By Beth Kido, WACAP Korea Program Manager
As part of my job, I have the privilege of talking with parents who’ve adopted from Korea in years past, and hearing their stories about the day they welcomed home their infant son or daughter. Moms and dads tell me about how much or how quickly their lives changed. Some recall in hindsight how the time passed too speedily, or how it seemed to stand still while they waited to meet their child. Whether a story from yesterday or from today, I’m always struck by how, despite the changes in the Korean adoption process and family requirements, each story is filled with a similar magic.
In prior years, adoption from Korea was less, or was at least differently, challenging. Although fast moving processes can bring their own stresses, the longer wait times to adopt from Korea today and more involved steps over the past couple years, hold a new set of challenges. Families wait longer than they once did to be matched with a child and to welcome that child home; children may turn one or two years old while still waiting to join their family. However, just as families have for decades, many are still making the unwavering decision to adopt from Korea.
As they make the decision to grow their family, most families want to adopt from this country — even considering the country’s specific eligibility requirements, paperwork, and wait times — because they feel a special connection with the culture of South Korea. Some of our adoptive parents are of Korean heritage and want to continue that heritage by adopting a child from their country of origin. Other adoptive families want to maintain the relationship to the country of their affection in this special way. The affinity grows from an experience, however brief, which pulls their future in that direction. Some families first were acquainted with the Korean culture from a friend met long ago; a few months spent studying abroad; or stationed at a U.S. military base. Whatever ignited the desire, they developed a love of the people and culture and once they made a decision to adopt, the path to bond forever with this country became a personal one.
As the WACAP Korea program manager, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Korea last summer and meet WACAP’s adoption partners in Korea. Although I was excited to learn more about the adoption process, South Korea was not a country I had, prior to this, ever envisioned touring. I understood that with the societal pressure unwed mothers in Korea experienced, there were many children who’d been relinquished and needed a loving, adoptive family. However, I didn’t fully understand why a family would choose Korea over other countries. Even as some of the WACAP families who’d adopted from Korea raved about how much they loved the country and dreamed of moving there, I couldn’t relate to this enthusiasm.
Following my weeklong venture in Korea, however, I understood. I boarded the plane to return to the United States, a newly energized version of my former shell of a self. I envisioned how a future trip with my family could include time spent in Seoul. I always knew one day we would return to China, where my own daughter is adopted from. Also, we would have to make a trip to Japan, I’d always planned, the country of my husband’s heritage. And I was surprised at my new desire to share this cultural jewel of Korea.
I wondered what could be pulling me to return. It wasn’t a single specific thing I could identify. However, at the end of each day I fell into my bed, exhausted from the 12-hour adventure, completely satisfied I had made the most of my life on this particular day. It was the sights and sounds and the movement. Everything was happening and there was not a moment to be missed. From the bustling airport to the fast and efficient subway; from the hurrying office workers in their proper uniforms of black pants and blue dress shirts to the energetic shoppers at the outdoor market; Seoul is intoxicating. It’s a unique mix of traditional and progressive which fills you up and leaves you wanting more.
Even so, it reminded me of the joy I have at home and at work, where in so many ways, I couldn’t ask for more.
I have a job that has allowed me to learn about a country unknown to me, but whose culture and children have found a special place in my heart. It’s a place where, just like my own experience of Korea, I see magic, every day. Helping families take the steps to adopt the child waiting for them, though that child is at first far away and unknown. Hearing about how that child has become a most precious and beloved treasure, as the family grows together.