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group of attendees on korean adoptee heritage tour with holt

Korean Adoptee Shares Her Holt Heritage Tour Experience

In an excerpt from Korean adoptee Ann Baron’s self-published autobiography, Seoul Girl, she describes how it felt to connect with her cultural heritage and learn more about her background.

I was considering adopting a child from South Korea therefore, I wanted to learn more about the culture. I was almost 40 years old. This was my first trip back to Korea after leaving there at age four. Holt Adoption Agency offered a “Motherland Tour” for any adoptees who were born in Korea and later adopted. Our trip started at the Seattle airport where there were around 40 of us. They took a group photo of us in our American dress. Later, they would take a photo of us in Korean dress. This was the beginning of learning more about myself and the cultural heritage which are my roots.

korean adoptee before she got on the plane to come to the US
Ann in Korea, before she flew to America to meet her adoptive family.

The jet we boarded was huge and had two stories. It was a long plane ride to Korea but comfortable. All of the airline stewardesses looked like clones of each other. Same height, body type and facial features. And of course, they all looked like models. Kind of weird but maybe that was how it was with Koreans. A standardized idea of beauty.

We traveled all over South Korea and saw old palaces, gardens and the country. We visited the regular tourist spots. Our first leg of the trip was staying at the older but clean orphanage in Seoul. When we arrived we could smell rice cooking and the distinct smell of Kim chi. During our stay at the orphanage we had 40 people sharing two showers. I was up by 4 am every morning so I could take a shower before the others woke up. We ate Korean food every day and had Kim Chi morning, noon and night. We started smelling like Kim chi. Good thing that I loved Kim chi. We slept on the floor on mats in true Korean culture. Some of the others complained but I didn’t care. Before the trip, I thought I would not enjoy staying at the orphanage but it was a blast. All of us girls slept together in one room and it was a week-long slumber party. We stayed up late and talked about life and dreams.

korean adoptee becoming naturalized in the US
Ann becoming a citizen of the U.S. at ten years old.

The highlight of that trip was going to the unwed mother’s home. This was heart rending knowing the moms would have to give up their babies. Visiting the home gave us insight into our own adoption. The mothers stayed here until their babies were born and then gave their baby up for adoption. Many of the mothers knew the sex of their baby without taking tests. A mom’s instinct is strong. A mother shared with us how happy she was to meet us and to see that we have good lives. Brought a lump to our throats and brought tears to my eyes. Even though they knew they would likely never see their child again they were appreciative to know the babies went to loving families.

Another special part of the trip was visiting the orphanages. Kids who have disabilities usually do not get adopted. While it was sad they would never have their own family the kids were lovingly treated at the orphanage. The kids were in classes for music, writing, math and art. Many of these kids were artistic. It made my heart feel good knowing they always had a place to live.

At one point, our tour guide, David Kim, said to me that during the time I was in the orphanage that many of the babies died. It stabbed my heart to think of the many fragile babies who never made it. Also, I felt very grateful that I survived. I have always been a survivor and a fighter. Realizing that God had a plan and a purpose for my life.

A gorgeous part of our trip was going to Cheju Island or the Hawaii of Korea. We flew there from the mainland and saw pristine, white sandy beaches. Modern, luxury hotels reached to the sky against a brilliant, blue sky. Such a relaxing and lovely place.

We visited the world’s largest Christian church which had one million members. This place was like a huge football field it was so big. The sermon was interpreted in several different languages. They even introduced our group over the loudspeaker which made us feel special.

Korean adoptee wearing hanbok
Ann wearing the custom-made hanbok she received on the heritage tour.

A memorable part of our trip was the custom made Hanbok or Korean dress. We chose the colors and I chose pink and lavender. The tailor measured us so the Hanbok fit perfectly. There was a group photo taken and we looked so different from the first group photo when we were wearing our American clothing.

One night we stayed with a Host family. They fed us delicious, aromatic food until we could not squeeze in one more bite. The next morning as we were ready to leave the host mom had big tears streaming down her face. I was so touched.

This was the first time I had been around so many Korean adoptees at the same time. Many adoptees had loving families and a good life. Unfortunately, some were raised in abusive families or had very low self-esteem. I realized that I had been raised in a loving home.

LESSONS LEARNED: Learning about your cultural heritage gives you more insight into the culture you came from and what influences you as a person. Be proud of your heritage. Even though I was raised by German American parents, I gravitated towards all things Asian. I loved Asian food and design.

Ann Baron | Adoptee

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