Wednesday, August 20, 2008

AAK - Adopt a Korean!

Dear Korean,

My husband and I are both Caucasian and in the process of adopting an infant from Korea. We live in an area that has a fairly high Korean population and are very close to a "Korea Town." While we know we cannot ourselves be examples of Korean culture for our future son or daughter, we hope to encourage exposure to what Korean culture that we do have in our community. As a Korean, how to you think Koreans in our community will react to our trans-cultural adoption? Is there anything we can do to prepare ourselves or appear as less of an oddity to Koreans in our area?



Bless your heart for adopting a child. May only good things happen to your family. If advice from a single guy who has never has a child (that he knows of) counts for anything, the Korean thinks the critical point in raising a minority child, adopted or otherwise, is to make sure the child feels comfortable in her skin. Don’t let the child wish that she were something she is not. In this vein, your living around a lot of Koreans means a lot – it allows your child to see that she is not abnormal in some way because she looks different.

The Korean would also recommend for any prospective adoptive parents to read two things. First, Relative Choices, New York Times blog on adoption, for thoughtful discussions on this topic. Second, Transracial Abductees, for a picture of adoptions gone terribly wrong. Raising a child is difficult in and of itself; when it implicates race relations, well, the Korean can only wish you best of luck.

Korean people’s attitude towards adoption of Korean children is somewhat conflicted. On one hand, they deplore the fact that Korea at one point was the leading baby-exporting country in the world. There are over 100,000 adopted Koreans in the U.S., which makes them roughly 10 percent of Korean American population. (More statistics about international adoption is available here.) Korean people, by and large, feel ashamed that they are unable to take care of “their own”. As an outgrowth of this sentiment, there have been sporadic and mostly unsuccessful campaigns in Korea that urged people to adopt more, or prohibit international adoption in order to compel Korea to take care of its own children.

On the other hand, Koreans’ attitude toward Americans who adopt Korean children is largely positive. Korean American newspapers often run a prototypical story of an American couple who adopted a large number of Korean children, and such stories unfailingly speak in glowing terms of the American couple’s love for their children and Korean culture. (Here is an example -- the article is in Korean.) It appears that while Korean people are generally not happy that they are unable to take care of their own orphans, they are grateful for the people who in fact do.

So MTBTAK, the Korean thinks you do not have to worry about the way Korean people would react to you and your child. In fact, in most cases, the Korean would think that Koreans around you would appreciate the fact that you are letting your child preserve his/her heritage in some form. Again, bless your heart, and best of luck.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. As a Korean who has been raised by Koreans, lives in a community full (almost too full XD) of Koreans, and has Korean friends - I'd like to agree that while many (if not most) Koreans are reticent about the idea of adopting children (Korean or not) themselves, all (literally, ALL) the Koreans I have met thus far deeply admire couples who do.

  2. As a dad-who-became-a-dad-by-adopting-a-Korean (dwbadbaak) my experience, both in Seoul when we picked up our new son AND at home when we attend Korean/Asian-pacific events, has been overwhelmingly and unhesitatingly positive.

    The first day we met him, we went for a walkabout with him to Namdaemun market. We weren't sure what to expect, being two white-as-white-can-be folks carrying around a Korean baby. But (I'm getting teary-eyed just remembering) we were overwhelmed with locals - merchants and just folks on the street - who greeted us with smiles, gratitude and even gifts. (Ex: We have his first silk tie, for whenever he is big enough to wear it.)

    The moment that most stands out in my mind was one woman asking (in halting English, much better than my nonexistent Korean) a) if he was our son, then b) how long we'd had him. We told her "about an hour," and we could SEE her eyes well up. I'm sure she would've given us big hugs had society allowed ;)

    At home, we live in a college town. There's a Korean Student Association which holds various cultural events for adoptive families. There are a couple of Korean churches who host picnics and panels. There is almost TOO much going on, and all of it is aimed at helping us get Korean culture into our family, and feel more at ease at the same time.

    So... There will be detractors, I'm sure, although to date (coming up on 4 years) I have not run into a single one. I think you'll be fine.

  3. Not to make light of the topic, but as a Korean, I sometimes wish that I had been adopted by loving, caring, and ridiculously-wealthy Caucasian parents. Then, I'd now be richer and happier and wouldn't have a ridiculous name that no one can pronounce. =)

  4. Joo An, please relax.

    Who among us hasn't ever said "What if?"

    I have to laugh at the 'ridiculously wealthy' part, though. Happily, preschools these days offer scholarships.


  5. As an more somber addendum to IATIT: From my understanding, as a Korean raised by Koreans, you have an 'up' on my adopted son.

    Your heritage is solid. Your ethnic and social identity is solid. You know where you came from, where you stand.

    My son - among the myriad (potential) "issues" that arise in a child's heart and mind from simply being adopted ("mom/dad didn't love me" being the first and foremost) - will have the extra (potential) hurdles of not belonging to the Korean community except as an outsider, PLUS not belonging to the white/American community even though he has white parents.

    Admittedly, this second point is getting better, and while I haven't yet read The Korean's discussion post about racism, I feel safe in predicting it ties in fairly closely.

    Unless we as parents can help instill in him a sense of identity and self-history, he will feel adrift in some vaguely unsettling way very core to his being.

    And so Joo An raises a good point inadvertently: Be proud of your heritage. At least you HAVE one.

  6. Joo An,

    "Why do you want to be away from your true parents, the people that nurtured you and has your best interests at heart?"

    You'd never make such high-horse comments if you were "nurtured" by my parents. Rather presumptuous of you to preach me without having an iota of information on my life.

    "Dude my American friends can pronounce my Korean name perfectly fine so my verdict is that you have nothing to complain about and your a person who has almost no pride in his country."

    Again, very presumptuous of you to assume that I have "nothing to complain about" and that I lack "pride" in my country. Do you even know my name? I have a very rare last name and a very difficult first name that gives everyone fits. Don't judge others based on your cozy little life.

    I laugh at how uptight and preachy all Koreans (regardless of age) get everytime I make light of my name/parents/nationality, giving me some bullsh*t about my lack of 효도 and Korean pride. What a riot!

  7. Rob,

    Just so that there's no misunderstanding, I didn't mean to stereotype that all Caucasian parents are rich or something ignorant like that. I live in a rather nice little suburb, and I often witness the quality of life that the parents here provide their children —— the kind of life that I have never received from my "nurturing" parents. That's why I sometimes joke with my wife that in my next life I'd like to be reborn as one of those privileged kids; and if that fails, at least be adopted by those parents.

  8. Civilized discussion only please. You have been warned.

  9. The original blog and subsequent comments contain troubling themes that I see all too often. I offer my humble perspectives:

    1. The “successful adoption” vs the “gone-terribly-wrong adoption.” By dichotomizing the adoption experience, it simplifies and minimizes all of its complexities. What is a “successful” adoption? If an adoptee or adoptive parent, for example, starts to explore the social and political undertones of international adoption processes today, does that qualify as an example of a “gone-terribly-wrong adoption?”

    2. Conflating “race” and “culture” issues. By living near “Korea town” or going to “Korean culture camps,” for example, there seems to be this notion that it is the solution to deal with “race” issues. In general, since discussing “race” issues and “racism” is largely a taboo topic in the US, “culture” issues and “cultural awareness” are often used as a safe-space alternative. Although I don’t deny the importance of cultural awareness and education for building a positive identity (for some, not all), it is not a sufficient and comprehensive alternative in supplying adopted children of color with necessary tools to deal with the racist experiences they will undoubtedly encounter throughout their life.

    3. “Loving, caring and ridiculously wealthy parents.” First, all adoptive parents are not ridiculously wealthy. Second, this statement again oversimplifies the “adoption experience,” and forces the adoptive parents and adopted person into boxes. Adopted or not, interpersonal relationships are difficult—even within families. Unfortunately, contrary to popular beliefs, love and care cannot solve all problems. This point seems to be most difficult for adoptive parents to understand. Although, adoption may have many positive and celebratory aspects (e.g. formation of a new family, creation of new loving relationships and experiences… etc. etc.), there are also many losses as well (e.g. separation of birth family, loss of language, culture, citizenship, loss of having biological children etc. etc. etc.). Both the adoptive parents and the adopted person should be allowed to morn. I could say more here, but I will leave it at this.

    Lastly, I believe that intercountry adoption is political. The lack of social welfare infrastructure (in particular, monetary support and enforcement of social welfare laws) in Korea minimizes the choices for those communities with the least amount of resources. As an example, today 98% of Korean intercountry adoptees’ birth mothers are single. I am not implying that all single Korean birth mothers would choose to keep their child, but that currently single mothers have severely limited choices. I have in no way addressed all the social and political issues intertwined in intercountry adoption (or its history), but only try to make the point that intercountry adoption is political. I recommend the book “Comforting an orphaned nation. Representations of international adoption and adopted Koreans in Korean popular culture” (published in Korean and English) by Tobias Hubinette ( Also, check out which is an organization in Korea that addresses the problems associated with Korean overseas adoption.

    And on a final note—if you are an adoptive parent, adoptee, birth parent, or have an adopted family member or close friend with an adoption history—to critically (and in my opinion, realistically) realize the political and unequal social processes that underline modern intercountry adoption today does not necessarily correspond with “bad” or “unsuccessful” personal adoption experiences. In fact, communities with personal adoption experiences are appropriately positioned to encourage transparency in overseas adoption practices today as well as contribute to its future direction.

  10. Joo An,

    First of all, I am sorry (actually, not really) that you are offended by my presumptuous assumption of your personal life. Funny how sh*t smells different when the table has turned and it's on your plate now, ain't it?

    Second, I'd love to engage is a constructive and respectful discussion with you on adoption, race, and anything else, but I ask that you maintain a mature tone with me. Calling me names won't make me respect you any more than I already don't. Also, spare me your sop story about your dad and your family. To borrow the famous word of Nigel Powers, "If you have an issue, here's a tissue." You have no appreciation of my hardship, so I could not care about yours or your family's. Have a nice day.

  11. " seems my temper has devolved this discussion into an immature fight between five year olds."

    Correction: there was only one five-year old in our argument.

  12. @rob: I am of mixed Chinese and white heritage, and while I don't have the issues adoptees have about whether my family really loves me, I grew up having a lot of anxieties about where in the world I fit in. While I feel a very close connection with Chinese culture, no Chinese person would ever accept me as Chinese, and I'm not quite white either. But being unmoored from culture and heritage is very freeing. My position has forced me to analyze "culture" and think very deliberately about who I am and how I want to live, because I have no default to fall back on. So, yes, adopted Korean children won't belong to a rich heritage, just as I don't belong to one. But that can be a gift as well as a loss.

  13. Make no mistake, my husband and I have researched adoption from Korea extensively before deciding to pursue it. We are aware of the political and cultural implications of inter-country adoption and are expecting to face many unique challenges relating to raising an adopted child from another country. We are extremely excited to start a family through adoption and learn more about our child’s heritage along the way. I was simply curious about how Koreans in our neighborhood might perceive our mixed family in order to prepare myself and our child to deal with these reactions. Thank you to those of you who offered your perspective on this topic.

  14. hs,

    Please go back and read my original and subsequent posts about "ridiculously rich" adoptive parents. I was simply poking fun at my parents who didn't do crap for me. I wasn't generalizing that all Caucasian adoptive parents are super rich.

  15. @mtbtak - you'll be fine ;)

    @hs - yes, all excellent points. I think that in today's atmosphere around adoption, parents to be are made more aware of (potential) things like those. It at the same time makes it more complicated (it's sometimes stifling to think of every single complication that can arise) and freeing (you're encouraged to be open and honest about adoption with your kids, there's not the energy put toward hiding it and playing "Normal"). As far as "success" in the adoption - the adoption was a success. We have a son. Now, as to whether we raise him to be a productive and valuable member of society, we're in the same boat as parents worldwide...

    @melinda - I only hope that we can give our son the ability to "analyze" as you describe. I can imagine it'd be OH SO MUCH more valuable than angsty grief about self-identity, heh heh.

    @iatit & joo an - Hm, and I thought you guys had buried the hatchet. Don't worry about my being offended by stereotyping; they exist, I can ignore and/or work around them. It's good (is that the right term? Hm.) to see that even in NON-adoptive families, there's all kinds of crap going down ;)

  16. hs,

    "If an adoptee or adoptive parent, for example, starts to explore the social and political undertones of international adoption processes today, does that qualify as an example of a “gone-terribly-wrong adoption?”"

    That sounds like you are criticizing the Korean's selection of Transracial Abductees site as an example of adoptions gone wrong. The Korean sees your point. What the Korean wanted to point out about that site is not the fact that it explores the political and social understones of international adoption, but that such discussion, at least on that site, originated from a psychological damage from international adoption that could have been avoided.

  17. The one thing that comes to mind is that I would like to commend you (mtbtak and your husband) for wanting to keep your child close to her culture. My friend, unfrotunately, did you have parents who were interested in keeping him close to his culture when they adopted him from Korea and it caused him a great deal of grief and a severe identity crisis growing up. So again, I admire your commitment to making sure that part of her identity is not lost and I wish you and your family a wonderful future!

  18. This is obviously an old post but in case anyone is reading this:

    I think an adopted Korean, being raised by a family interested in him learning about his own culture, will more than likely end up more 'Korean' than most Korean Americans.

    Most Korean American families (mine and other aside) fall into a bizarre cultural funk from which children emerge who are no more Korean than they are American. Most of my Korean friends don't speak Korean but they do watch dramas. Most of my Korean friends can't cook Korean food but they can make Spaghetti. Most of my Korean friends don't know when Chuseok is or how many times you bow to your grandfather's grave but they do know what days you can and cannot hoist an American flag.

    At the same time, they are terrible tippers. They don't know when to dress up and dress down. They don't know how to socialize with 'white' people. They don't know any American pop songs.

    Korean culture in America in Korean families is limited at best. At it's average extent it would include a child's 100th day and getting prunes thrown at you at your wedding.

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