A Korean Aussie adoptee goes back home for the first time. Hilarity ensues?
Hi. I’m Ellie Freeman. Short for Eloise. I live in Brisbane, the sunny and humid capital of Queensland in Australia. I’m a radio producer, sound engineer, and occasional educator. I’m into community media, social media, live music, karaoke, art, food, pub trivia, markets, old school video games and cycling.
I’m a Korean adoptee. My name given at birth was Kim Joo Hye. My family and I pronounced it wrong for years. Jew High. After I read about Korean characters and pronunciation, I found out it’s pronounced something like Joo Heh. How embarrassing. I’d been saying my name wrong, like when idiotic Australians say “Ashy” instead of “Asahi”.
I was born somewhere in Gyeongsamnam-do, the southern part of a southern province in Korea. I am not sure which town I was born in. A miscommunication with my adoptive parents and the Korean social worker who brought me to Australia led me to believe I was born in Busan, the second biggest city in Korea. Last year, I read over my adoption files and saw that I was transferred to the Jinju branch of the Eastern Social Welfare Society. After studying Google Maps, I realised Jinju is nowhere near Busan, and Busan have their own branch anyway. It’s like saying you were born in Brisbane, but you were actually born in Toowoomba.
According to a poorly-translated adoption file, my parents were dating but broke up. After they broke up, my mother discovered she was pregnant. She couldn’t support me. The file does not list her as being employed. There is no single parent payment in Korea like there is in Australia. There is a heavy social stigma around being a single mother in Korea and abortion is illegal. Korea’s high international adoption rate has been referred to as a “national shame”
I was taken to Jinju on the day of my birth then later transferred to Seoul. A foster family looked after me until I came to Australia. According to my file, the daughter enjoyed playing with me. For years I had odd dreams of having an older sister.
In a snowy Korean winter, I was bundled up in layers of clothes and flown to Sydney in the middle of a heatwave to my adoptive parents. Two Anglo-Aussies, Kerrie and Bill Freeman who were living on the Central Coast in NSW at the time. By some kind of cosmically terrible fate, both of them were infertile but wanted to have children. They went through surgery and IVF and all sorts of nasty medical procedures but nothing seemed to work – until they discovered adoption.
I became Eloise Joo Hye Margaret Freeman. Throughout school nobody could pronounce or spell my name, which is preposterous to me because it’s a French name dating back to the 16th century. So I’m Ellie. Or Kelly or Elle, according to the amateur baristas of the world.
A few months ago, I started the process to search for my family. This involves sending my details and forms to the state government I was adopted through, who will liaise with someone, who will liaise with Korea, who will cross-check my details, who will get back to the liaison, who will get back to me…
I finally sent everything off and was told they’d get back to me in over a month.
After over a month, a package came for me in the mail!
With trembling fingers, I tore open the envelope from the NSW Communities post-adoption services.
“You have not sent us the correct identification…”
I felt numb for a moment before bitterly scrunching up the letter and storming downstairs. I’d been waiting for a reply from this place for over a month after filling out a long, boring form, scrounging around ancient paperwork collecting dust to find a number or a name and photocopying loads of identification. And I waited. Waited for a letter to tell me they’d found my parents in Korea, here’s their phone number so you can ring up for a chat! Waited to be told that I hadn’t sent the right boring paperwork and could I please send in more boring paperwork so I can meet my long lost family?
Forms suck. Can’t I just add my parents to Facebook and be done with it?
I ended up going to Sydney to the adoption department office myself, and also because I had been working two jobs for the last few months and urgently needed a holiday. A social worker sat down with me and went through every bit on the form to make sure I’d done exactly the right thing.
That was a few weeks ago. I’d almost forgotten about it until I was browsing one of the many Korean adoptee Facebook groups and saw a post about the First Trip Home.
I filled out the registration form without thinking about it too much. I knew that if I started to think, I’d get scared and back out.
A few nights later I got a phone call from a strange foreign phone number. It was G.O.A.L, who wanted to know my thoughts on the trip. The voice, American-sounding with a slight accent, made it real. I hadn’t just chucked a bunch of text into the ether of the internet.
It was Friday night and I had already gotten stuck into a few beers with friends. I hoped that I didn’t sound tipsy over the phone. Yes, of course I would be SUPER EXCITED to go. I hung up, muttered “what is my life?”, gulped down a beer and ran off to shuffle at The Beat.
Later on, I received an email.
Oh my god. I was going overseas! I was going to the country where I was born.
My adoptive Mum bought me a Lonely Planet guide to Korea and read it before she gave it to me. I think she’s freaking out about this more than I am.
Passport application sent. Flights booked. Hotels booked. My aunt and uncle gave me some Korean money for my birthday. Trying to put aside my extreme confusion over Korean vowels to learn how to say a few things.
As well as seeing the sights and hanging out with other Korean adoptees, there’s the possibility that G.O.A.L will find my family. Another one of those things about this trip that is freaking me out so I’m trying not to think about it too much. The bottom line is that after 25 years of being a full time Aussie, I’ll finally be going home.