Archive for November, 2009


Love, Culture, and Identity–What’s Really Needed?

After attending our Parents In Process class, my husband and I decided to delve into Korean culture with both feet. Everything we learned in class pointed to the importance of our son being acquainted with his birth culture. So we didn’t hesitate–we began eating Korean food and learning the language. After what we’d learned, we no longer believe that love was enough in parenting our son. He would need us to be more informed, educated, and understanding.

At the time, I had no idea that many would consider our take on adoption parenting “out there.” I couldn’t believe that so many people would still believe that love was enough, that race didn’t matter, that birth culture would be a matter of interest or it wouldn’t, and that speaking the birth language really didn’t matter so much. But truly, I’ve come across more parents who have a “que sera, sera” attitude (whatever will be, will be) than I have parents who are proactive about building cultural foundations for their kids.

And lately, there’ve been a couple of articles that on the surface seem to exempt parents from “doing culture.” (I wrote about one article in my July 2009 post, “What’s an Adoptive Parent to Do?”) One article was in Brain Child magazine; it was titled “What’s My Heritage?” It was written by an adoptive parent. A second one appeared on This one was titled, “Another Country, Not My Own: One overseas adoptee explains, Parents embrae of the ‘home’ culture can have its costs,” and was written by Mei-Ling Hopgood, who also authored the book Lucky Girl.

Some parents have used these articles to say, “See if you go too far with culture stuff it can be just as damaging as doing nothing. Damned if you do, damned if don’t. So why put in the effort.”

But if you really dig into these articles, they’re so saying so much more. They’re saying that culture needs to be more than a once a year culture camp, Korean food on selective Korean holidays, or learning traditional celebrations or dances. These articles are saying that it’s more important for internationally adopted kids to know people who share their ethnic heritage, to have mentors and role models who look like them, and to live in diverse areas.

These articles aren’t talking about doing less, but doing more. And the findings of a recently released study done by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute uphold the need of going further in adoption parenting. The study is titled, “Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption.” The report is 113 pages long, but the institute’s web site has a summary of the report, so you can see the conclusions they came to without reading the whole report. (On the summary page, there is a link to the PDF of the entire report, if you’re interested.)

The conclusion of the report’s introduction says, “The findings of this study reflect the need to go ‘beyond culture camp’ to provide children with ongoing experiences and relationships that promote postivie racial (and adoptive) indentity development. Our respondents valued cultural celebrations and other opportunities to learn about their origins, but such singular events appear insufficient. … Further, there seems to no question about the need to provide transracially adopted children with opportunities to be in diverse settings and have diverse role models.”

This report talks about doing things that might take you, the adoptive parent, out of your comfort zones. Moving to a more diverse area, traveling to your child’s birth country (shown to be very important for international adoptees in learning about their origins), understanding what it’s like to be the only person of color in community.

The conclustion continues, “Commitment and love of adoptive parents, exposure to positive aspects of the child’s culture, and perhaps connection with other families who have adopted from the same country were thought to be enough to support the development of positive identity. As this study demonstrates, the integration of “being adopted,” of one’s racial/ethnic identity and one’s identity as a person adopted from another country is a complex and continually evolving process.” [emphasis added by me]

The findings of this study are nothing new to me. Over the last year and a half, the realities of the what this study concluded have been weighing on me. I’ve come to understand the need of living in a diverse area; of having close family friends who share our son’s ethnicity and who love him and are interested in mentoring him and helping him achieve a healthy identity; of doing more than the surface culture stuff.

And it’s hard. I admit it. I know the importance of it, but achieving those things is hard. It’s hard to make connections. But I know that me not doing what’s hard could make things infinitely harder on my son. So the hard way it is. With God’s help, I know we can achieve the life that will be best for our family.


Korean Language Primer

It seems like more and more adoptive families are wanting to learn the languages of their children’s birth culture, which we think is great. We started our Korean language learning three years while waiting for our son to come home. We were fortunate to find a willing teacher who sacrificed her Saturday mornings to get us started. We learned some essential phrases and a even impressed a couple of people in Korean with our use of those phrases.

Since coming home with our son three years ago, we’ve had a harder time continuing our education. This fall our son could have started Korean school but with the economy what it is, there just isn’t money for that at this time. So I’ve been looking for other ways to learn. In this post, I’m going to share some language links that can help you get started learning Korean.

Let’s Speak Korean on is an excellent resource. I’ve just recently found this one. Each episode is approximately 10 minutes long and goes over essential phrases in Korean. It’s easy to understand but they don’t Romanize (put into the English alphabet) the phrases, so it’s helpful to know your Korean alphabet.

The Korean alphabet can be practiced at this site put together by Indiana University. This site goes over how to pronounce basic vowels, complex vowels, and consonants, as well as gives words that have that sound. You’ll hear both a male speaker and a female speaker pronounce each sound and word.

Another site by Indiana Universitys is a Multimedia Korean Dictionary. Set up like the previous site listed, this one goes over words and phrases that are common, such as colors, animals, clothing, numbers, and more. Again you’ll hear each word or phrases pronounced twice, once by a male speaker and again by a female speaker. is another online resource. This one has several lessons, but I don’t believe any have audio. Most words and phrases, however, are romanized so learning to pronounce words might be easier. I would say this site is best used in conjunction with the sites already listed since they include audio of the pronounciation. is another great resource. While there is a subscription service on this site, there are several free lessons available online or through iTunes. Each lesson also has a downloadable PDF guide to help you through the lesson.

Korean Language Online is part of the Indiana University language center. I’ve just been introduced to this one so I haven’t had a chance to do much with it. It seems like most of it is listening. The audio files reference a book, but I haven’t found it on the site yet. I think it’s helpful to both see the words written in hangul and pronounced. Seeing the characters as you’re hearing them reenforces which character makes which sound. This site does have multiple levels of learning, which is cool. I’ll have to spend more time exploring this site, for sure.

If you search the Internet, you’ll find many more resources to help you learn Korean. The ones listed here are my current favorites. As previously promised, I still plan to post words and phrases that are useful for adoptive families with a new baby home from Korea. But hopefully these sites will help you get started learning Korean.


Be Prepared, Part 2–The Expanded Version

Last week I wrote about what to do while you’re waiting for your child to come home to you. But I felt that I should expound on some of those ideas, as well as add some that weren’t included in the first round.

Learn the Language. Of course, you probably aren’t going to become fluent in the language of your child’s birth culture while you’re waiting. But you can learn some important words and phrases that might help with the transition. A few such phrases might be:
I love you
I don’t understand
Don’t be afraid
It’s OK
I plan to do a post in the future with some of these words and phrases in Korean that you can use.

And learn some songs in that language to sing as lullabies once your child is home. If your child was born in Korea, you can check out the links I’ve previously posted to songs on YouTube. There are also several shopping sites that have CDs with Korean children’s songs or lullabies. I’m sure you can find the same type of CDs in other languages too. We bought a children’s song CD in Korea and used it every day at nap time. Our son loved hearing the language that was familiar to him.

Find out about foods your child is eating. In Korea most babies eat jook, which is a rice porridge. Eating similar foods may be comforting to your child, so why not learn to make a few things now. Here is a recipe for jook, although I’m sure you can find many variations. Babies also drink barley tea in Korea. Our son’s formula was even mixed with barley tea. You can find it at your local Korean market, or if there isn’t one in your area, Komart online has it too.

Make a list of questions, if you’re meeting the foster family. This can be invaluable to you as you learn to parent to your child. What is your child’s daily schedule like? What is his temperament? Ask about the day before and the day of pick up. What did the foster family do with and for your child? Did they have a party? Or pack bags of clothes and items that will go home with the child? If you’re child has a sudden outburst once you’re home, knowing these things can help you understand what’s triggering it. (Maybe the child associates parties with getting a new family.) What about favorite TV shows? Many of the Korean children’s shows are available on DVD and VHS. If you know which ones she likes, you can purchase some either there or once you’re home (several shopping sites have them). Does your child have a favorite toy or blanket? If so, ask if the child can take it with them.

Line up help, but not for the baby. For bonding, it’s best if the parents do 100 percent of the baby care. Feeding, soothing, diapering, and bathing should all be things that only the parents do. But that doesn’t mean that others can’t help you. Ask your family and friends to provide meals for you. It might be best to have the meals brought before you travel and have them in the freezer. You’ll all be tired and jet lagged once you get home, especially during the first week or so, and may not be eating on your normal schedule for the first several days. Family and friends can also help with cleaning or laundry or grocery shopping. If you have older kids, family and friends can help by taking the older kids out for special activities or making sure they get where they need to go (school, activities, etc.).

Having a new baby home is exhausting; having a newly adopted baby is no less exhausting. Our friends didn’t seem to understand that we essentially had a 20-pound newborn when we arrived home from Korea. He was 9 months old so they assumed he would be sleeping through the night (still not at almost 4). “You’re past all that newborn stuff,” they said.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. We had a baby whose whole world had been turned upside down. He had no idea what was happening and was starting over, just as if he were a newborn. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be. I tell parents to expect and be educated for the worst. More than likely, it won’t be that bad but at least if it is, you’re armed and ready to do what you have to do.


Something to Celebrate?

November is National Adoption Month. For some it’s a month to celebrate. I wish it were more a month of adoption awareness. My feelings on adoption are very conflicted at times. I love my son dearly, and without adoption he wouldn’t be part of my life. Yet, now I know so much about adoption that it’s hard to be “in love” with the idea like I used to be.

And really I think the views of society on adoption are just as conflicted. For the most part, America seems accepting of adoption but not yet wholly accepting. If adoption were wholly accepted as a way to build a family, adoptees wouldn’t be asked about their “real” parents and adoptive parents wouldn’t be seen as “saints.” It would just be a way to build a family–not so different from the old-fashioned way or using fertility treatments to assist.

If adoption were wholly accepted, families built by adoption wouldn’t be seen as different. The children wouldn’t be seen as “unwanted” and the parents as “less of a mother or father” because the child isn’t biologically theirs. There wouldn’t be questions like, “Can’t you have children of your own?” or “Why didn’t you get an American baby?” People wouldn’t look at mothers and fathers who adopt with pity and sadness because they can’t have “their own” kids.

If adoption were wholly accepted, birth mothers who decide to make adoption plans wouldn’t be looked down on for placing their children. Phrases like, “How could anyone give up such a cute baby?” would never be uttered. Instead people would understand that placement is not an easy decision, and know that birth mothers are only trying to do what is best.

If adoption were wholly accepted, people would understand the loss that comes with adoption. They wouldn’t pass off babies as “resilient” and trivialize the trauma that comes with the early losses that our kids have experienced.

If adoption were wholly accepted in America, there would be a better understanding of corruption and unethical practices that still occur from time to time in adoptions. There would be a better understanding of the circumstances abroad that lead some birth mothers to feel they have no choice but to place their children for adoption. And with that knowledge, churches, organizations, and ministries would be working with those countries to help promote change. (I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. I don’t think white Americans should charge into other countries and tell them what do or not do. But I do feel that instead of advocating for people to adopt, these groups should be finding programs that already exist in these countries and supporting them as a way of taking care of the orphans.) This article, written by Jane Jeong Trenka, perfectly expresses the anguish and helplessness some birth mothers feel.

Adoption has been around for centuries. And I truly believe that no matter what we do, there will always be children who are placed for adoption. That fact is some women who become pregnant aren’t ready to become  mothers. But I wish we could come to a place where every adoption plan that’s made is because the birth mother believes it’s the best interest of the child. Not because she’s too poor to feed her child or because her society doesn’t support single mothers. Not because she feels she had no other recourse.

That’s what I wish National Adoption Month was about. Not simply celebrating it as a good thing to do, but talking openly about the sensitive issues of adoption, making people more aware of everything that adoption entails. Maybe then we could get to a place of true understanding and sensitivity about adoption.

My Korean Culture Blog

Just a reminder that if you want to learn more about Korean culture (both traditional and pop culture), language resources, and cooking, check out my other blog: It's filled with resources for adoptive families or anyone interested in Korean culture.

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Be Strong, Geum-Soon
Please Teach Me English
Spy Girl
Tae Gu Ki
2009 Lost Memories

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