Q&A with Adult Adoptee Kim Lee On New Director of Adult Adoptee Community Outreach Role

At Holt International, we continue to learn from the diverse experiences and perspectives of adoptees of all ages. Recently, we began a nationwide search for Holt’s first director of adult adoptee community outreach. The new director’s role will be to inform how Holt can best support, magnify and celebrate a healthy and diverse adult adoptee community. Holt board member and Holt adoptee, Kim Lee, offers her perspective on why bringing aboard a new director of adoptee community outreach is important to her, and for the broader adult adoptee community.

Kim plays with a baby in one of Holt's programs in Beijing.
Kim plays with a baby in one of Holt’s programs.

Tell us about yourself!

I am a Korean adoptee. In 1955, after the Korean War, Harry Holt traveled to Seoul to adopt eight mixed-race babies as he knew they would be shunned by Korea’s society and soon thereafter began to unite orphaned children with families in the United States, which pioneered international adoption and the founding of the Holt adoption agency. Mr. Holt, as I knew him, escorted me to the United States as part of the first wave of international adoptions from Korea in 1956. My parents had very full hearts – they adopted five children from Korea and while none of us are biologically related, we are siblings in every sense of the word and lived in Columbus, Ohio. When my youngest sister was adopted in 1959, I traveled with my mother from Columbus, Ohio to Portland, Oregon to welcome her and Mr. Holt, who escorted her from Korea. That was a memorable experience for me.

How did you become involved in the adult adoptee community?

It happened organically. When I was about 25, I started sponsoring children through Holt International and was a flight attendant at the time. In May 1984, I was invited by Holt to travel to Korea for my first visit back since departing in 1956 … The trip highlight was accompanying and escorting two newly adopted babies to their new families in the United States. It gave me a sense of the adoption process and what had been done for me. Although I have always appreciated my life, at the conclusion of the trip I realized how deeply adoption impacted my life with life-changing blessings and opportunities, which I would never have known had I remained in Korea. As an adult adoptee, it also inspired me to want to make a difference and to positively impact other young adoptees’ lives.

My first trip back to Korea in 1984 was emotionally charged and influenced my decision to volunteer to escort newly adopted babies to their new families in the United States and being a flight attendant enabled the travel opportunities.  Fortunately, I had a friendly relationship with Mrs. Choi, director of overseas adoption for Holt Korea, and proposed the idea of becoming a volunteer escort to which she agreed. This was the beginning of my monthly trips to Korea from September through May of each year, escorting babies/toddlers to their new families in the United States and Europe. I escorted monthly from 1984 to 1990, and my final escort trip was bringing my son home in January 1991.

Kim with her son.
Kim with her son when he was a baby.

From 1984 to 1986, I was a Holt camp counselor in Oregon and New Jersey. I witnessed David Kim’s vision for camp as a positive place for kids to meet fellow adoptees and to learn about their heritage, culture and to have fun.

In November 2016, I became a member of Holt International’s board of directors, which I consider very special, very important and very meaningful at this stage of my life.  My life has truly come full circle in so many ways.

What excites you about the prospect of this new role?

I think this role is hugely important to the health and happiness of the adult adoptee community. My first thought is this person will create a platform to bring together adoptees of all ages. More specifically, I think there’s an opportunity to connect with adoptees over the age of 50 — those who are first-wave adoptees, like myself, who may sometimes feel less connected to the broader community of adoptees. This is an opportunity for Holt International to continue to walk the talk of supporting adoptees for their entire lives and I’m really looking forward to it.

Kim picking up her sister at the Portland train station. Harry Holt helped bring her sister home from Korea in the 1950s.
Kim picking up her sister at the Portland train station. Harry Holt helped bring her sister home from Korea in the 1950s.

How would you like to see the adult adoptee community grow and transform in the coming years?

The number of adult adoptees over the age of 50 will increase as the years pass. I think as long as there are social events to keep people connected, that’ll be a great first step. In my ideal world, I’d love to see a large cohort of older adult adoptees, who may just be getting involved with the adoptee community, go on a group trip to Korea (or to their respective place of adoption). I think this would foster a sense of belonging for older adult adoptees. Other than that, I hope it will send a message of inclusion and build community with the input of other adult adoptee participants.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

The last thing I’d say is this role boils down to one word: inclusion. People want to know that Holt is here and they are not forgotten — that their voice matters. I think this role will help bridge that gap and help bring together this truly important and ever-growing community of adult adoptees.

For a complete job description of the director of adult adoptee community engagement role, and to apply, visit holtinternational.org/employment.

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