Seoul changed Libby and David Gluck forever. The couple had planned the visit for years. They studied pictures, daydreamed and filled out enough paperwork to choke a super-sized recycling bin. But when you ask Libby what tourist sites she most looked forward to visiting, she admits she didn’t give it much thought.Thanks to KAAN: the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network facebook page for the link.
Her lack of specificity can be forgiven. The 30-something couple didn’t visit Seoul as tourists—they went to pick up their adopted daughter.
Baby Georgina certainly isn’t the first infant adoptee to leave Indochina for a new home.
Prior to the trip, Libby—herself an adoptee—barely had time to think about diapers, formula and car seats, let alone Seoul’s sights. But after reflecting for a few moments, Libby recalled that she and her husband planned to spend time exploring Seoul’s neighborhoods, finding off-the-beaten-path restaurants that serve home-style soon tubu jjigae (tofu soup) and visiting some of Seoul’s famous flea markets.
In August, 800 members of the International Korean Adoptee Associations (IKAA) visited Seoul. The conference was a cultural exchange of sorts, with Korean adoptees from Australia, Europe, North America and Scandinavia meeting to share experiences, network with Korean nationals and make professional connections.
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Dr. Kim Park-Nelson, a professor of multicultural studies at Minnesota State University and herself an adoptee, headed a symposium at the conference where the cultural, social, historical and political implications of Korean adoption were discussed. Park-Nelson says that conferences such as IKAA are important to the adoptee community, because as the number of transnational adoptions grows, more people struggle to find their identities.
“With adoption there’s always the question, ‘Who are you? Are you American or are you Korean? Are you white or are you Asian?’” Park-Nelson said.
For many IKAA conference attendees, visiting Seoul was a step toward discovering the answers.
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The Glucks traveled to Seoul in late October, at the height of the fall foliage and mild weather, to pick up Georgina. They were able to extend their trip and explore the sights, sounds and smells of Seoul. The self-described foodies navigated their way around town and found specialty restaurants, unique neighborhoods and some locals who saw the Glucks as an opportunity to practice English.
Libby reflected on the trip upon her return. She was keenly aware that during her stay she was Korean and American, Asian and Caucasian, adoptee and adopter and, now, daughter and mom.
“It was very full circle that I traveled to Korea to pick up the baby,” she said. “I knew the emotions were going to flood in when we set foot in Korea. I felt like I was on a nice vacation but with a huge added bonus.”
She felt like an old soul in Seoul—just like her 800 counterparts at the IKAA conference.
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