Lee was born in Busan, South Korea and was adopted to a family in America when he was 4 months old. He went to school and lived in Harrisburg, PA all his life. He graduated college in 2007 and started a career working for the government. He never really had much of a desire to learn anything about his home country of Korea or the culture. His family attempted throughout his life to expose him to Korean culture but he never showed much of an interest until a conference in 2010.
In 2010, he attended a Korean adoptee conference in Harrisburg, PA, which really opened his eyes to adoption and a desire to learn more about his history. The following spring 2011, he returned to Korea for the first time since being adopted. Getting a chance to tour Busan (his birth city) along with the entire country was something that he will never forget. For the first time in a long time, he was able to fit in as he walked down the street.
When he returned home, he had a desire to learn as much as he could about Korea and wanted to expose himself to as much Korean culture as he could get his hands on around Central Pennsylvania. He joined local adoptee groups and even served on the board of a local Korean organization. This new found interest in Korean culture would eventually lead to meeting his wife, also a Korean adoptee, at a conference in New York.
Lee's adoption story is not a unique one, in that so many other Korean adoptee stories fall along the same lines. He has never met his birth family or even initiated a search yet. He feels extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to watch how Whitney interacts with her birth family. Seeing this firsthand really does give him a desire to search out his own birth family. He struggles with the fact that doing a search could lead to rejection and never having what Whitney and her birth family have. For Lee, sometimes just having the opportunity to control if and when he wants to search is enough, versus searching and being rejected if his birth family does not want to meet.
*Lee on adoptee relationship*
One of the best things that has happened was being able to start We the Lees with my spouse. Writing has always been a therapeutic way for me to express how I feel. It was actually Whitney’s idea to launch the blog and I am so happy that we did. It has grown more than we ever could have expected and allowed us to connect with readers around the world. I am able to share my everyday struggles and know that other adoptees have felt the same way. Knowing that you are not the only one out there and that there is a community of Korean adoptees really does help you cope with tough situations.
Whitney was adopted from Korea to a family in America when she was 6 months old. Her parents have always been really encouraging about Korean food, culture, etc. They would often ask if she had any desire to go back to Korea to visit or try to find her birth family. She was always very firm in saying, “No,” because she was very content and quite uninterested in anything remotely related to Korea.
After graduating college in 2009, the US job market was horrendous and Whitney was unable to find any sort of decent employment. On a whim, she replied to an ad and applied to be an English teacher. It just so happened the position was in Korea, of all places. She was hired and flew to the Motherland about six months later to start work.
While she was living and working in Cheonan, South Korea, Whitney’s parents in Ohio started harping on the adoption thing again, like “You’re just a couple of hours from Seoul. Why not go up to the agency and just look at your file?” By that time, she was just sort of sick of hearing about it so she initially contacted Holt just to placate her parents.
In Fall 2010, Whitney’s parents decided to fly to Korea for a visit, so she determined that would be as good a time as any to get her Holt visit over with. She scheduled an appointment with the case worker in Seoul and on September 20th, 2010, she and her parents visited Holt Korea PAS together. She learned about her birth family’s history…how mom and dad met, how she had an older brother, how she came to be given up for adoption, etc. On the last page of the file came the shock that started it all. Many adoptee’s family records have little to no family information given. Whitney’s was basically a genealogy. Full names & government ID numbers for parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Her social worker at the agency explained that this was a rare thing and how it would make a search really easy. The word “search” had never come into her consciousness before that second. She pow-wowed with her parents, who agreed that a search just seemed like the right thing given all of the information that had been handed to them. The door seemed TOO wide open. Before leaving the office that day, Whitney gave consent to initiate search for her birth family.
One week after that initial visit (and immediately following the Chuseok holiday), on September 27th, Whitney emailed a recent picture to Ms. Lee at Holt, along with a letter to give to her birth family. The case worker responded that evening to say that she had translated it and would begin the actual search soon. She said normally it would take about 2-3 weeks for her to locate the family. Whitney’s jaw dropped when she considered that she could potentially be meeting them in only one month. Little did she know…
About 48 hours later, on September 30th, Whitney went to her office at work to check messages after lunch. She was surprised when she checked her phone and saw 6 missed calls and a few text messages from the same unknown number. She called the number and found it was Holt. Ms. Lee asked, “Do you have a minute to talk?,” followed immediately by, “I found them.” Whitney stopped breathing. Ms. Lee explained that she had spoken to both Whitney’s birth father and birth mother that morning. They were, not surprisingly, shocked out of their minds. Ms. Lee also told Whitney that she had a 2nd brother…a younger one. She said both brothers were in university – the older in Korea, the younger in China. Neither brother had a clue about Whitney’s existence. Her birth mother said that she wanted to meet immediately, but she needed time to explain it to the boys. Ms. Lee asked, “So when can you come?”
After an afternoon of back-and-forth and many, many phone calls, it was decided. We would meet on October 1st…the very next day!
Whitney met Omma, Appa, and Seong-bae oppa for the first time in 23 years on Friday, October 1st, 2010.
A lot has happened since that first weekend, which is how We the Lees came to be. Whitney returned to the States, met another Holt KAD, and they got married. They keep in regular contact with her birth family and go to visit them in Korea about once every 2 years or so. It’s been quite the ride.
We share our stories in hopes that other KADs will find our journey encouraging and feel a kinship. Most importantly, we want to remind other adoptees that they are never alone in the complex struggles that we each face.
*Whitney on adoptee relationship - best worded by an archived blog*
Last month, I was texting with Appa in Korea and he sent me a picture of he and Omma from a recent weekend hike. Appa was smiling proudly and Omma was making a goofy face. I started laughing and passed the phone to my husband, Lee, so that he could see the picture. Instead of laughing, he thoughtfully stared at the phone for a while. This may be a good place to mention that my husband is also a Korean adoptee. I was reunited with my birth family in Korea nearly three years ago. He has little interest in conducting a birth family search.
Lee turned to me and said, “I’m your husband so you can answer this honestly. Do you ever feel as if one set of parents is more like your ‘real’ ones? Which do you feel closer to? I am an adoptee too so I am really curious to know.” The question took me aback and framed the fascinating dynamic of a dual-adoptee marriage in a new light. (My answer to that question, by the way, was “Definitely not. Both are 100% my parents, but in totally different ways.” But that is an entirely separate topic for an entirely separate article.)
The adoptions Lee and I experienced at infancy affect our marriage relationship now in ways that we are not even conscious of, and these “adoptee conversations” are just normal banter in our house. It is not something we dwell on per se, but more like a comfortable topic that we can discuss as flippantly as the weather or weekend plans. It is our reality and one that we have become so comfortable with, both in our individual situations, and together as a married couple. For me, this is a fairly recent development; a radical transformation from a childhood and adolescence spent in denial, choosing to live in a delusion where I had blond hair and blue eyes like my friends and classmates. I like to think I am a bit more self-aware now, and infinitely more comfortable in my own skin.
When we were dating long-distance, goodbyes were hard. We flew back and forth between Pennsylvania and Tennessee as often as schedules allowed and bank accounts afforded. I think goodbyes are difficult for any couple in that situation, but for us it felt…different. Harder. One day, during the long drive to the airport, Lee put it into words in a way I never could have. “I think my relinquishment as a baby makes goodbyes so much harder for me now.” I was floored. I had not been aware of it until then, but of course! How could relinquishment not affect us in that way? Compounded by a dual-adoptee relationship, it was no wonder those Sunday farewells felt, at times, so completely devastating.
I never would have dreamed (and Lee would say the same) of marrying a fellow adoptee, but now, I could imagine no better situation. There are a lot of unspokens between us that are just understood. No explanations are needed because we both get it. We have both lived it. There is much to be said for such a comfortable emotional connection and intimacy between a husband and wife team. I love my husband for countless reasons but none quite so poignant as this:
He just gets me.
Find out more about this couples story at https://wethelees.wordpress.com/