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.