Every year, sixteen Sookmyung International Women’s Association (SIWA) students travel to the United States to participate in and teach at summer camps for Korean adoptees who are citizens of the U.S. I will never forget my 3-week experience in the U.S. I would like to share my 2016 SIWA experience.
Experience with a Host Family
Before leaving to go abroad, I was in contact with my host family, who had adopted a Korean child, through e-mail correspondence. I was really excited to get to know the family I would be spending my upcoming three weeks with. When I arrived at Albany airport, the host family for SIWA members welcomed us. Such a warm welcome made me promise to do my utmost while in the U.S. The homestay family I was assigned to had two boys, Ryan and Liam. Ryan was adopted from Korea and Liam was domestically adopted. Ryan looked like a typical Korean boy to me. I spent one week at their home. My friend and I presented them with gifts from Korea and taught calligraphy. We also wrote the following phrase “When one’s home is happy, all goes well (家和萬事成)” and presented it to the family members. They loved it. I was impressed by host family’s willingness to learn Korean culture. Ryan’s parents were eager to learn about South Korea. They had many questions about Korea and about what Koreans think about “Korean adoptees.” To be honest, before becoming a SIWA member, I did not really form an opinion one way or the other about Korean adoptees. However, after spending with the family, I pondered deeply adoptees living in U.S. Most importantly, I realized how much parents could care for an adopted child, and that they truly love them.
Cultural Exchange between SIWA Students and Korean Adoptee Students
Many Korean adoptee students joined Mujigae (Rainbow) summer camps. The camp activities included gym activities, water-balloon fights, and dancing. The summer camp has special meaning for both Korean adoptees and SIWA students. For Korean adoptee participants, it gives them the chance to meet other Korean adoptee friends. The camp director also said that it’s a time when they can get together and feel like they belong somewhere. This is important because a lot of adoptees go through an identity crisis. While they look LIKE Asian on the outside, they are American on the inside. During the class, I tried my best to explain to campers about Korea and differences between Korea and the U.S. The camp was meaningful to me because I got to learn about American high school life and culture. The experience helped to broaden my perspectives.
12,400 km of Friendships
The three weeks went by quickly. After spending so much time together, saying goodbye was really hard. SIWA participants prepared a ‘good-bye song’ for the host families at the airport. As soon as we started singing, we could not hold back our tears. It was both beautiful and sad. Before flying to the U.S., I was only concerned with my own future and busy with school work. However, my time in the U.S. changed me and I started to see the bigger world.