The KAD Diaries Photo Shoot, Part 2

A few weeks ago, I had the amazing privilege of participating in The KAD Diaries photo shoot at the beautiful Long View Gallery on 9th Street in DC. This was the second photo shoot for this photo art project filmed and photographed by LA-based kaddc6 filmmaker, Zeke Anders. A couple of months ago, the first photo shoot for the KAD Diaries took place in the Venice Arts Gallery in LA and was a huge success. Zeke wanted to expand the project to include more stories from Korean adoptees on the east coast. So, in collaboration with Adoption Links DC, The KAD Diaries DC photo shoot was born.


The DC event was a huge success, capturing about as many adoptee accounts as the LA shoots, which were held over two dates. Friday before the shoot, I met up with some really cool Korean adoptees in the city. It was so nice to share stories with other Korean adoptees who shared a lot of my experiences. A few already reunited with members of their biological families, just like me. A few just started their searches.

One fellow adoptee discovered that he had biological relatives that immigrated to the US from Korea, just like me. We both reunited with our biological families a little over a year ago. We both shared how meaningful, challenging, and emotional the reunion experience was and how it shook us to our cores. I shared how I felt like I was a teenager trying to figure out who I was all over again. Before my reunion, it was like my whole identity was based on the fact that I knew nothing about where I came from or who my biological family was. And after my reunion, I had to rebuild my identity merging the two worlds. He could definitely relate.

Photo Credit: Matthew Booth

Photo Credit: Matthew Booth

Each attendee had the opportunity to share his or her experiences during a filmed group interview sessionWe talked about our experiences growing up in a transracial adoptee situation, experiences with racism, birth family reunions, and experience with religion in the context of being adopted. It was so amazing to connect with other people who could relate to so much of what I experienced growing up as a Korean adoptee. Amazing to hear how similar our experiences were as well as how unique each of our stories were. kaddc3

Most adoptees were infants or small children when they were adopted. We all described various experiences growing up where we had to explain our situations. One girl who was adopted as an infant shared how someone actually asked her adoptive parents how they could understand her growing up since they didn’t speak Korean. Almost as if she was born speaking Korean to them even before learning her first words. Many of us encountered people who actually became upset when they discovered that we didn’t speak Korean, not understanding that many of us were never exposed to the Korean language.

A few of the questions were easier than others. A few questions were really emotional. One really emotional question was when Zeke asked us, “What would you say if your birth parents were here right now?”

I said, that growing up I had a beautiful life– one that I am very thankful for. So, I always wanted the opportunity to tell my birth family that I was okay, that they made a good decision, and that I’ve been really happy in my new life. If I ever had the opportunity to meet my biological parents, I would tell them that I was thankful for bringing me into the world and for making the tough decision to let me go for the chance of a better life.

There was definitely a camaraderie among us through our shared experiences. There were moments when we were at a loss for words and even struggled to hold back tears. I related to so many of the difficult things each of my fellow interviewees experienced. After a tear-filled moment toward the end of our interview, we all shared a group hug!

One of the most emotional moments for me was when a fellow adoptee was asked a tough question. She thought about her response and then asked to pass on answering as she fought back tears. Her silence actually spoke volumes to the stories that we each had. That the lives we’ve lived and the challenges that we’ve faced were entire volumes of unspoken joys and challenges that often couldn’t be expressed in words. And sometimes, instead of words– tears speak.

Photo Credit: Jeanne Modderman

Photo Credit: Jeanne Modderman

Just like at the LA photo shoot, participants chose to stand in front of the Korean flag, the American flag, or in the center of the two while Zeke Anders shot their portrait. This was a nice depiction of the internal struggle that every Korean adoptee faced– the feeling that they were often being split between two different cultures, two different families, and two different lives.

Photo Credit: Jeanne Modderman

Photo Credit: Jeanne Modderman

I’m really grateful for the opportunity to participate in this meaningful project and to connect with these lovely Korean adoptees, or “KADs.” I felt like they were more than new acquaintances. It felt like we knew each other for years– a KAD family who already proved to be a huge circle of support. Their words and personal stories shared during this art project meant more than words could express. And I’m excited to be part of this newfound community.

If you would like to follow this meaningful art project, feel free to subscribe to the tumblr site at




Reconnecting with my Younger Self after my Bio Family Reunion

Reuniting with my birth family a year and a half ago threw me into a tail-spin of emotions and forced me to do a lot of soul-searching. My reunion created a bit of an identity crisis because it made me question everything about myself. I felt like I was a teenager figuring out who I was all over again.  Upon reflecting on my life, I saw that in my late teens and early twenties, I became super serious and extremely dedicated to my professional life, work life, and the activities of adult-living, including working all the time, getting married, paying bills, and caring for a husband.

I really neglected to care for the spontaneous, adventurous, active, daring 16-year old self I left behind when I entered college and a serious dating relationship when I was 17 years old. I was so deeply devoted to leading this older life that I even graduated from college and married when I was just 20 years old. I dressed and behaved in the oldest most professional version of myself. I worked 60+ hours per week on a regular basis. I felt like I needed to prove myself at a professional job that I began when I was 22 years old in the company of many older more experienced colleagues. I wanted to be the best at my job and to be taken seriously. I wanted to be at the top of my field. I spent a lot of time cooking and cleaning and caring for others. I was navigating the waters of what it meant to be an adult.

During the year following my birth family reunion, I took a step back from all of those “adult” activities and really evaluated the way that I was living my life. It was like a part of me woke up and realized that I wasn’t leading the life that I loved. There were huge parts of my life that were dictated by the ideas of rules of the way I should or shouldn’t behave rather than listening to my own intuition about what I really wanted.

Somewhere along the way I lost the happy-go-lucky girl I was when I was sixteen years old. And I can deeply say that I loved the person that I was when I was sixteen years old. I have never felt more alive than I felt during the year I was sixteen. I felt like I was in my groove.


I think this loss of my inner child happened when my adoptive dad tragically passed away in a freak accident at his house in Baltimore just before my seventeenth birthday. He was in a gas explosion suffering burns to seventy-five percent of his body, including burns on his lungs from smoke inhalation. He died in the Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital Burn Unit–one of the top burn centers in the world.

I think it was only natural for me to turn into a super responsible person after my adoptive father died, given the tragic way in which he passed. Subconsciously, I felt like I could stay one step ahead of bad, unpredictable things by being super responsible, a planner, and a work-aholic. I probably forfeited this adventurous spontaneous part of myself also because my dad was the more spontaneous adventurous of my adoptive parents. And it was like that part of me died with him.

Within the past year and a half following my reunion, I realized that I wanted to make a big change in the way I was living my life. I reconnected with parts of my younger free-spirited self that I neglected in my twenties. I reconnected with my love for traveling, adventure, and spontaneity. I also reconnected with good friends from younger years. It’s been so much fun! Truly awesome!

Last week, I had an amazing trip exploring Switzerland and Germany with a good friend of mine who I hadn’t see in over ten years. In high school, she, another friend, and I called ourselves the “Rae Team” because the three of us had the same awesome name, “Rachel.” Everyone wanted to be part of the Rae Team, but they couldn’t because they didn’t have the right name! It was a very exclusive club where we basically just sat around being awesome!

We had a lot of fun in high school, and meeting up this year made it feel like no time had passed at all. We explored a bunch of quaint medieval Swiss towns, including Schauffhausen, Seegräben, and Sargans. We also witnessed the annual tradition in Dürnten where farmers dressed their cows in flowers and walked them down the mountain to be judged for which were the top cows in the region. We visited Schloss Laufen and the stunning Rhine Falls. We rode a gondola up to the top of a breathtaking mountain in Flumserberg and ate lunch at the restaurant where we were perched above the clouds. Here are a few photos that captured some of my favorite moments:


switzerland12      switzerland7  switzerland16 


Iswitzerland17t was an amazing trip and a really fun time with my friend. It’s been so much fun reconnecting with these parts of my younger self over the past year. After coming through this year, I feel like I’m much more in tune with my own intuition. I know more of what my heart wants. I know how to have more fun! It’s definitely been a wild ride and a major shift from the super serious work-a-holic twenty-something year old I was over the past decade. I’m turning thirty tomorrow, and I’m really looking forward to exploring more of myself and embracing all parts of myself, including my spontaneous free-spirited nature, in my thirties. I’m also looking forward to turning thirty because I finally feel like the age that I am and the age that I feel are finally matching. In my twenties, I was acting like I was in my fifties. Now that I’ve mellowed out and my age has increased, I finally feel like my age fits me just right. And, I’m at a place where I am leading a life I am truly excited about living. The life that I love. It’s taken time, energy, a lot of personal work, writing, and, at times, even tears. But, it’s been worth it.

I’m reading the self help book, You are a Badass, How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. I love the following quotes from my scrumptious reading sesh yesterday. Each really spoke to me as I formulate the type of life I want to live. I hope they speak to you wherever you are in your own personal journeys!

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” –William Blake

“You get to choose how long you want to stay in school and work on the same issues over and over and over. Your graduation cap and gown are cleaned and pressed and waiting for you whenever you want to put them on, all you have to do is let go of your present story and rewrite a new one that fits who you truly are.” –Jen Sincero

“Time spent enjoying yourself is never time wasted.” –Jen Sincero

“Love Yourself. And life becomes a party.” –Jen Sincero

It’s never too late to make a change! And, it’s AWESOME! If there’s an area you’re wanting to change in your life, put on that graduation cap and gown and Go for it! You want to go to Europe? Find a way to make it happen! You want to play the ukulele… go get one NOW!

I’m rooting for you!!



Human Connections

I’m realizing more and more how we as human beings affect one another.

On my flight home from St. Louis earlier this summer, I was watching the flight attendant give her safety presentation. She was much more stoic and unengaging than on my previous flight. So, I was wondering why that was. I realized it was her lack of eye contact. This small simple act reduced the amount of human connection and made the interaction a lot less engaging. Working on some photo projects this year, I noticed this happens in photography too. If a model isn’t engaging to another human being–through her eye contact and body language, the photograph is dull. Really makes me think about how important human connections are to just about everything.

These scenarios really sum up a lot of what I’ve been learning this past year– that we as human beings are part of the human network. We are all connected–for better or worse. Our actions, our words, our attitudes affect the people around us. Things become so much more meaningful when you are doing them for another person. Life becomes so much more rich when you’re experiencing it with people you love. And each day becomes more fulfilling when you are sharing special moments with special people in your life who care about you. And you can travel the world, but a city is only as good as the people you know in it.

As I continue to cultivate my own identity, I can’t help but stop and think about the people in my life. The people who have shaped me and my life. The family that I was born into. The family who raised me. The people who love me. The people I care about. Friends. Family. All of these relationships have touched me and my life somehow.

Growing up as a Korean adoptee into a Polish-German family, I’ve always felt like I had to forge my own path. Growing up in a non-traditional family definitely fosters individuality and independence. I used to think that it was important to never be “influenced” by people. But now, I can see that no matter what and no matter who we are– the people in our lives influence us. For better or worse. And I think it’s just a matter of deciding how you let the people in your life influence you. And even better– it’s deciding to surround yourself with people who influence you to be more of what you want to be.

Just thinking about life.



Meeting these Incredible HAPAs

I had the most amazing time meeting up with these amazing Korean adoptees at The KAD Diaries photo shoot a few weeks ago! These were a few of the first children adopted from Korea. They identify themselves as HAPAs. They are mixed race, Korean born. HAPAs were conceived during Korea’s US occupation. Many American GI’s had relationships with Korean “camptown women.” The babies conceived out of these relationships were mixed race babies, now known as “HAPAs.”

These babies were often shunned by society because they were mixed race and because they were often conceived out of wedlock. When a Korean woman became pregnant out of wedlock, she was often ostracized and left to fend herself. Without any guarantee of employment or any type of government or social assistance, these women often relinquished their babies to orphanages because they couldn’t support them.

The Holt family was one of the first groups to see the need to care for these babies and began coordinating international adoptions of these mixed race babies to families in the US. And this began international Korean adoption into the US.IMG_20150929_010319

Don Gordon Bell was one of the children on the first plane from Korea carrying these precious children in tow. He was adopted into a family with English-Scottish heritage and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Don, Nancy, Katherine, (pictured above) and I were able to share a meal together with a few other Korean adoptees during the weekend I visited LA for the KAD Diaries photo shoot. It was incredibly meaningful to be able to share stories with others who can relate to being a Korean American adoptee. Each of us have his or her own unique story.

The top featured image was shot by the talented, David Patrick Valera. It captured the moment I shared the video of my birth family reunion with Nancy and Katherine at our meet up. It was a really beautiful moment for all of us.

I’m so happy and grateful to connect with other Korean American adoptees. I’m really thankful for Zeke Anders putting his heart and soul into the art project, The KAD Diaries, and for bringing us all together.

Meeting up with these incredible people makes me feel proud to be a Korean American adoptee. I know I am in the company of some truly amazing people!

If you would like to follow The KAD Diaries photo project, check out the official website: or follow the project facebook page!

To learn more about Don’s amazing life story, check out his blog at I know you’ll be glad you did!




The KAD Diaries Photo Art Project

Last weekend I had the amazing privilege of traveling to California and collaborating with Zeke Anders, an LA filmmaker and fellow Korean Adoptee. Last year, Zeke filmed an award-winning vlog series entitled, American Seoul. The YouTube link is available on my Videos tab. This vlog series beautifully opened up a window for viewers to see an inside glimpse of what it was like to be a Korean American adoptee. Venice Arts

This year, Zeke is creating a photo art project to share the stories of Korean American adoptees around the US through portraits shot in the Venice Arts studio in Venice, CA. Adoptees traveled to the studio from all over the nation to participate in this meaningful project.

Each adoptee had the opportunity to choose to stand in front of the American flag, the Korean flag, or in the middle of the two. After our portraits were taken, we participated in a video interview to share some of our thoughts on the topic of adoption. on set KAD Diaries

It was really meaningful to be able to participate in a project like this to share my experiences as a Korean adoptee and to hear other adoptees’ stories. Growing up, I was the only Korean girl in my circle of friends. I was one of two Korean girls in my school. I was the only Korean adoptee that I knew. Now, I know a ton of other Korean adoptees, aka KADs, who can relate to my experiences! It’s been really neat connecting with other KADs. Each of us has a really unique and powerful story. It’s definitely a special community for me.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was getting to meet Zeke Anders, award-winning filmmaker and all-around great guy! I love meeting artists who are passionate about their work and who love telling stories in a beautiful way. I love how this portrait series adds beauty to the idea of being adopted when adoption is often attached to a negative stigma. The details surrounding being adopted is something we, as adoptees, typically grow up not enjoying sharing. In contrast, this project gives each of us a selfie with zekecreative, artistic outlet where we can express our stories freely while simultaneously adding beauty to the painful and challenging moments we experienced as adoptees.

While in LA, I spent a lot of time in Koreatown! So neat to go to different restaurants where the signage and menus are printed in Hangul (Korean) as well as in English! I visited the Line Hotel, which was really fun and exciting. Friday night beats and an energetic crowd with the largest number of stunningly beautiful Koreans I had ever seen in one place. The crowd was 99% Asian.

wi spaI also visited Wi Spa, a traditional Korean spa.  Patrons relax there for hours– or even overnight! There were different saunas on a co-ed floor and a gender-specific floor. The co-ed floor housed saunas lined with various purification elements like salt, jade, and clay where you can relax and allow the heat and elements to detoxify you. The all-female floor had a steam sauna, hot whirlpool tub, cold whirlpool tub, and places for massage and other spa services. This was a really great experience– and just like the spas in the Korean dramas! santa monica studio

The KAD Diaries meet up and my time in Koreatown was really neat because I didn’t feel like I was in the minority at all. For the first time on such a large scale as this, I just felt like being Korean was the norm. And sometimes that’s a great feeling. During my trip, I was able to sneak away to do some aerial training at a great studio in Santa Monica where I flew on some hot pink silks. I also had the amazing opportunity of training with a stunt coordinator at Hollywood Aerial Arts doing 2-point wire work. While harnessed in, the trainer hooked me up to a stand where I could practice flipping forward and backward in the harness and flying on my stomach and back using my core muscles! Then, he took me up on a mechanical lift up to the rafters, 25 feet in the air! I was able to run and jump 10ft in the air with the push of a button. Such a fun experience. Definitely a neat change from my super strength-reliant aerial silk work.

Venice BeachEven though my trip was jam-packed with high energy meet ups, photo shoots, and fabulous LA nightlife, I was able to sneak in some chill downtime at the magical Venice Beach drum circle and to relax poolside. Definitely a fabulous, memorable trip! I love LA! It was so great to experience the best the city has to offer with newfound friends and fellow Korean adoptees!



Featured image (top) courtesy of Don Gordon Bell