KoRoot and the Politics of International Adoption in Korea

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KoRoot—a guest house for Korean adoptees visiting Seoul.

While I have known about KoRoot for a while, it wasn’t until my recent trip to Korea that I actually stepped foot into the hostel. For those unfamiliar with KoRoot, it’s a guest house created especially for Korean adoptees and their families when they visit Seoul, often for the first time and sometimes in an effort to trace biological family members in the country. Priced economically, KoRoot offers room, board, meals, cultural events and social activities for its guests and the Seoul adoptee community. It also is engaged in local outreach activities aimed at educating Korean society about international adoption and some of the social forces driving it, topics that are still very sensitive in this country fixated on family bloodlines and social perceptions.

While in Seoul, I visited KoRoot not as an overnight guest, but as a day visitor, mainly so I could take my DNA test, which is one of the services offered to adoptees by KoRoot. My visit also served the purpose of satisfying my curiosity about this hostel which has become a household institution for adoptees visiting and living in Korea.

Common lounge area.
Dining area.

 

Guest rooms.

The story of Koroot’s origins is very well documented, and its mission clearly articulated on its website:

Support the returning and settlement process of overseas adoptees into Korean society. Contribute to the promotion of adoptees’ human rights. Through active exchange between adoptees and Koreans, try to help adoptees’ identity-building and raise social awareness of overseas adoption issues in Korean society.

I was especially touched by the fact that the KoRoot guest house was once the private home of one of the organization’s chair members, Kim Gil-ja. And a beautiful home it was (and is) with enough space to host as many as 18 overnight guests in addition to office space for staff and volunteers—right in the middle Seoul!

The driving force behind KoRoot’s operations today is a man named Pastor Kim Do-hyun. While I have not met Pastor Kim, he is almost like a legend to me. My friend talks about him often and the woman I spoke to at KoRoot, an adoptee name Simone Eun Mi Huits, originally from the Netherlands, spoke of him with much respect as well. (Simone Eun Mi has an interesting story too, which you can read about here, in addition to the background story of Pastor Kim’s involvement in starting KoRoot.)

While it is absolutely wonderful to discover that a place like KoRoot exists, I suppose it is difficult to expect that such an outfit could truly separate itself from the politics of international adoption. Ms. Huits has gone on record to express her thoughts on adoption, calling it “legal child trafficking” and comparing it to a financial transaction for purchased goods. (Two descriptions I strongly disagree with. While I will admit there have been instances where adoptions have not been lawfully executed, I do not believe such occurrences represent the real spirit or general reality of international adoptions coming from South Korea.)

Even Pastor Kim has publicly stated that adoption should be discouraged because of the psychological damage it does to adoptees. Being familiar with the history behind his introduction to the struggles adoptees face (he was doing pastoral work in Switzerland in  1993 when he attended the funeral of a Korean adoptee who committed suicide), I can understand why he’d take such a strong viewpoint, but his stance ignores the other half the issue, that being the kind of life a parentless child would live in Korea being permanently raised in an orphanage or the country’s foster care system. With international adoption, at least that child has a fighting chance of being happy.

KoRoot is by no means the most political of adoptee organizations in and outside Korea, (I wrote an article about adoptee activism which you can read here) but it does have a distinct, negative philosophy about Korea’s historical and present experience with international adoption. However, politics aside, KoRoot offers something unique to Korean adoptees, and I’ll be among the first to say that we really do deserve a little help from our birth country in helping us reconnect with our birthland—KoRoot certainly fills that much needed role, serving as a bridge for many us.

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