My name is Michael (Park, Joon Il). I was born in Seoul in 1985 and adopted by an American family in Center Moriches, NY, USA when I was about a year and a half. Then in my junior year of high school, we moved to Port Charlotte, Florida where we currently reside. Ever since my mid teens, I was always curious and wanted to learn more about my birth family, heritage, and about Korea in general. For myself, there has always been the lingering question lurking in my mind, “What would life be like if I wasn’t adopted?” The following paragraphs will discuss my experience as a Korean adoptee visiting my motherland (Korea), visiting my birth town, and meeting my birth family, all through the help of the Eastern Social Welfare Society and one of its corresponding agencies in New York called New Beginnings.
I think it was the beginning of April of 2011 that I heard that I was accepted for a scholarship program at Hallym University in Chuncheon, Korea through ESWS. At that point, I was very excited because I had been searching for answers for a long time. I was in Korea from June 30 to August 13. In my mind, the length of time I was in Korea was very short and it went by very quickly. During this time, I became close to a lot of people, especially my biological family. Having to leave Korea was an extremely emotional time for me, although I usually try not to get emotional at times. While in Korea, most of the questions and feelings I’ve had towards Korea and my biological family were answered and fulfilled. Now that I am home in Port Charlotte, Florida, I find myself thinking of them and my new friends on a regular basis.
Life at Hallym University was an awesome experience. I was able to participate in classes that introduced me to the Korean language, culture, sports, intercultural communication, and cuisine, just to name a few. These classes expanded our knowledge in many aspects. But what I remember most from my experience at Hallym University is the close friendships that I’ve been able to cultivate while in the program. The people from various backgrounds that also participated in this program are what made it enjoyable and fun to be a part of. I loved the field trips they took us on and the many things we did as a group. I wish I could re-live the experience.
While in Korea I had the exceptional privilege of meeting my biological family, which not many Korean adoptees get the chance to do. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do this without the help of the social workers at Eastern Social Welfare Society. At first, I thought it was going to be strange meeting my biological family for the first time, but it wasn’t. I can’t really describe the feelings I had when I first walked into the meeting room at ESWS where my family was. I was happy, but I wanted to cry at the same time. My grandmother held me and gave me a huge hug for like five minutes, which felt like an eternity and then after our two hour meeting, we went to lunch as a family. During my stay in Korea, I was able to be with my family a number of times and it was as if I had never left. They greeted me with open arms and I felt so good inside knowing that I had finally met my biological family. It was even harder for me to leave Korea knowing that I wouldn’t be able to see them again for a while, at least until I would make another trip to Korea, or until they came to visit me. For now, I feel as if a big gap has been filled in my heart and mind.
In general, being able to visit my birth town in my motherland was such a great experience. It was hard to get used to at first because of all the walking. I was so used to just jumping in my car and going where I wanted to go in Florida. Otherwise, Seoul is such a big place with so many different people and fun adventures that can be had. While others found the subway easy to use, I found it hard to understand at first. It became easier as time passed, and now comes very naturally to me. And of course, I miss the culture, lifestyle, and the kimchi. At first, I did crave Western style food and the Korean food was a little hard to get used to because of the texture and spiciness. By the end of my journey, I started to like the Korean food I was eating.
I was just so happy to finally come back to Korea for the first time in my life. In the short period of time that I was there, I had become so close to the people that I’ve met and I found it so hard to leave. When I arrived back to Florida, I had to get used to American life again. I had really begun to love Korea, its culture, and the people I met. Now that I’m home, I think about Korea all the time now. My focus is now to try to go back to Korea as often as I can.
I’d like to give a special thanks to everyone at the Eastern Social Welfare office and New Beginnings for their help and support. Without the caring help of these loving people at these agencies, I would not have been able to participate in such an amazing experience. I have so many fond memories that I can be thankful for, especially in being able to meet my biological family. My adoptive family has given me the most support, in more ways than one. They have supported me throughout my entire life during the good times and the hard times. Without the support of my adoptive family, I wouldn’t have been able to experience the grand privilege of visiting Korea, meeting my biological family, and experiencing the many things that Korea has to offer. I wish that they could have been with me in Korea to experience the many things I was able to experience. Throughout my life, my adoptive family has helped me in many ways, supporting me whenever I was in a time of need, whether it was financially or emotionally. But I give them the most thanks because they have been there for me at my greatest times of need. I just want to say “Kamsahamnida” to everyone that is a part of my life and thank everyone that has been there to support me. I hope there are other people with similar situations like me who can share in the same great experiences as I did.