A look into how students view Korean adoptees and international adoption
By Caitlin Pierce
Korean people in Korea are well aware that there are Korean adoptees living throughout the world. In fact, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, over 2,100 Koreans were adopted internationally in 2005. However, to most Koreans these adoptees are more like a myth, growing up in a different culture with another background. Choo So-yoon (International Studies, 2) said that, when she met an ethnically Korean boy with an American last name in her U.S. high school, it felt “surreal.” For fear of creating an uncomfortable situation, Koreans feel awkward asking if the person is adopted, although they report to be curious about adoptee acquaintances.
Adopted Koreans have differently perceived how Koreans react when they learn about their adoptee status. Tyler Hill (NorthwesternUniversity, 3), a Korean adoptee, says that he sees very little difference between people’s reaction here or in the U.S. He thinks Koreans assume that he is adopted because he does not speak the language.
Koreans usually think that Scott Moore (RutgersUniversity, 3) is also Korean, but when they realize he is adopted, he thinks they feel distanced from him. When he first meets Koreans, they are surprised that he cannot speak the language. They think that “all Koreans should speak Korean and know about Korea.” When they learn he is adopted, they are more understanding.
Henrik Holmgren (‘01, Vaxjo University) says that Koreans think he looks like Japanese, so they are usually more surprised to hear that he was born in Korea than that he is from Sweden.
Both natives and adoptees are working to get to know each other better and create mutual understanding. October 3 to 9 was designated as “Korean Week” by Overseas Adopted Koreans. Events included festivals and a marathon. At the Korean Festival in Daehangno on October 6, Koreans living abroad were invited to share their musical talent. Performers included NINE from Japan, Kite Operation from the U.S., a violinist from Germany, and DJ Sung from Australia. All had Korean backgrounds in common.
Ewha students’ opinions on internationally adopted Koreans ranged from ideas that adoption should be promoted more in Korea to notions that the adoptees are “lucky.” Some students expressed concern for identity crises the children adopted abroad experience and thus believe that adoptions should be encouraged within Korea.
Many agreed, however, with Kim Ji-eun’s (Early Childhood Education, 3)? statement that “we should change our views” about adoption. Park Ga-young (English Literature, 4) says that “adoption is not natural in Korea,” and that the older generation should have a wider idea of the concept of a family. Park added that adoption could have positive aspects, such as wider opportunities for the children.
Nick Shumate (‘03, University of CentralArkansas), an adoptee, agrees. He gives the example that he has a better chance of attending an American graduate school than if he had been adopted within Korea. He says that “any adoptees, especially those active in the adoptee community, feel insulted when Koreans talk about it as a negative thing.” He wonders if Koreans are more concerned about their international image than the well-being of the children.
Many students showed that they are more open to the idea of adoption. While Korean students expressed their embarrassment and hesitance to ask adoptees about their past, the adoptees said that they did not mind talking about it. Shumate says, “You want orphans to be adopted; there is no argument about that.”