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.

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

 

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.

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.

Protected: Korea Program Update – February 2012

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