Here's the story of AKAP board member, Hannah Hitz.
I am the youngest (막내) of my Korean and American family. I was prematurely born in Seoul, South Korea at the end of March 1997. Due to birth family circumstances and how I was conceived, I was relinquished to Holt Korea a few days after I was born. Because I was born with a lot of fluid in my head, I spent most of the first few months in the hospital with doctors and it was stated in my file that because of the fluid, I could develop learning disabilities. Soon after, I moved to a foster home until I was adopted to my family and brought on a plane to Oregon in December 1997. This day became my homecoming day. Later, after engaging with more adoptees, I found out that day went by many names such as airplane day and gotcha day.
Each year, this day was a celebration for me coming home to my family. My parents made brownies and we all sat down to watch the video of me coming off the plane.
As a child, it felt like another birthday in some sense, but as I grew older, I started to have mixed feelings.
I always knew I was adopted. My parents made sure to let me know this from the very beginning. My mother even states how even as a baby I always stared at the Asian women when we were at the mall - as if I knew the difference.
Being the youngest of five and the only one adopted, my family made extra efforts to make me feel loved - and they were successful - I did/do feel loved and that I belong. My mother offered to take me to adoptee events and birth culture events in the area, but I refused. I don’t know if it’s because it made me feel like ‘the other’, but sometimes I regret my decision as a child to not pursue my birth culture sooner. I also never had the wish to start a birth search until I reached adolescence.
Through a series of events - hosting a Japanese high school student and attending Holt Adoptee camp - my birth culture interest unfolded. It was first k-pop and then k-dramas, and through these, I soon became interested in the language and culture. For the first time, I had questions about my origins. I started looking at my file and requested information from my agency for the complete file. I made efforts with language exchanges to learn Korean. I desired to be able to communicate with my birth mother once I was able to start my search at 18 years old.
Thanks to an international student English exchange program, I was able to meet a unni (언니 - means older sister for a female; you don’t have to be related). This 언니 introduced me not only to learning how to read Korean but Korean culture and food! *spoiler alert* Later on, I was able to meet up with her when I went to Korea for the first time, too.
High school was also the time I was closely involved with adoptees. The adoptee friends from camp were the people I would always be chatting with despite being miles apart. I always looked forward to Holt Camp where I was able to hang out with them for 5 days in the summer.
They were the community that understood the limbo in identity of being an adoptee out of their birth culture.
Many of them also grew up as the sole Asian or odd one out in a community that didn’t look like them.
With a love of languages, in my search for universities, I made sure each school offered Korean language courses. I ended up studying both Korean and Arabic in college due to this love of cultures (ask me why Arabic sometime!). However, college was the time I called my “Introduction to Everything Asian”. I attended Asian-American clubs, Korean-American clubs, International Student functions, and much more. My friends soon became Korean-Americans, international students, and Asian-Americans.
With that, a lot of shame and embarrassment came from not being “Korean-enough” or not having a shared experience as my Asian-American friends.
However, one thing was very clear - Korean culture clicked. Even to this day there are things that get me or more like I don’t agree with, but overall, the mindset, culture, etc., was something I picked up really quickly and adapted.
Throughout this time, I took Korean language classes and started my birth search. My goal for freshman year summer was to go to Korea and study there and hopefully my search would be fruitful and meet my birth family. I soon found myself 19 years after leaving Korea back there. Experiencing the hot, humid summers and the monsoon season, it was the first time in my life I blended in looks-wise. However, inwardly, I felt the same shame and embarrassment that I wasn’t able to communicate.
At the end of my stay in Korea, I visited Holt Korea offices to check-up on my birth search - which I started when I turned 18. Unfortunately, there was no response over the last year. They planned to send the last telegram/message to the last registered address of my birth mom. I left Korea hopeful of returning and sad I wasn't able to connect with my birth family.
Soon I was swept up in my second year at college. Around 3 weeks after I got back to the US, I got an email from Holt Korea. My birth mother reached out. For a whole month, I had her contact information but didn't reach out. I was upset that the timing was so close to when I was in Korea but also felt a sense of relief that it wasn’t a dead-end. With all the emotions, it was hard to process while attending school full time, active in multiple organizations, and working two part-time jobs. I held the power in the dynamic - the choice to reach out or not.
Despite the complex emotions at the time, I finally was ready to reach out. I soon started to form a relationship with my birth mother through Kakao (Korean chatting service). I wasn't able to get back to Korea until 4 years after we started talking. It's difficult to put into words the emotions I felt when we first met. There were so many barriers and still are. Language, culture, and age created awkward pauses while at the same time there was a sense of belonging.
I wouldn't say the relationship is easy. There are times I wonder if it would have been better for us to never reconnect/meet. It wasn’t as if we had a relationship while I was an infant - so we are complete strangers, yet connected through blood and genetics. There are so many questions that have gone unanswered as well. However, I think understanding and grace has to come for both sides. It would be easy for me to push and push about questions, but I decided early on that the priority for me in this relationship was to maintain it and grow it.
Fast forward to after graduation, I was able to achieve my goal of living abroad - whether Korea or an Arabic speaking country. The destination was Korea. Unfortunately, one week after I arrived, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and everything went on lockdown and life changed for everyone. I was now living in a suburb of Seoul, by myself, with very few to no co-workers or people I knew in the area. Unlike my first time in Korea, I went with less expectations. However, the pandemic really changed what I could have experienced. After a stint there (a longer story for another day), I returned back to the US. I will always have the desire to visit Korea and even live there another day. Back in the US, some people would say now that I am more Korean than American. I stay well-connected within the Korean-American community, and I decided to reconnect back to the adoptee community by joining AKAP. I participated in a lot of AKAP events while I lived in the metro area between college and Korea. With my experience also at Holt Adoptee camp, I look forward to serving the Korean adoptee community here in Portland and afar. Feel free to reach out to me to meet up! I am always down to sharing and meeting new people.
Sharing your story
We've opened up the opportunity to our community to share their Korean adoptee experience and personal story. As we share these stories, we hope that more people feel like they belong, they are not alone, and that they have a story worth sharing.
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