We finally mastered "thank you" in Korean

Virginia Thompson & Thomas Shaffer


Our family's trip to Korea with Sejong in the summer of 2010 was a life-altering experience for all of us. As adoptive parents of two Korean children, we had always wanted to travel to Korea to learn about and experience the culture into which they were born. We also wanted to provide them with a sense of their home country's history, culture, and way of life. We recognized that they have grown up in the US and did not expect them to embrace a place they had never seen. Rather, we wanted them to understand a little bit about the other world with which they will be associated as they grow into adulthood. Our children were naturally curious about Korea and were interested in experiencing a bit of what their lives would have been like if they had remained in Korea.

The trip provided all of that and more. Our separate home stays allowed us to experience Koreans' daily life. Back together, we and the 35 other group members experienced the transcendent calm of a Buddhist Temple and the artistry of world-class musicians. We cooked Korean food wearing fine silk aprons which complemented our casual clothing and natural skin coloring. We swam in the Pacific Ocean, climbed mountains and lava rocks, experienced the blast heat of a completely mechanized steel plant, and visited tourist destinations. We attended a raucous performance of theater, acrobatics, and music, ate delicacies offered by generous sponsors, held orphans and made them laugh, and calmed severely disabled children.

We learned to cope with the aromas of Korean food at breakfast and with searching for the coffee, instant, located far down the hall through two doors on the left. We grew to like Korean candy and enjoyed the diversions such as real stuffed tigers, bears, and fox at highway rest stops. Eating Korean food on a regular basis proved to be somewhat of a challenge, though all of us improved our chopstick skill level dramatically. We finally mastered "thank you" in Korean, and a few of us learned the Jeju Island version, especially when we diverted to `western" food. The Busan fish market gave all of us a new understanding of the word "fresh" as we witnessed squirming squid and octopi being slaughtered. We experienced the tension of the DMZ with Korean and American soldiers guarding the truce under crisp blue skies. We marveled at Korea's mountainous beauty and its highly compact cities and high-tech mass transit systems. We learned about Korean history, from its founding two thousand years ago through its conflicts with Japan, its civil war with the north, and its violent student democratic uprisings.

As amazing as all of that was, however, it pales in relation to our experience of meeting our son's birth motherand birth father and the absence of such a meeting with our daughter's birth mother. Learning only well into the trip that we would meet one birth mother meant that we had little time to prepare or get nervous. When we met, there were hugs and tears all around. The sense of loss among all of us was palpable, yet we happily welcomed each other into our lives. We delighted in noticing our son's similarities in appearance to his birth parents and in sharing with them some of the milestones in his 16 years. We thanked them for allowing- us to become a family and to have been given the gift of such a wonderful and special son. They thanked us for providing a good home for our children and urged them to take advantage of the opportunities they are afforded.

The agency's inability to locate our daughter's birth mother has heightened her resolve to return to Korea and conduct her own search when she is legally able to do so. Brave and polite while meeting with our son's birth mother, she had the opportunity to see one adoptive family story and the good fortune to meet both parents. She also lived and experienced the excitement and dashed hopes of other adoptees on the trip, which provides her with a reservoir of other life stories as she seeks to fill in some of the blanks in her book.