Forum – November 16, 2018

Kaomi Goetz

Adapted: Korean Adoptees Living in Korea and Beyond

About 200,000 Korean children were sent overseas for adoption since the 1950s. For decades, most academic studies and conclusions on transracial and transnational adoption were authored by white adoptive parents in the West. Many of the studies relied heavily on interviews of minors; children still dependent on their adoptive parents. But these days, adult adoptees have emerged as the experts on their own experiences. Nicole Chung’s “All You Can Ever Know” and JE Lee’s “Not My White Savior” are two of the latest adoptee literature works by Korean transracial adoptees, both published in 2018. They are contributing to an already sizeable canon of memoirs, film documentaries, blogs, etc. The number of Korean adoptees returning to Korea to live as adults appears to be on the rise, too. But in 2015, there were few articles available in English that explored what adoptees’ lives were like as returnees or provided insight on their post-reunion experiences over time. In 2015, I had an idea to create a podcast to be based in Korea where I would interview adoptees and share their stories in a medium that would be free and accessible worldwide. I also wanted to become a source where adoptees could go to find community and comfort in hearing stories that were familiar and that also challenged beliefs. It was also my hope to be another resource to help educate the larger public about the legacy of intercountry adoption through the voices of adult adoptees who have lived the experience.

The podcast began in September 2016 – and to date I’ve interviewed 35 adult Korean adoptees. The majority of the interviewees were American; there was also two Dutch, one Australian and one French adoptee featured. No story was exactly alike; but many shared common threads of discovery and ambiguous loss, identity renewal and frustration over cultural barriers such as language, impediments in the birth search process, working in Korea, western privilege, gender and queer identity. Post-reunion stories also varied, and shaped by attitudes by both the adoptee and bio-family members in reunion, the ability to connect and reasons for reuniting.

In this talk, I will provide some historical context for intercountry adoption from Korea, detail how I created a podcast and conducted interviews, and share some of my observations from the 35+ oral histories documented so far. I will set up and play at least three excerpts (six to 10 minutes in length) and leave about 20 minutes for questions. Some adoptees who have been interviewed for the podcast may be in attendance.