Before traveling on Holt’s heritage tour of Korea, adoptee Natalie Anderson initiated a search for her birth family. Five months later, she reunites with a family who has long awaited meeting her.

This story is about a meeting that I never planned, but one that my birth family had been waiting for a long time. Some assume that meeting your birth family is about getting closure. For me, it was an opening not only to my past, but also to a different and happier future.

In the summer of 1988, I took my first transcontinental flight to meet the family that would lovingly name me “Natalie.” Growing up, my parents were very open about my adoption and told me everything that they knew. I didn’t feel an overwhelming need to know my birth family or the circumstances of my adoption. The reason for this, I have found to be two-fold. First, I was completely satisfied, thankful and blessed to live in the family I was placed with. The second reason I didn’t discover until my twenties, when I realized I was avoiding potential pain that could come along with asking questions about my birth family.

Natalie with her birth family in Seoul, Korea. From left: Natalie’s birth father, birth sister, birth mom with her son, and Natalie.
Natalie with her birth family in Seoul, Korea. From left: Natalie’s birth father, birth sister, birth mom with her son, and Natalie.

In high school, my mom began asking me if I wanted to go on a Holt heritage tour of Korea. I kept coming up with excuses of why we should wait until the next year. But after finishing graduate school, I had no more excuses. I was at a point in my life where I no longer wanted to avoid, and felt ready to find out more about where I came from. So we planned to go on Holt’s 2012 heritage tour. Little did I know that making this decision — especially at that particular time — would forever change my life.

While filling out the birth family search paperwork, I can distinctly remember thinking that nothing would come of placing my name on the adoptee registry. Then, six weeks prior to the tour, I received an email. Holt Korea had been in contact with my birth mother and father, and I had a sister who lived in the States. They all wanted to meet me. Wait… What?! My husband had to brace me as I cried tears full of alien emotions. Questions that had never come up reeled through my head, especially about my sister. Was she a full sister? Was she older or younger? Was she adopted too and that’s why she lived in the States? I had an intuition that she was a full sister, and I was so anxious to meet her. All I could do during the wait was try to process how I felt and pray that the meeting would go well, bringing everyone peace and joy.

Natalie and her family at her brother’s wedding last December
Natalie and her family at her brother’s wedding last December.

The day before the meeting, I visited the Holt Korea office to look at my file. They gave me a folder with letters from my birth mother, father and sister, each with pictures of their families. Overwhelmed with emotion, I took them to my room and carefully read through each letter and looked at the pictures. I saw my sister for the first time and noticed that we looked so much alike. She was an older full sister, just like I had thought. We had spent the first two years of my life together. My sister had spent her childhood with our birth father, and high school and college years in Japan with our birth mother. For the first time, I saw someone who looked just like me. Also, I saw resemblances in my birth parents and half-siblings. It was so emotional and miraculous that I would actually meet these people.

The next morning, I was so nervous that I was pacing the hotel before it was time to go to the meeting place. When I arrived, they were all waiting in one room. I walked in by myself. Immediately, they all gathered around me, crying and hugging me. It felt weirdly like a reunion — like we had all been together at one time and now, 24 years later, we were together again. After the initial and very emotional introduction, we sat down and my sister, who speaks English, translated for us. So many things to say and ask. My parents then came in and met everyone, and my birth mother and father could not stop thanking them for taking care of me and loving me. The next day, I got to meet my three half-brothers and we all spent time getting to know each other.

It turned out that my sister and her family lived in San Francisco, only six hours away from us in Los Angeles! After making plans to go visit her and meet her children and her husband, I discovered that my birth mother already had plans to visit them in the U.S. for a month. This gave me more time to get to know my sister and birth mother, and to ask a lot of questions that I still had.

Natalie with her birth sister in San Francisco
Natalie with her birth sister in San Francisco.

It was wonderful to meet my birth family and learn about the circumstances of my adoption, but this also opened a lot of other feelings that I am still processing. No matter what, I know that God’s hand was in all of this. There were too many ways that the trip and timing worked out perfectly. It was my sister who re-established my family’s contact information in the Korean adoption registry. Just two months before I decided to go on the trip and search for them, my sister also wrote a letter to me — a letter I could only read if I decided to open my file in Korea. She was in the U.S. and had recently moved to California just a few years after I had moved there. Now, I see “Unni” — Korean for “older sister” — about once every couple months. It feels like we have always been sisters. She calls me “JiEun,” my Korean name, because that is what she has always known me as and it feels right. I also keep in contact with my birth mother and father through video chat.

I was concerned about my parents and brother and how they felt about me meeting my birth family. However, I am now more confident than ever that the people that love you and raise you are indeed your true family. I expressed this to them when I came home, and I feel like this experience has brought us closer together. I am so thankful to Holt International and Holt Korea for helping to make this meeting possible. Every adoptee has a unique story and I am so blessed to have been a part of the amazing story that Harry and Bertha Holt began over 60 years ago.

Natalie Anderson | Rogers, Arkansas

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