In about a month I will travel back home to Korea. This will be my third time back to the motherland and I am filled with an array of emotions over it. My first trip back was with my American mom. I was thirteen and wanted only to have blonde hair and blue eyes. On that trip, I was a tourist. I didn’t have the emotional capacity to feel what it meant to travel back to my birth country for the first time since being sent away at the age of three. I ate club sandwiches in the hotel everyday on that trip.
The second time I went back to Korea was in 2004. I traveled with my husband and when the plane landed, I cried. I was overcome with what it meant to be back in my birth country for the first time as an adult. I was not a tourist on this trip, I was going home to be reunited with my Korean family – my eomma, two sisters and a brother. As the plane landed, I felt connected, as if the pull of a phantom umbilical cord drew me back into the womb of my mother. My tears were hard to stop. I was extremely nervous for what this trip would hold but I felt protected because I had the emotional security provided by having my husband by my side. (As well as my American mom who joined us on this trip.)
This time around, I will travel with my son and daughter without the security of my husband. I am making the trip, specifically, to celebrate my eomma’s birthday. Not something, as an adoptee, I ever imagined I would have the opportunity to experience. The last time I celebrated a birthday with my eomma (if we even celebrated) was when I was two years old.
Whenever I think about the flight I took from Korea to America when I was three, I always imagine the plane as a gigantic steel bird. One that carried me from all that I knew and loved to an alien life of complete unfamiliarity. I am dreading the length of the flight with my two children. How on earth did I manage to stay in tact as a small child on that flight?
I’m sure my kids will be fine both on the flight and during the trip. The concern is more about managing my emotional balance while being a mom at the same time. I am very open with my children and don’t believe in dumbing them down. I’ve always been honest with them about my adoption story – which is now a part of their story, as well. But to have my children present while I am sure to experience some difficult feelings may be a challenge; a worthwhile challenge, but a challenge nonetheless. My children won’t grasp that we are staying with my oldest sister, in a sense, to try and make-up for lost time. (Honestly, I don’t think I could stay with anyone in my American family for a month so to stay with family whom I’ve only seen two other times in my adulthood, is sure to present some interesting situations.) But to my children, we will just be staying with their aunt, uncle and cousins.
The coming full circle aspect to this trip can be emotionally numbing, if I allow it. I am the lost daughter, reclaimed, returning with her two babies to a land that is on the one hand – home, but on the other hand entirely foreign. I will fly that steel bird back to the land that gave me up and I will ask it to embrace me and my babies. My babies, who are so American, yet who love being Korean. I often wish I could give them more. More of everything but especially more of their Korean culture.
This sure to be intense adventure is just beginning to unfold. We will see you soon Korea, we will see you soon.
Julie Young is a former litigation attorney and currently works full-time in the nonprofit sector. Additionally, Julie is a writer and speaker. She serves on the Board of Nazdeek and is an Advisory Board Member of All Together Now. Julie holds a B.S. degree in Psychology from Fordham University and a J.D. degree from Cardozo School of Law. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and twins.