Archive for April, 2011


To Camp or Not to Camp?

So summer is almost upon us, and people are contemplating their summer plans.  For many adoptive families those plans include a trip to a heritage/culture or adoptee camp. Early on we thought we’d be one of those families who attended heritage camp each year. We have one that’s held every summer only a couple of hours from our house so it seemed like a no-brainer.

But the first year or two there wasn’t any programming for J. He would have been in daycare while we attended seminars so we decided to wait until he could actually participate in camp-related activities. Then financing became a problem and unemployment meant that camp wasn’t an option. Which brings us to this year, and ironically I have to say that the couple who was thrilled with the idea of heritage camp a few years ago will again not be attending heritage camp. Why this time, you ask? Well, after running the numbers it just doesn’t make financial sense to us.

Here’s a little background. This month J started taekwondo at a dojang with a Korean American instructor that is attended by several Korean American families, and we were given the opportunity to try out our local Korean American school for the remainder of the semester at no cost. So far J is loving both of these opportunities that put him in contact with other Korean Americans on a daily and weekly basis. If we continue Korean school in the fall when the new semester starts, we’d like the whole family to attend given that the school is willing to have an adult beginner’s language course. And, while taekwondo isn’t the cheapest sport out there, we love that it provides a the connection to Korean culture, allows J to learn Korean words, and we believe it’s making a huge difference for J to be around other Korean Americans on a regular basis. He’s figuring out that he’s not alone here as the sole Korean American in our community, which is how I think he felt prior to these opportunities coming along. Eventually my husband and I would like to start taekwondo too.

But both of these opportunities cost money, as does camp. So I priced everything out for our family. What I found was that this year camp would cost approximately $970 for our family of three, including the camp fees, lodging, and meals. (If we tent camped during camp, instead of staying at the lodge, it would be around $460, which is better but still… .) Those figures do not include gas to get to camp, any purchases made at the Korean market they have each year, or any other incidental expenses.

So those “four” days of culture camp (staying at the lodge) would cost the equivalent of eight months of taekwondo (at full price without discounts they offer) or one-and-a-half years of attending Korean school for our whole family. (Even if we tented camped the cost of culture camp would equal almost four months of taekwondo at the full price or one semester of Korean school for our whole family plus an additional semester for one family member.)

If money were no object–if, for instance, our family won the lottery–I’d say we do it all. But given that money is an object, I think we have to get the most bang for our buck. And that just doesn’t seem to be culture camp, at least not the one closest to us. “Four” days of camp is really more like one-and-a-half to two days of actual programming, when you factor in registration day and free time you’re allotted to do recreational things as a family. The camp is run by adoptive parents, which isn’t bad, but I’d personally like it better if the local Korean American community had a leadership role in the camp (local Korean Americans are invited as guests and participate, but to my knowledge don’t help plan the programming). A couple of great things about camp include the camp counselors, who are all adult adpotees, and meeting many other families just like ours. But the likelihood that those families live in our community isn’t great from the stats that I’ve heard, and we have a local program through which we can interact and get to know adult adoptees.

While I’m sure we’d all have a good time at camp, and I don’t dispute it has merit, it just seems like taekwondo and Korean school can provide more for our family right now. Five-day-a-week taekwondo classes and weekly classes at our local Korean school give us regular opportunities to meet and interact with Korean American families in our area, which is one thing we think is really missing for our family. In addition to learning a sport, language, and culture, we’re hoping to make lasting connections and friendships through these opportunities.

Only time will tell at this point. Maybe this time next year, I’ll be back on this blog touting what a wonderful and irreplaceable opportunity heritage camp is. But for now we’re going to stick with the local opportunities that have presented themselves and see where they lead. I’ll keep you updated.


Dual Citizenship for Korean Adoptees

This week 13 Korean adoptees were granted Korean citizenship in the first dual citizenship ceremony held since Korea changed it’s laws about dual citizenship.

I’m far from an expert on this subject but I am trying to gather more information. If you’re interested in more information about dual citizenship for Korean adoptees, here’s a couple of places you can go to learn more.

G’OAL (Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link), one of the groups who held get the legislation passed, has an online forum where you can get more information. The address is You’ll have to register for this site.

And G’OAL has also published a booklet on the subject that can be purchased from Amazon. Right now it’s only in Kindle edition, but I’ve been assured they are working on releasing the booklet in other formats. You can check find the Kindle edition here:

As I learn more, I’ll pass along what I learn and where I’m finding the information. I excited that this is now possible for our kids!


Nature of Culture

Our adoption journey is now five years old. A drop in the bucket, I know, yet so many things have changed in those five years. In April 2006, we were beginning our home study, preparing for our parents-in-process classes, being fingerprinted, and gathering lots of paperwork, all while dreaming of the little guy who became our son on paper on March 30 of that year. When we started our process, we’d never heard the Korean language, much less spoke any; we’d never eaten Korean food; and we had no clue about Korean TV or music. In short, the things that fill our days now were not even on our radar’s then.

We were about three weeks into our process when we had our PIP class and began learning about the importance of embracing our son’s birth culture. And we took those lessons to heart; within a month we’d eaten Korean food and found someone to begin teaching us the language.

But looking back I have to admit that even then I didn’t completely comprehend what “culture” was. Like many parents, I think I fixated on culture from a historical context. Yes, food was important, as was etiquette and understanding common courtesies, but at that point I didn’t think at all in terms of pop culture.

In the last year, my thoughts on J learning Korean culture have shifted. It started with last year’s World Cup and Big Bang’s Shouts of Reds victory song. We already knew that the whole country of South Korea gets behind its World Cup teams because we’ve been soccer fans for several years. But as we watched the games and read stories from South Korea, we better understood that the World Cup experience (including the various victory songs and dances, the red shirts, bandanas, and scarfs) was part of the country’s national consciousness.

That message has been reiterated twice more since then. First at a Chuseok celebration we attended at a local Korean church last September. The teens did a dance that had been made popular by a Korean pop group, and almost everyone in the audience knew the dance. The second instance happened recently while we were at a culture day camp put on by a local Korean American Student Association. J was drawing pictures of Big Bang while we wanted for the other kids to arrive. And when the college students saw what he was doing they began playing Big Bang music on the computer and later one played part of a Big Bang song on the piano. Big Bang is big in South Korea right now and, like them or not, if you live there or are of Korean descent you probably know who they are.

Not really so different from living in the U.S. While I don’t listen to Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, or Katy Perry (we’re listening to Big Bang), I know who they are. TV shows, movies, actors/actresses, music, and books are part of our national consciousness.

So now I feel that these pop culture experiences are of equal importance to the historical culture, etiquette, and common courtesies when it comes to teaching J about the South Korean culture. If J only learns about Korean drumming, wearing hanboks, and traditional games, there will be a hole in his understanding of Korean culture. Thanks to his Big Bang obsession, hopefully when he’s older he’ll be able to talk to others of Korean descent about the Korean music scene. (He’s saying he’s ready to branch out and listen to more than Big Bang, but no girl groups, please. Yuck! –Remember he’s 5.) And we’re already lining up Korean dramas that will be age-appropriate for him once he starts to read (or understand more of the Korean language).

I realize that not all adoption sending countries have a thriving pop culture, though I suspect most countries have some forms of pop culture. But South Korea does, and it’s easily accessible in the U.S. And now I think we’d be missing an important part of embracing the Korean culture if we ignored the pop culture aspect. Fortunately we love it. But love it or not, when we adopted J, I believe we adopted his heritage and his culture too.

Will knowing about music, movies, shows, and actors automatically allow J to fit in if/when he returns to Korea someday? Of course not, but it’s another piece of the puzzle that is parenting a transracial international adoptee.


And It Begins…

Two weeks ago J started a conversation with me that ended with him expressing his desire to have never left Korea. He expressed how if he lived in Korea he would look like everyone and no one would  make fun of him. When I noted that our family would still look different because Mom and Dad are white, he said he meant that he wished he’d never left his birth family.

The two weeks prior to that conversation had been really difficult ones for our family. My FIL had passed away unexpectedly and after a road trip to deal with the stuff surrounding that, we got home and all got sick. Thus, I’m not sure I’d handle the conversation as well as I should have or even would have under other circumstances. I don’t think I did a terrible job with the my answers, but grief and being bone-wary tired just didn’t leave me on my toes.

I’m not sure exactly what prompted the conversation, except to say that J’s been very worried lately about people making fun of him. Not every instance in which he thinks people are making fun of him is true (sometimes people are laughing with him, not at him), but I think there have probably been some instances when I wasn’t around that he hasn’t completely shared with me. He’s only 5, after all.

Then yesterday, the conversation repeated itself. This time I truly believe it was prompted by kids at a club we were attending treating him and the only other child of color in attendance differently (in this case throwing blocks at them). Again he said he wished he’d never had to leave his Korean family and that he could live in Korea.

When he says this, I say that I’m sad he had to lose his Korean family too, but I feel very blessed that he’s part of our family. And that’s true. I hate that he’s had to experience so much loss.

Of course, I know that the situation isn’t as simple as him staying in Korea and fitting in completely. In some ways he would’ve fit, but certain circumstances surrounding his situation might have made him a target for teasing or bullying. Someday he’ll understand that even living in Korea with his birth family wouldn’t have solved all his problems. But for now that’s beyond his comprehension.

In the meantime, I also believe that some of these feelings are coming from not having many Asians who are part of his everyday life. While our life in general is very diverse, that diversity thus far hasn’t included a lot of people who look like him. It’s not that we don’t think that is important; it’s that making connections into a segment of the community that you’re not naturally a part of is very difficult to do. Honestly, I believe transracially adopted kids seeing themselves reflected in the daily happenings of their family is the most important component a parent can provide.

And we’ve failed. Lots of circumstances have come together to lead to that failure (financial hardships and the inability to move somewhere with a higher Asian population, for example), but no excuses. So now we’re looking into tae kwon do for J and possibly attending the local Korean school. Then we’ll see where that leads. Hopefully such opportunities will help J with his journey and provide our family with connections that turn into true friendships within the Korean American community.

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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Please Teach Me English
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