[flag]A few weeks ago, on Saturday, March 19th, the Asian Pacific American Student Organization (APASO) organized and performed in “Tridentity,” a bi-annual cultural show celebrating with song and dance the mixture of its members’ two cultural identities.
The celebration featured many different groups ranging from Asian fraternities and sororities to student organizations, like the Student Korean Adoptee Association. The Student Korean Adoptee Association was developed as a support network for individuals who were raised by American parents but were originally born and adopted from Korea. International Adoptions have become popular in the United States, –American parents adopt not only from Korea; a large number of Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan and Russian children are also raised in the Unites States.
Almost 200,000 children have been adopted from Korea, making the United States the fourth-largest recipient of Korean children. In 2003, the U.S State Department reported that 1,790 children had been given homes in the United States. At a more local level, Bethany Christian Services, whose national headquarters are based in Grand Rapids Michigan, reported adopting 108 Korean children to expectant families.
Peter Herman came to live in Traverse City when he was four years old from Seoul, South Korea by a simple twist of fate. The hospitality business senior was destined, along with his older brother, to arrive at another home but when his papers got mixed up he arrived instead, on his mother’s doorstep. A special education teacher at Traverse City West High School, Herman’s mother took on the task of raising the two boys alone with the help and support of family members. Herman describes his relationship with his mother as “very close.”
Korean adoptions first became popular after the Korean War, which started in 1950 and ended in 1953, when many bi-racial children, the sons and daughters of American G.I.s and Korean women, were born to unwed mothers. Filling up the country’s orphanages and suffering abuse and discrimination due to their mixed background, Holt International was born out of the concern of Henry and Bertha Holt and their adoption of eight Korean children.
Since that time, children have come to America from Korea for different reasons, mainly due to the stigma attached to children who are born to unwed mothers. Although attitudes are improving in Korea when it comes to adopting within the country, many Koreans want to have children that are blood-related because there is a strong emphasis on genetic ties between parents and their children in their culture.
Adoption is a very expensive process. A typical adoption ranges from $18,000 to $24,000. Different agencies have different requirements; basically adoptive parents must be between the ages of 25 and 45, have to have been married for at least three years, divorced only once before, and have more than four children living at home. Some agencies also have weight requirements, to ensure the health of adoptive parents. Income also plays a factor; prospective adopters must make at least $25,000. Resources are available to help off-set the cost of adoption with organizations like The National Adoption Foundation, Love Knows No Borders, and Ours By Grace– all help by providing, loans, fund-raisers, and other forms of financial assistance to would-be parents.
Funding an adoption, however, is not the hardest part of the process. Once a child is adopted, the family faces the challenging task of making an interracial family work. It has been said that if a couple is thinking of adopting a baby of a different ethnic background, they must first consider whether or not they would marry outside of their race/ethnic group or religion or if they wouldn’t mind their son/daughter marrying outside that group. The answer to that question is a good indicator of whether or not the couple is willing to deal with the possible prejudices and difficulties raising an interracial family could impose.
[ang]Journalism senior Angela Schiappacasse said she noticed when she was around five that she was different from her parents when a woman stopped her and her mother in the grocery store and asked if Angela was her mom’s daughter. “When you’re little, you don’t realize that you don’t look like your parents,” Schiappacasse said.
Once the teen years roll around and questions of personal identity arise, a young adoptee may encounter difficulties when they find their identity divided between two cultures. Many camps, day schools and travel programs have been established to help adoptees connect back to their ancestral roots.
MSU’s Korean Student Organization helps to organize and run a culture camp for young adoptees. Other camps, like the Sae Jong Camp in Frankfort, helps to provide a support network by introducing other adopted kids to each other while trying to educate them on their background.
Jennifer Shinn, a merchandising management senior, attended several cultural camps as a child and even went to Korean School in Washington, DC on weekends to learn through song, language, and games basic knowledge about Korean culture. Shinn said, “I hated going when I was younger, but as I got older I learned to appreciate it.” Shinn has also been a member of the Korean Student Organization and was on their E-Board during her freshman and sophomore years at MSU.
“Cultural camps can be a great foundation before a heritage journey,” said Becca Piper, who organizes trips to Korea through Adoptive Family Travel, an agency based out of Wisconsin, for Korean Adoptees and their families. Heritage journeys bring individuals to Korea to see the country by visiting schools, viewing the landscape, and seeing historical sights and if possible show them their place of birth, foster home or orphanage they might have stayed at or even reconnect with family members.
Each journey is tailored to the participants. Groups can include up to thirty-five people with sometimes three to four separate groups all-visiting at the same time. The ages of participants range from as young as four to adults in their mid-thirties, the majority being in their early to late teens. When it comes down to it, Piper says that “very little is about travel, mainly it’s about building a foundation for kids.” Often the trips bring closure and help the adoptee to develop a greater sense of self.
While finding an identity may be the biggest challenge to adoptees, many feel that their life in the United States defines who they are. Schiappacasse does not belong to any of the Korean student organizations on campus because she feels that her lack of awareness for that part of her past would make it difficult for her to identify with it in a group setting. “I am completely Americanized and don’t feel that there is anything missing in my life,” she said. Although Herman has traveled to Korea and even met up with family members, he also identifies more with his American life adding, “I am completely whitewashed. This is my life and I accept it.”

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