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.

 

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.

Korean Agency Visits Spence-Chapin

During the month of October we were fortunate to receive two groups of visitors from Korea Adoption Meeting (SWS), the South Korean agency that Spence-Chapin has partnered with since the 1970s.

The first delegation, who arrived the week of October 10th, was comprised of Mr. Joo (the Chairman of the SWS board), Mr. Chang (SWS President), and Ms. Sun (Director of International Adoptions).  In addition to a variety of meetings and workshops, a highlight of this visit was the opportunity for SWS staff to meet some of our adoptive families and children —some of whom expanded their families through Korean adoption in the last year, and others who did so more than 30 years ago.  The small group gathering provided the opportunity for unstructured conversation and storytelling; a larger reception took place later in that evening, giving the SWS delegation the chance to see many more families formed through their work.

At the end of the October we welcomed our second group of SWS visitors—social worker, Ms. Park, and two foster mothers, Mrs. Shin and Mrs. Ji, who have both been caring for SWS babies in their homes for over 13 years.  All 3 women were in New York for the first time and were excited to be here and see the sights, but it was clear, from the moment they stepped off the plane, that their primary focus was reconnecting with the babies they had cared and planned for during the time they were in SWS’s custody, before they joined their adoptive families.

On Sunday October 23rd Mrs. Shin, Mrs. Ji and Ms. Park attended the annual “Spooktacular” event put on by Spence-Chapin’s parent group Long Island Families Together (LIFT).  Families traveled from far and wide—from as far away as Virginia and Syracuse!—to reunite with the women who loved and cared for their children before they joined their families.  It was incredibly touching to see how Mrs. Shin and Mrs. Ji remembered each child as if they had parted just yesterday.  Mrs. Shin was overjoyed to reunite with her most recent charge who left her home just 5 months ago, as well as with the first child she ever cared forSWS Visit—now a 13 year old young man.  This was an emotional and moving experience for all involved—certainly for the foster mothers and social worker from Korea, and also for the families and the children old enough to understand who they were reconnecting with on that day.

Spence-Chapin staff was honored to be involved with this event; other adoptive families and even total strangers looked on, aware that they were witnessing something truly special.