Connections That Last a Lifetime

by Kourtni Rader, Adult Adoptee Director

I remember my first trip to Korea as an adult as if it were yesterday – sitting on a plane filled with Korean people, experiencing my first Korean meal as an adult (granted it was airplane food), pondering for a second what line to step into at immigration and, of course, the many experiences I had in Korea during my two-week visit.

My first journey to Korea was as a participant on a Holt heritage tour, for families and children of all ages. In 2009, I became Holt’s adult adoptee director – and began hosting a tour specifically for adult adoptees, age 21 or older. At the time, I did not realize how quickly people connect based on being an international adoptee. I’ve now hosted two Holt-Bethany Korea Adult Adoptee tours.  On both, I’ve witnessed the strong connections that develop between adoptees – strangers – visiting Korea for the first time.  Connecting to one’s culture and history is important, I’ve realized, but for many of us, not as important as the connection we feel with other adoptees. In a short time, family-like relationships develop, and when the tour is over, it is difficult to say goodbye. Our hearts ache not only to leave Korea, but for the people we’ve grown so close to and with whom we’ve shared some of the most personal experiences. We’ve laughed, cried, relied heavily on each other for support—and have even expressed frustration and anger.

When I look at photos from my first trip to Korea, I wonder what the other people on our trip are doing now. Some I keep in contact with and others have become memories through the photos. However, I feel a deep connection with everyone, even those I haven’t kept in touch with.

The connections we build on the tour last a lifetime.

A common theme runs through the posts on this year’s Holt-Bethany Korea Adult Adoptee Tour blog.   In one way or another, the participating adoptees all made connections – with Korea, with their past, and with each other.

Read excerpts from their posts below:

Coming Home

May 25, 2011

Post by Amy Patterson, adopted in 1971, Texas

Walking through the door to Holt Korea offices, I had no idea what to expect. Although Kourtni and Sandy had prepped us for a possible emotion-filled day, I couldn’t imagine it would be too emotional for me. After all, I already knew most if not everything that was in my file, and I wasn’t one of the adoptees who planned on meeting a foster mother today. How emotional could it be?

Amy in a traditional Korean hanbok.

We were led downstairs to a meeting room and Director Kim came to the front of the room. She began by welcoming us back to Korea, and in that moment my world turned upside down.  My life began here, maybe not in this building, but right here in this spot with Holt in Seoul, Korea. Tears threaten, in this moment I belong; I have come home completely unaware that I was away all these years.  I am all of a sudden whole, never knowing that I had a sense of loss buried deep inside my heart. Today my heart is healed, I’ve come home.

As a Korean adoptee living in America, it isn’t uncommon to get the age-old question, “Where are you from?” The folks who ask aren’t looking for the answer I’m about to give. And whether out of spite or a need to feel 100% American, I never give them the answer they want. I’ll make them squirm to figure out the ‘right’ question to ask… I don’t know what I want them to say, but it looks different from “Where are you from?” My shift today changed everything. The question “Where are you from?” is now absolutely the right question, and the answer, “I’m from Korea,” feels 100% right.

Through my eyes…

May 25, 2011

Post by Matt Anderson, adopted 1983, Michigan

Matt tying a wish into the ropes of a stone pile, a Korean Folk Village tradition.

Taking the long taxi ride to a place I haven’t been to in over 27 years was surprisingly calm.  I believed I knew what was in my file and there would be no new information.  Of course I was hoping that there was something more about my past that I could connect to my mother with, but if there wasn’t, that wouldn’t be the end of the world…

The social worker said she had some updates for me.  First it was about my foster mother, who was unable to meet with me, but really wishes she was able to…

Then the stunner came, they had an update about my mother.  Coming into this tour I did not want them to find her.  I had all sorts of emotions in my head and heart about looking for her, but in the end I decided I didn’t want to look for her at this time.  When I explained to the social worker I didn’t want to see my mother, she was shocked.  But since she knew, I asked her what the information was.  Unfortunately, my birth mother denied ever having a baby in 1983 (the year of my birth).  My heart sank.  As a matter of fact that was the last thing I wanted to hear.

The social worker then explained that once denying having a baby, there was no more she could do since the mother would not cooperate…

The rest of the day I was in a fog.  And to be honest, two days later I still am.  However, I’m really lucky that my roommate on the tour was here for me last night and listened to me, and when he explained his story I realized I was not alone.   I don’t know what I would have done had I just gone to bed without talking to him and I’ll forever be eternally grateful for him listening to me.  I also have to thank my parents who I called immediately the next morning and listened to me and cried with me.  I don’t know what I would do without the strength of my parents who have been supportive of me my entire life.

One night later speaking with more adoptees (and their husbands) was also great, because we all listened to each other and while we all are in similar situations, they still are different.  However no matter what those differences are, I knew they were there for me and would listen and be supportive.  I don’t think I would have been able to do this search on my own, without the support of the fellow adoptees (and of course their husbands)…

Tears, hugs, love and lots of kimchi!

May 26, 2011

Posted by Bethany Ankerson, adopted March 1988, Wyoming

Bethany with her foster mother.

 

 

 

 

The last few days here have been so full of emotions. Emotions that I hadn’t known were hidden deep within my heart. The group of people I am with, who I now call my friends, have been incredible. Together we have experienced so much in the last few days, together we have shed many tears, and together we have shared the joy of coming back to the land of our birthplace.

Tuesday we went to Holt’s office and those of us who were adopted through Holt reviewed our files with a social worker. In the beginning we watched a brief film about the history of Harry and Bertha Holt. Once it began and the speaker went on to talk about adoption and the hope children have for their future through adoption, this brought forth tears from me. I cried because I am a product of this hope, a living testimony because of my adoption. A very emotional time for most of us there…

And then my visit with my foster mother was so much different than I had ever expected. Upon seeing me, she was hysterical. Crying, hugging, smiling, and talking. Just her way of hugging me felt like I had known her forever. And instantly I felt a connection with this person who cared for me as an infant. One of the first questions I asked her was if she remembered me. To which she replied, “Yes, of course I do!” After awhile we left the office and ate lunch together with our group and the other adoptees who had brought their foster mothers along too. Looking back at our meeting was far more important than I realized. She told me that she had cared for one to three hundred babies through foster care and that I was the first baby to come back and visit her. Experiencing the joy of her seeing me, and seeing the happiness on her face was precious. I am so thankful meeting her was made possible.

Blessed Since Birth!

May 27, 2011

Posted by Sabrina Gatton, adopted in 1972, Ohio

Sabrina (right) in Korean cooking class.

Wow, it still seems so very surreal to be in the country of my birth.  I realize more and more how very blessed my life has been thanks to many people, but in the beginning, to Harry and Bertha Holt who began Holt adoptions in Korea in 1955.  It was emotional to see their gravesite.  During our time at Holt, I remembered a picture of Bertha Holt and myself many years ago and to see in person the work she started is wonderful.

I had always been told I was from Seoul, but during my birth search for this trip, I was given the name of another city:  Anyang.  I went there yesterday in hopes of finding out more.  We went to the county office and I thought that was the office from years ago, however, after speaking through a wonderful translator to a staff member, I found out more.  I asked him if he knew of anyone who may have been in the town in the early ‘70s.  Right away he called a man who had been here.  While we waited for the man to arrive, the staff member brought out a picture book of the town and showed me a picture of the county office back in the ‘70s, which is the office I was taken to by an unknown lady.  Seeing that picture brought tears for sure.  I had hopes of seeing things back then, but didn’t expect it so soon.  Once the man arrived to the county office I asked him if he knew about the dairy farm/church I had been found at and he said he did.  The farm/church are gone now, but he knew the location and we were off and running to see the area.  It is now a market.  We also saw the previous county office where my county office may have been located and it is now a nursing home, which made me laugh a little since I work in a nursing home.  What a wonderful day to finally be able to see where I came from.

Thank you Harry and Bertha Holt, Holt International and Bethany for putting this tour together. Memories to treasure for a lifetime for sure.

To read more blog entries from the Holt-Bethany Korea Adult Adoptee Tour, visit:

http://adultadopteetour.wordpress.com/2011-holt-bethany-adult-adoptee-tour-journey-to-korea/

 

 

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