Where Are You Going, Thomas?: The Journey of a Korean War Orphan

Category: Original Video


Where Are You Going, Thomas? is a documentary by Jackie (Jaikyoung) Choi.

It chronicles the story of Thomas Park Clement, an abandoned bi-racial Korean War orphan, who was adopted by a white American family in 1958. He overcame many obstacles to become a successful entrepreneur and a humanitarian.

Thomas Park Clement’s birth father is assumed to be a U.S. military man who had visited Korea during the Korean War, and his mother was Korean. He was abandoned by his Korean mom when he was four or five years old after his father disappeared. He had lived homeless until he was brought to an orphanage and adopted by the Clement family from Charlotte, North Carolina in 1958.

Thomas Passport Photo-Square

Thomas’ passport photo as a child

When he boarded the airplane to the U.S., no one had explained to him that he was about to embark on a journey to another country with a different language and different culture. He decided that he was not going to speak Korean anymore, and tried to forget everything about Korea, including his birth mom. Even when his adoptive parents invited some Korean students from university over to talk to him in Korean, he refused to talk to them.

He was not a verbally talented child, so he had numerous difficulties in learning English. Although he had all kinds of disadvantages as an Asian-American adoptee, he made the best of his talents. He didn’t speak much, but he never stopped thinking. It led him to the world of invention, which is he calls ‘imagineering’.

Through taekwondo (Korean martial art), Thomas was reintroduced to Korea, and eventually ended up visiting Korea in 1998. He was simply amazed by what he saw in Korea. His wartime memories of Korea was very different than the industrialized, modern Korea he saw 50 years later.

Afterwards, Thomas wanted to go to North Korea to help the people of North Korea. He felt all Koreans were one people separated by an artificial boundary, created by ideology and war, separating families. He brought North Korea surgical equipment, and lectured at the Pyong-yang University Teaching Hospital and their top surgeons.

Unlike many adoptees, Thomas does not want to find his birth mother. He feels that his mother must have gone on with her life and perhaps her new family has no idea about her past, as it is the case with many birth mothers who gave up their children. He wants her to be happy with her new family.

Currently, he’s helping other adoptees who have a lot of self-doubt, feelings of being rejected or abandoned. He says, “You can look at it from one position or another position. And I look at it, and yes you were abandoned, but you were also chosen. So this is weird, but adoptees are the chosen ones.”