To celebrate the start of the Rio 2016 Olympics I visited the Olympic Stadium in Seoul, which hosted the 1988 Summer Games the year after I was born and placed for adoption.
A proud moment for Korea, it also uncovered some shame, as articles like “Babies for Sale — South Koreans Make Them, Americans Buy Them” made world headlines. The 80s were peak years for international adoption, with as many as 18,000 orphaned or abandoned children each year. The majority were placed overseas, and 70% to the United States.
Now nearly 30 years later and on the eve of the 2018 Winter Games in Korea, we adoptees are now adults returning home to reflect on our experience and on international adoption practices. While there have been many positive changes in social attitudes and policies regarding adoption since then, shortcomings and difficulties remain, and many adoptees often feel some conflict between supporting their respective countries. Growing up I chanted “USA” like any good American kid, and felt indifferent when my dad would point out a Korean athlete.
However, being back here with hundreds of fellow adoptees has shown me that we represent two countries—even if we never come to feel fully embraced by either. So today I stand as a proud Korean, in whatever way that I’ve come to know how.