For Korean Overseas Adoptees, a Complex Identity

Voices of NY recently translated a series of articles by Jiha Ham of the Korea Times on Korean adoption, including the story of adoptive family, a look at the current state of Korean adoption, and practical guide on how to adopt Korean children. Last week, Ham spoke with an expert before a seminar titled ‘Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging,’ who offered some new perspectives on the dwindling practice of Korean adoption, he reported in the Korea Times. The article is translated below.

Eleana Kim (Photo via Korea Times)

Recently, in a seminar held by the Korea Society, Eleana Kim, a professor at the University of Rochester and an expert on Korean adoptees abroad, spoke of getting rid of Koreans’ prejudice against Korean adoptees.

“In many cases, Korean adoptees visit Korea not just to find their birth parents,” she said. “In particular, as Korea has seen tremendous economically development, many Korean adoptees would like to find a job and settle down in Korea.”

Every year, 3,000 to 5,000 Korean adoptees visit Korea to investigate their identities, but in many cases, they are scared of meeting their birth parents and even refuse to meet them.

Kim has been interested in Korean adoptees since 1999, when she started her research, studying Korean adoptees who grew up in ethnically different families. Her study, “Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging,” published in 2010, won an award from the Association of Asian American Studies.

“Most Korean adoptees who grew up in multicultural families feel confused in the U.S., and also in Korea, because of cultural differences,” said Kim. “Therefore, Korean-Americans should think of them neither as Americans nor as Koreans, but as ‘adoptees.’”

Last year, there were 916 adoptees from Korea to abroad, including 707 children who were brought to the United States. In the 1970s and 1980s, Korean overseas adoptees averaged around 8,000 each year, which provoked some controversy. Decreasing every year since then, the number of Korean overseas adoptees in the 1990s averaged around 2,000 a year. Last year, for the first time, the number dropped to less than 1,000 adoptees.

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