FINDING A GLOBAL FAMILY

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FINDING A GLOBAL FAMILY

FINDING A GLOBAL FAMILY

FINDING A KOREAN FAMILY AND A GLOBAL COMMUNITY

HANA CRISP, CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF KAIAN SHARES HER STORY OF SEARCHING FOR HER BIRTH FAMILY IN KOREA.

In 2010 I first met my Korean family as part of GOA’L’s First Trip Home program, and embarked upon an ongoing journey down an unknown path.

Reunion is commonly misconceived as an ending, a happily ever after, but for me it was a beginning. Some questions were answered but even more were raised as I navigated my way through new relationships and a new personal identity.

Fortunately, my maternal family was easy to locate. I can still remember getting an email from Eastern Social Welfare Society (my adoption agency), stating “We’ve found your birth mother, she has remarried, and you have two half brothers.” Short, succinct, and life changing. Technology had already made it possible to check my emails while driving (terrible, I know) but this one forced me to pull over.

I felt lucky to be part of this large family, finally surrounded by people who looked like me but also reminded by language and culture that I was still outside of it.

I had my first meeting with them a few weeks later in the Eastern office in Seoul, imperfectly translated by an Eastern social worker. My family was welcoming, generous and affectionate, and have been ever since. Among so many other things, it was then that I first learned that my adoption file was completely false and my birth father had not died in a tragic motorcycle accident in my infancy, but was very much alive.

I felt lucky to be part of this large family, finally surrounded by people who looked like me but also reminded by language and culture that I was still outside of it.

Although I was supported by a kind Korean translator and the experienced GOA’L staff, my first trip to Korea was emotionally overwhelming, with numerous new relatives to meet and vast amounts of new information to assimilate into my personal history. Over multiple conversations, I gradually understood more about my adoption, but frustratingly, not everything. While I wanted to clarify details of my story, it seemed like my birth family wanted to move forward and leave the past behind. I saw firsthand how memory is subjective, muted over time and can be coloured by shame and regret.

AFTER THE HONEYMOON
When I returned to Australia after my first visit, I experienced the typical “honeymoon” period of reunion, with all the excitement of a newly discovered family, followed by the inevitable return to everyday life and the eventual decline in correspondence. I felt isolated and anxious at times, and fearful that our reunion meant nothing and I would be once again, left behind.

Over the following years, I visited Korea frequently and I have many wonderful memories of sleepovers with my younger cousins, my Aunt’s delicious cooking, and trips to the public spa with my mother. However, spending time with my relatives brought up unexpected feelings of loss and gain. It still does. I felt lucky to be a part of this large family, finally surrounded by people who looked like me, but also reminded by language and culture that I was still outside of it. My birth family seemed so happy and close-knit; I couldn’t help but wonder what I’d missed out on. It made the constant, internal question, “What would life have been like if you weren’t adopted?” that much more pertinent.

I struggled to come to terms with the fact that I was given up at the age of three. I had so many questions. How could you leave me? How could you spend the first year with me and then give me up? Did you visit me at your parents’ house after you had moved out and remarried? If so, how often? I confess, there were times when I pushed my Omma away; during one visit to Korea I didn’t even tell my birth family that I was in the country.

It took me years to process everything and even today, the head can understand what the heart will not forgive so easily.

Forming a deeper relationship with my younger half-brother has been one of the greatest gifts of my reunion.

BROTHERS AND FATHERS
A few years later, one of my half-brothers came to Australia on a working holiday. I had mixed feelings about what he might expect from me as an older sister, and I contemplated having him live with me but prudently decided to take things slowly. Initially I paid for everything (as expected from Korean older siblings) but I felt awkward about it. Impossibly, I
wanted to be treated both like a regular sister and someone you’ve just met.
For his part, my brother was patient, gentle and understanding. Aided by his growing English fluency, we gradually moved beyond small talk and came to know each other. Forming a deeper relationship with my brother has been one of the greatest gifts of my reunion, not to mention I can now have conversations with my birth family without the awkward presence of
an external translator (the need for experienced and sensitive reunion translators is a whole other story).

Meanwhile, I had also located my birth father – confirmed by a DNA test and alive in Seoul. I learned that I had a half-sister on my father’s side and began corresponding with my Aunt, my father’s sister. About a year ago on my last trip to Korea, I finally met my Aunt in person. Again, she was warm and generous but with a very different personality to anyone on my mother’s side. I very much hoped to finally meet my father in person, but my Aunt apologised, saying it wasn’t a good time because the rest of the family didn’t know about me.

I hadn’t been allowed to meet my father, I couldn’t know the details of his funeral and I was unable to express any of my feelings in Korean. I struggled to know how to grieve for a father I’d never met.

Before I could meet him, my father unexpectedly passed away. I wanted to attend the funeral but again, because the family didn’t know about me, I was told that it was inappropriate.

I felt pathetic. I hadn’t been allowed to meet my father, I couldn’t know the details of his funeral and I was unable to express any of my feelings in Korean. In the aftermath of that, I struggled to know how to grieve for a father I’d never met. However, I am grateful for the support I received from both my maternal Korean family and my Australian adoptive family during that time.

A PART OF SOMETHING GREATER
This journey, which began in 2010, led to my involvement with an international community of Korean adoptees and the wider adoption community, from which I have drawn strength, courage, and wisdom at each step. KAIAN was inspired by the many adoptee organisations
around the world and I am deeply thankful for their encouragement along the way. I am proud of our community for everything we have overcome and achieved. and hope that we continue to support and inspire each other on our respective journeys.

Hana Crisp is the president of KAIAN and was born in Jeonju and adopted from Korea at the age of three. Based in Melbourne, Hana has worked with adoption-related organisations including KAF Han-Ho, PCA Families, and VANISH. Hana is a classically trained singer and is currently studying Psychology at the University of Melbourne.

A note about adoption language: KAIAN recognises and appreciates that adoption terminology preferences vary within the adoption community and may change over time. The language used in this article reflects the individual preference of the author and does not represent KAIAN as an organisation.

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