Being an Adopted Korean in South Korea





Sorry about not posting, but life has gotten very crazy.

So, this post is little less fluffy and happy-go-lucky post. I will give some information about me for new readers of my blog. I am a Korean-American who was adopted from South Korea. I was only 6 months old when I was adopted to the United States. I grew up in places where Korean culture was not heavy prevalent. Modesto, Boise, and Albuquerque are not the biggest places to find big populations of Koreans. My parents were never very interested in showing me Korean culture. I had to look for information about Korea by myself. So, long story short, I know lots of historical information about South Korea (History minor), but I don’t know the language. This will either be very good for you, or very bad.

Ok, being a Korean-American coming to South Korean was a mixed bag of emotions and experiences. It has been a really great experience, but a difficult one all at the same time. I am gonna break it down into two categories: Good Ones, and Bad Ones. I am going to start off with the bad ones because I want to end it with some good things.

Bad Ones

Ok, so you are planning to come to South Korea? If so, you must know one thing that is very important. Ajumas… Yes, Ajumas. These are older Korean women who quite frankly only care about one thing: themselves. I have had multiple run-ins with these “colorful” characters. You will see them populating markets and subways. You must be constantly diligent of your surroundings because you never know when one of these ajumas is ready to strike. Joking aside, these ladies are determined to get where they need to or buy what they want, with no disregard for others. I have had so many ajumas stare at me, not look, but stare. It was a stare that pierced my very soul and I felt like they were crushing it with their gaze. For reasons I don’t know for certain, my friend, who is born and raised in Korea said this to me: “You don’t look Korean to them, you look like a Korean-American. They think you have been infected and should go back to the United States.” This was nice to know, but didn’t make it any better to deal with. It hurts, the constant stares and the silent judging. I want to tell them that I am adopted. When my Korean language skills improve, I will, but until then, I will get those soul crushing stares.

Another problem is that my appearance of that of a Korean man. I share many similar features as my fellow Koreans like having black hair and minimal/no facial hair. Ok, check…. check. Ok, I must be Korean then. Well, that’s how other Koreans see me. He is Korean, so he must speak Korean. This doesn’t upset me, but it is their response I get that really gets under my skin. Ok, let’s take for instance that my wife and I go out to eat at a Korean restaurant. They speak to me in Korean, and in a polite way ignore my wife because she is a foreigner. I reply in most instances with this: 미국사람이에요 (from the USA). They give me a disgusted grumble and roll their eyes. Ok, I am not saying everyone does, but more times than not this is the result. I feel very dumb and like a failure. I might look into their response a little much, but this is the outcome I come up with in my head. “Ugh, you lazy foreign Korean. You should know how to speak your native tongue.” For each person their response is his/her own, but that is how it makes me feel. The first months here were soul crushing to say the least. It is different when a White or Black or Hispanic person comes to Korea. Most Koreans won’t think the person can speak Korean, so they will be extra nice and helpful to that person. But for me, I look Korean and I should know what I am doing. I can’t play the foreign card; it serves me no purpose haha. For foreigners, it’s like the American Express card: never leave home without it!

Ok, I know that it is just the culture and I should learn to deal with it. I am, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I think it really comes down to the issue of being adopted. If I were living in Europe or anywhere else, it wouldn’t be an issue. It is because I have something meaningful connected to this place in South Korea. I have struggled with my Korean identity since I was young. I struggle with being accepted and feeling important. Some fellow adoptees have echoed the same feelings. We were given up by our birth parents (for reasons of their own) to another family who chose us. It is something each adoptee deals with in his/her own way. For me, this sense of attention is a sign of that I never wanted to be given away again.

Ok, I didn’t know this was going to be so long. I will post the Good Ones portion in the next blog post in a couple of days. Until then guys,

안녕히 계세요.

Austin – 황현세 (That’s my birth name!)