Following My Heart and Seoul

Written by Katharine

[Yes, that’s me, circa 1987.  Don’t mind the bowl cut (which I rocked for the majority of my childhood. Be jealous.), the uneven bangs (which my mother cut herself), or the frilly red and white dress.

Now that you’ve all had a good chuckle at my baby picture…]

I never really fully understood racism until I got to Junior High School and my classmates slung derogatory names at me.

Chink.  Gook.

They would stretch the corner of their eyes or talk to me in broken English.

Kids can be so cruel.

I cried every day after school for nearly a year.  I cried myself to sleep at night, praying my classmates would stop torturing me.  I prayed I would wake up and look ‘normal’ like all of my other classmates.  I even secretly despised my parents for adopting me.

In my school district, you were either Caucasian or African American.  Any other race, and you were a prime target for bullying.  It eventually got easier to be accepted as Asian, but sometimes I would wish I didn’t look different from my family.

Over the years, I’ve learned to grow a thick skin.  People make racist comments and sling racist jokes at me, laughing hysterically, like it’s nothing.  Boys date me because they’ve never been with an Asian girl.  Or boys won’t date me because they don’t date outside their own race. All I’ve ever wanted was to fit in.

Since when did it become so hard to be accepted and treated equally?

I was born in South Korea, abandoned by my birth mother who put me in a basket and left me at a bus stop.  An elderly gentleman found me and dropped me at an orphanage where I spent the first six months of my life.  I have no record of my birth parents and I have no way of tracing them.  Rejected.  Not even my own birth parents wanted me. Now I know where my abandonment issues stem from.

I grew up in a white family (fine, Caucasian, if we’re getting technical here), in a predominantly white neighborhood.  I’m Korean by decent, but I’m American in every other way.

I feel incredibly blessed to be given a second chance at life, and I owe it all to that elderly gentleman and my adopted parents.  I believe I am living a much better life now, than in South Korea.  But I still wonder what my life would have been like, had I stayed.  I wonder who my birth parents are, what they look like (do I resemble more my mother or my father?!), and if I have any siblings.  I wonder if I’ll ever get diagnosed with a genetic disease and not take the necessary precautions because I don’t know my family’s medical history.  And of course, there’s that one question every adoptee thinks about: why did my birth parents really give me up?

When I was younger, I didn’t really have the desire to return to my homeland.  My parents gave me up for a reason, I would convince myself.  But as I got older, and as I opened myself up to the different cultures and their rituals, my desire to return to South Korea grew stronger.  However, one there’s one thing that’s really held me back about not returning: I’m not emotionally prepared to return.

Come to think of it, are we ever really emotionally prepared for anything in our lives?

Last week, I booked a ticket to South Korea.  Two days ago, I boarded that flight.  As you read this now, I’m wandering the streets of Seoul.

I finally made it back to my birth place.

I wasn’t emotionally prepared for this trip, but I took a chance, because something deep in my heart told me to get here.    Sometimes you just have to throw out that rule book and follow your heart.

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