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