted children. While all of our mentees have had “open” adoptions, they still confront circumstances largely unacknowledged and unsupported by Korean society. We want domestic adoptees to feel comfortable in their own skin, never feel the need to conceal a part of their identity, and push for a more tolerant society that is open to all types of families.
Our program pairs an adult international adoptee with a teenage domestic adoptee, as well as the mentee’s adoptive parents and, in some cases, a bi-lingual Korean translator. Through an overnight retreat and individually-scheduled meetups, mentors and mentees form a strong and long-lasting bond. This bond, though new, lays the foundation for conversations about greater triumphs and deeper struggles (either about adoption or anything) in the future.
Sadly, due to budgetary constraints, our end of the year dinner (Friday, December 13th) will be the last mentoring program event InKAS can fund.
We want to continue the events, so we can continue to build strong relationships with our mentees, make them feel comfortable with their 언니s and 형s, and be proud of who they are. In order to do this, we need your generosity.
Once in January, and once in February, we will have large-group gatherings in Seoul. The itineraries haven’t been decided yet, but they will be one-day events filled with food, fun, and maybe a theatrical performance. A lot of the programming depends on how much we receive in donations.
Your donations will enable us to continue doing the work we love and give greater hope to those we serve. By investing in our mentors, you’ll not only be contributing to the continuation of this program, you’ll also be sending a message to our mentees. The continuation of this program will show the mentees, as well as their parents, that the international community does not disapprove of their situation, will not shy away from it, and will not buckle under societal pressures. Donation or not, your consideration and conscientiousness has already planted the seed for a shift in perceptions on domestic adoption.On behalf of InKAS, and everyone participating in this program now and in the future, thank you so much.
Click here to make a donation!

Yae-song and Katelyn were a great team during our balloon race!

If you would like to help these young people mentor other young people and make the world a little better for some adoptees, you can donate here.

American Parents by Adoption: Are Your Kids American?

by Luanne

Today I read an article by Matthew Salesses, “This Is Not About #Adoption.”  As usual for Matthew, the piece is smart, long, and covers a lot of territory.  It’s also super readable.  If you care about adoptees and adoption you need to read it.

I want to bring up one section of the piece.   A section that haunts me terribly.  He writes:

At this moment in cultural time, transnational adoptees in America are being deported for petty thefts, unwitting transportation of drugs, personal possession of marijuana. Some of them are learning for the first time—as they are deported—that they are not U.S. citizens. Their adoptive parents never went through the process of naturalizing them, and suddenly they are thrown into Korea sometimes with no knowledge of the language or culture, with no one they know, as if they could just go back to a life they no longer have.

Then Salesses goes on to list some cases of particular adoptees who are awaiting deportation or who were deported.  They either knowingly or unknowingly committed a crime which made them vulnerable.

And why?  They are Americans.  Raised in America.  By Americans. Speaking American English and steeped in American culture.

All because their adoptive parents neglected or chose not to get them naturalized.

This makes me feel ill.  I can’t imagine.  The minute we were able to get our kids naturalized, we did it. At the age of three, Marc attended a naturalization ceremony in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I was asked to speak to hundreds of people (imagine me caught “in headlights”).

It was a big deal to Marc because the ceremony made it a big deal.  I had no idea how important it could be for him in a tangible sense, but I felt it was important for him as a family member.  He was being raised to be an American, so didn’t it make sense to make it official?  Of course.

I never realized how important it could be for his future.

Marisha’s naturalization was different as the laws had changed.  Hers was handled by paperwork, and we were told that the new law allowed international adoptees to be eligible to run for President of the United States (a point I have not been able to confirm in writing).   She had no ceremony and nothing to mark her legal transformation into an American citizen.  She’s grown up knowing she was American.

Reading the Salesses article, though, I wonder what it would be like if my husband and I hadn’t had the kids naturalized.  What if they just assumed they were Americans and one day learned that, oops, Mom and Dad didn’t bother to make sure they had the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?

What if they were (involuntarily) sent to Korea to live permanently and not allowed to live in the United States?  As complete-and-utter Americans, how could they cope?  Not just with living in a country to which they are expected to belong and do not.  But with the betrayal of the United States and the adoptive parents.

It’s that sense of betrayal that leaves me with a feeling of being punched in the gut.

A Grandfather Talks about Adoption

by Rudy Hanson

My story is about my family and how it has been greatly blessed by adoption. Adoption is a recognition of the needs of children, and I first saw these needs when I was still quite young.

Rudy surrounded by Korean children

My first recollection about this was when I witnessed poor children in Korea while I was serving with the U.S. Army during the Korean War. My mother had sent me a shoebox filled with candy, popcorn, and a Ronson cigarette lighter. The children in this old Korea had very little in the way of housing, food and other basics of life. A friend of mine and I walked over toward the children and I distributed the candy and popcorn to them. My friend had a camera and took a photo of me with the children, which I’ve cherished all of my life. For me, this is where the idea of need was born.

My story moves on to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I married my sweetheart, Janet (Luanne’s mother and Marc and Marisha’s grandma). Shortly after we were married, the little bundle of Luanne came into our lives. When we were ready for a second child, we found out that we could no longer have additional children. We did not want to raise an only child and started the process of possible adoption. We were turned down by several adoption agencies because we had a birth child.

Fortunately, one local agency changed their policy, and we were privileged to adopt Ted when he was five weeks old. Ted was the first child in Michigan adopted into a family with an existing child who was biological to the parents.  As the children grew, we found no difference in our love for our two children.

On Ted’s 21st birthday, we had a meeting with the case worker. We were informed that they knew the accomplishments of both of our children, including Luanne’s National Merit Semifinalist status and Ted’s rank of Eagle Scout. We were instrumental in changing Michigan’s practice of not mixing birth and adopted children (when birth child was first).

Moving on, later in life, Luanne and Marshal married and waited to begin their family. At the time they were ready, Luanne had health problems and her physician recommended that she not become pregnant. We learned that they were contacting an adoption agency about possible international adoption. Through Bethany Christian Services and Holt International, they heard that a baby boy was available. Marc arrived at Detroit Metro Airport from South Korea via Tokyo when he was 3 1/2 months old. The joy experienced by Luanne and Marshal is impressed into my heart! A similar process occurred a few years later with another blessing from Korea, the arrival of a baby girl, Marisha, who was flown by way of San Francisco to Detroit Metro. Luanne’s joy was overwhelming. We were all very excited and happy!

The feelings I had for those first Korean children have extended through my life with the great joy of our grandchildren, Marc and Marisha, as well as my grandchildren Cassie and Cole. Janet and I are so proud of their accomplishments and of them just being themselves–our grandchildren! Our family’s lives have been enhanced by the opening of our hearts to adoption, both domestic and international.

Foster the People

by Marisha

When I first came to the U.S. as a baby, my foster family sent gifts with me, which included a couple of stuffed animals from the Seoul Olympics and a small photo album.  In the album were pictures of me living in my foster parents’ home with their children.

My parents showed me the pictures several times over the next few years.  I remember confusing the idea of a foster mother with a birth mother, and for awhile, I thought that the woman holding me close and smiling was my birth mother.

When I was old enough to understand, I was disappointed that I wasn’t related to the people in the photos.  Now that I am an adult I am so grateful to my foster mother (and her family) for not just taking care of me according to the requirements of the job, but for going above and beyond in giving me the care and attention she would give her own child.

The way I know that this family did so much for me is that in the photographs they documented a special celebration which means a lot in Korea.  Special birthday parties for certain ages are an integral part of Korean culture.  I was given a party for my baek-il before I left for America.  Baek-il means “100thday” and is celebrated when a baby is 100 days old.  It signifies that the baby has overcome health risks to newborns and has made it to this point.  The family celebrates with generous food displays.  They serve rice cakes which have different meanings, including protection, good fortune, happiness, longevity, and wealth.

My foster family was of modest means.  The father was a bus driver and the mother’s only income came from being a foster mother.  They had three children to support.  Yet they would have had to pay for the feast they provided for my baek-il.  They would have paid for the gifts they sent with me.  I will always be thankful for their generosity and the love they gave me for the short time I lived with them.

A Pink T-shirt

by Luanne

T-shirts wallpapered the shop. They hung three deep up to the ceiling and stacks of them rose from every surface. A tiny pink one called to me. But I didn’t have a baby girl at home to wear it. At least, not yet.

When I paid for it, my husband said, “Isn’t it too early to buy something?” Yet as we left, it felt important to me that I was carrying my first gift for the baby we were adopting. It was February 1, and we had finalized our paperwork with the agency the previous September.

Now we and our three-year-old son Marc were waiting for a baby girl from Korea to complete our family. We planned to name her Marisha. Three years before, Marshal and I had gone through the same wait for Marc. That time we hadn’t known what to expect with a new baby. This time, we had already gone through exhausting nights and broken lamps and mashed-banana baths. We had discovered that dogs make good vacuum cleaners underneath the high chair. And how to change a diaper in ten seconds if necessary.

When we waited for Marc we didn’t know if we would get a boy or girl. He came home to us from Holt International, through an agency called Bethany. Their rule was that prospective parents couldn’t request the gender of their first baby. That was fine with us. We expected to hear about our first child sometime in the fall. That summer, Marshal and I made a trip to visit family in Canada. On August 19, as we drove back to Michigan, I felt a thud in my chest and looked over at Marshal behind the steering wheel. “We’re having a boy,” I said.


“We’re having a boy.”

Marshal tipped his head and glanced at me. “How do you know? What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know. I just know we’re getting a boy.”

Two months later, we got the call from our case worker that we were, in fact, getting a boy. What was more remarkable is that our baby was born on August 19.

Now it was 3 1/2 years later, and Bethany had let us choose the gender of our second child, so we requested a girl. As I imagined baby Marisha, I hoped she would be strong and smart and healthy. If she were pretty, that would be great, too. Why not have everything when you’re daydreaming?

I began to feel even more impatient than when we had waited for Marc. Marisha was getting Marc’s oak crib and changing table. The antique dresser from my great-grandfather’s farm in Caledonia, Michigan. Although I worked in our small family-owned business and was a grad student, I felt that I didn’t have enough to do to get ready for her.

As a baby in the orphanage

The First Photo

Finally, we heard that she was coming home in May. Our case worker came over with a document and photo of Marisha. Even in her sleep, she looked wise and boasted a thick cap of black hair. She was living with a foster family in Seoul until she could be released. She was born, that’s right, February 1, the day I bought the little pink T-shirt. I wasn’t there physically when she was born, but I was with her on some other level, just as I had been with Marc.

I can’t help but wonder if others have had similar experiences in their own families.

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