The HyangGyo Culture School

"The HyangGyo Culture School had many buildings and some of them were dedicated to philosophers such as Confucius, to acknowledge and recognize their work. They also have many programs and classes teach Korean traditional ceremonies and mannerism. We had a chance to be a part of two Korean traditional ceremonies, the coming of age ceremony and the wedding ceremony......I learned many things that I never knew before, even though I was born and raised in a Korean home. I also got to experience a full wedding ceremony and being the bride made it even more special"

-Sarah S. Hyun

10th grader Dwight -Englewood School, NJ

Staying Strong for Aaron

Libby S. Niggli

College Student, Highland, Illinois

2012 Chodae Community Church Scholarship Recipient

 

I never thought a knock at a door could frighten me more in my life. Those three little pounds on the door had me frozen in my shoes, not knowing what was going to happen in the next few seconds. Eagerly, Aaron commands, "Libby, open the door" I do as I was told and slowly open the door to see Aaron's birth mother standing there.

When Aaron was told he would be meeting his birth mother when we went to Korea I was more than ecstatic for him. Aaron and I briefly talked about his feeling towards it, but I knew that meeting her would be life changing for him. He had said he was very very excited, but also nervous. Aaron didn't know what to expect from meeting her. However, he packed up pictures from his teenage years and baby years and was ready to fly across the country.

As the days in Korea passed, we were down to the final few days of the trip. Then one day, Ellen had said to me, "Libby, when we get to the hotel, you're going to stay back with myself, Mrs. Jo, and Aaron" My first thoughts were what did I do to get into trouble? I asked Ellen in return, "What for?" and she replied, "Aaron is meeting his birth mother." I nodded with a nervous feeling. The only thought running through my head was he is actually going to meet her.

We had little time to get ready before Aaron, Ellen, Mrs. Jo, and I had to be down in the lobby of the hotel. I walked down with Aaron, only wanting to hold his hand the whole time and tell him I love him no matter what happened after tonight, but I wanted to be strong for him. As we waited in the lobby I could tell he was nervous. He shook his leg and his eyes shifted from one Korean woman to another wonder if that was her. Ellen and Mrs. Jo shortly arrived downstairs to tell us that Aaron's birth mother had just arrived and ordered us to go back up to Aaron's room where Aaron's birth mother would meet us.

The wait felt like forever. Aaron anxiously sat on the bed, while the rest of us stood around and supported him. When we heard the knock, we all dashed our eyes at the door. In that instant, I was so thankful for Mrs. Jo and Ellen to be there with him. I walked to the door and welcomed Aaron's birth mother and social worker into the room. Closing the door behind them, I turn around and already see Aaron and his birth mother embracing each other's presence. Never in my life have I ever been part of something so special.

They sat down on a bed, holding on to each other as if they never wanted to let each other go. As Mrs. Jo and the other social worker translated for Aaron and his birth mother, I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that his birth mother is actually here. When he was told, however, that she has not been into contact with his birth father for a long time, that hurt him. He was upset but very determined to find him also. His birth mother answered the question all adoptees wonder: why. That story was especially hard for all of us to hear. The thought of Aaron not being here today was very hard for me to imagine.

As the mood had gotten a little lighter, Aaron's birth mother had asked who I was. Aaron said that I was his sister who was also adopted. She asked, "Did you meet your birth parents too?" and I replied, "No" looking down holding back tears. His birth mother noticed I was hurt so she pulled me in and held me like any mother would. It was so warming to know this woman just finding out I was Aaron's sister and still treating me as her own child. Aaron's birth mother proceeded to tell us that she has a daughter of her own too, Aaron's half- sister, who is the same age as me. She told us about her daughter and Aaron just took it all in. He wanted to know everything he could about his birth mother and her life.

After a while, Aaron's birth mother had admitted she was nervous to meet him and knew she wouldn't know what to say, so she wrote it all down a few nights prior to the meeting. Mrs. Jo translated the letter for us and Ellen made sure we were okay. The letter was very sad and had everyone in tears. It was difficult for Aaron to hear her apologize for giving him up, but he understood why. After we all wiped the tears away and contained ourselves, it was about time to meet up with the rest of the group to eat. However, Aaron's birth mother did not want to say good bye just yet, so she offered to take us out to eat.

Watching his birth mother give Mrs. Jo food first and feed everyone else before herself was very interesting to watch. She realized that Aaron is a very picky eater, and started to feed him herself. The bond and love between them was unbelievable. After eating the best Korean food I had ever had we headed back to the hotel. Ellen had suggested we Skyped our parents back home in America, so as Ellen, Mrs. Jo, Aaron, and his birth mother waited, I ran up to the room and set it up.

Aaron's birth mother kept thanking our parents for raising him to be the man he is today, and in return, our parents would thank his birth mother. My mom cried while she saw Aaron and his birth mother through the screen, as did I as I wouldn't have ever thought this possible to happen. Soon after we ended the Skype session, Aaron's birth mother requested to be alone with Aaron for the last hour she had with him. To respect her request, we said our good byes. Saying good bye to his birth mother was a lot harder than I thought. Being with Aaron through this made it feel like I had met my birth mother too. She was so loving and caring towards me that I felt like her daughter as well.

As I walked into the lobby, I held back tears. Everyone swarmed me with questions. "How did it go?" "What's she like?" "How's Aaron doing?" Though I wanted to answer everyone myself, I knew it wasn't right for me to tell them. Aaron should be the one to do that. Being asked all those questions had me on the verge of crying, just thinking about being able to meet her and be with Aaron through it all. After I thought I done crying, I turn to my right and see Aaron walking towards the group with his birth mother, hand in hand. Everyone knew right away that was his birth mother and it became quiet. No one knew how to react. Aaron and his birth mother approached me with hugs because I was crying. Then shortly after, I noticed Jennifer, a family friend of ours, was in tears as well. With the motherly instincts, Aaron's birth mother pulled her in and held her in her arms, wiping away the tears. I knew this would be the last time sees his birth mother, so the second time saying bye was emotional. After saying good bye, Aaron chose to walk her to her car as we all headed to the nightly meeting.

I knew tonight's meeting would be difficult. Since Aaron was still gone walking his birth mother to her car, I felt so alone. Ellen was very comforting but I couldn't help but feel like I was sitting in this room by myself. We were celebrating Liz Lee's birthday which put everyone in a good mood, but the second I see Aaron walk in the room I lost it and broke down in tears. He immediately came over to me and held me as if he was feeling the same way: a bitter sweet ending.

Aaron knew he had the choice to tell his story to the rest of the group, and he would. I, however, didn't know if I had the strength to hear it again. Before he even started to tell his story, I was in tears. Hearing him tell the group that his birth mother didn't think he was alive was heart breaking. My head down the whole time, I didn't have the strength to look up and everyone else while Aaron told his story. Getting asked to tell my thoughts and feeling about being with Aaron through it all was impossible. I couldn't even get a word out without crying. I was emotionally unstable to speak at the time. My thoughts were everywhere; from the beginning of the night, to the end. I could not believe it had all just happened.

By the end of the night, though, I was able to gather my thoughts and tell some people what it was like. It felt good to get it all out and have people understand how emotional it really is, even when it wasn't even yourself that met a birth parent. Going to bed that night, I laid in bed and my thoughts wandered. What just happened tonight? What is Aaron thinking and feeling? Are people going to treat me differently tomorrow since they've all seen me with gross, puffy, red eyes? The one feeling that stood out the most was the feeling of being part of that experience with my brother. If anyone was lucky enough to meet a birth parent I'm so very thankful it was him. I am blessed to have him as my brother as that night brought us closer than we had ever been in the 19 years we've been with each other.

A New Chapter in Life

Aaron R. Niggli

College Student, Highland, Illinoi

2012 Chodae Community Church Scholarship Recipient

As I glance to see the door knob turn, my heart stops as I lock eyes with an unfamiliar face. For twenty-one years I have lived a happy life in America and was raised with loving adoptive parents. Blossoming through my younger years I was never teased or picked on because of my nationality, but did stand out from others. Why was I the only kid that stood out from others? Was this where I truly belong? Both of these questions seemed to puzzle me until I found an answer in South Korea.

Pondering on the plane to Korea, the feeling of being anxious yet scared overwhelms me. Little did I know this unfamiliar country that I was entering was something that would open my eyes to many new things. As we toured around many parts of South Korea I couldn't stop thinking about the countdown till the moment I meet my birth mother. Before I knew it, the day had come to finally meet my birth mother.

Is she going to show up? Will she recognize me? Is she going to like me? All of these questions and many more racing through my head as the clock ticks away. I was waiting patiently in my hotel room with Libby, my sister, and Ellen, a social worker. All three of us were silent as we didn't know what was about to happen next. A sudden knock at the door startles everyone as I stand up and say, "Come in:' My breath is taken away as I lock eyes with this stranger that I had never seen before. A sudden discomfort, yet heartwarming feeling fills my body as I reach in for the first hug. Without a doubt I could sense that this woman was in fact my long lost mother.

Minutes seemed to fly by as we laughed and talked about a few of the major things happening in both of our lives. I had given my mom some pictures from my senior year of High-School and watched her eyes become watery with joy. Suddenly, she pulled out a blank envelope from her purse and told me to open it. Without hesitating, I peeled open the envelope and inside was a returning letter from my original I had sent to her about who I was. As Mrs. Joe, the translator, began to read the deeply thought letter, my eyes could not fight the urge to burst with tears. Never in my life did I think someone could write such a sincere letter to me and make my body cringe with love.

Six hours of being with my mom raced by as it appeared to be a mere six minutes. No amount of time will ever compensate for the twenty-one years that we've been apart. To this day, I and my mom have kept a steady relationship through text message and I am learning more about Korea each day. Also I have a biological sister which I have recently started a whole new chapter in my life with her.

To close, the trip that I had adventured on was more than anything I could possibly ask for. Being a part of the 2012 Sejong Trip to Korea wasn't just about visiting South Korea and learning the culture and lifestyle. Sejong consisted of more than that, it showed me not only a place where I belong but showed me who really am.

<From a part of his essay for 2012 Chodae Community Church Scholarship>

"When the idea of a trip to Korea was brought to my attention only one thing came to mind: a once in a life time opportunity. Growing up through my twenty years in America, my family has always asked me: if I had the chance to visit Korea, would I take it? My answer every time was, only if I am ready.

After I learned more in depth about this amazing trip to Korea, I noticed that the itinerary was packed with fun events even including a chance to see my birth parents. Contemplating on the thought of seeing my birth parents for the first time is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. I think my curiosity is overpowering to see what my birth parents look like, what would they think of me, if I have any other brothers or sisters or both, etc. My questions begin to pile up on top of each other and I feel that an opportunity to meet my birth parents would unlock doors to a whole new world for me.

My True Connection to Korea

Clifford J. Yudkoff

High School Student, Englewood, New Jersey

Recipient of Korea Trip Scholarship funded by Dwight-Englewood School, New Jersey

 

Before coming on this trip, I really had no emotional connection to Korea. The only connection I had to Korea was purely environmental and tactile. It was minimal to almost non-existent despite my parents' attempts at exposing me to Korean culture. They played Korean music tapes when I was younger, prepared Korean food, took me to Korean restaurants and soon. It was hard to really connect to my Korean background and to Korea while living in America. I knew I was Korean but I didn't feel very Korean. I had a connection to Korea, albeit a vague and distant connection, but it was not the connection that went deeper than just eating Korean food. This trip changed that drastically.

I've always wanted to go to Korea but I never had the chance to go. Just last year, in my sophomore year, I learned of an opportunity to make a trip back to Korea through my science teacher, Ms. Park. She had gone on the trip the previous year and had strongly recommended that I apply for a scholarship through the school so that I could go on this trip. We had a short assembly at school informing us of this opportunity to go to Korea. Shortly after I submitted my application and a few weeks later, I was informed that the school would be funding my trip to Korea with the Sejong Cultural Education, Inc.

When I had first heard the news that I was indeed going to Korea this summer, I wasn't particularly excited, it was more a feeling of indifference. I just didn't know what to feel at the time. But as the days drew nearer to the trip and the classes came to an end and the trip became more and more of a reality, became very excited. Along with excitement came other feelings: nervousness, uncertainty, and so on and so forth. I wasn't sure what to expect and I wasn't sure what was going to happen. And finally, when we had arrived at Incheon airport, despite the fatigue of jet-lag, I was wired. I wanted to see everything! All of the previous nervousness evaporated and in a weird way, I felt a sense of belonging. It just felt... right. I could already feel some sort of connection to Korea. It's hard to explain through words but just being in Korea, standing on Korean soil, so to speak, made me feel more connected to Korea than any other attempt at cultural immersion I had been through.

As the days progressed, I found myself being drawn closer to Korea. Just the time spent there was enough for me to build my connection to Korea. Everything about Korea appealed to me: the beauty of the city, the grace of the architecture, the language, the culture, everything. It wasn't just being in Korea that strengthened this bond, but it was the smaller details of Korea like talking in Korean, being talked to in Korean, the politeness of the culture (lots of bowing), watching Korean TV, and just spending time with Koreans. An aspect of this trip that really helped confirming this bond to Korea that I had begun to feel in the beginning was the college-stay. It was a lot of fun talking to the college students, learning from them and spending time with them. Another aspect was meeting my foster mom. I have yet another connection to Korea now. I have the connection of another family who cares for me. I think that one of the most connecting experiences I had was when my foster-mom surprised me by showing up on our last day and taking me and my friends out in Seoul. I was really touched by that and it was a great experience to be with her for that short period of time. And if anything, that has made me positive that I cannot deny my Korean heritage in any shape or form. Now, no longer could I stay away from Korea. No longer was there any doubt in my mind about who I was culturally. I promised her I would return and I intend to keep that promise. At this point, Korea was much more to me than just that country that I had been born in.

As the end of the trip came closer and closer, I found myself dreading the day we finally had to leave. I could not bear the thought of leaving all of it behind. I wanted to stay longer, to experience more. Like a magnet to metal, I was drawn to Korea by some invisible force that was insisting that I stay. Unfortunately, I must leave. When we landed in New York, I was a little sad knowing that I was so far away from Korea. For whatever reason, I've begun to listen to K-pop, a music genre that I've gotten into while on the trip. I've started to watch some Korean Dramas. I have this unquenchable thirst for Korean food. And above all, really, really want to speak in Korean again so that I can become fluent one day. I can say with firm assuredness that my connection to Korea has gone from minimal to a great longing for Korea. It's nice to be home with my family again but I would very much like to return.

<From a part of his essay before the trip>

I have lived and been raised American for the past 15 almost 16 years of my life, but I am also Korean. But I do not know what it is like to be Korean. I was born in Korea and three months later, I was adopted by my American parents. When I see myself in a mirror, I see a Korean face. Yet I do not feel Korean, I feel American.

I don't want to just understand Korean culture; I want to be able to know what it's like to be Korean. I want to be able to connect to my Korean forefathers. But it's hard for me to connect with people I have never known, a culture I don't fully understand. I want to be able to have that connection so that if in the future I were to meet my birth family, they wouldn't be as foreign to me as they now seem."