A Korean Aussie adoptee goes back home for the first time. Hilarity ensues?
I’ve finally done it! I’ve squeezed about 4 hours of interviews and narration down to 57 minutes to make To the Motherland – a radio documentary about Korean adoption, made possible through the National Features and Documentary Competition.
“To The Motherland” will be broadcast on the Community Radio Network on Wednesday October 8 2:04pm Australian EDT and made available on the CRN for replay. More details here
“Over 150,000 Koreans have been adopted overseas since the Korean War Armistice in 1954. And I am one of them.
I was born in South Korea. I was adopted to Australia when I was a baby and raised by white Australian parents. I never knew my birth parents. All I knew was that my mother was not married when she became pregnant with me and, in 1980s Korea, could not afford to support me and had to give me up for adoption.
When I met a Korean American adoptee in early 2013 who mentioned that some adoption files are falsified, I wanted suddenly to find out the truth.
With the support of a Korean adoptee support organisation the Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link, I returned to Korea for the first time since I was born and searched for my birth parents.
Along the way, I met other Korean adoptees, saw the country where I was born, learned more about adoption and – unexpectedly – found my birth family.
The idea for documenting this experience began when I was in Korea last September, so most of the atmos and scenes from my trip in this documentary are real recordings from that time.
Judging from all the questions I am asked about my birth and where I’m from, I see that there are many myths and misconceptions about international adoptees. Not all of us want to search for birth family. Some of us have no desire to return to our home country. Some of us feel more Australian than Korean, or badly want to get in touch with our Korean roots, or simply don’t know. Some of us have tried to search but unfortunately failed. Some of us had have happy reunion experiences, and some not so happy.
International adoptees often battle issues around ethnic identity and isolation due to our unusual family circumstances. But in the modern age of social media, adoptees are establishing ways to organise activism, education, support, and outlets to express ourselves. We are a growing community with many diverse views, experiences and stories.
I am telling my own story of birth family reunion in Korea along with the voices of other Korean Australian adoptees, academics and activists – to give an insight into our reality.
These voices are:
- Kerrie Freeman – my adoptive mother
- HeeRa Heaser – Korean American adoptee, PhD student the University of New South Wales
- Seon Kee Woodley – Korean Australian adoptee from Melbourne, originally Perth
- Tiarne Double – Korean Australian adoptee from Tasmania
- Pia Meehan – Korean Australian adoptee from Perth
- Hana Crisp – Korean Australian adoptee from Melbourne, originally Hobart
- Carly Reid – Korean Australian adoptee from Brisbane, originally Perth
- Tim Vanderburg – Korean Australian adoptee living in South Korea, originally Sydney
- Andrea Kim – Korean American adoptee, Fullbright Scholarship researcher currently living in Seoul
- My Korean Umma
- Park Young Hee – Korean Australian actress and performer, who acts as the voice of my adoptee social worker
The making of… (and why I’ve been too busy to blog lately):
I like documenting things. When I was in Korea last year, I recorded a ton of video and sound because I wanted to remember everything – from the ambience of Seoul to the sound of my mother’s voice.
A few months later, I heard of an opportunity to produce a radio documentary through the Community Media Training Organisation (CMTO). So I pitched an idea to basically retell the story on this blog about searching and finding my family, and started making it back in June just before I found out that I was going back to Korea.
But the project got bigger. I felt like talking about myself the whole time was a bit narcissistic – and this could be my opportunity to educate everyone about Korean adoption. I set out with the mission to send the message not all adoptees are the same. I ended up talking to other Korean Australian adoptees. Some have reunited with family, some have not. One lives in Korea, one has never been. I also included the voices of Korean adoptee academics and activists, whose knowledge and mission to tackle the issues in Korean adoption have truly empowered me and the rest of the adoptee community. We ended up having 30 minute long conversations – I forgot that I was supposed to be interviewing people and kept interrupting to say “woah! me too!”
It took a long time to make. Along the way, I realised Korean adoption is a very complex issue and it’s difficult to include every facet and viewpoint within 57 minutes – even though I very much wish I could. Adoptees suggested more great people I should talk to, but I sadly had deadlines and a time limit to deal with. Even researching the history of adoption to narrate at the beginning took me a few days to fully understand.
I hadn’t EVER listened back to the recording of my first conversation with my Umma until I started editing. When I was still in Australia and still waiting to hear back if I was going to Korea or not, I couldn’t listen to it without crying. Editing it was a painful process.
It was also very emotional to listen back to the recording of my conversation with the social worker who told me that I had sisters. But I realised something. After my reunion, many adoptees told me they had very different experiences with social workers – they didn’t tell them anything and didn’t let them look at the brown papers at the back. I listened very carefully and picked up the hesitation and hushed tones in her voice. And then I realised that the social worker had told me information that she was not meant to tell me. It seemed extremely unlikely that she’d give me permission for me to broadcast it. So the lovely Park Younghee, a Korean-Australian actress, acts as the part of my social worker. My reactions from the original recording are still included.
The CMTO kindly extended my deadline as my life was suddenly overtaken by organising to move overseas for a year, seeing my family in Seoul, being thrown into a full teaching orientation and lesson planning for hyperactive Korean children.
But now it’s done. An online version will be available soon. I feel like it’s a very small contribution to most of the efforts Korean adoptees make to benefit our community, but I hope it helps in some little way.