Korean culture

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

Being Adopted was a Recipe for Success

Even though many people viewed growing up as an adoptee with a negative stigma, I always viewed it as a blessing. My life as a Korean adoptee was a gourmet cocktail, combining different cultural and family experiences, finely crafted with the deepest of care to create the life experiences I was meant to have. I always knew that in a deep sense. I couldn’t imagine being raised in a traditional family. Even in my own adoptive family or biological family, I knew that my experiences would have been so much different if I had a traditional upbringing in either family– without being adopted. As a Korean adoptee, I was exposed to two different families and two different cultures. I was exposed to Two Adventurerstwo different parenting styles, family traditions, and belief systems. I had the opportunity to pick and choose the good qualities I wanted from each of them. Having two families also meant that I had two sets of family drama. That was difficult at different moments, but it still made the patchwork quilt of my life. And it made me a stronger person.

My adoptive mother’s core personality and my core personality couldn’t have been any further polar opposite of one another. But I always really valued how my adoptive mom balanced me. She was super mellow, easy going, and indecisive. The complete opposite of my super energetic, fast-moving and extremely passionate personality. Balance is good. Especially because I tend to be a little bit of a workaholic. Growing up I always appreciated her laid back spirit. With my hyper overachiever extremely dedicated personality tendencies, I counted it as a blessing to have a mother who showed me unconditional love, support and acceptance rather than to be raised by someone who was driven to the point of being critical, judgmental, and hard on me. I think being raised by someone with that type of personality could’ve easily set me over the edge since I was already so hard on myself, even as a child. This easily could’ve been the case in a biologically-related family setting where I would have been raised by people with the same intense personality traits as my own.

Knowing that my birth mother committed suicide, I wondered if that was something that she struggled with too– feeling as driven as I did, but without an emotional outlet or an unconditionally loving family. Which eventually could’ve easily led to too much pressure for one person to handle. Ever since I found out the tragic way in which my birth mother died, I always counted that as confirmation that being adopted into this family was a gift– from God, maybe even somehow orchestrated by my biological mother beyond the grave, to give me a fighting chance at leading a successful and happy life free from the pressures that she endured and which may have inadvertently led to her untimely demise.

I always knew that my adoptive mom showing me unconditional love was the single most important thing to shape me into the girl I am today. And this was something I always guessed my biological family was incapable of based on the story I was told about how my birth mother was cut off from her family, and the way that I was estranged. The unconditional love and acceptance that I received from my adoptive family was a powerfully driving force in my life and is something I will always be grateful for.

xoxo

happy tuesday!

 

Korean Adoptee Meet up in St. Louis

Within the past year, I joined a couple of Korean adoptee Facebook groups and met the most amazing adoptees from all over the US. It was in one of these groups, that I met April—a really lovely soul. This beautiful girl was abandoned in a marketplace in Korea when she was 5 years old. She still remembers her grandmother releasing her hand for the final time. She can still taste the salt of her tears and feel the grit of the dirt and her hair as the wind blew these across her mouth. April still flashes back to this moment when she hears her own beautiful little daughter cry for her. Such a profound moment in her life. Definitely something that has been a part of her past. But, April has not let the hardships she’s faced define her. She is stronger for her experiences. But she doesn’t dwell on them. She is one of the most incredibly loving, open, funny people I’ve ever met. She is married and has two beautiful children. Her family lives in St. Louis.

Last year, April began opening her home for Korean adoptees to meet up from all over the US. I had the most incredible time meeting up with the best girls and guys last weekend at April’s house. All of whom were Korean adoptees, like me! There were a bunch of Korean adoptees from St. Louis and the midwest, including Michigan and Ohio. A few from Texas, and my friend Gina from LA. It was so much fun to share similar stories of growing up in white families in white neighborhoods and to hear all of their European last names. I told everyone how I recently jokingly told someone she could call me, “Hey you!” and the woman thought I was telling her my Korean name: “Hei Yu.” Others had similar funny stories.

Some girls reunited with their birth families already. Many discovered their entire back stories were wrong. This can definitely shake a person to the core and is something that many adoptees can relate to. One girl reunited with her birth family and decided to spend a couple of years in Korea to get to know more about her Korean heritage. Another girl just started the process of searching for her birth family, so she’s really nervous about how everything will pan out. A few people shared that they never had a strong desire to reunite with their birth families, and they are okay with that.

We went out to a Korean karaoke bar and laughed when only two out of twenty of us knew enough Korean to work the controls. Thankfully, we were all okay singing out to English songs. There was kimchi. There was soju. There were beautiful Asian features. We were as Korean as it gets for Korean adoptees.

april, gina, me

I brought two pairs of shoes with me that I’ve been trying to give away for the past 6 months. They were two sets of gorgeous pumps –one metallic chrome and one bright turquoise. I haven’t had any takers because no one can fit into these gorgeous heels—my feet are very small. I even posted them on an online Facebook yard sale in my area with no luck. I brought them to this gorgeous group, knowing most of my Korean girlfriends would have similar frames. When I brought my shoes out, I immediately found new owners for these bombing shoes. So funny how such little things can make such a difference in normalizing my own petite features.

This meet up was so incredibly meaningful to me in my own personal journey. It’s amazing to think that I’m in such great company in my own personal experiences. So nice to feel the camaraderie and warmth of other Korean adoptees.

It’s amazing to me that in our shared experiences we all had an instant bond. I love getting to know new people and sharing stories. It definitely creates a special community where one can really feel that she belongs. One of my newfound friends described our meet up well by saying, “I have a tribe, a place to belong. It’s something you can’t really explain in words… it’s an experience. One I truly treasure.”

 

#mytribe #adoptees #koreanadoptees #stlouis

Fighting Back and Defying Gravity as a Korean Adoptee

I’ve been thinking about the forces in the world. There are forces that can build us up and inspire us to be better. And there are forces out there that try to bring us down. These forces exist just as much as gravity exists. We can’t see or touch gravity, but we know when we step off of a cliff, it’s a daunting long way down. And we can see the effects of gravity on an older person’s vertebral discs which shrink over the years due to this constant push of gravity on their spines. These forces are real. Every day we enter a a duel against these forces of nature and against these spiritual forces that try to thwart our human potential.

As adoptees, we have had to face more than most people have even before we learned how to walk. We are already feeling the effects of life’s gravitational pull as young babies before we have even learned our first words. Everyone must battle with these forces. The weight of the world. The weight of these unseen forces, sometimes seeming to tear us apart.

Last year I went through a tale spin of emotions after reconnecting with my bio family. I was processing such intense emotions that I felt like I was being split apart. There were days where all I felt was anguish. There were tears– lots of tears. It took a toll on my marriage. It was a tough summer and a tough year.

After coming out of this year on the other side, I am happy to say that it can get better. And you can defy these forces. Here are a few of my victories:

  1. Last summer after reuniting with my birth family I reconnected with some friends from high school. We had so much fun hanging out and catching up. I felt like I had gained some of my teen years back. In these moments, I learned how to defy time.
  2. Last summer I started aerial dancing. It is the most incredible dance/sport/art I have ever practiced. I love it! It takes a lot of strength just to be able to climb to the top let alone to perform the actual skills. With each climb, an aerialist must wrap one leg in the silk, create a shelf with her foot for the other foot to stand on, wedge the silk between her two feet, and pull her body weight up for the next grab. Then, repeat the process. At first, I wasn’t able to perform even one full climb. Now, I am climbing to the top of the rafters. Every night I’m in the aerial studio, I am defying gravity.
  3. Last summer I started dancing–a lot. Before my reunion last year, there were huge parts of my life that were consumed with super serious, super workaholic, grown up mode. And there was no time or space for dancing. In reconnecting with my love for dancing, I am defying the notion that being an adult is all about work and keeping to the grind 24-7– an idea that pervades our American culture and threatens our happiness. Even in dancing, I’m defying the pressure of what society has tried to place on us as humans.
  4. In a new way, I realized that life is short and very precious. I’m determined to figure out what I want most–and to go for it. Not just passively, but to actually work at my own happiness. To work at the life I want to create. In living out the life I want, I am defying the negative forces coming against me in the most effective way possible.

Good luck on your endeavors and your own personal duels.

I’m rooting for you!

xoxo,

-rm

The Moment I Lost my Bio Family

In reconnecting with my bio family last May, I had to process a lot of intense realities. One was the idea that at one point–one epic moment in time, when I was literally in physical transition from the hands of my bio family to the arms of my adoptive family, there was a transitional moment where I was utterly and completely alone. A single little baby– without a family, without a home, armed with only the clothes on my back. At this solitary moment, I was an orphan. Somewhat destitute and on my own. This cosmic moment in time is something that all adoptees share. It’s not something I ever dwelled on. And yes–one could actually say that at that transitional moment, I actually had two families, so double the love and all that. Which was also absolutely true. But on the other hand, quite literally at that transfer moment, I was at square one. Alone. Helpless and penniless with only the clothes on my back to call my own. It was like counting along the number line used in school to illustrate transitioning from the negative integers to the positive ones– there was always that point of transition at zero that indicated the neutrality between this major shift. At that moment, I was at zero, as my prior life was ending, and my new life was beginning.

For me, this moment happened when I was dropped off at the foster care lady’s house. And figuratively, in the lawyer’s office when my bio dad signed the paperwork to hand over guardianship to my adoptive family. I’ve never really thought about this monumental moment until this past year. It’s definitely a defining moment in each adoptee’s life. There were the psychological and emotional ramifications of being utterly alone. But even more than that, I have been really thinking about the open realm of possibilities that my life could’ve taken in that singular moment in time. What if I was raised by a different family than my adoptive family? Would I be the same person? Choose the same career? Marry the same guy? My head has been spinning over the past year with all of these questions. Reuniting with my birth family prompted me to ask myself these really challenging questions. I did a lot of soul searching. I came to a lot of conclusions so far.

I do believe that most things happen for reasons. Maybe not all, but most things. In these monumental moments, our lives shift and take unexpected turns. But, ultimately no matter who we are in life– adopted or not, we all must learn the responsibility that lies in being who we were meant to be as individuals regardless of who our families are. We must choose the life we want to live for ourselves regardless of whether or not we are alone or surrounded by the biggest family on the planet. The events and people in our lives certainly shape us, but they most definitely do not define who we are. We are so much more than the stuff that’s happened to us. And we are definitely so much more than what the people around us make us out to be. Whether we are adopted or not, we all must go through the same process of learning who we are for ourselves and by ourselves. We are each individual people who must live out who we were meant to be in the world regardless of others, and at times, even in spite of others. So, in essence adoptees get a jump start on that road to self discovery as an individual, starting as little babies.

Growing up as adoptees, we are never given the luxury of the notion that “this is how you should be, because you take after so and so” or “that just runs in our family.” So, growing up we are constantly learning who we are, on our own! This can be a daunting process, but it’s not impossible. Ultimately, no matter who your family is, or who you are surrounded by– every individual has his or her own free will.

I can remember moments in my life where I had to take a stand and be the person who I was meant to be, even if that meant not doing exactly what I was told. One moment that stands out in my life was when I was a senior in high school. In my adoptive family, my mother desperately wanted me to go into the medical field. Most of my adoptive family thought I should become a nurse, because after all, that is what all of my female cousins did. Many adult family friends told me I should become a doctor. I entertained these ideas, and entered college as a pre-med student. Since I wasn’t complete sold on the idea of becoming a doctor, I simultaneously completed a volunteer experience during my first semester of college at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center where I was able to obtain real life exposure to patient care. The program was called “Patient Partners.” Basically, I went into patient rooms, armed with a survey asking patients how their stay was at the hospital. Easy enough. I went into the volunteer program with hopes that I could gain an idea of what it would be like to be a nurse or a doctor. I lasted one day. The experience served its purpose, and I was a fast learner! In that brief experience, I learned a really quick, valuable lesson: I was not meant to be a nurse or a doctor, regardless of what my family wanted. And this volunteer program was an experience that I sought out myself. I had done well. Lesson learned– able to move on.

One thing I realized through that volunteer experience was that in a career as a doctor, I felt that I would more quickly stick a needle in someone than actually talk with them. For me, this objectified and dehumanized the whole experience of wanting to go into a career where I could make a difference people’s lives. Later on, through probing out different careers I landed on the idea of a speech language pathologist. I could still use the medical and scientific knowledge to work with clients to regain parts of themselves lost after injury or illness. But, I could actually spend time working on regaining some of the skills that are unique to the human experience– eating and speaking. An ER doctor could spend 30 minutes pumping on a patient’s chest and ultimately bring her back from the brink of death. This is an extraordinarily commendable feat. But, sometimes, these patients are shells of the people they once were. And that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to work with patients on the things that make life worth living– connecting with others and enjoying some of life’s simple pleasures– like eating a piece of decadent chocolate cake or sharing stories. I’ve been practicing medical speech therapy for seven years now and absolutely love the work that I do with patients. This was definitely the right career choice for me. I am really passionate about my work, and I take a lot of pride in what I do. I really love seeing my clients make gains to be able to eat and speak again.

These are the types of invaluable lessons that every single individual on the planet must learn! Being an adoptee sometimes muddies the water a little bit, and can make learning these lessons of self discovery a little complicated. But I want to encourage every adoptee that it’s not impossible. You can do it! It takes hard work, determination, and a lot of exploring. But through and through, by and by, you will learn more about yourself, the world, and where you fit in. It’s a lifelong process– not only for adoptees, but for all humans. And no one ever feels like he or she has fully arrived at total self-discovery. But the beauty is that you get to decide who you are and how you want to design your life. And if you don’t like something about the way your life is headed, you can redesign. It’s magical, really.

Good luck! I’m rooting for you!

xoxo

rm

 

 

Korean Dramas

Watching K-dramas has given me a window into Korean culture that I never had as a transracial adoptee. It’s really neat to be able to learn about Korea and hear the language as an observer through watching these shows. Growing up, I never saw a lot of Koreans on tv or in person. I’ve really loved seeing really attractive, talented, and successful Korean actresses and actors on the shows.

Growing up, I was told was that my biological mom was cut off from her family because she married someone against her parent’s wishes. In American culture, adults generally don’t disown their children. So, it was hard for me to comprehend how this could even happen. Because of this story, I imagined Koreans to be cold and stoic, emotionless. I had no other frame of reference. Last year when I began watching Korean dramas on Netflix, my understanding of Korean people changed. I can honestly say that watching these dramas made me realize that Koreans probably cut off family members because they were actually TOO emotional. Every single Korean drama that I have watched featured some of the most emotional television characters I have ever seen. And it’s not just your typical emotions. These are deep, heavy– cry your eyes out emotions. It’s so interesting to find this out about Koreans. And it’s neat, in a sense, because having the capacity for deep, heavy emotions is definitely a personality trait that I share. Interesting to think that perhaps genes have contributed to this element of my personality.

If you haven’t yet, check out some K dramas. It’s a neat window into K culture! Just have the tissues handy :)

“Somewhere Between”

Recently I saw a documentary entitled, “Somewhere Between” which told the stories of four Chinese girls who were adopted by white American families. I was so touched by their stories. I could relate to being somewhere between two cultures. Growing up I felt more German-Polish American than I felt Korean-American. I didn’t know the first thing about Korean culture, Korean food, or Korean people. The ironic thing was that I looked 100% Korean. And it seemed like every Korean person we met on the street knew it because they all assumed I spoke Korean. It was always a little awkward for me to explain why I didn’t speak Korean because I was always met with a look of disappointment or pain in their eyes. Looking back, I think these people were probably just sad to hear my story. However, in that moment I always felt ashamed that I didn’t know Korean. Like I had let these Korean people down somehow. There was definitely no reason for me to feel ashamed, and most of the time I knew that. The other hard scenario as a kid was responding to that disgruntled older Korean American adult about how “[I] should’ve really learned Korean growing up from my parents,” and “that it was a shame that kids don’t these days.” They usually stopped in their tracks as soon as I told them I was adopted by a white family.

Growing up, I’ve had a few Korean classmates in school, but I never really felt like I truly fit in with them. I didn’t know Korean. I didn’t know anything about being Korean. And I never got the memo about how being a Korean girl meant you were quiet, and soft-spoken, and when you laughed, you were supposed to cover your mouth with your hand as if that was more lady-like. Crazy enough at the same time, by the looks of me, no one could deny I was Korean. But I wasn’t really Korean. But I wasn’t really white. I was just somewhere in-between.

Check out the documentary that totally rocked my world at http://www.somewherebetweenmovie.com/