Question from a reader: finding birth parents and scared about traveling alone
A reader writes me in search of her birth parents (question edited for length):
I hope you are doing well. I found your blog through a google search (hope you don't think that's weird!) but I've always wanted to visit South Korea. I was adopted from Seoul and currently searching for my birth parents [...] But at the very least, I want to return to my home land and explore South Korea.
I'm planning on visiting Korea for 2 weeks... I was an orphan [and] basically have no way of tracking my birth parents since my adoption papers don't have any records of them. I was left at a bus stop when I was a baby and an elderly gentleman found me and took me to an orphanage. But I did contact the adoption agency and they still have my adoption papers and they are going to contact the orphanage I was at ([redacted]) to see if they can get any info on my birth parents. Frankly, I don't think I'll ever be able to find my birth parents since there's no guarantee that they are still alive and living in South Korea. My adopted mother had once told me that the foster agency thought that maybe my birth father wasn't Korean.... However, both of my adopted parents are now deceased, so I'm basically at a loss for finding my birth parents.
I have to admit though, I'm terrified of traveling to a foreign country alone. I've traveled within the U.S. on my own, but then you add a 19 hour plane ride and a body of water and it's a completely different story. I'm afraid that I won't translate well over in South Korea (language barrier, food poisoning/getting sick, etc). I desperately want to visit the country, but my fear of traveling alone is hindering me from doing so. Any tips, advice or words of wisdom you can offer? How easy was the transition of living abroad in Korea? How soon did you feel homesick?
I'm happy to say that South Korea has proven to be safer, easier to get around, and more interesting than the US ever was. The first couple of days are a transition, but once you begin to figure your way around you'll be fine. For most foreign English teachers, the transition is easier because you have someone picking you up at the airport, a furnished apartment already provided, etc. etc.
What about the food?
As far as food poisoning goes, I can't recall the last time I got sick as a result of food poisoning. Drinking too much? Maybe a couple months ago (shh - don't tell my mom) but even the street food is generally safe. Spicy, but safe - if you're not a spicy fan, there's plenty of non-spicy stuff to be had. When in doubt, pick the busier restaurants - beyond being fresher, locals don't eat where they'll get sick.
Homesickness - I dealt with a bit over the first month or so. Not being a big homebody in the first place means it wasn't too bad. The language barrier is a bigger issue. Most Koreans, despite having taken years of English language courses in both public and private schools, can't speak the language conversationally. After two years in the country, I've picked up the basics - I can order a beer, get a taxi home, etc. - but I'm not conversational in Korean. A few translating services are available via phone, however - 02-1330 is a government hotline for tourists, while the BBB (Before Babel Brigade) is available at 02-1588-5644.
What about the flight?
Regarding the flight - it's like a long car ride you can't get out of. I can't say it was the most fascinating trip I took, but you walk around... bring a few books...a Nintendo DS... Lots of ways to beat jet lag - I slept about 2/3 of my trip.
Finding your birth parents - plenty of support
As far as finding your birth parents, there are more and more resources popping up everyday. I've seen an ad in the subway for the Global Overseas Adoptees' Link at https://www.goal.or.kr/- apparently a Korean government website set up help adoptees like yourself. The International Korean Adoptee Associations (IKAA) offer gatherings and a "permanent forum for the network of Korean adoptee associations worldwide." It appears to offer support in a number of ways - find out more at http://ikaa.org/en/. The U.S. Embassy offers some names, addresses and phone numbers of several agencies that can help with finding birth parents.
There's plenty more information out there - I'm just scratching the surface here. In reviewing a book called Remembering Koryo, Lee Farrand talks about Korean adoption at length - it may not tell you anything you don't already know, but it might be a good reminder that you're not alone. A New York Times article from 2009 offers the birth mothers' side of the story - a reminder as to why an adoptee might have been given up. Finally, the BBC offers a radio documentary on Korean adoptees - that airs on August 6, 2010.
During your quest to find your birth parents, try to connect to the country and the people as well. You certainly have a lot to offer each other.
Readers, have any of you found your birth parents? Have any suggestions for finding them? Comments are open.
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