THIS THING OF OURS-ADOPTION

THE KOREAN WAR BABY

My name is Don Gordon BELL and I am one of the earliest of the first generation of KAD's (Korean ADoptees). The Korean War had been settled by Armistice three years before I left war-torn Seoul, Korea, on May 21, 1956. It was the first plane of twelve 'war babies' processed thru the Harry Holt Adoption Program. Read more of MY STORY on My Pages.
I grew up in a typical middle-class family of English-Scottish roots in greater Los Angeles, Ca, USA. Memories faded, Korean language was 'lost' and I did not know anything about the country of my birth until I met Korean Marines in Vietnam while serving with the US Marines. It was my first exposure to real Korean people. I was not completely aware of how prejudiced most Koreans thought towards a Half-Breed like me. I learned what "Tuigi" meant, a Korean word for a "Child of a Foreign devil". Oh, wonderful.


All my life I always had to answer the question: "What ARE you?" and I simply would tell 'my story'. It was not a big deal for me, for my Adoptive Parents had taught me that being an American meant that WE were from many countries. I never 'wished to be White' and just learned to stand up for my own identity. MY Identity was as an American, with mixed heritage. I did not know what being "Korean" meant but often wondered about my roots, and what my birth father's ethnicity. Mexican, Native Americans, and Spanish people would tell me that I had their 'genes' for sure. Little did I know they were right!

After college, I traveled to Manila and for ten years I lived in the Philippines. I was excepted as a 'mestizo' and fit into the former Spanish colony. I was a B-movie Character Actor,
working on international and local films, enjoying a 'crazy and wild' abandonment. Then a life changing experience gave me faith in a personal Higher Being. After walking away from the film business, I lived back in the USA, not sure of my direction in life finding work in construction, finish carpentry, door hanging, and many other jobs I'd like to forget.

In 1991, at 38, I attended a Holt Heritage Camp that was a great experience and really began my own journey of Adoption Identity search. I had never thought much of my Korean culture, though I always felt proud of being "HALF-Korean" and "half-Something".

In 1994 I came back to Seoul, Korea, with my church Vineyard Christian Fellowship, and was invited to stay with a church in East Seoul, for one year. I have lived here since late 1995- re-discovering my "Korean-ness", teaching English and telling my Adoption Story to thousands of Korean students of all ages, helping their understanding of Korean Adoptees. It is one of the issues that Korea is now facing, even for its own secretly adopted children, those who were adopted IN-Country by Koreans who desired a family but due to problems with Infertility secretly adopt.

I was a charter member in 1997 (first dozen members) of GOA'L (Global Overseas Adoptees' Link, founded by Ami Nafzger) and continue to be involved with the complex issues of This Thing of Ours-Adoption. Thousands of KADs have visited Korea over the years, searching for their culture and Some search for birth family. Seventy-five thousand have come, yet only 2,400 plus have found Reunion with Birth family, often with varying results. There are many complexities, many don't want to search concerned about offending their Adoptive Families. Each KAD must decide what they want to do, when to do it, etc.


At 61, I am still 'working thru' my Adoption Identity. Each of YOU need to 'work through' your own understanding and hopefully find forgiveness and healing. Read many different accounts and compare before coming to conclusions. I hope that you will learn what IS happening NOW, in the land of your birth, the Rep. of Korea (South Korea). (See Report Links).

Times are changing, the reasons for 'relinquishment for adoption' have shifted, but there continues to be a need for a multi-tiered approach and understanding of Adoption issues. Slowly, attitudes of Korean society ARE changing for the better. But, the majority continue to feel embarrassment and shame. Thus, Adoption is still shrouded in secrecy even for those who are adopted In-country. There ARE positive signs and movements of NGO's and KAD groups are advocating for the Unwed Mothers. However, two-thirds of pregnant women each year, continue to give up their babies for adoption. One out of four are sent overseas, YET three are secretly adopted in-country. The Myth that "Koreans don't adopt" is false, but they need to open up and hopefully change their shame to pride.


This blog is for EVERYONE, whether you are an Adoptee, Adoptive Family, Birth Family or involved in Adoption in ANY way as a professional, social worker, official, etc, from Korea or the world. We examine the complex issues and personal journeys that we, domestic and overseas adoptees, have to face and sort out in This Thing of Ours-Adoption. (Use the Ligit Search function (Left Column) to check for Posts on various topics, TransRacial, TranCultural, MultiCultural families, Domestic, Civil Code Law Adoptions, InterCountry Adoption, etc.)
I personally have come to a compromised, nuanced position on this thing of ours-adoption. I advocate a Multi-tiered Plan that tries to be balanced, realistic, fair to all.

UPDATE: Living in the Philippines since 2010, at first teaching students from several countries as an Online Tutor, based in Makati, Metro Manila. I was working on a Digital Library for Online Tutoring or ELearning; developing an agritourism farm; and Overseas Retirement Care for foreigners needing 24/7 health care.

Then some 18 months ago, in July of 2012 I met with Andrew Leavold, a crazy film obsessed Aussie who helped "pull me back into film making".

WHEW! Lot on my plate. I have also been learning much about the Filipino society's very different viewpoints on unwed motherhood and adoption.

Latest: As of Sept. 2012, I worked on an Indie Film, "Baybayin, the Palawan Script", directed by Auraeus Solito, and international award winning Filipino director. I had a role in the film and explored my hobby as a STILLS Photographer. Currently I have quit all teaching, co-writing on an international film that will be done in 3D and CGI effects. I am back in the film-making business and I love it.

Adoption Discourse needs to hear YOUR VOICE. Every opinion, even opposing viewpoints will be posted and interaction invited by email and Comments have been activated again with spam filters!)
. Welcome, come learn, and share your thoughts.


January 20, 2010

Beyond Culture Camp- Executive Summary

The Korean War Baby posts here the Executive Summary of the Evan B. Donaldson’s Adoption Institute’s recent report “Beyond Culture Camp” from November 2009. Previously the KWB posted the full report link HERE or just go to the left column of this blog. The full report is 112 pages though and the KWB has finally slogged through the whole thing with his trusty online dictionary to assist in understanding some of the ‘50-cent words’.

The Executive Summary is only 8 pages and it can be read entirely here:
2009_11_ExSum_BeyondCultureCamp.pdf (application/pdf Object)

For the ‘really busy’ reader or those ‘time challenged’, and some who are just plain lazy, a Summary of the Summary is provided by the astute commentary of the Korean War Baby. Please read the eight pages for yourself and determine your own conclusions after considering how it fits in Your Life. To each individual in “This Thing of Ours-Adoption” the report and summary may/could/should have different levels of application to your own situation, whether you are an Adoptee, Adoptive Parent/family, Natural/Birth Mother/family, government social worker, Adoption Agency staff, etc.

Executive Summary

Transracial adoption is a reality of contemporary American life. Since 1971, parents in this country have adopted nearly a half-million children from other countries, the vast majority of them from orphanages throughout Asia, South America and, most recently, Africa. Additional tens of thousands of multiracial families have been formed during this period with boys and girls adopted from foster care, with the rate of such adoptions from the domestic system growing from 10.8 percent in Fiscal Year 1995, when there were about 20,000 total adoptions, to 15 percent in 2001, when there were over 50,000. In the vast majority of these cases –domestic and international – children of color have been adopted by Caucasian parents.

As you may have realized by now the KWB uses colorful text highlights to bring attention to important phrases or words. He has chosen to use the color Brown to represent HIS OWN comments. Brown just seemed to fit the color scheme of the background TAN, though some may feel that it means his words suggest a big pile of manure…

How do they develop a sense of racial identity when raised by White parents, most often in predominately White communities? How do they incorporate an understanding of both being adopted and of having parents who are of a different race or ethnicity than themselves? How do they learn to cope with racism and stereotyping? What experiences are beneficial to them in developing a positive sense of self? This ground-breaking study by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute constitutes the broadest, most extensive examination to date of identity development in adopted adults. It does so not only by reviewing decades of research but also, most importantly, by asking the experts – adult adoptees – about the experiences and strategies that promote positive identity development.

1 TRANSRACIAL Adoption (TRA) is defined as the adoption of a child of one race by one or two parents of a different race (domestic or international). In this study, TRA adoption is limited to the adoption of a racial minority child by two Caucasian parents.

TRANSCULTURAL (TRC) in this paper is defined as the adoption of a child (either domestically or internationally) who may be racially similar but ethnically different from the parents (i.e. an Ethiopian child adopted by African-American parents).


INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION (ICA), INTERNATIONAL or TRANSNATIONAL ADOPTION (TRN) in this study is defined as the adoption of a child born abroad. An intercountry adoption may be transracial, in which case it is almost always also transcultural (a Chinese child adopted by Irish-Americans) or may only be transcultural (a Russian child adopted by European-Americans).

Very important questions that perhaps most Korean adoptee have faced, whether of MultiEthnic and full-blood Korean Adoptees, but can also be applied in some ways to Koreans immigrants of all generations. Two groups were compared- “this paper concentrates on the 179 respondents born in South Korea and adopted by two White parents, and the 156 Caucasian respondents born in the U.S. and adopted by two White parents.” One may wonder why Caucasian children adopted by Caucasian Parents…It is the 'control group' that explores the issues of adoption without racial factors.

Through this study we sought to learn about identity development in adopted persons generally, but also about the impact of racial/ethnic difference from one’s parents.
Like many other studies of adoption, this one involves a self-selected sample of
respondents, so we cannot know to what extent they are representative of all adoptees. We title this study Beyond Culture Camp because we recognize that parents adopting across race and culture, and the professionals who guide them, have developed strategies such as camps and festivals to introduce or strengthen children’s connection to their cultures and countries of origin. Yet, as this study found, such activities – while important – are insufficient in helping children adopted across racial and national boundaries develop a healthy, positive sense of self.

Please, take twenty minutes to read the 8 page Executive Summary for yourself. The Findings and Recommendations are especially useful in understanding for all involved, beyond just adoptees themselves.

What is Beyond Culture Camps?
The KWB concurs that Culture or Heritage Camps only “introduce or strengthen children’s connection to their cultures and countries of origin”. They are limited yet powerful in bringing together many adoptees for the first time with others who look like themselves. In his own experience as a counselor the KWB experienced a very powerful connection and interest in his Korean roots. (As a MultiEthnic person, he had to answer the frustrating question “What are YOU doing here?” because of not looking Korean…Sigh).

Yes, for many other adoptees the journey of self-identity can go beyond these steps. Learning about Korean language, culture, food, history, etc. can be done through many resources, for those who seek it. The internet has given us huge amounts of information, perhaps how you may be reading this now. Korean adoptee groups sprang up especially in certain states with huge numbers of Korean adoptees. Adoptive Parents have also grown in knowledge that it is a good thing to help discover the cultural heritage of their adopted children. “Times have changed for the better” with Adoption Professionals, websites of Adoptive Parents, blogs, etc all extolling the discovery of one’s roots.

Returning Korean Adoptees
Since the 1988 Olympics the numbers of returning Korean Adoptees has increased, as they have indeed gone beyond culture camp to visit the homeland, on Motherland tours, often sponsored by Adoption Agencies and NGO in Korea. Some estimates are that 75,000 have made trips back to Korea. Only 2.7% have been reunited with birth families. Some 2,400 adoptees have made contact with birth family and made numerous trips back. The results are again a spectrum of great to very disappointing, frustrating, even some few cases of rejection.

For most Korean women to reveal that “Oh, by the way, your wife/mother once gave up a child for AH6x9coveradoption” is very, very difficult. Korean society continues to keep even 95% of Domestic adoption completely secret, hidden even from the child in most cases. This is due to the stigma against having a NON-Related child adopted into a family. Prejudice is still very high against a child who is adopted. This compares with the WHITE children that had WHITE Adoptive Parents.

This is NOT proper, for the Loss/Abandonment that effects all children separated from their biological mother varies in intensity as Dr. Joe Soll  brings out in his book "Adoption Healing: A Pathway to Recovery". Dr. Soll has an excellent website "Adoption Crossroads" that is full of resource materials.




Back In the Motherland
Most adoptees visited their orphanages, if they were still open, seeing first hand the conditions and experiences that they themselves may have gone through when they were processed for adoption overseas. Some appeared on Korean television shows or had newspaper articles written, after deciding to continue Searching for Birth Family. Not all adoptees get that chance nor do all want to pursue Search. Each must determine for themselves how much “beyond Culture Camp” they want to go.

The next level perhaps would be those who have come to live and work here. Hundreds have lived here for a period of time in Korea, many teaching language, some moving on to private businesses. The KWB came back on his first visit in 1994, three trips in 1995 and since Oct. 1995 continually has worked and lived here.

This Is Korean (TIK) label on the left column has many stories that show how REAL Koreans think about even Koreans who have studied or lived abroad more than 2 or 3 years! Kyopos or Korean emigrants to other countries are welcomed since 1999 because the country wanted to encourage money and expertise to come back. Those Koreans living in China, Japan, Russia, and other countries were NOT on the list and still have difficulty entering the country. North Korean refugees have many difficulties in living in with their Southern brethren. Even the coming Dual Citizenship has exceptions. Not all Koreans are equal. This is just the way it is, T.I.K.- This Is Korea.

Our understanding of Korean culture and identity grows yet is limited by many factors. Korean people have different levels of acceptance towards even any ‘Real Korean’ who has left the country. At the present time only a small percentage of people have open arms, hearts and minds towards Korean adoptees. It is improving but will take much more time. Those Korean Adoptees living here ARE influencing and bringing awareness to the motherland and are bringing more and more understanding.
So where are YOU? Where are you on the journey beyond culture camp? It is up to you to decide if you want more…the resources are here. Take the next step after reading and learning from those who have walked before you. Good luck and God Bless!

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