South Korea Summer Internship: Katie’s Story

It’s hard to believe 6 months ago, I was worlds away exploring my birthland, Korea. I learned a lot while I was over there, but I’ve been learning a lot since I’ve been back too.

I’ve always known I was very lucky to be welcomed into such an amazing, loving family, and going on this birthland trip only strengthened that feeling. Seeing the children amidst the adoption process definitely also struck an emotional chord with me. After returning from a field trip with the kids, I was introduced to an adoptive family as they waited for their soon-to-be sons/brothers to come downstairs. As soon as the boys appeared, the whole family lit up with excitement. The dad scooped the younger one into his arms, and with an ear-to-ear grin, the little one hugged his little hands tightly around his dad’s neck. The older of the two boys was greeted by his new siblings. With a smile, his new brother gave him an affectionate pat on the head. You could feel the love that the family had for these two special boys, and it was so touching to see.

Upon returning, I was able to get together with my own family: my three brothers, their families, and my parents. I was so happy to be able to share my experiences and photos with them. I recall one moment with my oldest brother, Tom. I was in the kitchen with my mom, and he came over, putting his arm around me, saying “We’re really happy you’re back, and I’m really glad you’re part of our family”. I gave him a big hug. Nothing can compare to that feeling of love for your siblings, and I realized this was what that little boy must have felt that day with his new brother.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve thought a lot about the children at Ehwa. Has the twinkly-eyed, 1-year-old started to walk yet? How is the oldest boy doing in Taekwondo? Is Frozen still their favorite movie? I miss their smiling faces and their love for life. I hope for their well-being and happiness, and that they never lose their sense of wonder or optimism.

I also think about the dear friends I made. The staff at Ehwa who treated me like family from day one. The generous volunteer families who took me to such memorable places. (My favorites were the Boseong green tea fields and Blueberry picking in Jeonju.) My SWS social worker who provided me support while getting to know my foster mother. My translator who went to so many cultural experiences with me – from Taekwondo to traditional tie-dyeing. And of course, Grace, my fellow intern and dear partner through it all!

I’m so thankful for this opportunity to give back and get to know my birthland, and I’m even more grateful for the life I’m living today. After taking this trip, I realized there’s so many people, near and far, to thank for that. I’m settling back into my life in Boston with a clearer, brighter outlook and of course, looking forward to my next trip to Korea.

Written and Shared with Permission by Katie Dunn

Applications for 2018 trip are due March 21st. Submit your application on our website today: http://www.modernfamilycenter.org/birthlandtrips/

Questions? Please contact Katie Rogala at krogala@spence-chapin.org.

South Korea Roots Family Tour FAQs

Join Spence-Chapin this summer in South Korea to deepen your connection to your child’s birth culture through sights, sounds, smells, food, and language. This two week trip is specially designed for children and young adults of Korean heritage to visit the country of their birth as part of a group of adoptive families.

  1. Who should apply for this tour?
    • Families with children and young adults of Korean heritage.
  2. How long is the tour?
    • This tour is two weeks from June 26 – July 8, 2018.
  3. What is the itinerary for this tour?
    • Families will spend several days in Seoul before traveling to the cities of Mt. Seorak, Gyeongju, Busan, and Daegu.
  4. What are the costs associated with this tour?
    • The estimated trip cost for 1 child is $3000. The estimated trip cost for an adult is $3500. These prices include ground transportation, hotel, some meals, excursions, as well as social work support throughout the trip and a dedicated group tour guide. Airfare and some meals are not included in this estimate.
  5. Where will I be staying?
    • Families will be staying in hotels for the duration of the tour. Families will stay in their own rooms, the layout of which will vary depending on family size.
  6. What opportunities are there for cultural experiences?
    • This tour will provide a wealth of cultural experiences, from historical attractions such as Gyeongbok Palace, to stunning architecture like N Seoul Tower, and other unique excursions. Our tour group will attend performances, and attend sporting events, and go to the beach.
  7. What kind of preparation and support with we have?
    • A Spence-Chapin social worker and a Social Welfare Society (SWS) staff member from the travel company will be traveling with the group for the duration of the tour. Spence-Chapin will provide an orientation prior to the departure and families who are not local to New York City can attend via video conference.
  8. Will I be able to tour Social Welfare Society (SWS)?
    • A tour of SWS is built into the itinerary. Families will be able to meet staff and learn more about the agency. During this visit, adoptees and their families will also be given the opportunity to see and review their records. Families do not need to have been adopted through Spence-Chapin or SWS to participate.
  9. Will my child be able to search for/meet their foster and/or biological family?
    • Yes! Upon request, SWS will search for your child’s foster and/or biological family. If biological family members are interested in reuniting, arrangements will be made for a meeting at the SWS offices. Spence-Chapin will also provide support and preparation for these meetings prior to departure.

Applications for 2018 trip are due March 21st. Submit your application on our website today: www.modernfamilycenter.org/birthlandtrips

If you have any questions, please contact Katie Rogala at krogala@spence-chapin.org.

South Korea Summer Internship FAQs

Through a special grant, Spence-Chapin offers a South Korean Summer Internship Program for two young adult Korean adoptees! Deepen your connection to your birth culture by traveling to South Korea. You will be able to tour and explore Seoul and care for babies in South Korea’s adoption agency, Social Welfare Society (SWS).

  1. Who should apply for the internship?
    • The South Korea Summer Internship is open to young adult Korean adoptees between the ages of 18 and 30 years old living across the United States who have been adopted through SWS.
  2. How long is this internship?
    • The internship is from May 28 – June 28, 2018.
  3. What is the interview process like?
    • Spence-Chapin will review all applications and invite several finalists to interview. Applicants who are not local to New York City can interview via video conference. From these interviews, Spence-Chapin will choose two applicants to participate in the internship.
  4. What are the duties and responsibilities of the internship?
    • The purpose of the internship is to assist in the care of babies and toddlers awaiting adoptive families through South Korea’s adoption agency, Social Welfare Society (SWS). In addition to day-to-day care, interns will accompany the children and staff on cultural and recreational outings.
  5. What are the fees?
    • Airfare, ground transportation, room and board and a stipend are included. Interns will be responsible for all other expenditures, such as souvenirs or personal travel. Interns are also expected to provide small gifts to the SWS staff as a thank-you.
  6. What opportunities are there for cultural experiences?
    • SWS plans many exciting cultural activities for interns, including a traditional Korean tea ceremony, martial arts, Nanta, cooking lessons, and tie-dyeing. Interns will also participate in trips to a green tea field, bamboo forest, nature hikes, etc. Exact experiences will vary year to year.
  7. Where else will I be traveling?
    • Interns will spend most of their time in Naju. More specifically, they will be staying in the South Jeolla Province which is a more rural section of South Korea. Interns will also spend time in Seoul. After the internship has come to an end, interns have the option to remain in Korea on their own for personal travel.
  8. What kind of support will I have while in Korea?
    • Spence-Chapin staff will be accessible to our interns via phone and e-mail throughout the internship. Interns will have an identified SWS staff member as their point of contact throughout the internship. This SWS staff member will assist with translation, navigation, and travel.
  9. Will I be reporting back to Spence-Chapin while participating in the internship?
    • You will be expected to provide periodic updates via phone or e-mail. In addition, our interns are required to keep a record of their experiences while in Korea though the format is up to you. Interns will submit a finalized version to Spence Chapin which should include pictures, descriptions of day-to-day activities, and personal reflections.
  10. Will I be able to search for/meet my foster and/or biological family?
    • Yes! Interns have the option to work with SWS to search for their foster and/or biological family. If family members are located and interested in meeting, arrangements will be made for interns to meet them at the SWS offices. Spence-Chapin will also provide support and preparation for these meetings prior to departure.

Applications for 2018 trip are due March 21st. Submit your application on our website today: www.modernfamilycenter.org/birthlandtrips

If you have any questions, please contact Katie Rogala at krogala@spence-chapin.org.

 

Korean Language Immersion Program

Hosted in association with the Social Welfare Society, Inc. (SWS) and Kyunghee University, we’re offering a wonderful opportunity to live in Seoul and experience life as a university student in Korea. This is an intensive, structured 10 week program where you’ll be immersed in Korean language and culture courses five days a week, four hours a day.

Program dates: October 2 – December 11, 2015 (fall) and December 18, 2015 – February 26, 2016 (winter)

Application deadlines: August 25, 2015 (fall) and November 3, 2015 (winter)

Documents required:

  • Cover letter
  • Application
  • Copy of passport
  • 6 Passport photos

Cost: SWS subsidizes 100% of tuition but applicants are on their own for airfare, housing, and living expenses; SWS can provide a room in the guesthouse at a reduced rate.

Korean adoptees ages 18 and up are welcome to apply. Contact Dana Stallard at dstallard@spence-chapin.org or 212-360-0213. Preference will be given to those who are applying for the first time.

My Month in Korea

Photo May 27, 10 37 28 PMWhenever I sit down to write about this trip, I usually end up staring at a blank page. How can I pen down emotions that I still struggle to explain to myself? When people ask me about my trip to Korea, I show them pictures and tell them about the culture, the sites I visited, and about the children I cared for in Naju. They always respond with either, “how life changing,” or “wow, you are so lucky.” I am very lucky to have been selected to visit Korea, but my luck goes beyond that. I am lucky because I was given the opportunity to experience, if only briefly, what my life would have been like if I had not been adopted.

Life is full of “what ifs,” all life changing to various degrees. What if I had left for work fifteen minutes earlier? What if I had studied a different major in college? What if a different family had adopted me? What if my biological mother had decided to raise me? The latter thought has crossed my mind from time to time, but knowing next to nothing about her, it was difficult to imagine how different my life could have been. I was given the opportunity to read my adoption file for the first time at Social Welfare Society and learn about my biological mother. I found out that one of the reasons why she decided to give me up for adoption was because she was unemployed and did not have the financial stability to care for both of us. But what if she had decided to raise me even though life would be difficult? As I walked through a neighborhood in Seoul, lost and frustrated, that was all I could think of. Would my life have been like this? Living in an area with rundown walkups, boarded up windows, and broken, narrow streets littered with shattered soju bottles? As I walked around and gazed at my surroundings, I could not help but feel that I was face to face with a life that could have been mine given different circumstances. It was scary, saddening, and eye-opening all at once. I was lost, both spatially and emotionally, as I stared at a world I was so unfamiliar with while trying to imagine it as home.

Photo Jun 05, 6 38 54 AM

The experience was such a shock that I believed that the trip could not hold any more surprises for me. When I arrived at Naju, I began to think more about myself as an adoptee. Growing up, my thoughts on adoption were always positive. While I often thought about what life would be like if my biological mother had kept me, I hardly ever thought about not being adopted at all. Being adopted was something that I always felt grateful for but, in a way, also took for granted. When I went to Naju and lived at Ewah with the orphans I began to wonder, what if I were never adopted? Would my life have been like little Juno, who is so trusting and innocent? The two of us got attached to one another and he quickly became my favorite child at the orphanage. He would always greet me with a smile, give me a hug, and ask me to play with him. One morning, I decided to skip breakfast and sleep in. When I woke, his caregiver told me that Juno was running around looking for me. He asked, “Did Sam-emo leave? She didn’t say goodbye. I miss her. I hope she comes back to visit me.” It made me sad that this adorable boy would miss me so much when I left, but it also broke my heart imagining the countless number of people before me that he has grown to trust leave as well, and all the people that will in the future. It is hard and painful to imagine a life where the people you meet and become attached to continuously leave. It must feel like abandonment at some point. Is he old enough to understand why? Or does he believe that he is the reason that so many people come and go? Will he grow up able to form long, stable relationships, or will he seclude himself out of fear and resentment? I hope that he grows up to be strong and self-assured, and I hope that I would have too if our places were reversed.

Photo Jun 16, 8 27 30 AMEven though I have finally managed to write something down I know that these stories do not even come close to expressing what I really feel. There are many stories to tell about my month in Korea, many of which are more uplifting, happy, and less complicated than what I have just written. But at the end of the day, those two experiences are the most important to me. As time passes and I begin to forget about all the places I visited while in Korea, I know that I will still remember these emotions. It is possible that all adoptees imagine what life would have been like if they were never adopted, and I have been fortunate enough to get a glimpse of that alternate world. It is something that I will never forget.

 

To learn more about Summer Programs in Korea visit www.spence-chapin.org/koreasummerprograms

Meet the Mentors!

Spence-Chapin’s Modern Family Center Mentorship Program provides an opportunity for middle and high school youth to spend time with peers and adults who share the experience of adoption. These gatherings allow for deeper discussions about what adoption means. Our mentors – trained volunteers – are adoptees who know how to separate typical adolescent issues from adoption-related issues and are thrilled to be supporting young adoptees.

High School Mentors

Name: Catherine 
Adopted From: Wuhan, China
Lives in: Long Island

Catherine I was born in Wuhan, China and adopted into a loving Italian and Irish family at the age of four.  A few years later, my parents and I journeyed back to China and adopted my younger sister.  Growing up adopted and guiding Marielle, my adoptive younger sister, through life has been a rewarding experience. In 2012, I received a B.A. from SUNY Geneseo in Communication and Mass Media.  Shortly after, I attended New York Institute of Technology and graduated with an M.A. in Communication and Mass Media.  While I aspire to be a broadcast journalist, I also developed an interest in interpersonal communication between adoptees and adoptive families during my undergraduate studies.  I look forward to helping adoptive families experience life to the fullest from a positive perspective.

Name: Chelsea 
Adopted From: Columbus, Georgia
Lives in: Manhattan

Chelsea I am excited to begin my first year volunteering with the Modern Family Center as a mentor.  I was born in Columbus, GA and was adopted at the age of 1 1/2,  growing up in Decatur, GA.  I studied and received my Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Psychology from Georgetown University, in Washington, DC.  I now live in New York City and am working as a certified Life Coach for young women in transition and part-time as a model.  I also volunteer for an organization called Stand Beside Them, which offers coaching and mentoring services for veterans of the US military who are newly transitioning to civilian life.  When I am not working or volunteering, I enjoy exercising, practicing yoga, cooking, writing, and hanging out with friends.  I am overjoyed to share my journey with others touched by adoption at the Modern Family Center.

Name: David 
Adopted From: Binghamton, NY
Lives in: Manhattan

David I was born in Buffalo, NY and adopted in Binghamton, NY at the age of 3 months, through the New York State Department of Children’s Services. I grew up near Binghamton with a younger sister who was also adopted. I have lived in Manhattan for over 20 years.  I am married, with a daughter who is a college freshman. I teach English language to adult immigrants. My students are almost all from China, and they have taught me how to speak a lot of Mandarin Chinese. Also, I can play a few musical instruments. I became a mentor because I would have liked something like this when I was in high school.

Name:  Doreen 
Adopted From: New York City
Lives in: Queens

DoreenI am in my second year volunteering for the Mentoring Program. I was born and raised in New York City and currently work in the insurance industry. In my spare time I enjoy crafting/decorating, reading, writing, socializing with friends or just curling up on the couch and watching a funny or romantic movie. I decided to volunteer at Spence-Chapin after reading a newsletter outlining the requirements necessary for the mentor position and feeling that it was a good fit for me. I have always encouraged the youth around me to strive for success no matter what their circumstances are. I believe that there is an entire world out there filled with opportunities and that we can all achieve our dreams if we believe in ourselves.

Name: Jessica  
Adopted From:  Bogota, Colombia
Lives in: Manhattan

JessicaI was born in Bogota, Colombia, and adopted when I was three months old. I was raised by my parents on Long Island as an only child.  I always knew about my adoption, my parents telling me from a young age that I was born in Colombia and had come here when I was a baby.  I had decided early in my life that I wanted to search for my birth family and my parents were always supportive of my desire to search. This is my 8th year as a mentor and I’m excited to be back!

Name: Andrew 
Adopted From: Seoul, South Korea
Lives in: Manhattan

AndrewI am a second year mentor and am very excited to be continuing with the Mentorship program.

I was born in Seoul, South Korea and am currently employed as a Human Resources Manager for Hilton Hotels.  I have been actively looking to get more involved in volunteer opportunities, and the topic of adoption is something that I am very comfortable talking about and passionate about.  I look forward to actively participating with all of my fellow mentors and to be a resource providing support for the young adults who t are struggling with their adoption identities.

Name: Kimberly 
Adopted From: Seoul, South Korea
Lives in: Brooklyn

KimberlyI was born in Seoul, South Korea and was placed with my adoptive family at 6 months through Spence-Chapin. I currently work in Manhattan as an analytics consultant and enjoy international travel, writing, trying out the latest fitness crazes, and going to the movies with my husband. This is my third year as a mentor and I enjoy being a positive role model for adoptees as well as just listening to what’s on the mentees’ minds. I remembered attending Spence-Chapin programs when I was young and they provided a positive outlook on adoption in my life.

Name: Sara 
Adopted From: South Korea
Lives in: Manhattan

SaraI am a project engineer, designer, and leadership coach. I love live music, film, street art, and am more recently fascinated by co-housing as another way to create a greater sense of community. This will be my 6th year as a mentor. I have participated in the Middle School program and am now a mentor in the High School program. I was born in South Korea, and actually had the opportunity to travel there with my younger adoptive sister in 2008. It was an amazing experience to be connected with my birth place heritage through actual places and people and experiencing  tangible aspects of Korean culture. Ever since then, I have wanted to give back to Spence-Chapin and help create a safe space of relatedness and community for fellow adoptees. I look forward to seeing you in the Fall!

Name: Mee Jin 
Adopted From: Daegu, South Korea
Lives in: Queens

Mee JinI am entering my sixth year as a mentor. My first three years were with the middle school group and this is my third year with the teens. I was born in Daegu, South Korea and was adopted through Spence-Chapin when I was ten months old. I grew up in northern NJ with my parents and an older sister. Currently, I am adjusting to life as a new homeowner in Queens, where I live with my husband. I work for Fidelity Investments in public relations and in my free time I enjoy traveling and spending time with my family – especially my three nieces and nephew. I love being a mentor as I value the opportunity to be in a community with other adoptees, yet appreciate that everyone brings unique experiences and perspectives.

Middle School Mentors

Name: Lacey
Adopted From: Seoul, Korea
Lives in: Manhattan

LaceyI am looking forward to my second year as a mentor. I was born in Seoul, Korea, and adopted through Spence-Chapin at the age of three months. My parents say they knew I was meant to be theirs because my birthday falls on their wedding anniversary. From the moment I heard about this program, I knew I wanted to be a mentor because when I was a child growing up in a time and place where adoption was not commonplace, my parents started an organization called G.I.F.T. (Gathering International Families Together), and it meant a lot to me to meet other families who knew and understood how special it is to be adopted. I currently work as a Research Editor for All You magazine, a Time Inc. publication. I’m looking forward to the coming year, and can’t wait to meet everyone!

Name: Sarah 
Adopted From: Seoul, South Korea
Lives in: New Jersey

SarahI am about to serve in my 6th year as a mentor in the Spence-Chapin Mentorship Program. I was born in Seoul, South Korea and adopted when I was 3 months old.  I am currently an attorney at an intellectual property law firm in NYC. I enjoy spending time with my cat and jogging around Central Park. I enjoy participating in the mentorship program because it provides everyone with the opportunity to engage in thoughtful discussion about adoption.

Name: Sophia 
Adopted From: La Ceiba, Honduras
Lives in: Queens

SophieI am about to participate in my second year of the Middle School Mentorship Program with Spence-Chapin! I was born in La Ceiba, Honduras and when I was just 10 months old I was adopted and brought to the United States. I grew up in the Midwest with a wonderful family and eventually moved to New York to attend college. I love to swim, read, dance, play my flute, sing, and eat good food! I’m excited to be a part of this program because growing up I never had a mentor of my own. I feel that it will be a very rewarding experience for me and the mentees!

Name: Daniel 
Adopted from: South Korea
Lives in: New Jersey

DanI love life, and I love supporting others in how they love life. I’m an adoptee from South Korea who currently resides in Wayne, New Jersey, and I’m grateful for all the love and opportunities my mother and father have given me. I teach people from all over the world how to have deeper, richer, and more fulfilling relationships, whether with friends, family, or even people they’ve just met. I’m also an AcroYoga enthusiast, a musician, and an overall fun-loving adventurous soul. Being an adoptee in my mid-twenties, it seems like I’m having some of my deepest realizations yet, so naturally, mentoring young people who share a similar experience feels like a new chapter in my life. I’m excited to connect with, support, and even learn from my mentees in whatever time we spend together.

Name: Jessi 
Adopted From: New York
Lives in: New Jersey

JessiThis is my first year at as a mentor at Spence-Chapin. I grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey and was adopted from New York. I want to be a mentor because I know first hand how hard it can be to grow up as an adopted child. I also know that talking with someone who is older than you and is also adopted can be very insightful and help you figure yourself out. After I went into reunion with my birth parents and biological siblings, I worked with a social worker who specialized in adoption. Through this I was able to find myself and become the person I am today. I plan to further my education in this area by attending graduate school for social work and specializing in adoption.

Please contact Katie Rogala at krogala@spence-chapin.org or 646-539-2167 if your child is interested in participating in our Mentorship program.

Reflections of Korea Roots Tour, 2013

Semel Family

We began to plan our visit to Korea since the minute our oldest daughter, Natalie, was placed in our arms at LaGuardia.  Two years later Juliet joined our family, followed by Isabel four years after that (both at JFK).  That we would bring our daughters back to the land of their births was always a given. More important, we knew we needed to make the journey at a time when they would be able to form lasting memories and be emotionally prepared as well.   As they grew, we began talking about the day when we would board a plane to their homeland. Around Natalie’s fifteenth birthday we knew the girls were ready.  We contacted Spence-Chapin and after a series of emails and a preparatory meeting the trip began to take shape.  On July 1st the five us departed John F. Kennedy Airport.  Our Roots Tour had officially begun!

The two weeks we spent in Korea in every way matched, and in some ways surpassed, our pre-trip anticipation.  For our daughters, being in their birth-land gave them windows into themselves that my husband and I could never provide.  Each of them was born in one of the major cities we visited — Seoul, Daegu, and Busan — and the connection they each made with these places was profound.  In Seoul we visited SWS, whose staff warmly welcomed our children back to their motherland.  While there the experience of seeing newborn babies awaiting adoption placement offered our girls a glimpse into their own pasts.  While there Natalie was reunited with her foster mother, who lovingly embraced our whole family as if her own.  In Daegu, we visited Haerimwon, the  SWS home for mothers in need. The time we spent interacting with birth mothers was profoundly moving.  A twenty-four year-old woman, due to give birth within the month, bravely read the letter she had written to her unborn son.  From the expressions on the faces of our children, and well as the other adoptees in our group, her deeply honest words made clear that any adoption story is not written in black and white but in many shades of gray.  While in Busan, we experienced the bustling energy of this port city, visited the enormous fish market, and even got to veg out at the beach (one of the highlights for our teen daughters)!

As emotionally rewarding as the trip was, it was also just plain fun.  The other Roots Tour families were wonderful and within a day it seemed like we were old friends.  The Seoul nightlife and baseball game, the hikes through lush, green mountains, the delicious food, and the warmth of the Korean people made this trip truly one of a lifetime.  We are thrilled that Spence-Chapin will continue to offer this trip as well as other programs in Korea in the future.

By Colleen Carroll

 

A Sister’s Gift

There are many ways to give back to Spence-Chapin. Maya, daughter of Spence-Chapin adoptive parents Jill and Keith, donated all the money from her bat mitzvah to Spence-Chapin in honor of her brother Jaden. Director of the Modern Family Center Stella Gilgur-Cook describes her experience with Maya and her family:

Many, many years ago I had the pleasure of supporting Jill and Keith with the adoption of their son, Jaden. As a home study social worker, I found Keith and Jill warm, open, positive, and managing their international blended family with grace and maturity.

In that process, I learned a great deal about them, and one of their favorite topics was Keith’s daughter Maya. Living overseas with her mother and visiting Keith and Jill as often as possible on school breaks, I had to wait a while to meet her, but in the meantime was regaled with stories of their smart, sweet daughter, and how much she wanted a little brother or sister.

maya lender and famFinally after much calendar wrangling and perhaps an alignment of the moons and stars, I was able to go out and meet Maya. Now it’s hard to say if this really happened or I just felt like it happened, but I seem to recall that about 30 seconds after meeting Maya, I was getting one of the warmest and sincerest hugs I’ve ever received. She struck me then as a child who was wise for her years, and understood the reality that children face when they do not have parents. When I heard about the work that Maya did on behalf of Spence-Chapin and the children we support, I immediately thought back to that kind, sweet, caring girl I met all those years ago, and could see the influence her parents and her brother’s adoption had on her.

It has been a pleasure knowing this family and knowing Maya. We thank Maya for the special gift that she has given that will support more children in the years ahead.

 

December 2nd is Giving Tuesday, a global initiative to inspire people to give back to the charities and causes that they celebrate. At Spence-Chapin, we work to connect children with permanent homes, deep parental love, and a lifelong sense of security. We can help more children find homes by alleviating all financial barriers to families looking to adopt – but we cannot do this without you! Please participate in Giving Tuesday by making a contribution to the Spence-Chapin Annual Fund

Post-Travel Reflections: Part II

This is the follow-up to the first part of this family’s story.  The second part of this narrative discusses the dynamic between James and his siblings and how they have continued to adjust to one another.

“We were surprised that James was fine as we went down the elevator, during the taxi ride, and during our walk to our hotel room.  About 5 minutes after we arrived at our hotel room, James began to cry quietly.  It was also his nap time and he was tired.  I got him to take a nap and I put him in a portable crib provided by the hotel.  He slept well even though his foster mother had slept with him on a floor mattress during their time together.  The foster mother had told us how much James liked the Korean character Pororo.  In preparation, we had purchased Pororo toys and downloaded Pororo shows on our iPad while in Korea.  They were very helpful during our time in Korea whenever he began to cry as well as on our long flight back to the States.

James is doing well.  We were pleasantly surprised how quickly he adjusted to our family and living in the United States.  We arrived home on a Friday evening and our daughters were very excited to meet him.  Our older daughter Ellen, who recently turned 8, and James have bonded very quickly.  The first few nights, James woke up frequently and I held him until he returned to sleep.  Fortunately, he did not resist being held.  By Monday evening, he began slowly sleeping in our time zone.

We were fortunate that my mom stayed with us for almost a month after our arrival.  Having her with us allowed us time to bond with James as well as reassure our younger daughter Chloe, who recently turned 3 and was having a difficult time with having another child in our family.  Chloe is very fond of James now and tells everyone that he is her brother and that he is now part of our family.  However, she still gets annoyed when James follows her around or chases her when she attempts to run away.  Overall, we believe that having two young children has helped James feel more comfortable at our home.  We feel very blessed to be together with James.”

Continue to check back to the Spence-Chapin blog for more narratives from adoptive families.

Korea Program 2013 Roots Tour

There are still open spots for this year’s Root Tour to Korea!  We have extended the registration deadline to Monday, March 18th.

The Roots Tour is a twelve-day guided tour through some of Korea’s most important cultural and historical destinations.  It is a chance for Korean adoptees and their families to reconnect with Korea, broaden their understanding of Korean society, and observe its dynamic culture firsthand.  An important part of the Tour is the opportunity for adoptive families to visit the SWS office and tour their facilities.  Your family may have the opportunity to make arrangements to meet foster family and visit birthplaces. If your child was not adopted through the SWS, we will help you in making contact with the appropriate agency during your visit in Seoul.

This year’s Tour will take place from July 3rd to July 15th.  Major destinations include Seoul, Busan, Seoraksan mountain, and Gyeongju, the historical capital city of Korea.

Prior to departure, there will be a full orientation for Tour participants.  Homeland preparation sessions are also available to traveling families through the Adoption Resource Center here at Spence-Chapin.

If you are interested in participating in this year’s Tour, please visit the Summer Programs page and fill out the registration form.  You can also contact Ben Sommers, the Korea Program Coordinator, at BSommers@spence-chapin.org

SWS Commemorative Photo Book

Our Korean partner agency, Social Welfare Society, Inc. (SWS) has just released a commemorative photo book.  The book includes photographs from the last ten years of an ongoing photo exhibition that has been a powerful advocacy tool for SWS and raised awareness of their mission and work for children in Korea.  The book includes photographs and stories of many babies who have come through the Baby Reception Center at SWS.

The babies are photographed with Korean celebrities who have been strong voices in promoting awareness around social welfare issues in Korean society.

The 250-page book is available for sale via the SWS website.  Please visit this link to learn more.  There are a very limited number of copies so if you are interested in purchasing one, act quickly.  All proceeds will go towards supporting the babies in the care of SWS.

SWS book

 

Post-Travel Reflections: Part I

The following is another contribution from one of our adoptive families.  This narrative speaks to not only the way their trip to Korea was structured, but also highlights the attentiveness of the social workers in Korea as well as the sorrow felt by the foster families as they say goodbye to the children who have been in their care for so long.

We received the call to travel to Korea about three months after our official acceptance.  We felt overwhelmed.  In less than a week, we had to reschedule my husband’s work; make arrangements for child care for our two daughters during the week we would be in Korea; make hotel and air reservations; purchase gifts for the foster family and SWS staff; and make sure that we had everything we needed for our son when we went to Korea.  However, we felt most overwhelmed by the prospect of finally meeting James after waiting for so long.  We began the adoption process more than a year and half ago.  We told our children about the adoption once we received the referral and made our official acceptance.  We thought we had at least four months before going to Korea to finally meet our son.  We were not emotionally ready at the time we received the call to travel.  In retrospect, we were fortunate that we were able to go to Korea prior to the four months.  James had turned 15 months when we brought him home.  A month later, James seems to have jumped to the next developmental stage.  He is more aware of his surroundings and more expressive.

We arrived in Korea on a Saturday evening.  We met James and his foster parents the following Monday at his foster family’s home with our social worker.  He was shy but very comfortable at his home and very playful.  We met James again the following morning at one of the SWS offices.  The office had a bunch of toys and we sat with James (without the foster mother or the social worker) playing with different toys.  The social worker, who was very familiar with James, came into the room occasionally to encourage James to interact with us.  At one time, he sat on my lap, which surprised me.  Later, he sat on David’s lap.  It was a great feeling.  Even though we met for only half an hour, we felt that this time was significant in giving us an opportunity to get to know each other at a place familiar to James but not at the foster parent’s home and without the foster mother, who was sitting just outside the office.  Further, meeting James both on Monday and Tuesday prior to taking him home on Wednesday, seemed to make the transition a lot smoother.

That Wednesday, while the social worker gave us the documents for our travels, James and his foster mother were meeting with the pediatrician on the first floor of the SWS building.  Once the appointment was over, James came up with his foster parents and their son.  Their older daughter was in school.  At the adoption offices, the foster mother showed us the things she brought for us – James’ hanbok, several of his favorite toys, and his clothing, much of which were new.  She had wrapped each item carefully and lovingly in plastic bags.  Shortly thereafter, the social worker called a taxi for us and told us that we would depart first and that we would say our goodbyes at the elevator.  As we were waiting for the elevator to come up, the foster mother was so sad and began to cry softly.  James had been with his foster family for over a year and it was clear that he had bonded with the entire family, especially the foster mother.

Part II will be published next week.  It discusses the dynamic between James and his siblings and how they have continued to adjust to one another.

Upcoming Korean Cultural Programs in NYC

The Korean Cultural Service NY (KCSNY) often has exhibitions, film screenings, and performing arts events at its New York building as well as at various locations throughout the city.  Visit their events page for a calendar of upcoming events.

Padak
Of particular interest to Spence-Chapin Korea families with young children is an upcoming screening of Korea’s version of Finding Nemo.  The film will be screened next Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 7PM.  Admission is free and the theater is easily accessible by subway.  Visit the event page to find out more.

Open Stage
KCSNY is also hosting a three-day series of dance exhibitions which fuse contemporary and modern Korean styles of dance.  “Open Stage” provides a platform for artists and performing groups to showcase their talents to the public.  The event will be held over three days, next Wednesday Jan. 30-Friday Feb. 1 at KCSNY.

Padak Poster

“Padak – Korea’s version of Finding Nemo”

Summer Programs in Korea Now Accepting Applicants!

Spence-Chapin is proud to offer several opportunities for adult adoptees and adoptive families to visit Korea.

The programs available for adult adoptees include language study, volunteerism, and an exploratory immersion trip through SWS.  Each of these programs provides a chance for adult adoptees to experience various aspects of Korean society and its unique cultural makeup.

Adoptive families can reserve their place on this summer’s Roots Tour, which takes adoptive families to three of Korea’s major cities as well as several beautiful historical landmarks along the way.  The Roots Tour is a wonderful way for adoptive families to experience Korea with their children as it is a comprehensive tour of Korea’s most famous destinations.  Families will also have the opportunity to visit SWS and meet with their staff.  The chance to visit SWS helps to provide adoptees with an additional piece of the framework through which to understand their adoption.

If you are interested in learning more about the 2013 summer programs available through Spence-Chapin, visit us online.

The Adjustment Process: One Family’s Story from Korea – Part II

Korean AdoptionThis is the second part of a reflective piece that was written by a mother who recently returned from Korea to meet her child.  She shares about how she personally reconciled and dealt with some of the difficulties adoptive parents can face in the period of adjustment.

Our social worker came for her first visit and noticed that he was refusing to make eye contact with us, but especially with me.  For about a month after we returned home he still preferred my husband.  She told us from the start that I needed to be the main caregiver during the bonding process, but that I really needed to step up my game now.  While bottle feeding, I would offer toys by putting them in front of my eyes to encourage eye contact. I would also raise treats to my eyes before offering then to him when feeding. At bath time when I would rub lotion on him I would let him rub lotion on my arms too.  All these things were to try to get him to bond with me.  As soon as we came home, we put an air mattress in his room and slept with him at night.  I enjoyed rocking him before bed and singing to him, especially when he would start singing, “up above the world so high” from Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  I at least knew he was listening.

Four months later people ask us if we are adjusted.  My answer is always “no.”  I look back and feel like we have made progress, but I also know that we have a way to go.  Our son has substituted the face rubbing for rubbing our arms.  He has to do this when he falls asleep at night and wakes up several times a night moaning/crying and reaches through the bars of his crib for my arm.  I am still in his room after four months.  Our social worker said this could take a year or so for him to be fully adjusted.  She said he is bonded, but he has a fear that we are going to leave, so he wakes up making sure we are there.  This breaks my heart that my toddler, while asleep, wakes up to makes sure that we are still there and haven’t left him!!!  He now looks us both in the eyes and he will play alone longer than he used to.  There are still times when he cries and throws a fit to be held or to grab our arm.  The difficult part is distinguishing between when he is just being a toddler and when is he dealing with loss?

After three months of being at home with him, my husband and I have both started back to work and are now dropping him off at a friend’s house three days a week.  This transition has went well for him.  He usually cries a little when I leave, but she said by the time I reach my car, he stops.  When my husband picks him up, he will greet him but then go back to playing so we know he is comfortable there.

Overall, I am very pleased with how things have gone. We are so happy that our son had such a loving foster mother who cared for him so well for a year.  When you think about it, our four months is a fraction of what four months means to him.  He is very smart and is learning words, sign language and interacts well with others.  He is attached to us, he just has a fear that we will leave him. As parents, this is a fear that we must understand is our responsibility to alleviate.

Laurie Toth
Cleveland, OH
tothadoptionjourney.blogspot.com

Check back for future posts of stories and reflections shared by Spence-Chapin families.

The Adjustment Process: One Family’s Story from Korea – Part I

We are fortunate to have contributions from an adoptive parent in which she writes about her family’s personal experiences returning from their trip to Korea.  Her piece reflects the difficulties in forming the bond between adoptive parent and child, and the need for parents to be patient and empathetic as they absorb the fear and uncertainty their child is feeling.

In June of 2012 we made our trip across the world to meet our son in Korea.  He was 16 months old and had spent just over a year with his foster mother.  She was in her sixties with grown children, so from what we gather, it was just the two of them most of the time.  When we arrived for our first meeting at her home, she met us at the van with our son on her back in a carrier.  Although he had a huge smile on his face, and continued to look back at us and smile as we walked to her house, I know he had no clue how his world was about to change!

Our social worker warned us the closer he was to his foster mother, the better for us in the long run regarding attachment, but the harder our first month was going to be at home.  As we sat in the foster mother’s home and watched their interaction, those words circled my mind.  He sat completely content on her lap, and was hesitant to make any connection with us, although having our 8 year old son helped break the ice a bit.  He eventually came over and sat on our son’s and my husband’s lap for a quick second, but returned to his foster mom just as fast.  When she went to the kitchen to prepare a snack, he moaned and followed.  When I finally did get him to sit on my lap, he slightly cried as he was trying to grab something off the table, and his foster mom quickly swooped him up.  This showed us that their bond was very strong and we were going to have some work ahead of us.

On our “Family Day” when we returned back to our room at SWS it seemed the grieving started immediately.  He was very lethargic, although some of this was due to a cold, but he was only comforted by my husband.  If I even looked at him, he would cry.  This broke my heart, but inside I knew that he was not trying to replace his mom; he didn’t need another woman in his life.  In order to comfort himself, he would rub my husband’s face, usually until falling asleep.  This lasted for at least a month with both of us.  We thought that he was bonding with my husband until we were at the airport on our way home and he tried to go to any other Caucasian male, even when there were other Korean males around.

Once we were home we spent the first couple weeks waking up in the middle of the night with him crying inconsolably for his foster mom for about 3 hours each night. He would be screaming out her name and thrashing his body and no matter what we tried to do, nothing was comforting him.  At this point, all we could do for him was be there and make sure he was safe assuring him we weren’t going anywhere.

Laurie Toth
Cleveland, OH
tothadoptionjourney.blogspot.com

Part 2 will be published early next week.  It discusses the post placement period and the ways in which she worked to build a bond between herself and her child.

Roots Family Tour to Korea

This past July, I had the privilege of accompanying three families on the ROOTS tour to South Korea.  The ROOTS tour is a two week trip that provides Korean adoptees and their families the opportunity to see their homeland and to visit SWS and meet their foster families.  The trip included stops in several cities including Seoul, Daegu, Mt. Seorak and Geonju.

The trip was clearly special to all of us in very unique ways.  As an adoption social worker who has worked with many families who have either adopted from Korea or who are in the process of adopting from Korea, it was important for me to see where the children and families are later in life and if the training we provide families is carried through.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that the adoptive parents were completely committed to ensuring that their children had a connection to their birth culture from a very young age and that this trip was a large part of this mission.  Most of the parents have been saving for this trip for many years and did not want their children to miss out on this opportunity.

Understandably, the children experienced a host of emotions during the trip but the overall theme was that they were grateful for the experience.  Some also expressed genuine interest in going back to South Korea for pleasure and/or as an intern for SWS.  The adoptive parents were very encouraging of this and stated that they would help to make this possible for their children in the future.

I feel honored that I was able to share this experience with these three families and like the children, I will be forever grateful for the experience. Dylan Shrader, LMSW, Spence-Chapin.

You can see Dylan’s pictures from this trip on Flickr.

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Celebrate Roma Culture at the Gypsy Festival

For a fresh, modern take on Romani culture, don’t miss the events during the  8th Annual New York Gypsy Festival, starting September 8th and running through the 30th.

This festival celebrates the Romani diaspora, a people widely spread throughout the world, to transcend barriers of location, language, and status, for a true celebration of roots and ethnicity in music, art, and dance.

 

 

 

 

The film screening of A People Uncounted, a 2011 documentary about the Roma will surely be a festival highlight. It uncovers the rich, and sometimes painful, history of the Roma, who, now, are commonly referred to as Gypsies. The critically acclaimed, feature-length film was directed by Aaron Younger and edited by Kurt Engefh.

The Gypsy Festival will present a special screening of this film on Tuesday, September 18th @ 6:00pm

Watch a preview for A People Uncounted, here:

My Spence-Chapin Korea Internship Experience

 

My experience this past summer in Naju, Korea was truly an amazing and wonderful opportunity that I never thought that I would never get the chance to do, but I know now that after participating in the Korean Internship program, it is something that I will never forget. I am so honored to have received this scholarship and been given the chance to take care of all the babies and children in the SWS baby center in Naju.

Before I went, I was extremely nervous and I had no idea what to expect. I was lucky to have had friends who were also given the scholarship so I was given a lot of extra information and I had a better idea of what to expect when I arrived in Naju. When I stepped off the KTX train from Seoul to Naju, I knew that this was it. We were greeted by Sun, who was one of the workers at the baby’s reception center. She brought us to the Baby Center where the rest of the staff and the director of the center further greeted us. Alex Miller, another Korean Intern from Spence-Chapin, and I presented our gifts that we had brought for the children and babies, and they were all extremely grateful. After that we were given a tour of the grounds and introduced to some of the children that we would be taking care of.

When we were finished meeting the children I was given the chance to relax and get settled. Alex was staying in the main building and I was staying in the “little moms house”.  I really enjoyed staying with the little moms. Although they were shy at first, and there was a big language barrier between us they were still welcoming and very nice to me. The little moms are the girls who are pregnant and staying in the house until they give birth and the others have already given birth and are recovering and staying there until they can return to their homes. I really enjoyed staying with the little moms, we all would hangout and watch television or play games on our lap tops or have ice cream parties and eat pizza and snacks. A lot of times, I would watch the little moms make toys and clothing for their babies. It was important to them to know that they were sending their baby away with something that was from them, one of the girls told me that it was her way of leaving a part of her with her baby. Some of the little moms also kept journals with photos of their sonograms and wrote letters to their babies saying they were sorry they had to give them up, but it was because they loved them very much and only wanted the best for them and that they deserved a much better life than they could give them. It was extremely emotional and the little moms always took pride in what they made for their babies and most of the girls who had already given birth would show me photos of their baby.

On my first day, I was both nervous and excited to see all of the little babies, the caretakers were so nice and I spent the day helping in each room feeding, changing and playing with the babies. It took a few days but I was able to adapt to the schedules of all the babies and I knew when they would be eating and napping. Although there were so many rooms and so many babies to help out with, I always found myself in one room where I had developed a special bond with the babies that were there. One of my favorite things was taking the children with the caretakers on special outings. Over the course of my stay in Naju, we went on field trips to a few different locations that were absolutely beautiful and a lot of fun. I really enjoyed taking the older children out because it was nice to see them having a good time and getting to spend some extra time with them. Some of the places that we went to were a bamboo forest, a green tea field and my favorite was the rose garden trip. The Rose garden was beautiful and had several different types of rose bushes everywhere and there was also a huge fountain that you could run through and cool off. I took one of the kids through and he loved it and did not mind at all getting wet. At the end of each trip we always got ice cream with the kids. They always looked forward to it and it made me realize how much I was given as a child, it is the littlest things that you take for granted, like going to the grocery store or getting a small toy, or even ice cream. These kids do not usually leave the orphanage unless it’s for a special trip or to go to the doctors, so for them going out and even getting ice cream was a big deal for them.

Everyday was a new adventure for me, we had a schedule of events and things that were happening for each week, but the schedule usually changed almost everyday. Some of the other activities that I was able to experience was making Korean food, there was a day that I made kimbop and another day I made a spicy radish. There were even certain days where the little moms would help and we would all do a project together. On one of the days we all made cakes, I love to bake and I found that it was interesting that even though I had no idea what was being said, I knew from baking so much what I was supposed to do. One of my favorite cultural experiences that I was able to participate in was a traditional tea ceremony. Alex and I dressed up in the hanbok clothing and were given lessons on how toKorean hanbok costume bow, and how to drink tea at a traditional ceremony. On another day we were taken to this conference and asked to speak about our lives and what it was like to be adopted. I think that it was really important to talk about where we were from and especially to share our story with people who are Korean. It gives them the chance to see that kids who are sent out of the county still live very happy and normal lives with several opportunities. I am so grateful for the life that I live and for all of the things that I have been given.

Usually on the weekends if we did not have a trip we were given down time, the staff at the baby center, always made sure that we were taken care of and they even took the time out of their busy schedules to take Alex and myself on outings or in to town to do some shopping. We were even taken out to a special restaurant for lunch so we could have a special soup Naju was known for. They always asked us if there was anything special that we wanted to do. Before I knew it, we were getting near the end of our stay in Naju. In the last week, Alex and I were taken out by the staff and treated to a delicious dinner at a restaurant that was in the same home where we had our traditional tea ceremony. They also gave us a wonderful going away dinner. The staff, the little moms, and the caretakers were all there. Alex and I again shared our adoption stories with everyone. After dinner we also had a karaoke party and sang and danced, it was definitely an amazing night.

On the day that we were leaving, I knew that I would be emotional, after spending a month with these little babies and children and forming close bonds with some of them, it was very difficult to say good bye to them. I had secretly wished that they would let me take one of the babies home with me, but I knew that that would not be possible. I was able to hold and say good-bye to my favorite baby, HeeBi as well as some of the caretakers that I had gotten close to. The little moms made me a poster that said “Good-bye Jennine” and they all wrote something on the poster, some wrote things in Korean and some even wrote things to me in English. One of the things that I know I will remember is that I was told that the little moms would look at Alex and myself and have hope and believe that their babies would turn out like us, and be given a wonderful life like we had. It was hard to leave but I was also ready to go back to Seoul at the same time. This experience that I was given is one that I know I will never forget. I am so honored to have received the scholarship from Spence-Chapin. This trip was truthfully the best experience of my life. I never thought that I would ever do anything like this. But getting to go back to Korea, and retrace my roots and be in the same town that my birth mother was from and was also living in was something that was very significant to me. Although I was not able to make contact with her, I know that I have closure knowing she is married and living her own life, and I know that in her heart she is happy that I am doing the same. I will always remember all the children and babies that were there and all of the photos that I have are priceless memories that will last forever for me. When I wake up I wonder if they are about to sleep and at night I know they are starting their day or sometimes eating lunch. I know that I will think about them every day and hope that they will be adopted and have a chance to live a life like I have. I will never forget this summer in Korea, I hope that I can visit the baby center in Naju in the future.

– Jennine Cusimano, Summer 2011.

Korea Roots Family Tour 2012

We will be hosting our Roots Family Tour on July 3 – July 15, 2012.  This 13-day tour is specially designed for children and young adults of Korean heritage to visit the country of their birth with their adoptive families. The goal of experiencing first-hand the history and culture of Korea is of vital importance to many Korean adoptees.  We are partnering with FCA in Connecticut and AIAA in Michigan for this tour.  This is a worthwhile trip to keep in mind for the future!

Click here to download a copy of the registration form.
Click here to download a copy of the information brochure.

To learn more about other Korea summer programs, click here.