Things No One Ever Told Me About Growing Up Korean and Adopted in America

Mountain

My parents likely didn’t know what they were doing, raising me as an adopted Korean kid in the 1980s-90s. There were no internet groups for adoptive parents, few written books or resources on the topic and limited access to social workers specializing in this area. In many ways, this was uncharted territory for them. But one thing I can say is that they did try their best. They tried to socialize me with other adopted kids from Korea (although at the end of the day, we kind of forgot that that was the one big thing we had in common), presented me with the option to attend Korean culture camps (I ended up volunteering as a counselor at one of them, and that’s as far as I was comfortable going), letting me take tae kwan do one summer, cooking white sticky rice for dinner from time-to-time and buying me a subscription to A. Magazine as a teenager (which I think now goes by the name of Hyphen Magazine). Looking back on it all, one can’t help but admire them for trying (and sometimes succeeding) in raising me to have an appreciation for my identity as an adopted Korean American.

But there were of course some things they would never have been able to predict or talk about, and without consistent role models for me to interact with, I had to figure some things out on my own. Here are a few things no one ever told me about growing up Korean and adopted in America: Continue reading “Things No One Ever Told Me About Growing Up Korean and Adopted in America”

Spring 2017

I’m resurrecting this blog.

Embarrassingly, two years after I started this, a lot has happened. Not all of it ideal. And those less-than-ideal moments became obstacles in my creative life. The “journey” was temporarily suspended as I worked to figure out some hard core “adulting” issues. (Work-life balance, financial planning, housing and work stability, relationship lessons, and planning for the future…)

But things are good now. In fact, personally, life has taken a drastic turn in the right direction, and I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon for the most part. And for that, I am so, so grateful.

Also, since I last updated this blog years ago, something big has happened in my life. I now have in my possession a two-way ticket to South Korea—my birth country. Continue reading “Spring 2017”

How China and Adoption Changed One Family’s Life — and Business

The following is reprinted on this blog with permission by AsiaTrend Magazine. It originally appeared in AsiaTrend Magazine’s October 2015 issue which can now be accessed online by following this link.

When Ricia and Dan King adopted their daughter Olivia from China, they did not expect the process to open up so many opportunities for them, both personally and professionally.
When Ricia and Dan King adopted their daughter Olivia from China, they did not expect the process to open up so many opportunities for them, both personally and professionally.

When people think of adoption, they sometimes think of doors that have been closed. For adoptees, these closed doors can be abandonment, a disablility or health issue, birth family poverty and unknown pasts. There are sometimes closed doors for adoptive parents as well such as the desire to build a family, but the inability (or sometimes choice) not to do so in the conventional way.

For the King family, there certainly were closed doors along their adoption journey, but it are the doors that opened up to them throughout the process that changed their lives. When Dan and Ricia King of Spotsylvania, Va. adopted their daughter Olivia from China, little did they know that the adoption would bring to them more than just a new family member. Since Olivia’s adoption, the Kings have been introduced to a whole new world that has enriched their personal and professional lives as adoptive parents and small business owners.

Dan King is a retired Marine officer who served in the military for 22 years. During his time with the Corps, he used to play the trumpet for the Marines’ band field. His love and talent for music eventually led him to Red Wing, Minn. where he obtained his degree in band instrument repair through the Minnesota State College Southeast Technical’s Musical Instrument Repair and Construction program (also simply known as “Red Wing” in the music repair world). So it should come as no surprise that Dan’s passion for music extended beyond his military years, resulting in the family’s current business, KBI Music Shoppe.

“In 2009 we moved to Spotsylvania, Va.,” Ricia told me. “Dan missed repairing instruments so we sent out emails to the local band directors introducing ourselves and inquiring about repairing their instruments.” The Kings started their business by repairing instruments for two local schools and through word of mouth, the demand for their services grew. “After a couple of years we started renting out instruments as well,” Ricia said.

This is where little Olivia, now six years old, comes into place.

Dan and Ricia adopted Olivia from China at the young age of one year and six months. Working through Bethany Christian Services, the couple began the adoption process which eventually required them to travel to China to meet their new daughter for the first time.

Olivia meets her adoptive parents and brother for the first time in China.
Olivia meets her adoptive parents and brother for the first time in China.

“We wanted to have a child, but it was just not meant to happen the way we thought,” said Ricia. “But our path led us to Olivia in China. We knew other families who had adopted, and it felt like the right choice. And China was the country for us.” Ricia said she had always wanted a little girl so the couple asked if there was a girl with minor correctable needs who they could adopt. “Once we had made the decision, everything fell into place. It was meant to be,” she told me.

As is common with most children adopted at a young age, the Kings don’t know much about Olivia’s past or her biological family. They know she was born with a cleft lip/cleft palate and was left at the orphanage as an infant. While it is impossible to know for sure without official documentation, many parents who have adopted children with special needs have been told that such abandonments in China are usually the result of the birth family not having the resources to properly care for the child’s medical situation. Likewise, such conditions are often the result of poor nutrition during the mother’s pregnancy, a sign suggesting that the child’s birth mother could have been living in poverty.

Ricia said Olivia has had surgeries in China to address her physical needs, and that the family is currently preparing her for a palate expander and head gear in November, which will be followed by bone graft surgery next fall.

Despite these challenges, Olivia is thriving. “I can’t imagine life without our Olivia,” Ricia said. “She is smart, funny and beautiful.”

Anyone who is a parent (or aunt, uncle, godparent or any other adult with a close relationship to children) will tell you that a child’s presence can entirely change one’s life. While being a parent takes away much from adults (time, money, sleep and energy), the joys that children often bring far outnumber anything they subtract. For the King family, this couldn’t be more true — and Olivia’s adoption opened so many doors to them that didn’t exist before, including new friendships in China, travel opportunities and a unique benefit for their business.

Every year Dan and Ricia attend the “Music China” trade show in Shanghai where they secure instruments for their northern Virginia business, KBI Music Shoppe. The experience, which came to them after adopting their daughter Olivia from China, has resulted in a growing livelihood and new friendships, including one with their interpreter Yu (center).
Every year Dan and Ricia attend the “Music China” trade show in Shanghai where they secure instruments for their northern Virginia business, KBI Music Shoppe. The experience, which came to them after adopting their daughter Olivia from China, has resulted in a growing livelihood and new friendships, including one with their interpreter Yu (center).

As you recall, KBI Music Shoppe started as a repair business and expanded to a band instrument rental service as well. The Kings started renting out about 40 instruments they purchased from a company that imported from China, and while this option worked for a while, Ricia told me she and Dan decided they could find better quality products by securing them themselves.

“When we had traveled to China to adopt Olivia, Dan had heard of the Shanghai trade show ‘Music China.’ A year after our adoption trip, he asked if I thought he should go,” said Ricia. Thinking it would be worth checking out, Ricia bought his ticket, booked his hotel and sent him on his way to Shanghai. The trip was a success. The goal was to find quality instruments that the business could offer for a good price, and that is exactly what Dan discovered. “If we had not traveled to China the year before to adopt Olivia, we would have never considered going to the trade show,” Ricia said.

The Kings have created their own rent-to-own program with the hope that it would give more kids the opportunity to participate in school bands. By cutting out the middle company and traveling to China on their own, they have been able to personally select instruments that meet their quality standards and purchase them independently, allowing them to use their own brand name, FIDELIS Musical Instruments. This has completely transformed their business for the better. “We now travel every year to Shanghai, and this year we will also travel to the factories where our instruments are made. We are now in our fifth year of importing,” Ricia said.

In many ways, they have Olivia to thank for that.

olivia ortho appt

One day, Ricia tells me, Olivia will accompany them on a trip to China if it is something she wishes to do. “She knows that she is adopted and will tell people she is from China. She definitely feels a connection with the country, and since she sees us traveling there every year it keeps the conversation going. When she is older, if she wants to, we will take her back to China to visit her orphanage. We visited the orphanage while we were in China during the adoption process, and it is open to families coming back for a visit,” she said. “Adopting was one of the best choices we have ever made. I encourage other families to consider adoption. Whether it is domestic or international, there are many children who need loving homes.”

Meanwhile, Olivia is starting to show an interest in music and has been taking piano lessons, although she is also interested in the flute and violin. And according to her mother, Olivia says she also wants to play the trumpet — just like her dad. If Olivia’s interest in music continues, the King family business may very well remain a family business with Olivia one day taking the reins. Because at the end of the day, it’s not genetics that make a family a family — and any adoptive family, including the Kings, will happily confirm that.

A Glimpse Inside the World of Adoptee Activism in Korea

The following is reprinted on this blog with permission by AsiaTrend Magazine. It originally appeared in AsiaTrend Magazine’s September 2015 issue which can now be accessed online by following this link.

The first 13 Korean adoptees receiving dual citizenship in Korea pose for a photo at a special ceremony held for them in April 2011. Dual citizenship in Korea for adoptees was made possible through lobbying efforts led by adoptee activists. (Photo courtesy of G.O.A.’L.)
The first 13 Korean adoptees receiving dual citizenship in Korea pose for a photo at a special ceremony held for them in April 2011. Dual citizenship in Korea for adoptees was made possible through lobbying efforts led by adoptee activists. (Photo courtesy of G.O.A.’L.)

One day while browsing through the English language section of a bookstore in Seoul, a young Korean woman randomly engaged me in casual conversation. Seconds into our discussion, it became clear to me that she had been raised overseas. When I asked her what brought her to Korea, she told me she had returned to search for her birth family. She had been adopted at a young age by a Dutch family and as an adult, decided to come back to her birth country in search of her roots.

The search, however, was going horribly. She had tried everything she could to find her birth mother, including going on national television with the few facts she knew about her origins in the hope that someone would step forward and claim her as a biological family member. What she didn’t know prior to beginning her search was just how difficult the current laws were in Korea in terms of helping returned adoptees like herself search for blood family relatives.

Continue reading “A Glimpse Inside the World of Adoptee Activism in Korea”

Iowa, China and Ethiopia: How One Couple Built Their Family through Birth, Adoption and Love

The following is reprinted on this blog with permission by AsiaTrend Magazine. It originally appeared in AsiaTrend Magazine’s August 2015 issue which can now be accessed online by following this link.

Iowa, China and Ethiopia: How One Couple Built Their Family through Birth, Adoption and Love

By Jodi Katherine Kiely

When I first set out to interview Jane and Dave Jensen of Decorah, Iowa, I envisioned walking away from our interview with a story about how the international adoption process has changed over the years for adoptive parents like the Jensens. I thought I would hear how adoptive parents now travel to the birth country of their child to meet him or her prior to bringing them home to the United States. (This is in comparison to earlier days when adoptive parents would hold their child for the first time at a U.S. airport after waiting hours for their new son or daughter’s international flight to hit U.S. soil.) Or a how the actual adoption process is now carried out in U.S. and local government offices in the child’s birth country, an approach much different from earlier times when such formalities were conducted in a U.S. courtroom. Continue reading “Iowa, China and Ethiopia: How One Couple Built Their Family through Birth, Adoption and Love”