KoRoot Volunteer Workshop

This past weekend, I was invited to present to a group of people that expressed interest in volunteering at KoRoot.  I was asked to give a presentation on my experience as a transnational American adoptee and talk about some of the issues that arise out of intercountry adoption.

I was so thrilled to be invited to speak!  I not only got a chance to practice my public speaking skills, I also was excited to have the opportunity to speak with Korean nationals about the realities of being an adopted person and minority in America.

My presentation incorporated my personal reflections on being adopted out of Korea and growing up in a small, Western New York town where only 0.5% of the population is Asian.  One of my slides was this pie chart I made of the racial breakdown in Lockport, NY- the town I was raised in, based on data from the 2010 United States Census Bureau.

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I wanted to provide a visual depiction of how few Asians there are where I grew up.  I used this as a platform to talk about the racism, discrimination, and ostracization I felt as a Korean in Lockport. Despite this idea that America is a melting pot of different races and cultures, I was raised in a predominantly white world in which I was held to white standards in many different ways.  I wanted my audience to understand that I had very little exposure and access to Korean culture.

I also touched on the difficulties associated with returning to Korea and drew on some personal experiences I’ve had since coming back.  Additionally, I discussed three major social justice issues that accompany intercountry adoption, including issues related to being an unwed single mother, adoptee deportations out of the United States, and adoptee access to birth records.

I closed my presentation with an adaptation of a training that was developed by my field educator, which she delivered to a different group of volunteers in the past.  The training addressed cultural competency and sensitivity when working with adult adoptees.

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The activity that I adapted involved me reading statements that had been identified by at least one adoptee as being harmful.  I read the statements aloud and asked that audience members stand if they had ever asked an adoptee the question or statement I was reading.  I stood myself for several of the statements as I too had asked adoptees these questions or made these statements.  For example, one of the questions I read was “do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend”.  This question seems benign, but can be harmful in the sense that it is a personal question that an adoptee may not be comfortable disclosing, and can also be presumptive.  All of the statements exist on a continuum of harm and I think it was a very important activity to have the audience participate in.

The activity provided the audience a glimpse into what kind of statements or questions can be harmful to adoptees.  Also, I think it was powerful for the audience to be able to see that many other people there, including KoRoot staff and myself, also have these questions and have made similar statements to adoptees.  I made it a point to stress the fact that these statements aren’t good or bad, nor right or wrong, but that at least one adoptee identified each one of the statements as harmful.

To close, I read three empowering statements aloud and asked people to stand if they agreed. Please stand if you want to help adoptees.  Please stand if you want to build trust with adoptees. Please stand if you want to listen to adoptees for understanding.  It was really great to see the energy in the room after everyone stood when I read these three statements!

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My hope is that my presentation helped these potential volunteers understand that they have to be very diligent in not making assumptions about Korean adoptees, listen for understanding, and work hard to establish trust before asking intrusive questions or making statements about adoption.

Personally, it was empowering and healing to be able to tell my story to a group of Korean people who wanted to listen.  This was one of the best experiences I’ve had giving a presentation, and I’m excited to continue doing these workshops for KoRoot volunteers during my remaining months in Korea.

Like most work events here in Korea, the KoRoot staff, some other volunteers, and I ended the day by sharing a nice meal!

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