by Christopher Varacchi
Last summer, I traveled to South Korea for the first time since being adopted at 3 months old. I traveled with the Holt Heritage Tour, which included a group of Korean-American adoptees and their families, and Paul Kim, director of programs for Holt. While in South Korea, we visited the country’s major cities, experienced Korean cuisine and visited Holt facilities. This once in a lifetime experience greatly exceeded my expectations. It’s a trip that I will never forget.
I am a law student living in Brooklyn and was adopted by a loving family from the Mid-Atlantic region. I have a younger sister who was also adopted from South Korea. Since I can remember, my parents have encouraged me to travel to South Korea with Holt International to search for my birth parents. They raised me to understand that this was an important experience for my own growth, and something that I should do when still young. For most of my life, I wanted to travel to South Korea with my parents and sister, but a couple years before going, I decided to travel by myself. I wanted this to be a personal experience. However, as the departure date approached, I grew very nervous and wished that I had someone to go with.
I flew out of Philadelphia to Seattle, where I would stay the night and meet with the Holt group the next day. The minute I met the other adoptees traveling to South Korea, I felt an instant connection. This was the first time that I had interacted with a large group of Korean-American adoptees. As we waited for the plane to the Incheon Airport, we shared stories about our childhood and what our expectations were for our trip. I soon realized that even though we varied in age and came from very different places in America, we shared a similar perspective of South Korea and were all nervous about our upcoming visit. After quickly making friends, I felt more comfortable and excited about the adventure to come.
Being in South Korea
I was surprised by how much and how quickly I fell in love with the country. Although I had no recollection of Seoul, I immediately felt comfortable being there. I looked like everyone around me, which I never experienced in America, and the urban atmosphere made me feel more even more at ease.
I tried to take everything in. I explored Seoul with the group and on my own. Each passing day made South Korea feel more like home, more like the place I was supposed to be. I loved going to different restaurants and trying the different foods, but I must admit, I started to miss things about home. I made my own Kimchi, saw famous temples and museums, and traveled outside Seoul to the southern cities of South Korea. It was a well-organized and fun trip.
Meeting my Birth Mother
About a week after arriving in South Korea, I met my birth mother. Before leaving on the trip, I received notice from Holt that they located my birth mother through searching the country’s database. Although I thought I was prepared to meet her, nothing could prepare me for when we actually met.
I met her on a rainy day in June, and it was an indescribable moment. I sat holding hands with a person who I had never met, but always knew existed. As I looked at her, and Holt’s social worker translated our conversation, I could sense all the emotions that she felt too. I could sense that she was happy to see me and know that I was alive. I could sense that she was remorseful for putting me up for adoption. She asked me if I was mad at her. I assured her that I was not mad, but only grateful for the opportunities that she gave me by putting me up for adoption. At that moment I realized something very profound: our meeting was not just a life-changing experience for me, but it was also a life-changing experience for her. We talked about her family here and my family back home. Over our two extended lunches, I sensed her treating me as her son, and her mannerisms were the same as my mom back home in America. It was something that I never expected.
During our tearful goodbye at our last lunch, she made me promise that I would learn Korean and come back to Seoul to meet her family. I hope that when I return to South Korea, my Korean will be good enough so that I can talk to her and my new family members, who I will meet for the first time. Until then, we have been exchanging letters and emails that Holt translates.
If given the opportunity, I strongly encourage every international adoptee to travel to their birth country. I also strongly encourage you to attempt to contact your birth parent(s), if possible. Traveling to South Korea and meeting my birth mother was the best thing to happen in my life, thus far. Although scary at first, the trip to South Korea became an adventure that I will always remember. I came back home with a greater sense of being Korean, with a greater sense of being American, with love for my birth mother in Korea, and even more love for my family here.
Would you like to join a group of other adoptees on a heritage tour to China or Korea? Join a trip today! Click here for more details!