Society & Culture
Solo (B13) [Brian] Essay: Korea, An Unfamiliar Place, Deep Within My Heart
Brian shares the emotionally candid essay that he submitted as part of his application for his trip to Seoul, South Korea.
Korea – An Unfamiliar Place, Deep Within My Heart
My story, like many Korean adoptees of the 1980s, started with an orphanage, Korean foster care, and a plane ride before arriving stateside in the USA.
I grew up as a Korean adoptee in a small town in central Minnesota, as the only child in the family to older parents. Both my parents were the youngest of their siblings, and the timing of my adoption meant I was years younger than all my first cousins, and years older than my second cousins. I was alone in my age group within my extended family.
My adoptive parents were loving and provided me a stable home and safe place to grow up. And, the wisdom given to parents raising a child of a different race in those days was largely color blindness – to de-emphasize the uniqueness of the diversity of humankind by reinforcing the message that where you came from was not important, and that it should not be regarded as important now. While there are indeed shared human experiences across all ethnic groups, and key themes that should unite us as humans: Being Korean, which I am, was left in a neglected place.
And while my adoptive parents reinforced my personal value and worth, they did not know to educate themselves and learn more about where their son came from so they could share stories with him of his homeland.
I did not attend any adoptee camps growing up, nor did I learn anything of Korean culture, food, or language. My first exposure to something largely Korean was watching the 1988 Olympics on television. I learned what kimchi was in middle school, watching re-runs of M*A*S*H.
I do not believe the actions of my parents were malicious in anyway, but the silence in the deep place is felt, even as a child. Now in my 40s, I recently mentioned adding kimchi to my fried rice recipe. My adopted mother, now nearing her 80s, asked in all earnestness, “What’s kimchi?”
For years, well into adulthood, I shut the door to the unfamiliar place to preserve myself, and become somehow, not Korean. But the door could never be fully closed, and only by reopening it in my adult years after college and into married life have I realized the vastness of the place this has taken up in my heart.
As a dad to two wonderful children, now both in their teenage years, it has been eye-opening to me to listen and watch them identify openly and proudly as Korean, something that was silent for me well into adulthood. Their vibrance for life and their curiosity into their ethnic heritage made me realize that the undiscovered places within me needed to be explored and appreciated in a new way. I want them to see their dad grow and explore what it means to know yourself in a healthy way.
I have always been curious and love learning new things. I know that one of the best ways to learn is to immerse yourself in the subject matter. Any standing internal ambivalence about the leap evaporates when you take a dive.
With the economic consequences of COVID lockdowns to my personal finances, I thought any trip would be years out, even though the desire burned bright.
A trip to Korea represents the opportunity to dive into the deep, unfamiliar place within my heart and experience the richness of my heritage.
I have never been back to Korea. I don’t know who my birth family is. I don’t know any Korean language. I know little about Korean culture.
For me, my family, and my legacy: Let’s go explore Korea. Let’s meet the Korean people.
The land of my birth, the roots of my family, the place where past and present kiss and propel me into the future.
Unfamiliar places should not stay unfamiliar.
Korea, the Motherland. Deep in my heart, forever on my mind.
It is Free