A Spence-Chapin adoptive family shares their experiences of their homeland roots tour to Korea.
This is the follow-up to the first part of this family's story. The second part of this narrative discusses the dynamic between James and his siblings and how they have continued to adjust to one another. "We were surprised that James was fine as we went down the elevator, during the taxi ride, and during our walk to our hotel room. About 5 minutes after we arrived at our hotel room, James began to cry quietly. It was also his nap time and he was tired. I got him to take a nap and I put him in a portable crib provided by the hotel. He slept well even though his foster mother had slept with him on a floor mattress during their time together. The foster mother had told us how much James liked the Korean character Pororo. In preparation, we had purchased Pororo toys and downloaded Pororo shows on our iPad while in Korea. They were very helpful during our time in Korea whenever he began to cry as well as on our long flight back to the States.
James is doing well. We were pleasantly surprised how quickly he adjusted to our family and living in the United States. We arrived home on a Friday evening and our daughters were very excited to meet him. Our older daughter Ellen, who recently turned 8, and James have bonded very quickly. The first few nights, James woke up frequently and I held him until he returned to sleep. Fortunately, he did not resist being held. By Monday evening, he began slowly sleeping in our time zone.
We were fortunate that my mom stayed with us for almost a month after our arrival. Having her with us allowed us time to bond with James as well as reassure our younger daughter Chloe, who recently turned 3 and was having a difficult time with having another child in our family. Chloe is very fond of James now and tells everyone that he is her brother and that he is now part of our family. However, she still gets annoyed when James follows her around or chases her when she attempts to run away. Overall, we believe that having two young children has helped James feel more comfortable at our home. We feel very blessed to be together with James."
Continue to check back to the Spence-Chapin blog for more narratives from adoptive families.
There are still open spots for this year’s Root Tour to Korea! We have extended the registration deadline to Monday, March 18th. The Roots Tour is a twelve-day guided tour through some of Korea’s most important cultural and historical destinations. It is a chance for Korean adoptees and their families to reconnect with Korea, broaden their understanding of Korean society, and observe its dynamic culture firsthand. An important part of the Tour is the opportunity for adoptive families to visit the SWS office and tour their facilities. Your family may have the opportunity to make arrangements to meet foster family and visit birthplaces. If your child was not adopted through the SWS, we will help you in making contact with the appropriate agency during your visit in Seoul.
This year’s Tour will take place from July 3rd to July 15th. Major destinations include Seoul, Busan, Seoraksan mountain, and Gyeongju, the historical capital city of Korea.
Prior to departure, there will be a full orientation for Tour participants. Homeland preparation sessions are also available to traveling families through the Adoption Resource Center here at Spence-Chapin.
If you are interested in participating in this year’s Tour, please visit the Summer Programs page and fill out the registration form. You can also contact Ben Sommers, the Korea Program Coordinator, at BSommers@spence-chapin.org
Our Korean partner agency, Social Welfare Society, Inc. (SWS) has just released a commemorative photo book. The book includes photographs from the last ten years of an ongoing photo exhibition that has been a powerful advocacy tool for SWS and raised awareness of their mission and work for children in Korea. The book includes photographs and stories of many babies who have come through the Baby Reception Center at SWS. The babies are photographed with Korean celebrities who have been strong voices in promoting awareness around social welfare issues in Korean society.
The 250-page book is available for sale via the SWS website. Please visit this link to learn more. There are a very limited number of copies so if you are interested in purchasing one, act quickly. All proceeds will go towards supporting the babies in the care of SWS.
The following is another contribution from one of our adoptive families. This narrative speaks to not only the way their trip to Korea was structured, but also highlights the attentiveness of the social workers in Korea as well as the sorrow felt by the foster families as they say goodbye to the children who have been in their care for so long. We received the call to travel to Korea about three months after our official acceptance. We felt overwhelmed. In less than a week, we had to reschedule my husband's work; make arrangements for child care for our two daughters during the week we would be in Korea; make hotel and air reservations; purchase gifts for the foster family and SWS staff; and make sure that we had everything we needed for our son when we went to Korea. However, we felt most overwhelmed by the prospect of finally meeting James after waiting for so long. We began the adoption process more than a year and half ago. We told our children about the adoption once we received the referral and made our official acceptance. We thought we had at least four months before going to Korea to finally meet our son. We were not emotionally ready at the time we received the call to travel. In retrospect, we were fortunate that we were able to go to Korea prior to the four months. James had turned 15 months when we brought him home. A month later, James seems to have jumped to the next developmental stage. He is more aware of his surroundings and more expressive.
We arrived in Korea on a Saturday evening. We met James and his foster parents the following Monday at his foster family's home with our social worker. He was shy but very comfortable at his home and very playful. We met James again the following morning at one of the SWS offices. The office had a bunch of toys and we sat with James (without the foster mother or the social worker) playing with different toys. The social worker, who was very familiar with James, came into the room occasionally to encourage James to interact with us. At one time, he sat on my lap, which surprised me. Later, he sat on David's lap. It was a great feeling. Even though we met for only half an hour, we felt that this time was significant in giving us an opportunity to get to know each other at a place familiar to James but not at the foster parent's home and without the foster mother, who was sitting just outside the office. Further, meeting James both on Monday and Tuesday prior to taking him home on Wednesday, seemed to make the transition a lot smoother.
That Wednesday, while the social worker gave us the documents for our travels, James and his foster mother were meeting with the pediatrician on the first floor of the SWS building. Once the appointment was over, James came up with his foster parents and their son. Their older daughter was in school. At the adoption offices, the foster mother showed us the things she brought for us - James' hanbok, several of his favorite toys, and his clothing, much of which were new. She had wrapped each item carefully and lovingly in plastic bags. Shortly thereafter, the social worker called a taxi for us and told us that we would depart first and that we would say our goodbyes at the elevator. As we were waiting for the elevator to come up, the foster mother was so sad and began to cry softly. James had been with his foster family for over a year and it was clear that he had bonded with the entire family, especially the foster mother.
Part II will be published next week. It discusses the dynamic between James and his siblings and how they have continued to adjust to one another.
My experience this past summer in Naju, Korea was truly an amazing and wonderful opportunity that I never thought that I would never get the chance to do, but I know now that after participating in the Korean Internship program, it is something that I will never forget. I am so honored to have received this scholarship and been given the chance to take care of all the babies and children in the SWS baby center in Naju.
Before I went, I was extremely nervous and I had no idea what to expect. I was lucky to have had friends who were also given the scholarship so I was given a lot of extra information and I had a better idea of what to expect when I arrived in Naju. When I stepped off the KTX train from Seoul to Naju, I knew that this was it. We were greeted by Sun, who was one of the workers at the baby’s reception center. She brought us to the Baby Center where the rest of the staff and the director of the center further greeted us. Alex Miller, another Korean Intern from Spence-Chapin, and I presented our gifts that we had brought for the children and babies, and they were all extremely grateful. After that we were given a tour of the grounds and introduced to some of the children that we would be taking care of.
When we were finished meeting the children I was given the chance to relax and get settled. Alex was staying in the main building and I was staying in the “little moms house”. I really enjoyed staying with the little moms. Although they were shy at first, and there was a big language barrier between us they were still welcoming and very nice to me. The little moms are the girls who are pregnant and staying in the house until they give birth and the others have already given birth and are recovering and staying there until they can return to their homes. I really enjoyed staying with the little moms, we all would hangout and watch television or play games on our lap tops or have ice cream parties and eat pizza and snacks. A lot of times, I would watch the little moms make toys and clothing for their babies. It was important to them to know that they were sending their baby away with something that was from them, one of the girls told me that it was her way of leaving a part of her with her baby. Some of the little moms also kept journals with photos of their sonograms and wrote letters to their babies saying they were sorry they had to give them up, but it was because they loved them very much and only wanted the best for them and that they deserved a much better life than they could give them. It was extremely emotional and the little moms always took pride in what they made for their babies and most of the girls who had already given birth would show me photos of their baby.
On my first day, I was both nervous and excited to see all of the little babies, the caretakers were so nice and I spent the day helping in each room feeding, changing and playing with the babies. It took a few days but I was able to adapt to the schedules of all the babies and I knew when they would be eating and napping. Although there were so many rooms and so many babies to help out with, I always found myself in one room where I had developed a special bond with the babies that were there. One of my favorite things was taking the children with the caretakers on special outings. Over the course of my stay in Naju, we went on field trips to a few different locations that were absolutely beautiful and a lot of fun. I really enjoyed taking the older children out because it was nice to see them having a good time and getting to spend some extra time with them. Some of the places that we went to were a bamboo forest, a green tea field and my favorite was the rose garden trip. The Rose garden was beautiful and had several different types of rose bushes everywhere and there was also a huge fountain that you could run through and cool off. I took one of the kids through and he loved it and did not mind at all getting wet. At the end of each trip we always got ice cream with the kids. They always looked forward to it and it made me realize how much I was given as a child, it is the littlest things that you take for granted, like going to the grocery store or getting a small toy, or even ice cream. These kids do not usually leave the orphanage unless it’s for a special trip or to go to the doctors, so for them going out and even getting ice cream was a big deal for them.
Everyday was a new adventure for me, we had a schedule of events and things that were happening for each week, but the schedule usually changed almost everyday. Some of the other activities that I was able to experience was making Korean food, there was a day that I made kimbop and another day I made a spicy radish. There were even certain days where the little moms would help and we would all do a project together. On one of the days we all made cakes, I love to bake and I found that it was interesting that even though I had no idea what was being said, I knew from baking so much what I was supposed to do. One of my favorite cultural experiences that I was able to participate in was a traditional tea ceremony. Alex and I dressed up in the hanbok clothing and were given lessons on how to bow, and how to drink tea at a traditional ceremony. On another day we were taken to this conference and asked to speak about our lives and what it was like to be adopted. I think that it was really important to talk about where we were from and especially to share our story with people who are Korean. It gives them the chance to see that kids who are sent out of the county still live very happy and normal lives with several opportunities. I am so grateful for the life that I live and for all of the things that I have been given.
Usually on the weekends if we did not have a trip we were given down time, the staff at the baby center, always made sure that we were taken care of and they even took the time out of their busy schedules to take Alex and myself on outings or in to town to do some shopping. We were even taken out to a special restaurant for lunch so we could have a special soup Naju was known for. They always asked us if there was anything special that we wanted to do. Before I knew it, we were getting near the end of our stay in Naju. In the last week, Alex and I were taken out by the staff and treated to a delicious dinner at a restaurant that was in the same home where we had our traditional tea ceremony. They also gave us a wonderful going away dinner. The staff, the little moms, and the caretakers were all there. Alex and I again shared our adoption stories with everyone. After dinner we also had a karaoke party and sang and danced, it was definitely an amazing night.
On the day that we were leaving, I knew that I would be emotional, after spending a month with these little babies and children and forming close bonds with some of them, it was very difficult to say good bye to them. I had secretly wished that they would let me take one of the babies home with me, but I knew that that would not be possible. I was able to hold and say good-bye to my favorite baby, HeeBi as well as some of the caretakers that I had gotten close to. The little moms made me a poster that said “Good-bye Jennine” and they all wrote something on the poster, some wrote things in Korean and some even wrote things to me in English. One of the things that I know I will remember is that I was told that the little moms would look at Alex and myself and have hope and believe that their babies would turn out like us, and be given a wonderful life like we had. It was hard to leave but I was also ready to go back to Seoul at the same time. This experience that I was given is one that I know I will never forget. I am so honored to have received the scholarship from Spence-Chapin. This trip was truthfully the best experience of my life. I never thought that I would ever do anything like this. But getting to go back to Korea, and retrace my roots and be in the same town that my birth mother was from and was also living in was something that was very significant to me. Although I was not able to make contact with her, I know that I have closure knowing she is married and living her own life, and I know that in her heart she is happy that I am doing the same. I will always remember all the children and babies that were there and all of the photos that I have are priceless memories that will last forever for me. When I wake up I wonder if they are about to sleep and at night I know they are starting their day or sometimes eating lunch. I know that I will think about them every day and hope that they will be adopted and have a chance to live a life like I have. I will never forget this summer in Korea, I hope that I can visit the baby center in Naju in the future.
- Jennine Cusimano, Summer 2011.
Families currently in the process of adopting a child from Korea can anticipate a 14-15 month wait for child referral. We received two in December and both were children who were 11 months old. Though no referrals were issued January, we expect that future ones will be of children ages 10-18 months. Therefore, when your child comes home, he or she will be approximately 15-24 months old.
With that, your home study will need to reflect your openness to a child up to 24-months old at the time of placement. If you are already awaiting a referral, please speak with your worker to update or amend your home study right away. And please send a copy of the updated or amended home study to Spence-Chapin along with an amended I-600A approval which should reflect the child approved age to 24 months.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare of Korea did not issue any travel visas in January. Due in part to a typical slowdown as they approach the New Year and reviewing/revising of adoption policies within the ministry.
Update: As a reminder, families adopting from Korea must meet all the eligibility requirements set by Korea and SWS throughout their adoption process.