Cara Kim Mooney, 23, is a Korean-American adoptee who grew up in upstate New York. She was adopted from Korea at the age of six months, and returned to her country of birth two years ago as an English Teaching Assistant on the Fulbright Program. Mooney wanted to come back to Korea to get in touch with her roots, after a childhood filled with memories of international travel and family support. As an adult, she’s grown to love Korea, and accept it too.
Julianna Gonska, 24, returned to South Korea a few months ago to take part in a Korean government scholarship program for foreign students. For Gonska, a Korean-American adoptee who hasn’t lived in Korea since she was five months old, the tuition-free program represented a great opportunity to get in touch with her Korean heritage and engage in intensive language study. But as you’ll hear, Gonska faced problems proving her U.S. citizenship to Korean officials even before she got on the plane. Her struggle has highlighted a loophole that Korean-born adoptees can face upon their return, even people whose U.S. citizenship was conferred automatically by law.
Korean-American Jonathan DeBlois, 34, opens up about his life after returning to South Korea to live for the past 12 years. Through that experience, DeBlois has gleaned a lot of insight about Korean work culture and society in general, and about his identity as an adopted Korean. Living between two worlds, DeBlois ultimately finds where he fits in, and it isn’t a place.
Jonathan Park Oyen, 52, is a retired U.S. Army soldier who now works for the federal government in Seoul, South Korea in a civilian position similar to the one he held while in the military. He reminisces about first returning to Korea after his adoption as a 20-year old while enlisted in the service, of meeting his wife, Young Jin, and of raising a family of his own. Oyen, who once was known as Park Jong Sung, was found by his Korean mother, ironically, while stationed in Korea, though she had emigrated to the U.S. Oyen talks about being a parent himself and of navigating the complex relationships with his own parents as an adopted person over time.
(All photos courtesy of Jonathan Park Oyen. In one photo, Oyen is shown with his biological mother, Soon Hee, and a babysitter, on the day of he left Korea to be adopted by the Oyen family of Crystal, Minnesota. In a second photo, Oyen is shown with his adoptive family on the day he arrived in the U.S.)
Korean adoptee activist Kim Stoker, 44, sits down to talk with us about moving back to Korea and staying for nearly two decades. She’ll also share her thoughts on identity and of how she has forged one for herself here in Korea that resists the pressure of assimilation and acknowledges the many complex experiences that make up an adopted person’s life. Stoker was also one of the early members of ASK, or Adoptee Solidarity Korea, one of the first Korea-based advocacy groups by and for adoptees.
Multiracial Korean adoptee Kim Craig, 49, talks to us about her adoption experience, including being rehomed and child abuse. Despite being adopted at the age of five to the United States, she was never given citizenship. As a legal permanent resident, she was able to go about her life like most Americans, with a few exceptions. Three years ago, her life drastically changed when she lost her that identification card while on a return visit to Korea for the first time since her adoption. She talks about having to survive in a country where she doesn’t speak the language or fit in anymore. Her story is an example of the insecurities and struggles many adoptees without citizenship face, and how easily their lives can drastically change.
Ed. note: (Jan. 9, 2017) – According to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Kim Craig was issued a visa to travel to back to the U.S. in mid-December. An embassy spokesperson said Craig indicated her return was imminent.
Mark Wilson, 31, is a Korean-American adoptee who has lived in Korea for the past six years. Wilson grew up as a typical suburban kid but struggled with feelings of fitting in and dealing with racism on his own in his almost all white town. At college, he befriended some Korean foreign exchange students and started to feel accepted as an ethnic Korean by his new friends. He also spent time as a youth counselor at a camp run by an adoption agency. Those experiences convinced him to return to and discover Korean for himself. Wilson shares some humorous and touching stories about his life here.