Adult Adoptees Kick Off the International Forum at the National Press Club

From left to right: Holt adoptees Dominic Pangborn from Korea; Kim Hanson from Korea; Glenn Morey from Korea; moderator of panel, Michelle Li from Korea. At the microphone: Tara Lihn Leaman from Vietnam; Adam Conner from Korea; Amber Stime from Ethiopia; Nu Wexler from Vietnam, and Holt President and Ceo Kim Brown from Korea.
A press conference at the National Press Club kicked off the International Forum in Washington D.C. this afternoon.


“We are celebrating 55 years of children and adoptive parents coming together into real families across the globe,” said Adoptees for Children member and Holt adoptee, Glenn Morey. “But the real focus of this weekend is how to move forward with 55 years of real-life perspective from those of us who are adoptees.”

Susan Soonkeum Cox, Holt vice president of policy and external affairs, and Kim Brown, Holt president and CEO, were also in attendance.

“One of the concerns that I have about the way international adoption and adoptees are presented is that adoptees never seem to grow up,” says Susan. “We are always frozen in time and always referred to as the ‘little children’ and babies….but adoption is a lifelong experience.”

To illustrate this concept, nine adoptees from various countries and backgrounds stood before members of the press, adoptive families and fellow adoptees and shared their adoption stories, experiences and personal perspectives.

“I think it’s great to be here and share our stories. I think for many people adoption is talked about in the context of being a choice. It’s the choice of birth parents to give up children and it’s a choice of adoptive parents to adopt,” explained Holt adoptee Adam Conner, “but for the children, it’s just something you inherit. It’s a reality that you are born with, just like anything else that your are born with. I think this is difficult for individuals to understand.   [Adoption] for the child is not a choice…it’s a wonderful gift.”

To watch a video of the National Press Club conference and hear more adoptee perspective, click here




Intercountry Adoption — Moving Forward From a 55-Year Perspective

The international forum kicks off this Thursday, April 14th, in Washington D.C.!

As we speak, participants from around the world are gathering in our nation’s capitol to celebrate 55 years of intercountry adoption.  Sponsored by Holt International and Adoptees for Children, the conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill, April 14-16, 2011.

Saturday’s presenters will be adoption professionals who are also adult adoptees. “This will be the first significant conference to highlight the unique personal perspective of adoption professionals who also happen to be adult adoptees.  Too often the influence and voices of those who have lived the experience are not represented,” says Susan Soonkeum Cox, vice president of policy and external affairs at Holt International.

The forum will conclude with a gala dinner and program Saturday evening, where the Honorable Marjorie Margolies will serve as host and renowned comedian Alison Larkin, author of The English American, will provide entertainment.

It’s not too late to register online! If you’ll be in the D.C. area this coming weekend, please join us for this historic event. Adoptees, adoptive families, child welfare professionals and government officials from around the world will be participating in this unprecedented gathering. Join all the festivities, Saturday‘s panels, or the gala dinner only.

Follow Holt adoptee and news anchor Michelle Li as she live blogs from the forum!

My First Post! And… already, a Name Change

Holt adoptee Michelle Li introduces herself and shares about her relationship with Holt International.  Michelle will be sharing her experiences on the blog frequently, so check back to read her latest entry!  “I hope I can make some of my adoption stories relevant for your family,” she says.

by Michelle Li


Michelle with her parents Charles and Sharon and husband, Jim. Hawaii, 2008.

I am so thrilled to be writing for Holt’s blog. It’s funny because I write for a living, but when I was given the opportunity to write for Holt, I called up my family as if I had won a major journalism award. It’s that exciting, people!

I like to think of Holt as the “mothership.” Over the last three decades, a number of people from Holt made a tremendous impact on my life. I’m sure many of them don’t even know it. And, truthfully, I couldn’t remember all of their names anyway. But, what I do know is that without Holt, I would not be where I am today. And, as an adoptee, I’m sure many of you can relate.

Some dedicated Holt blog readers may know me as Michelle Sherwood. It’s MY name—a name I used my entire life and as recently as the main anchor at a television station in Southwest Missouri. I’ve connected with a lot of adoptive families on the blogosphere throughout the years. The best was when I went to Seoul in 2009 and shot video of a baby staying at a Holt orphanage. The minute I posted it to my blog, it hit a Holt forum, and next thing you know, his mother in the U.S. introduced herself online and asked for more pics!


These days, I go by the name Michelle Li. And, I’m still a news anchor, but now I’m working in North Carolina. The name Li is actually my biological mother’s maiden name, and I’m still not entirely comfortable with the switch. I’ll save that story for another day, but the short version is that it was a necessary evil to survive in a cutthroat industry. And, the truth is, I know other adoptees who’ve taken the same action for the same reason.

I hope I can make some of my adoption stories relevant for your family. I won’t lay it all out on the table now, but I have had an interesting experience with my birth family, and the relationship is constantly evolving.

Not only have I met my birth family, I’ve also built a real relationship with them over the last 13 years or so. My Korean family is intact. I didn’t grow up with siblings, but I am very connected to my three Korean sisters. I also have a biological aunt in California and have visited her twice in two years. And ironically, I learned about this “imo” around the same time my (adoptive) favorite aunt passed away.

And just when I thought the language and cultural barrier had taken its toll, my second oldest sister, Hyun Jeong, announced she was going to marry an American from Wisconsin. That is what I call a game-changer.

It changed everything about how I saw anything related to my Korean family, and I’ll be glad to share it with you soon enough. It involves my husband and I traveling to Korea, having a traditional Korean wedding, and talking about living with my sister when and if she moves to the states. Yeah, you could say a lot has changed.

Next week, Michelle will be blogging from the International Forum in Washington D.C.! This meaningful forum seeks to build on 55 years of international adoption experience, moving forward to strengthen the collective intercountry adoption community.

Watch for Michelle’s blogs next week!

Read more about Michelle, here

Surviving, Learning, Laughing

by Jane Ballback

Of the three of my adopted children, Stacee has always been the most curious and connected to her Asian roots. She began a very creative exploration process of what it meant to be Asian when she entered junior high. If you know anything about adolescent development, this is not at all surprising. Every adolescent begins to ask herself, who am I and where do I fit? This was much easier for Stacee to do in junior high, because her elementary school had very few Asian children. We are fortunate to live in Southern California where there is every ethnicity possible and every mixture as well. We however, live on an island that is primarily populated by Caucasians. Fortunately the junior high and high school my children attended drew from a larger pool of young people.

As I was picking Stacee up from school about a month after she started junior high, I saw her standing with a group of six girlfriends. What was so interesting about this picture was that every girl was Asian. When I pointed that out to Stacee, she actually had not been conscious of the fact. None of the girls was Korean but they all were different nationalities of Asians. This began an interesting journey for my daughter that I could not have created for her had I tried!

As she grew to know the girls, she began to form strong friendships — many of which still exist today. Because there were so few children on the island where we live, Stacee began to spend a great deal of time with these new friends and their families. She became so close to a few of them, that she took trips with the families.

When she spent time with her new Asian friends and families, she would come home and tell me how they would do things differently than our family did. I was always fine with that, and listened intently while she would tell me her stories. She was always amazed at how the entire family went everywhere together, particularly over the weekends. It’s not that our family didn’t do a great deal together, but we did not do every activity together for days on end. Since many of these new friends were recent immigrants, what Stacee was also experiencing was life with immigrants who had not been acculturated into the “American” way of life. I thought these experiences were very valuable as well. She did not ask me or my husband to do anything different than we were doing, with one exception. We bought a rice cooker and we had white rice in our kitchen cooking at all times. I found this fascinating and endearing.

I also found it very interesting that Stacee’s best high school girlfriend, Thuvy, and her first steady boyfriend, Kurt, were Vietnamese. Thuvy spent a great deal of time at our house, traveled with us many times, and even lived with us over a summer. This also gave Stacee what she had always wanted, a sister. Kurt also spent a great deal of time with us and I enjoyed him very much. They are still part of our lives, and when Thuvy read my blog she sent me a lovely e-mail saying, you are always my “second mama,” as well. Stacee remained very close to both Thuvy and Kurt throughout high school, but she also began to expand her friends to multiple ethnicities.

I’m so glad that Stacee found this very creative way to explore her culture and her roots. It is such a joy to have children — and now their friends — who have no issue with anyone’s color, creed, or ethnicity. In that way our world is becoming a better place.

Readers, Please tell me how your children have gone through their cultural exploration.

I’d love to hear from you.

Connect with Jane.  Go to to read more blogs from Jane.

Click here to read post-adoption blogs

Adoptees Today

A high school graduate shares her college entrance essay

Kindergarten students are cruel. Just down right vicious. However, in their defense, they most likely do not mean to be. They are just being brutally honest. I can personally attest to this. The memories of my own kindergarten days are still vivid — snack time, naptime, circle time and a kid named Bobby. We were gathering our belongings by the backpack cubbies. Bobby was shorter than me, with a lot of guts. As we were getting our backpacks, he looked up at me, pulling the corners of his eyes skinny to match my almond-shaped eyes. I felt weird; no one had ever made fun of me before. It was then that I realized I did not look like my peers. Yes, I did “know” I was different, but I did not know that my differences were “funny” to others. Bobby was just stating the obvious. He merely characterized the differences between my peers and I. Their eyes were not almond-shaped, their hair was not black, and their skin was not brown. I was an adopted member of society. And for this, I resented my heritage.

My biological Korean parents were engaged when I made a surprise appearance onto this earth. They gave me up for adoption right away, and I was adopted into a very southern, Caucasian family in Georgia at the age of four months. I have been raised only speaking the English language, yet treated differently because of my looks. I have never had any connection with Korea other than the ink on my birth certificate. I have sometimes wished I could fit in and be like all the other kids who matched their parents on annual Christmas cards. Why couldn’t I look on the outside the same way I felt on the inside?

Kindergarten kids not only ridicule physical attributes, but mental and social differences as well. My brother has autism and often appears socially inept. In school, he was “that kid” that everyone picked on. This enraged me. My brother has always had trouble making friends. Autism is a disorder that affects social interaction and communication skills. Other kids were harsh and unwilling to accept his differences. I despise the hardships my brother experienced. I still do not understand why people have to fit a social mold to be accepted.

The impact of being Asian in a Caucasian culture and having a brother with autism causes me to see life differently. I am keenly aware of students in my school who march to the beat of a different drummer. I have compassion for them and want to understand their view of life. In so doing, I not only learn about them, but I learn more about myself. By expanding my social circles, I expand my understanding of the world.

Because of my hardships and struggles respecting differences, I can confidently say that I have a passion for combating society’s ignorance. My life’s lessons have shown me that single-minded thinking and influence does not create a healthy world. I know what it means to be different and I know what it means to be misunderstood. I have learned to accept who I am instead of always looking to be something I am not. Because of this, I have learned to think differently and to view deeper into others instead of judging them based on surface appearances. Because of my life’s journey, I believe I am uniquely equipped to contribute to the diverse learning environment at the University of Texas.

Christine and brother, Sean.

We are currently accepting graduate submission forms for Holt adoptees who will graduate high school, college or vocational school in 2011.  Please click here to fill out a graduate submission form and send in a graduate photo.

Passing the Torch: When an Adult Adoptee Adopts

By Lawrence Gordon Vallandigham, Mountain View, California

“Are you okay with adopting?” asked Judy.

Startled, I thought, ‘how could I not be?’  I was adopted. But this wasn’t about me.  This was about our commitment to become a family. With that question, adoption was no longer an abstract idea but our unambiguous decision to transform lives.

Like many of our friends, we married later in life, established our careers, traveled and lived well. But we also discovered that conceiving a family wasn’t easy, nor was it fun trying to conceive through procedures. Ultimately, it mattered less to us how we became a family, so long as we did.

And so, on a warm Sunday evening in June 2008, we sat at the kitchen island, completed our application with excitement and trepidation, and embarked upon our adoption journey. In our hearts, a baby boy was waiting for us, even though he had not yet been conceived.

Family and friends could not have been more genuinely excited and supportive. My mother cried joyfully while my father reflected upon their decision decades earlier. Judy’s mother smiled such that we knew she had long reserved room in her heart only to be filled by her new grandson.

Time has stood still twice in my life – watching the sunlit silhouette of Judy approach the wedding altar, and on an otherwise unremarkable July 2009 afternoon when my iPhone pinged, alerting me to an incoming photo and call from my wife. Our son was waiting for us in Seoul.

The vibrant colors of fall signal metamorphosis, and so it was fitting that in November 2009 we expectantly flew to Seoul. Taking no chances for delay, we made a subway trial-run to the nondescript Holt building a day before our appointment. (Then we enjoyed the city sights and sounds). The next afternoon, when escorted into the nursery room to meet our son and his foster mother, the entirety of Judy’s body ached to hold him.

Upon returning to the hotel with Gordon, our list of things to do was pretty basic: bottle, diaper, sleep and repeat. Later, in the small quiet hours of daybreak, like every parent before us, we exchanged unspoken glances — “Now what?”

Gordon is our miracle and it is unfathomable to imagine life without him. From first steps to first words, reading and beyond, his nature is one of eager discovery and engagement. One morning, he proudly declared “birds eat dirt” after watching finches in the yard. On a recent vacation, he gleefully marveled at brightly colored fish swimming around his feet while he collected hermit crabs and clam shells along the white sand beach. Without doubt, he is all boy — playful, inquisitive and joyful — and we truly are his parents as he is our son.

Before returning from Seoul, we spent an illuminating day with Molly Holt, the woman who signed my adoption papers 40 years earlier. She surprised us by producing documents from my file and described candidly the challenging future awaiting orphans, then and now. Unquestionably, I have been granted the gifts of family, education, marriage, profession and social mobility. My parents’ love transformed not just one little boy’s life, but now two. Serendipity? Divine providence? Who could have foreseen the impact of Harry and Bertha Holt’s ministry?

As an adult Holt adoptee, I occasionally wonder how it informs my approach to fatherhood. Will my experiences be relevant to Gordon? Should I be more intuitive about identity issues? Of this I am certain: just as I was lovingly raised, Gordon will always know of his beginnings – not as a reason for solicitous gratitude, but to understand the richness of family and the blessings of life.

For Judy and me, our hope and charge is that Gordon will grow in body, mind and spirit. If we do this right, he will grow in the security of family love, he will chart his own course in life, and he will be prepared to serve others. Perhaps, one day, he too will be okay with adoption.


Learn More about Holt’s 55th Anniversary Celebration in Washington D.C.!

Help Repair the Ilsan Center for the Children! –Join Us at the Omaha Event on March 19th

This morning on Omaha Morning Blend, a local talk show, Celeste Snodgrass, Holt’s Midwest branch director, discussed Holt International’s upcoming gala and dinner auction. Adoptive parent Juliet Brown and her son, Gavin, joined Celeste during the interview.

“This event is going to help renovate the buildings at the Ilsan center in Korea,” said Celeste. “They have fallen into disrepair…the children need a safe place to live.”

The Omaha event will commemorate Holt International’s 55th anniversary of serving homeless children — a legacy of love that began at the Ilsan center. Since Holt’s beginning, many children with special needs at the Ilsan center have gone home to wonderful, permanent families.

Molly Holt, director of the Ilsan Center and daughter of Harry and Bertha Holt, will be the honored guest at this year’s auction in Omaha.

Click here to see a video of Celeste Snodgrass, Juliet Brown, and her son, Gavin, on Omaha Morning Blend….

Click here to RSVP to the Omaha event or contact Sandi Mehl at

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The Good Enough Child

Adoptive parent Jane Ballback discusses internationally adopted children’s need for perfectionism

As you read the title of this blog, you are probably thinking, what in the world is she going to talk about? Adoptive parents might be offended by this title, implying that somehow adoption was a “second-best” option. That is not what this blog is about, but it is a serious topic.

This title, “The Good Enough Child” is actually a book I read several years ago by Brad E. Sachs. It’s an outstanding book and I learned a great deal from it. The subtitle, How To Have An Imperfect Family and Be Perfectly Satisfied, says it all.

How did we get to the point in our culture and society where we needed to have a book like this? How did we get so obsessed with being perfect? There are a lot of answers to this question. Parents who are older, better educated and wealthier than ever before, are raising the bar on the whole issue of parenthood. Parents are generally more likely to have been taught that they have an enormous impact on their child’s future success. And while that’s true, as usual it’s how you go about it that is so important. Many parents feel like if their child does not go to the right school, play the right sport, or evidence some unusual talent or skill, then they will not have a successful life. When I first heard the term “competitive parenting”, I wanted to drop out of the race as fast as I could.

I am one of those parents who believe that I’ve had a huge impact on my children’s lives, but I did it in a way that kept us all sane and centered. The reason this is so important for adoptive parents is that most adoptive children feel an enormous need to be perfect without any encouragement from us. In Patty Cogen’s brilliant book, Raising Your Internationally Adopted Child, she writes, “Internationally adopted children feel more strongly and dramatically than other children the pressure to be good and do what is right because deep down they still fear that they did something wrong that resulted in their relinquishment.” Because young children believe that adults cannot make a mistake, this leads them to believe they did something wrong, or they would not have been relinquished.

I saw perfectionism in all three of my children, but this story is about Stacee. Her perfectionism showed up first as she was playing board games as a small child. In the game of Sorry, she would often get to the game first and shuffle the cards so she would have the best ones first. I waited for that behavior to extinguish itself, and it did.

Her need for perfectionism then showed up every time she did something she had never done before. Prior to kindergarten she told me, in a very serious voice, “Mom, I need to learn how to read before I get to school.” No amount of me telling her that wasn’t so did any good. Her answer to that was to take a series of books called Bernstein Bears, and read every one of them until she had them completely understood. Along the way she did teach herself how to read, so she met her goal. Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: The Good Enough Child”

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Is This Lady Crazy?…She’s Adopting Twins and She’s Nearly 40 Years Old

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children. Read more of Jane’s post adoption blogs by clicking here.

by Jane Ballback

My friends were too polite to say that to me, but I am often asked why I adopted twins? There are several good reasons for that. The idea first came from the social worker who knew I wanted more than one child. She probably got the idea because I am a twin myself. I was, and remain very grateful for this suggestion.

When I first began to think about adoption, I only thought about adopting one child. I figured I could handle that. As I was beginning the adoption process my own mother died. As usual my twin sister and I comforted each other a great deal as we went through the process of loss and grieving. That’s when I began to think about how incredibly alone this one adopted child would be — especially since our family was small, older, and mostly childless.

I never regretted the decision to adopt twins. The first night my husband and I brought the boys home we were greatly overwhelmed and not sure if we were up to the task. It was my “twin experience” that helped us through that first night.

By the time we got the boys home after picking them up at the Los Angeles International Airport, it was 10 p.m. and they were of course tired, bewildered, and anxious. They had been relinquished by their birth mother, spent time with their foster mothers, and then put on a plane with two new strangers for a very long flight. When we got them home, we did everything we knew how to do…we fed them, changed them and tried to rock them to sleep. Nothing was working, they cried and cried. My husband and I looked at each other at midnight and said, “Do you think we will ever sleep again?”   Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: Is This Lady Crazy?…She’s Adopting Twins and She’s Nearly 40 Years Old”

Auction Events in Eugene and Omaha to Celebrate Holt International’s 55th Anniversary

The upcoming Eugene and Omaha auction events will commemorate Holt International’s 55th anniversary of serving homeless children – a legacy of love that began at the Ilsan Center in Korea. Since Holt’s beginning, many children with special needs at Ilsan have gone home to wonderful, permanent families. This year, all proceeds from the auctions in Eugene and Omaha will be designated to update the Ilsan Center and provide ongoing, quality care for the children and other residents. Molly Holt, Ilsan director and daughter of Harry and Bertha Holt, will be the honored guest at this year’s Omaha auction on March 19th.

The Eugene auction and dinner on February 5th will feature the following auction items:

*Hawaiian Bed & Breakfast for a Week

*Use of an LTD Bus for Three Hours

*Schooner Landing Resort for a Week

*Sweet Cheeks Winery Party

*Chinese Calligraphy by David Kim

*Korean Dinner for Six

*Chinese Scroll presented to Grandma Holt on her 95th Birthday by the Chinese government

*Pick Your Paradise from Bali, Italy or South Africa

*Opportunity to attend the 2011 Masters Excursion

*Beautiful artwork and jewelry, Restaurants, ethnic items, wine, and so much more!

Click here for more information and to RSVP or contact Sandi Mehl at