Name: Kara DeLost (이의숙)
Adopted to: United States
Current residence: Louisville, KY
My first visit was in 2010 for a summer study abroad program. The trip started for me when I got on the plane. I had never been around or seen so many Korean people before in my life. I felt very intimidated and scared of what they thought of me. The first time the flight attendant spoke to me in Korean and I could not answer, I felt the shame of not being Korean enough. When I arrived, I started to cry. Seeing the people, seeing the language, wanting to feel at home – but feeling like a foreigner, it was a lot. I kept staring at all the people, wondering if they knew I was a fraud. I felt guilty for being there.
During my first trip, I went to school and explored the country through guided tours and trips that were a part of my study program. I felt very much like a tourist and college student, and not like a native at all. I was able to experience the city and the countryside though. The students were all assigned a ‘buddy’ and I was able to visit her family and learn through her everyday experiences outside of the program. At the end of the program, I went back to my adoption agency for the first time and had a social worker read me my file.
I had no expectations of my first trip. It was my first time traveling to Asia, so I was more distracted by the overall culture shock to really identify the things that were innately Korean. It wasn’t until my 2nd and 3rd trips (and having more international travel under my belt) that I was really able to distinguish what was “Korean”. I thought the people would be warmer, but they were all very shut off from talking to foreigners.
The language barrier will always be hard. It’s a huge insecurity of mine. I know it’s ultimately up to me to change that, but the fear of failure and shame keep me from learning sometimes. The beauty standards were hard at first too. I was always trying to look like a native Korean, but felt my American-ness oozing out. It made me question self-confidence. I was always seeking approval. I also struggled going back to my agency and being told they had info they couldn’t share with me. It made me feel dehumanized, angry, and entitled.
Through my 3 visits there, I have slowly learned to own my adoptee status and accept that I’ll always be a foreigner there. And that doesn’t mean that I’m any less Korean than the people living there, it just means we’re different. I have learned I love the culture and the people and the way of life there, and I can enjoy it without stressing myself out to fit in or speak the language. At one point, those fears kept me from going back. But I love it there. And if I’m going to fully enjoy my time there, I need to accept what is and let it go.
Being a Korean adoptee has meant many things to me over the course of my life. It’s never one thing. What I do know, is that it’s a life of great loss and great love. I know my birth parents loved me enough to give me up, but I lost my culture, my identity, and biological ties from it. My adoptive parents are the most loving and amazing parents I could ever ask for, and their love is greater than anything I’ve ever experienced. They have followed and supported me along my journey to find my peace and voice as a Korean adoptee. Being an adoptee means never feeling like you fit anywhere. It means feeling rejected and ashamed. It means fantasizing about a life you almost had, and dreaming of biological parents you’ll likely never meet. It means questioning your own thoughts about becoming a parent – should I adopt? Do I have to adopt? Am I awful if I don’t? What if pregnancy freaks me out? It means watching YouTube to learn how to tie a hanbok. It means cheering for America and Korea in the Olympics and World Cup. It means abandonment issues. It means being both Korean and American, and neither at the same time. It means all these things wrapped up in one person. It means being me.
Author: Kara DeLost
Edited by: Kara Rickmers