In the second year of the Kenan Summer Fellows program students were allowed the opportunity to explore the question of what it means to live an ethical life through independent research and experiential learning. The two students below regularly wrote back on the status of their projects to reflect on how their views on their selected issues continued to evolve.
Christine Delp is a sophomore pursuing a major in Program II: Ethics and Visual Documentary Studies. She enjoys filmmaking, traveling, and coffee. Christine’s project takes her to Narsaq, a small town in southern Greenland, to research issues affecting the native Inuit. As climate change drastically alters the traditional cultural, economic, and environmental landscapes of Greenland, the indigenous people face crucial ethical decisions about their future, including whether to allow foreign mining industries to begin excavating minerals beneath the ice. Christine’s project will use anthropological and visual documentary methods to examine both the ethics of these issues and the ethical decision-making process of a population whose way of life is on the brink of radical change.
Cece Mercer is a sophomore from Ohio double majoring in Environmental Science and Public Policy. She is a Korean adoptee. Her favorite things to do include pie baking and studying outside while listening to Nat King Cole. Cece will explore the evolving ethics of adoption in South Korea, its cultural basis, and the impact of Korean legislative attempts to eliminate international adoptions. More narrowly, she will focus on the ethics of a birth parent search in Korea and the implication birth parent-adoptee connections have on family dynamics.
Cece in D.C. and NYC
Even after taking a year of Korean the greeting hello is about the extent of my Korean knowledge, but I guess if you are going to Korea in less than two weeks that’s a good place to start. My name is Cece and I am both a native Ohioan and a Korean adoptee—I have quite a unique situation as a Korean adoptee born in Ohio. This summer I am traveling to South Korea to explore the adoptee’s search for birth families from the perspective of Korean culture. South Korea is considered the birthplace of modern international adoption. In its peak year, 1987, there were over 6,000 adoptions from South Korea. Since 1958, Korea has sent 164,000 children abroad.
I have a personal tie to this project, having recently established a connection with my birth father and some of his family, including birth siblings and their children.
I started off my project with a mini-trip to Washington D.C. and New York City. Both U.S. hubs are home to large populations of Korean American adoptees. Previous to this summer, I was not involved with the adoption community. Thankfully, Facebook has a group for everything, including Korean adoptees. Armed with my little pink tape recorder and oversized backpack (the backpack’s not that big I’m just not quite 5 ft. tall), I headed off to connect with the large adoption communities of D.C. and NYC, interview adoptees, and attend an international adoption picnic in NYC.
In D.C., after each interview I learned more about the history of Korean adoptions, Korean culture, and gained more insight into the broad spectrum of adoption experiences. One thing all my encounters have shared is friendliness and support from my interview participants. I felt very welcomed by one Korean adoptee that took me out for a traditional Korean Dinner. A second woman I met gave me a tour of the city where we visited the Korean War Memorial, which seemed fitting for the two of us because international Korean adoptions started shortly after the end of the Korean War, a result of casualties and war consequences.
The Megabus, New York City, and navigating the subway with my oversized backpack were quite the experience. Immediately after arriving in the city, I somehow managed to navigate my way to Prospect Park, Brooklyn for the International Adoption Family Picnic. There I was welcomed by a slew of adoptees. The majority of people there were Korean adoptees, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there were a fair amount of people at the picnic who were not from New York. Actually, I was amazed at how far some people came to be at the picnic, like Florida or Washington State. I was also delighted that some of the new friends will also be in Korea this summer at the International Korean Adoption Association Gathering, so I will get to see them again.
The start of my summer has been a whirlwind of activity and meeting new people. I am so excited to learn more about Korean culture and international adoption.
Christine in Greenland
Its been a little under a week since I first landed here in Narsaq, and its hard to fully grasp both the incredible beauty that surrounds me and all the new things I’ve done and learned about this little community in a just a few days. I’ve attended a Greenlandic 70th birthday party, gutted a halibut, ridden in a helicopter for the first time, and eaten narwhal, seal, and muskox. Just standing on my porch, I can see floating icebergs larger than the tankers parked in the harbor, snow-topped fjords towering frightfully 360 degrees around me, waterfalls of melting snow, and yellow wildflowers lining pools of turquoise water so pure locals often choose to drink directly from them rather than from the tap.
But it would certainly be naïve to look at Narsaq and just see a pretty view. Many people in this community are struggling. When the fish factory, which had been open since the 1950s, closed a few years ago and relocated to Poland, many people lost their jobs. Fisherman who used to rely on selling their fish to the factory now can sell to only a small local market, and many are having difficulty finding any fish at all, as overfishing and changing weather patterns have steadily dropped catch quotas.
Social problems are embedded within economic ones. Some parents have pulled their children from local schools because of severe asbestos and radon emissions in the building, but there is no funding for renovations. Alcoholism, suicide, and domestic violence are high. Narsaq, like many smaller Greenlandic towns, is losing population at rapid rates as people move to find work in bigger, booming cities like Qaqortoq and Nuuk.
But Narsaq’s depression can perhaps be remedied by a fjord six kilometers away full of white rock, visible from the surface of the fjord. This place, Kvanefjeld, is full of rare earth minerals and uranium. Excavation could bring many jobs and social improvements to the Narsaq community, according to Greenlandic Minerals and Energy, the Australian-based company with the license to the mine. Outside investments and personnel working at the mine could also open further opportunities for development in local business and education.
However, Greenland’s current zero tolerance policy towards mining uranium prohibits the project from going forward, and many people in the town want to keep it that way. Some doubt the mining company’s promise to hire primarily local workers, knowing that construction projects often call for large-scale skilled and unskilled labor beyond what this small town could provide. They worry about the cultural and social effects of bringing in so much outside labor. Others are concerned about the health and environmental effects of uranium.
Two factions have been formed within the community: those who are for mining and those who are against it. But for many people in Narsaq, including myself, developing a strong opinion one way or the other is extremely difficult because of the complexity of the situation and so many unknowns about the true economic, social, and environmental effects of the potential mine.
As often the case with joint political-business decisions, it is really unclear to what degree the opinions of the locals could influence whether or not the project goes underway. Nevertheless, investigating how these locals justify their support or opposition to mining will provide insight into how ethical opinions are formed when the stakes to these decisions are high.
This week, I have begun to learn not simply why some people are in favor or against the mine, but how their opinions and ethical justifications are rooted in their culture, family upbringing, occupation, age, expectations for their future, and sense of identity. Understanding someone’s personal ethic about a single issue is broadened into understanding how they are the person that they are, and why they chose to live the life that they live. Unpacking how the people here tick will ultimately help me understand how personal ethics are formed, and perhaps even help me to form my own about what sort of direction might be best for this community’s future.
I am thrilled that this kind of research allows me to meet and talk with many fascinating and kind people. I have also been amazed at the generosity of the people that live here. For example, an invitation for late morning coffee turned into hours of conversation, an exhaustive tour of the town, and eventually dinner too! I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for me in the upcoming week.
Tukuss (goodbye in Greenlandic) for now,
Cece on ethnic identity
This week has been a whirlwind of activity as I unpack from last week’s trip and prepare for my next excursion to South Korea. As my dad and I were searching through the attic to find things I needed for my trip, we were quickly distracted by boxes of old photographs and began searching for pictures of my birth parents. We reminisced about the past and the adoptions of both myself and my younger sister, lining up perfectly to create our family of four. We lived in a relatively small city (28,000 people), and I was in school with the same kids from kindergarten through high school. I took it for granted that everyone automatically knew that I am adopted—that I am not a “real Asian,” just your average American raised in the greater Cleveland area.
Culturally, I identify more as white than Asian because of the environment I was raised in. Yet upon my arrival at Duke, with the Asian student population around 20%, I found myself facing new questions. (“Where are you from?” “Ohio.” “No, I mean where are you really from?”) To thwart the misconception that I am from Asia, I found myself sneaking the fact that I was adopted into initial conversations, something I never had to do back home. I have become a master at slipping in that I do not identify as Korean, like my skin shows, but as white. Prior to college, I had not given much thought to my biological heritage, but after arriving at Duke I became more consciousness of what other Asians were doing and how they are perceived. Many people at Duke approach me thinking that I am super smart because I am Asian, a big stereotype.
As I have learned from some of my interviews, mine is not a normal Korean adoption situation. Technically, my adoption was domestic, meaning I was born and adopted in the United States. However, I am still an international adoptee because I have foreign birth parents. The reason why my birth parents came to the United States was to ensure that an American family adopted me; they wanted to be sure I received an American education and opportunities. At the young age of two weeks, I moved in with my new family. For the first few years of my life, my birth mother sent letters and gifts, but for the majority of my childhood I did not have contact with my birth family. When I was in middle school, my adopted family took a vacation to Japan, China, and South Korea. Two weeks before leaving, my mom asked me if I would be interested in trying to find my birth family. It was pure serendipity that the doctor who delivered me in Ohio, someone whom my parents knew, was close friends with my birth father and arranged for us to meet.
Reflecting on my situation, I am one of the luckiest kids you will ever meet. The best family in the world adopted me. I have a birth father that was selfless enough to give me up for adoption and both parts of my family—birth and adoptive—were able to intertwine and connect well. But the first time I met my birth father the only word to describe it was awkward. (You have no idea what the word awkward means until you find yourself meeting a birth parent who is crying and you have no feelings, good or bad towards them.) From middle school on, my birth father’s appearances were similar to a comet. He appeared every few years very flashy, for a short time, unannounced. Through these intermittent visits I have learned more about my biological family. I have also been able to connect with some other members of my birth father’s family, three half siblings and three half nieces and nephews. My family spent a week with my birth father and two of my nieces camping in Canada. Initially, I was apprehensive to mix my two families, but it turned out to be a success! Both families were welcoming towards each other, and we had a grand time bonding over meals and spending time together outdoors.
While in South Korea, I will explore Korean adoptions and the ethics of South Korean international adoptions to the United States, research the ethics of closed, open, and semi-open adoptions from Korea, and examine the social norms and expectations of Korean birth mothers who parent as single mothers, and those who place their children for adoption. Finally, I will examine the ethics of a decision to search or not search for Korean birth parents, and the impact of such a search on family dynamics and social status. In this I will be in contact with G.O.A.’L., a Korean non-profit organization whose primary mission is to assist Korean adoptees with a birth family search. I will interview its directors in order to learn about the ethics of such a search.
Over winter break, I learned that my birth mother currently does not wish to meet with me. I am in a very unique situation, with one birth parent that is very open about incorporating me into his life and family and one birth parent who does not wish to meet, for whatever reason. My situation gives me a special insight into two different perspectives other adoptees may be experiencing. Hopefully, this research will help inform other Korean adoptees in the United States as to the ethical implications of their choice to search for and connect with Korean birth parents and their birth families.
I am excited to be going to Korea! This time next week I will be there. Goodbye till then.
Christine – language and ethnicity
My name is Christine. I am an American. How are you? These three phrases, along with qujanaq (“thank you”) and mamok(“this tastes delicious”) are about the only words I can say in Greenlandic.
And making the statement that I can say even these words is actually an overstatement, because I still sometimes have to refer to my notebook to remember them, and all of them include noises that my mouth and throat just can’t seem to get out without a Greenlander laughing heartily nearby.
Many people believe that Greenlandic is the most difficult language in the world. A Danish anthropologist whom I met here studied the language all throughout her undergraduate, and doctoral career but still says she can barely communicate, and often resorts to Danish. The sounds in Greenlandic are difficult enough, but the grammar is also a bear. The structure is entirely different than any Germanic or Romance language, and whole sentences may be communicated in a single very long word. The subject of the statement is also not expressed until the very end of the word or phrase, so in the words of my anthropologist friend, “You may not even know that someone is talking about you until the very end of their sentence.”
There are also different dialects of Greenlandic, the most different being the Greenlandic spoken on the East coast; Greenlanders on the West coast claim they cannot understand East coast dialect. In addition, it is common for Greenlanders to apologetically claim they cannot speak their own language well, an unheard phenomenon in most places. You would rarely hear an American who was raised speaking English claim to not be able to speak his or her language well!
However, there is perhaps no more hot a topic in this country than the preservation of Greenlandic. Danish and some English are taught in schools, but there is a growing faction of nationalistic Greenlanders who want school children and politicians alike to only speak Greenlandic. A new political party formed on a Greenlandic-only platform, Partii Inuit, is actually, as of the election earlier this year, now part of the national government coalition. National news was also made when a group of Greenlandic politicians refused to answer the questions of a well-known Danish journalist, choosing instead to stand in silence, because these questions were asked in Danish.
Counterarguments against this growing movement are certainly valid. If Greenlanders do not learn Danish in schools, then they could not possibly attend Danish university like many do now. If Greenland wants to continue to develop its resources and industries, such as through mining and foreign investments, they are not going to be negotiating in Greenlandic.
But there is a beauty to the Greenlandic language despite its incredibly steep learning curve for non-native speakers. Although I have forgotten the precise vocabulary by now, I have been told that the Greenlandic word for “visit” literally translates to “crawl”, and “I am nineteen years old” translates to “I have survived nineteen winters.” Besides being a strong example and means of modern Greenlandic identity, the vocabulary of the Greenlandic language also gives greater context to its speakers’ histories, culture, and geography.
My experience in Greenland is heavily shaped by my inability to speak either Greenlandic or Danish. Most Greenlanders I have met can speak a few words of English. As my previous summer-long stay in a foreign country was in Ireland, this is the first time I have ever been in a place for a really long time where I do not speak the language, and all of this discussion about language here has made me think critically about my own.
If someone asked me to define the core parts of my identity, I might include American, Southerner, or coffee-lover, but never English-speaker, despite the fact that I use English way more often than I drink coffee. Unlike many Greenlanders with Greenlandic, I do not feel an affinity for English. Why not?
Living in Greenland has made me consider the value and power of language. I take my language for granted because I speak the so-called dominant language, the language others are expected to be able to speak with me even when I am in their home. This is why I took the required three semesters of a foreign language I didn’t care about at Duke to “get it over with” and now can barely put together a basic sentence in Italian. But in Greenland, where colonialism brought a new language and modern development could potentially threaten the old language, speaking Greenlandic asserts the importance of maintaining a Greenlandic identity.
This week I was lucky enough to find local translation help, and I have hired Karen, pictured here with me, to be my research assistant. A recently graduated student from the local business college, she aspires to work in Greenland’s tourism industry. She has been incredibly helpful, especially in her talented ability to translate documents from English to Danish and Greenlandic at lightning speeds.
She recently began helping me sound out some of the Greenlandic words she translates to. This time, even in such an informal language class, I think I’ll pay more attention.
Cece lands in Korea
It has been less than a week since I touched down at the Incheon airport outside of Seoul, but it feels as though I have been here for ages (maybe more like months, I wouldn’t want to exaggerate). I started my journey to Seoul on a Boeing 767. On the plane, I went to plug in my laptop, but I realized that the charger I had bought the day before did not work. After I went through customs, I tried to find a charger for my mac, but unfortunately Apple doesn’t quite have the monopoly on laptops in Korea that it does in the United States.
Another surprise that I was not expecting was that my birthfather was waiting for me at the airport. This was a surprise because I had contacted him months ago letting him know I was coming, but he responded only once with a relatively short message and was never to be heard from again…until now that is. He hailed a taxi and I freshened up in his apartment, which conveniently is located only 1.1 miles away from the guesthouse where I am staying—that is one small world. The whole taxi ride over he held my hand and expressed his happiness that I had made it safely to Korea. It is amazing how much can be conveyed with a simple squeeze of a hand, pat on the shoulder, or a hug.
Later we headed out for a late dinner where we talked a lot. First, he shared a Korean proverb, “blood is stronger than water,” and throughout our entire conversation held his hand to his chest emphasizing that all that he said came from the heart. A main focus of our first talk was the idea that we have the same blood running in our veins and that makes us family and creates a strong bond. Although I do share the same DNA with this man, I think our concepts of family are a bit different. This definitely has given me a lot to think about and take in. I am extremely fortunate to have a birthfather that cares so much about my wellbeing. However, it is still very new for me to fit him into my life in context with my family. It is rather confusing actually, having two families. I am not sure where to place these people because I already have a family unit.
An idea that has been swirling around in my head is the idea of possession and the power the tiny word “my” holds: my family, my birthfather, my life, my future, my Chung Ah. The last phrase has thrown me a bit for a loop. The Korean name given to me by my birthfather is Chung Ah,장, and he likes to refer to me as “my Chung Ah.” The phrase almost makes me feel like a prize horse, or whatever Koreans would be proud to show off. For me, the fact that I have two names symbolizes that I have two separate identities. It is quite confusing where they overlap, and how they will mesh together in the future, because I am perfectly happy with the family I have now, but am still interested in digging into my adoptee roots.
I have visited several other countries and it is always shocking to me how homogeneous people look in comparison to the heterogeneous nature of the United States. Today, a lady and her daughter from New Jersey thought I was Korean and asked me for directions. It was funny to think that I really do blend in with the population at large here, but I think I was craving the sound of English and ended up following this family around the whole afternoon, taking a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Seoul. She informed me that only 2% of people in Korea are not ethnic Koreans. There really isn’t a lot of diversity when it comes to ethnicities. However, the more time I spend looking at the people passing by, the more I recognize that there is diversity (like any culture) in the way people look. Things like facial structure, height, build. Before I was really just looking at the Korean race as a whole and seeing people as just Korean, not as individuals with individual features. Maybe it is because it is not as obvious as Americans with blonde hair or brown hair, but it is very different to look at people this way.
Later, I ended up walking around and exploring the streets with the family I met, and we talked about the mother’s work, which is negotiating with foreign countries about how to effectively provide vaccines and other medical aid to different populations. We also talked about my project. It is amazing how easy it is to make new friends. That has definitely been the case in Korea, from the man who helped me with directions to my guesthouse, to a family of New Jerseyans, to my birth family. I am excited to keep meeting new people and learn more about this second identity I have. I definitely have a lot of things to think about, but I am very eager to get deeper into my project.
Christine on the ice cap
This week I had the privilege of taking a trip to see—and touch—the polar ice cap. The geography of Greenland is laid out so that the central portion of the large island is all ice, extending up to the pole. The settlements of southern Greenland are along the coast, away from the ice. In an hour or less boat ride up certain fjords that jut inland, Greenlanders and tourists alike can visit the inland ice.
The journey to the inland ice alone is an endless array of stunning views of dramatic cliffs and icebergs. But actually reaching the destination and seeing the inland ice is truly spectacular. The ice rises above the cliffs that border it, and in some parts it is pushed through entire sections of rock so that it spills down to the blue-green water below like a giant, dazzling white, frozen waterfall.
In one section, the inland ice is next to a large rock where boats can let off passengers to climb up and actually touch the ice. Although the Greenlandic man on the trip with me told me it is not an official Greenlandic tradition, it is common for many who travel to this place to chip away some of the ice and make a toast “on the rocks.” However, the ice is already being quickly chipped away. After our toast, this man walked me through his memory of the ice’s recession, walking for a few hundred feet to point out where the ice ended when he last visited five years ago, and then, after a few more hundred feet, where it ended nine years ago. I realized that I was standing where the inland ice once, and not too long ago, extended.
Discussion in Greenland of the causes of global warming is, like other places in the world, a source of some debate. Some people believe it is from man-made carbon dioxide emissions, others believe it is part of natural-occurring cyclical weather pattern. But with such strong evidence in support of its occurrence, from melting ice to disappearing fish like cod due to colder water, few deny the changing climate patterns and its impact on the country.
For Greenlanders, environmental concerns about global warming are part of a larger cultural understanding of the relationship between humans and nature. In a nation so closely entwined with the natural environment, the potential environmental impact of every human action is of the highest consideration. In the interviews I have conducted so far with locals about their attitudes towards the Kvanefjeld mine, the most cited concerns of those for or against the mine are environmental, as well as closely tied health concerns. Many against the mine fear for the purity of the air and water, and many who are in favor emphasize that Greenland Minerals and Energy must maintain the highest environmental standards.
It is not surprising that a community so close to a potential mine would be concerned with the potential environmental and health consequences. Greenlanders’ concerns regarding the treatment of their nation’s land and water are embedded within a larger cultural reverence towards the natural world. Understanding Greenlanders’ attitudes toward the mine requires considering their powerful environmental ethic. When I was on the boat going out to the ice cap, I asked the Greenlander with me if the landscape around us was as awe-inspiring to them as it was to me, or if after living here for essentially his entire life it wasn’t as striking. He replied enthusiastically as he took pictures of a familiar terrain, “It is always beautiful. This is heaven!” A strong appreciation for the landscape is long-lingering; virtually every Greenlander I have talked to who moved out of the country (usually to Denmark) and returned again, sometimes 20 years later, stated that a primary reason for return was missing the incredible beauty of their homeland. After one Narsaq resident described to me all of the problems in the community, I asked her why she remained here. She answered simply, “The view.”
The importance of environmental sustainability is perhaps much clearer as the consumer is closer to the source of their food and water. Although Greenlanders certainly consume packaged foods imported from Denmark, the fish, seal, whale, caribous, and muskox they often catch is either consumed or sold as a source of income. The water they drink is from the stream that runs in the valley. Therefore, Greenlanders understand the importance of sustainability and not tampering too much with natural balances.
In my conversations with personnel at GME, when I asked about sustainability, I was assured that the mine is a sustainable venture, with enough rare earths to be mined for at least 70 years. But that is economic sustainability. And in a nation with very little practice of environmental regulation of large-scale mining projects, and with no practice of regulating uranium mining, Greenlanders’ apprehensions are not surprising.
I do not believe I yet fully understand the complexity behind the Greenlandic environmental ethic, and because I do not live here, I may never will. But for me, actually seeing evidence of global warming at the ice cap was indescribably powerful. It is one thing to read about the wide-scale environmental effects of human action and quite another to see magnificent pieces of ice, fifty feet above my head, steadily dripping away in the sun—to see proof of such a disappearing act from the markings in the rock that remains. I do not pretend to know or understand all the science behind this particular debate. But standing where polar ice was only years or months previously has made me begin to consider my own environmental ethic with a nagging sobriety that my thoughts about such matters had never experienced before.
Cece at Holt orphanage
This week I explored Seoul; for such a modern and new city in appearance, it is rich with history. For starters, I learned about my personal family history in Seoul and about my birth family. I met with my birth half-brother, his wife and their two children. That’s right—I’m an aunt. A whole extended family I had never seen before led me around the city. Seoul has this very unique glamorous appearance. There are numerous skyscrapers that look metallic with shiny glass. It is very different from the old stone buildings from the 1920’s that I am used to in downtown Cleveland. When walking around, my niece pointed out window washers hanging a few hundred feet off the ground. It sounds funny, but it seems appropriate that the buildings are so pristine and clean, as it matches the outward appearance of the city’s people. Korean people are well dressed all the time—no exceptions—and very clean. Shoes are always taken off at the door. Buildings and homes are not cluttered with things like in America. At the center of downtown Seoul is the Gyeongbokgung palace, which dates back to the Yi dynasty, 1391, and a statue of Yi family member King Sejong, the creator of the Hangul (Korean) language/alphabet. My oppa, older brother, informed me that our family is distantly related to the royal Yi family. Who knew?
After exploring the city center, we grabbed some Korean food. My birth brother jokingly told me that the restaurant was communist because they didn’t let you choose your food. Although I didn’t know what I was eating, whoever the cook was definitely knew what they were doing and no one in the establishment seemed to mind the lack of choice. Everything was delicious, and really spicy! Koreans seem to have a high tolerance for spice, even my 6-year old nephew laughed at how much water I needed to drink to tolerate the heat.
Our marathon sightseeing adventure included walking up and down Insadong, the popular shopping street. There was delicious smelling street food, musicians, and tons of vendors displaying their wares. One of the most memorable parts of the day with my extended birth family was when we visited an area laden with small round objects like luggage tags. A closer inspection showed that they had small love notes or acknowledgments from people that visited. My niece made one for me! Loosely it read: “Cece sister, I had a wonderful day making fun memories with you.”
It is amazing to me how diverse Seoul is with three ancient palaces, shopping districts, financial districts, and even a river running through the city. We spent some time trying to catch fish. I almost forgot we were in the middle of the city. The juxtaposition of old (Gyeongbokgung palace) and new (towering skyscrapers) aspects of the city mirrors how diverse the culture is.
The other big adventure I went on this week was visiting the Holt Ilsan orphanage. The first feat was mastering the public transportation. That probably comes as no big surprise if you recall my troubles in D.C. and New York City from my previous letter home. You will be happy to hear I was not carrying my oversized backpack, so that helped, and the busses weren’t nearly as complicated as those subways.
Holt is an international adoption agency that has founded the basis for international adoption. It started with Korean adoption but since has spread to other countries around the world. The Holt family encouraged the U.S. Congress to pass a special act allowing the adoption of Korean orphans. I visited Holt for their Cherry Fest. When I saw the orphanage, I thought I was at the wrong place because it was so large. It felt like a little village with lots of houses, an eating hall, playgrounds, and a communal garden. It even has its own stop on the bus route. On the orphanage property are lots of sour cherry trees. We picked baskets upon baskets of little round cherries and made jelly for the residents. Apparently there are over 300 residents, so the 20 jars of jelly will not last longer than a few weeks. It is neat to think that this organization is solely responsible for starting such a large community of Korean adoptees in the United States. The head volunteer coordinator invited me back to meet residents. I am looking forward to going back there!
Till next week!
Christine tackles stereotypes
In my attempt to understand how Greenlanders in Narsaq anticipate that the mine will affect their life, I ask many questions about how Greenlanders view their country, their identity, and their way of life. Common questions include: What does it mean to be a Greenlander? How would you describe Greenland to an outsider? What are the positive and negative aspects of life in Greenland?
From this line of questioning, a common theme has emerged: many Greenlanders would like the world to understand them as they are rather than from the common misconceptions about Greenland widely circulated throughout the globe. Of course, defining exactly what constitutes modern Greenlanders is definitely not so straightforward, and much of the more complicated parts of my research directly involve the daunting task of understanding how Greenlanders define their own identity. But I promised a few interviewees I would try to set the record straight about Greenland for my friends back home, so out of my gratitude to them for their time and help, I thought I might devote this letter home to dispelling some of the more common misconceptions about Greenland.
Greenland is all ice.
There is a common idea among foreigners that Greenland and Iceland have their names mixed up, and that Greenland is all ice where Iceland is all green. While much of inland Greenland is ice, the area that people actually inhabit is quite green. While winters can be cold and snowy depending upon weather patterns, in the summertime berries and flowers grow wild and temperatures can go into the 70s even as high as the Arctic Circle, such as at the Kangerlussuaq international airport. In fact, the majority of Greenland’s population lives at a lower latitude than Iceland.
Life in Greenland is primitive.
Many people here joke about how tourists come to Greenland bringing items like coffee, olive oil, and Nutella because they think there won’t be an adequate food selection. I myself spent 7 precious pounds of baggage weight on granola bars and dried fruit, afraid that I would only be eating halibut and cod otherwise. But the grocery stores in Greenland are well-stocked. There is heat in all homes and running water in most. Greenland is, for the most part, within the developed West.
All Greenlanders are hunters or fisherman.
While most Greenlandic men hunt or fish recreationally, the majority of them do not make a living off of it. Fishing is an important industry, but many people are involved in the other stages of the industry besides actually catching fish, such as processing or trawler upkeep. Furthermore, most Greenlandic fish on the marker are not caught by the independent fisherman in a small open boat but by the large trawlers. However, many Greenlanders don’t work in any fishing or fishing-related industry at all, employed in jobs typical to any place such as in city governments, police stations, shops, hospitals, and construction companies.
Greenland is an indigenous culture, and Greenlanders feel that their native way of life is threatened by outside development.
Often foreigners unfamiliar with Greenland who hear of new development projects, particularly mining, are guilty of this misconception. I know I definitely was when I first developed this research project. The image of an indigenous culture being threatened by greedy venture capitalists is certainly powerful. But it is a gross oversimplification of the changes occurring to industry in Greenland, and an oversimplification that, to the distaste of many Greenlanders, portrays them as vulnerable and naïve, besides simply being inaccurate. Said one man I interviewed, “When tourists ask me what I think of mining in Greenland, I tell them all the same thing. I wake up in the morning and eat breakfast. I take the children to school and go to work. After work, I go by the grocery store to buy chicken for dinner. We eat dinner as a family, then we watch TV and go to bed. My life is not any different than a person in Europe or America, so why should we not be able to mine if we do so in a safe, sustainable way?”
Some Greenlanders are certainly opposed to mining or certain types of mining, but for reasons other than an attempt to preserve an antiquated Inuit way of life.
Santa Claus lives in Greenland.
The north pole isn’t even in Greenland. Even the most northern part of Greenland is about 500 miles from the North Pole. I guess I still have to fight the crowd at the mall to get my picture with Santa this year.
Cece on adoption debates
When I first proposed this project I was specifically focused on the ethics of looking or not looking for birth families. I had read a few blogs describing adoptees’ journeys in looking for their birth families and instances when birth families had found them. However, upon talking with adoptees and reading more literature on adoption, it is apparent that the topic of adoption is a challenge. Normally, when one thinks of a debate there is a stance for and against. While there is debate on the moral grounds for or against international adoption, there is no clear-cut winner of this debate. Rather, there is a whole spectrum of opinions and experiences of adoptees, adoptive parents, and biological parents creating an extremely grey zone on the matter.
A compilation of letters and poems written by Korean adoptees to their birth families, The Letter Never Sent II, offers unique insight into complex emotions related and vividly presents the lingering questions that adoptees often carry throughout their lives regarding family and loss. The Letter Never Sent II represents a spectrum of experiences ranging from extreme loss and anger to peace, serenity and gratitude. Prior to this summer I had never given much thought to the idea that fellow adoptees could have a negative adoptive experience and would have immediately praised the practice. Quite honestly I was naïve to believe everyone adopted had a caring, supportive adoptive family. I tend to have an overly optimistic outlook on life, and this definitely stretched to my thoughts on adoption. However, my opinion on the subject is now much more fuzzy. I have so many unanswered questions—and others for which I don’t have definite answers. Is there a difference between an adoptee being placed in a poor family situation or a child being born in a poor family situation? Is it wrong to raise children in a setting where racism is inevitable? While I am sure there are plenty of other adoptees with similar positive experiences, do the good adoption situations outweigh the negative experiences of adoptees not as lucky as myself?
So far a common theme that I have noticed in my research of Korean adoptees talking in forums, blogs, and interviews is the loss of culture and desire to learn about their roots. This can range from learning the Korean language, Hangeul, visiting the orphanage where they were given up, or meeting their birth families. This week I went to an event where twenty Korean adoptees (who returned to Korea for a visit) talked about their desire to meet their biological family; also there were performances by the Korean Adopted Children’s Choir, and other adoptees. As I listened to the adoptees describe different reasons why they wished to meet their birth parents, I felt guilty for having a relationship with my birth family. But at the same time, I’m not one hundred percent sure that it is excitement I am feeling about having found them. It’s like the Facebook relationship status “it’s complicated,” a perfect description of my relationship with my birth family. It is difficult for me to fathom the desperation of some adoptees to find a person that is genetically related to them. I do not mean to criticize others’ motivations, rather I do not seem to have the same feelings, or maybe it is because I am already connected with my birth family and have been somewhat in contact with them for a while. Or it could be due to my personal family situation where I am very happy with my family that I was adopted into.
The subject of international adoption has me confused, but the opportunity to talk with fellow adoptees, community leaders and organization coordinators will help me tremendously in getting more insight into the issue. Hopefully, I will be able to make sense of all this or maybe I will just open a bigger can of worms, who knows? With any luck I will have a little more figured out by the time I send my next letter home.
Here is to a puzzling summer!
Christine – human geography
When I was a sophomore in high school, I took AP Human Geography. It was my first AP class, and although perhaps it was the most atypical AP course curriculum in comparison to the traditional college disciplines, it was my favorite of all the APs I took. The course explores how geography, from weather to terrain to resources, impacts human behavior and general way of life, including culture, politics, industry, and health. Much of the material I learned in the class has stuck with me, even now.
In the course, we frequently turned to the idea of environmental determinism, or how environmental factors can alter, limit, or improve the human way of life. I vividly remember watching the National Geographic documentary based on the 1997 book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, which argues that the successes of European colonialism over undeveloped regions were based on superior geographic situation rather than superior genetic makeup, and being drawn to the logic and universal applicability behind Diamond’s argument.
In Greenland, I find myself thinking about environmental determinism more than ever before. Although I have only explored a miniscule area of the globe, it would seem that there is no country on earth where human behavior and daily life is so impacted by geography.
Fierce weather patterns and rough terrain have created isolated communities that are often forced to operate at the mercy of Mother Nature. Because inland Greenland is ice, the nation’s towns and cities are tucked into the intricate system of valleys, mountains, and fjords that compose the green coastline. The dramatic geography of the green coastline would make building roads between communities extremely expensive, and so most travel is done by boat or helicopter. However, weather patterns in Greenland often bring strong winds, fog, rain, ice, and snow, limiting travel abilities within or outside of the country. Every Greenlander has stories of missing flights for days or weeks in a bad storm.
The impacts of such isolation and difficulties in travel as a result of geography are not limited to a few missed days of warm weather vacation in the south of Spain. Despite geographic difficulties, Greenlanders are quite mobile. Few have lived in the same town their entire lives, often moving multiple times to find work or receive certain education only available in one place in the country, and most Greenlanders have scattered family and friends they must travel far to visit. Therefore, travel difficulties are widely felt.
Furthermore, Greenland’s geography also greatly impacts healthcare. This week I visited Narsaq’s hospital and interviewed one of the nurses, who explained to me how the weather has a huge impact on the hospital’s ability to treat patients. At any given time, there are one to three doctors assigned to Narsaq on a monthly rotating basis. Their medical training varies, and so it is often the case that patients must be transported to Qaqortoq or Nuuk for further treatments that are unavailable in Narsaq. If the weather is bad, helicopters cannot fly, and people do die as a result. Said the nurse I interviewed, “It is difficult, but we must remember that we can only do the best that we can given the situation. You have to accept that.” Another nurse at the hospital added that she actually preferred working in Greenland rather than Denmark because the circumstances of the hospital’s limited resources and isolation allows her to have more variety in her work; rather than specializing in a certain task at a large hospital, these nurses are trained to handle whatever health problems they might be thrown.
Greenland’s geography might significantly impact the lifestyle of Greenlanders, but it is this sort of adaption demonstrated by the Narsaq hospital nurses that has actually complicated my understanding of environmental determinism. Greenlanders do live in an extremely harsh climate surrounded by difficult terrain, but they deal with it.
It limits them in some ways, but it also makes them more resilient, and provides them with greater capacity to make do with what they are given. In some ways Greenlanders have become more skilled and clever in response, like the nurse in the hospital or the helicopter pilot who frequently navigates around mountains through thick fog. In others they have become more flexible; there is a “let it be” attitude over what cannot be helped or controlled. So it would seem that while geography does greatly impact everyday life in Greenland, it is matched by the choices in attitudes and behaviors by Greenlanders in response to these difficulties.
In ethics, we are concerned not with what circumstances we are given, but how we respond to these circumstances. The inhabitants of a place may be impacted by the luckiness or unluckiness of its geography, but an ethicist is concerned with how these persons respond to what they are given. In Diamond’s discussion of colonialism and geography, an ethicist might be concerned less with the fact that Europeans drew a better geographic lot than the people in the lands that they conquered, and more about the actual choices that Europeans made. As someone who is ethics-minded, in my opinion, environmental determinism is a bit of a misnomer; it is people, not the environment, that ultimately determine how to use environmental resources and respond to environmental difficulties.
In the past, Greenland has always had to adapt to its difficult geography in ways I have previously outlined. From an ethical perspective, resiliency against hardship is usually respected and even morally virtuous. In contrast, the discovery of valuable minerals in Greenland is certainly no geographic hardship, and there is no clear-cut ethical response. However, as an aspiring ethicist, I do respect the sincerity, thoughtfulness, and seriousness that I have found in almost every Greenlander I have talked to about the mine. There are very few that believe just because there are valuable minerals they should be mined; even those in favor typically have carefully reasoned support for their opinion.
Most Greenlanders have, whether they realized it or not, considered far beyond the environmental determinist’s question of “can we?” to the ethicist’s question of “should we?” and in my opinion, even valuing the ethical implications of an issue without a conclusive right or wrong answer, is virtuous.
Cece on the Hague Convention
It is crazy, almost unfathomable to think that I have been in Korea for almost a month now. During this time I have been living at KoRoot, a guesthouse for returning overseas Korean adoptees and their friends/family. On KoRoot’s website, the organization states that it wishes to be a “house of hospitality” for overseas adoptees scattered around the world. Undeniably, KoRoot has provided a unique opportunity to meet adoptees of all ages and adoptive parents from all around the globe. I have met people from all across, Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Australia, Sweden, and more. It is fascinating to discuss different perspectives and compare experiences as adoptees growing up in different cultures.
KoRoot is not only a guesthouse but a NGO that recently helped draft revisions to Special Adoption Act, 2011, the law governing international adoptions. This law places an emphasis on domestic adoption vs. international adoption and the preservation of the original/biological family. Over lunch this week at KoRoot the director, Pastor Kim, invited the adoptees to attend a “Policy Debate to Guarantee Children’s Human Rights: Centering the Guarantee of Children’s Human Rights for the Ratification of the Hague Convention” at the National Assembly Hall. This is where congress functions! It was very cool! It has been quite the experience so far.
It is very apparent that the way Korea is dealing with this is highly controversial. For example, at the beginning of the seminar a domestic adoptive parent made a scene trying to voice her opinion. The policy seminar consisted of twelve panelists ranging from professors to government officials who discussed the necessary infrastructure changes that Korea must go through in order to ratify the Hague Convention. The Hague Convention was only recently signed in May so this is a very current issue. Professor Lee Yanghee, member of the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child, gave the opening remarks at the seminar. She reminded me of a Korean Hilary Clinton, poised, passionate, and highly respected.
Korea has the 10th largest economy in the world has received criticism for being a “baby exporter” because of the high quantity of children Korea provides for overseas adoption. Korea is fourth behind China, Ethiopia, and Russia in sending children for overseas adoption. To combat this negative label, the Korean government has placed a quota on children that can be adopted overseas. However, with the heavy emphasis on blood lineage in Korean society, domestic adoptions are not popular. This has created a problem for all three parties involved, potential foreign adoptive parents (no children), children (stuck in institutions/orphanages with no family adoptive or biological), and biological mothers (unable to keep their children).
A major difference between the United States and Korea is the extreme prejudices towards unwed mothers and their children. Single mothers have very little financial child support from the government and face discrimination from society, which prompts single mothers to “abandon” their children. Over 90% of adoptees are coming from young, unwed mothers. It was incredibly shocking to hear about the tremendous obstacles single mothers have to overcome to keep their children; it is not uncommon for family members to deny/reject/renounce single mothers. The panelists discussed the need to change the Korean stigmas toward single mothers, improve post adoption services offered to the 200,000+ adoptees that have been adopted overseas (i.e. birth family search, financial assistance to adoptees wishing to repatriate, language classes, etc.), and ratify the Hague Convention.
The debate shed light on the long way Korea will have to come to ensure the rights of children to live with their biological family and the rights for biological mothers to live with their children. But it is encouraging to see the progress and changes already occurring. After the debate, Pastor Kim shared with us an interesting perspective on the whole situation, that Korean adoptees are helping change the problems of Korean society. Adoptees that were subjected to hardships looking for birth parents have criticized the Korean culture. The push for a less patriarchal and generally more accepting society in Korea is a direct result of activism of Korean adoptees. It is amazing to me how interconnected and far-reaching actions can be. This seminar and my conversations with Pastor Kim have been incredibly informative, and I am intrigued to see what will happen next with all of this political and social debate. This week has given me a glimpse into the tremendous amount of effort needed to change the mentality of an entire society.
Here’s to the positive social change in Korea!
Christine on mental health
On a warm, sunny day last Thursday a few hundred people gathered inside the stone walls of Narsaq’s cemetery. The crowd, perhaps about a fifth of the town’s population, stood scattered among the crosses marking each grave, looking quietly towards one section of the cemetery’s walls where a new grave had been dug.
Towards the front of the crowd, six men stand in dress uniform. They are the town’s fire fighters, and this day they are mourning the loss of one of their own. Pavia Fredericksen was fire fighter for many years in Narsaq. He is survived by his children and grandchildren, including a newborn grandchild who he never met, born only a few days before he committed suicide.
This gathering for Pavia’s burial is the largest crowd I’ve seen since I’ve arrived in Narsaq. There are even more people here than were at the festivities of National Day. But this scene is tragically not unfamiliar for those who live in this town or anywhere else in Greenland.
While boasting the smallest population in the world, Greenland has the highest suicide rate per capita. The rate is almost three times as high as Japan, the country with the next highest rate. Virtually everyone who lives in Greenland has had someone close to them—a friend, family member, or neighbor—commit suicide. In Narsaq, there is about one suicide per one to two months; in the six weeks that I’ve been here, Pavia’s is the second. Most of the suicides in Greenland are men, although there are occasionally women. Most are caused by hanging or hunting rifle. Most, unlike Pavia, are committed by young people. And most, like Pavia, involve alcohol.
“Almost every crime in this town is connected to alcohol,” a local policeman told me. “The domestic violence, the child abuse, the suicides, the homicides. We get most of our calls the weekend nights following payday.”
It is undeniable that alcohol-related crime in Greenland is a huge problem. However, according to many Greenlanders, suicide committed under intoxication is particularly tragic because they believe that most victims would not have chosen to take their own lives had they been sober.
“There was absolutely no sign of it,” says a young woman whose good friend killed himself two years ago when he was in his final year of high school. “That night he had been laughing, joking around with his friends. He loved his girlfriend and was soon going to graduate. He was drunk, and we will never know why it happened.”
There is discussion in Greenland that the high rate of suicides continues because so many young people have had a friend do it. I heard that a few years ago in one town in Greenland, a group of five young friends all killed themselves within one year. Their deaths were not part of a pact, but as a sort of copy-cat tragedy.
I am also told that it was not until recently, within the last five to ten years, that high attention from the media, government, and social services has been given to Greenland’s suicide rate. Today, the police, city government, schools, and various counseling agencies within the community work together to educate people in the signs of suicide, prevent and treat against alcoholism, and encourage discussing their problems to improve emotional health.
However, preventing suicides in Greenland is not easy, because the problem is not only tied to other social problems like alcoholism, but cultural factors. There is a certain element of machismo in Greenlandic men, particularly a tendency to keep personal problems internalized rather than confronting them by discussing them with others. Several women here have expressed exasperation at the fact “men don’t like to talk about their feelings.”
Other hypothesis for high suicide rates include high unemployment, long days of darkness in winter, hopelessness caused by a perceived lack of economic mobility and isolation.
It’s hard for me as an outside to consider exactly why the rate is so high. But from my own observations of rampant alcoholism, and knowing that so many Greenlanders are drunk when they kill themselves, the connection between alcoholism and suicide seems undeniable. And while it is also difficult to place blame for alcoholism in Greenland—I’ve heard families, culture, individuals themselves, the Danes—after talking to various players involved in preventing and solving problems related to alcoholism and crime, in my opinion, it seems like there are some institutional factors that must be improved upon before high alcoholism rates can be improved.
For example, crimes related to alcoholism often virtually go unpunished. The current policemen in the town are two Danes, serving in the place of the normal Greenlandic officers who are now on summer holiday. Both officers are very jaded about how the criminal system is working in Greenland.
“There are two to three year waits for court appointment in Qaqortoq,” one of them explained. “So if I charge someone with a crime, they know that even if they get a punishment it won’t be until years from now, and it’s often just something like a fine, which they won’t pay anyway, because they are just waived after a few years.”
It’s not hard for me to understand the police’s frustrations. Problems with the criminal system in Greenland are big problems. My concern is less because of a moral belief that persons who deserve punishment be punished, and more because people here aren’t required to face their addiction problems, even legally. Rehab exists, with centers in Qaqortoq and Nuuk, but it is almost entirely voluntary. People who have a problem with alcohol can easily continue to have a problem, even if it makes them aggressive or violent. If unchecked over time, this problem and any resulting violence can allow serious damage to be done—to a person’s family, friends, and much too often, to themselves.
Ultimately, it is a terrible shame for such a resilient and strong people in such a beautiful place to have so many choose to end their life at their own hands, and I really respect the work that so many I talked to this week have done to try and improve mental health and addiction in Narsaq. Their work is certainly not easy, in the tasks at hand or in the toll their work takes on them personally. I hope the next time I come to Narsaq, there is not as much need for them to work so hard.
Cece on adoption for profit
I have been staying with my “new” family this past week. In contrast to a conglomeration of Korean adoptees, living with a family is much more structured. I am starting at square one in learning about Korean culture, and it has been very obvious that I am a foreigner. When I think of the term “new family member,” the image of a child comes to mind. If you were to witness some of the activities I have been doing, this comparison would not be too far off. I have been sitting on the floor with legs crossed, matching children’s flashcards to learn elementary Korean vocabulary. Also, when it comes to feeding myself I am as helpless as a small child. After watching many failed attempts to get food into my mouth with chopsticks, a fork is now provided specially for me at meals.
The wonderful thing about Korean food culture is the variety. A major difference between Korean and American meals is the communal nature of the food. The colorful spread of food sits in the middle of the table, and hungry eaters are able to eat directly from the middle of the table without plating or serving individuals. Korean food is flavorful and very, very spicy. A general rule of thumb that I have come up with is the redder the food is in color, the spicier it will be. Thankfully, there has been a fair amount of food that’s not bright red. A new favorite dish of mine is called kim bap, a roll similar to sushi that has rice, radish, egg, and crab. I have really enjoyed assisting in the kitchen, and learning to cook Korean food has been fun. Cooking is something I often am involved in at my home, so it was nice to be in the kitchen. I can also say that I am now a rather skilled amateur kim bap roller. So if ever you need a kim bap roller I can gladly help you out!
My favorite part about these big communal meals is the conversation with my birth family. Remarkably, despite knowing each other for less than a month, we have skipped an uncomfortable get-to-know-you phase. Instead, we are comfortable talking frankly with one another about assorted topics ranging from future education plans to favorite literature and Korean mindsets and traditions.
On the topic of Korean mindsets, my birth brother shared his opinion of Korean society and the way businesses here are run, to make a large profit. Now initially this sounded like he was stating the obvious, that all businesses want to make a profit, the bigger the better. My birth brother went on to explain that large corporations control Korean life, influencing the media, the government (through large “donations”), and what professions people should go into. According to my birth brother, Korean companies have gained power as Korea shifted from a poverty-stricken nation after the Korean War to a modern first-world country.
Thinking about our conversation later made me realize that this mentality of making a profit seems to be slightly reflective of the Korean adoption process. Initially, in economic depression after the Korean War, overseas adoption seemed like an ideal option for orphaned children and Ameriasian children (children that were of mixed ethnicity from American soldiers stationed in Korea). Especially for the latter, a life in a less homogenous and stable nation (i.e. America) seemed like a better alternative to living in a war-torn country where illegitimate children were heavily discriminated against.
However, as Korea grew financially stable as a country, adoption became a substantial source of revenue. As of 2011, adoption generated approximately 35 million dollars of income for South Korea. When looking at adoption as a money-making business, with the goods being human children, it makes me question the rationality and ethics in their motives. Today while reading some articles, I stumbled upon a story where a family “returned” their adopted Korean child after seven years because the child was emotionally unresponsive. While I do not know the specifics of the situation, this case dehumanizes the process of adoption and makes the adoptees appear as goods that can be bought and returned. I believe that adoption as a business should be put under some scrutiny to be sure that the laws and hoops people are put through are for good reason. Although I am sure that these cases where families return their child are few and far between and there were issues beyond what the article goes into, it paints adoption in another way. It isn’t necessarily just a means to provide children with homes and families, but also a business with rules and regulations.
I am looking forward to learning more about my biological culture with my birth family this coming week.
Christine ponders resettlement
I am spending my last week in Greenland in Qassiarsuk, a small settlement of approximately 42 people situated 50 km northeast of Narsaq and directly across the fjord from Narsarsuaq, the international airport for south Greenland and a former US military base that was operational during World War II. Qassiarsuk is famous for its Viking ruins. Erik the Red, the first European in the Americas, settled here. Ruins from and modern reconstructions of his house, as well as the first Christian church in the Americas built on the request of his wife Tjodhilde, are popular tourist destinations.
Inhabitants of modern Qassiarsuk, like their ancient Viking predecessors, are farmers. Since the early 1900s, when sheep-farming was introduced with livestock from Iceland, sheep-farming has been an important industry in southern Greenland. Scattered along the fjord system are 52 sheep farms. Four of these farms directly feed into the population of Qassiarsuk, and there are approximately a dozen farms in the village’s general vicinity, accessible by four-wheel drive over rocky roads or by boat. Each of the farms has a few hundred sheep that graze the mountains freely in warm months and are housed in large barns during winter. The farms are fairly isolated, and the work is difficult. By age 6, the children of sheep farmers leave their homes and families to move into dormitories in the larger towns so that they may attend primary school. The majority of the year, the farmer and his wife work alone, hiring temporary help from the larger towns only during birthing season in the spring and slaughtering season in the early fall.
Although the work is hard, sheep farming is one of the most stable and respected jobs in south Greenland. The sheep are produced for their meat, not their wool, although some sheep farmers’ wives have learned to make felted products from the wool to sell (as seen in this week’s photo).
Neqi, the lamb company that buys the sheep for slaughter, is socialistically owned primarily by the Greenlandic government, like many other major companies in Greenland, including Air Greenland, the national airline, and Royal Arctic Line, the national cargo shipping line. Therefore, the sheep farmers are guaranteed certain prices for their livestock, and the lamb is only sold locally within Greenland.
The presence of the sheep farming industry, famous Viking ruins that attract tourists, and the headquarters of a Spanish tourism company in Qassiarsuk indicate the economic sustainability of this small village. But Greenland has many small settlements, each with less than
100 people, that are expensive and inefficient for the government to maintain. Often these settlements, if they do have a school, have only a handful of children who attend, and the quality of instruction is often poor; when these children leave for higher education in the bigger towns, they are often far behind their peers. Furthermore, the Greenlandic government foots the bill for the high costs of maintaining these poor quality schools with few pupils, as well as the high costs of transporting people away from these settlements to receive health care and maintaining small supermarkets in each village.
If Greenland wants full independence from Denmark, there is no question that the nation must be financially self-sufficient. A major way to cut government costs would be to close down the small settlements and move the people living there to the larger towns and cities.
But is such forced migration ethical, even if it seems to be financially necessary? In the 1950s and 1960s, many Greenlanders were forced out of small villages to move to larger towns, often because their labor was necessary for certain industries. During my interviews in Narsaq, I met two elderly people originally from two different settlements nearby who, during their youth, were forced to leave their homes with their families and come to Narsaq to work. Although they easily integrated into Narsaq many years ago, they described how sad they were to leave their homes at the time of departure. According to the museum in Narsaq, some women in these settlements actually refused to leave because their husbands were buried in the settlement, choosing to live in total isolation rather than abandon the remains of their lost loves.
The modern Greenlandic government has never officially made any declaration of an intention to close down more small settlements. But it has made subtle changes that somewhat harm them. These changes are based on free market principles rather than a socialistic duty to maintain small settlements. For many years in Greenland, products sold in government-owned grocery stores around the nation followed the system of Enpris, Danish for “one price.” Items sold, no matter the demand for them or the cost of transporting them, had to be the same price in every store in Greenland. This system was repealed in the early 2000s, making products in the small settlements more expensive. Nevertheless, such changes were not radical enough to force Greenlanders to move elsewhere. Greenlanders have a cultural tendency to simply deal with changes as they come and not fight them, which means that more direct legal action might be necessary to encourage people to move.
The question of whether or not to close down the small settlements in the name of financial independence is difficult. Besides the fact that forcing people to move from their homes is never immediately a good thing, for many Greenlanders the nearly isolated lifestyle of living in a small settlement is part of a long-standing cultural tradition.
However, so is the dream of national independence. If Greenland truly wants independence, the nation must make many difficult decisions regarding to what degree it can afford to maintain traditional lifestyles.
Cece critiques adoption as “salvation”
This week I have continued my stay with my birth family. We visited Gunsan City, two hours south of Seoul on the west coast. There I met some extended family members of my birth brother’s wife. Luckily for us, we had three beautiful days of sun in contrast to the current monsoon season in Korea. We headed to the beach and swam in the Pacific Ocean. The landscape of the coast was beautiful! San from Gunsan means mountains in Korean and there were plenty of mountains. Another neat part about our trip to Gunsan was where we stayed, a traditional Japanese house that serves as a historical reminder of Korea’s Japanese occupation. The walls of the house were made of paper, and we slept on the floor on big comfy cushions with big comforters. Memories of staying with my birth family, especially our excursion to Gunsan, will remain with me forever.
On the drive back I caught up on some news. One of the NPR segments I listened to was about race and cultural identity, “Six Words: ‘Black Babies Cost Less To Adopt’.” The piece discussed the differential costs based on the race of babies due to the supply and demand of certain ethnicities. Caryn Lantz, an adoptive mother, comments that it’s dumbfounding that adoption agencies would “segregate these children by ethnic background before they were even in this world.” One of the aspects of interracial adoption that Lantz mentions is a scenario where a total stranger came up to her in Target and said “thank you for saving babies.” For some reason this notion of strangers approaching adoptive families and commenting on their large heart makes me uncomfortable. It is true that adoptive families have to open their hearts and homes to a new child, but how is this any different than a biological family opening their hearts and homes to their biological children. In my opinion, it’s not different. It is not typical for people to say, “it was so big of you to make a baby.” Something to think about.
While adoption may indeed “save” children from a lifestyle lower than our American ideal, the idea that some of our society puts an emphasis on the charitable act adoptive parents are preforming seems a bit misdirected. It almost takes away from the dynamics of a typical family. In the NPR segment, Lantz questions how comments such as the stranger’s in Target are supposed to make her child feel, especially as he becomes old enough to fully understand what statements like that mean. Although I cannot remember any similar comments growing up, I was stunned when talking with my parents about the subject to find out that they had a similar experience in China when adopting my younger sister. Tourists would approach them and make analogous remarks about saving my sister from a life of poverty. After learning this, I called up my sister to see what her opinion on the matter was. Even though she does not have a conscious recollection of this, she passionately expressed that she believes behavior like that is just plain rude. Adoptive parents do not need or necessarily even want a pat on the back for adopting a new family member. They are just as appreciative of a new member of their family as many birth families are about their newborn biological children.
Perhaps this emphasis on the charitable act of adoption stems from the connection of religion and adoption. There are numerous domestic and international adoption agencies that are religiously affiliated. I am not trying to say that religious personal motives for adopting a child are unjust. Rather, society should not assign the role of savior to adoptive parents. My personal thoughts on the matter are that I feel extremely joyful and lucky that I am part of my family, but I do not think it’s anyone else’s right to tell me how to appreciate my life. I am curious how associating religion to adoption affects individuals’ choices to adopt; does it scare more people away or motivate more people?
Next week, I will be attending the International Korea Adoption Association Gathering Conference. Perhaps the session “Adoption and a Raw Look at Christianity’s Influence” will give me something new to ponder about adoption and religion.
Christine reflects on potential mine impacts
The time has come for me to leave Greenland. I leave with a slightly less heavy bag from when I came (lightened by the loss of the unnecessary supply of granola bars I left in Narsaq), the contact information of dozens of new friends, and an extraordinary sense of peace that must only come from living a simple and beautiful life the past eight weeks.
Although I have explored many other topics in my research and letters home, I feel it necessary to end my trip with a reflection on what topic initiated my journey: the proposed Kvanefjeld mine in Narsaq. I end with this meditation to not only stay true in my final letter home to my original research topic, but because at the conclusion of my research I believe this issue both immaculately exemplifies and fervently antagonizes Greenland’s current social, cultural, political, and economic dynamic.
When considering the question of whether opening the Kvanefjeld mine is ethical, I tend to think about the future impacts of the mine. What are the potential consequences? What could be gained and what could be lost? And how do these potential consequences operate within and among different scales—how might Narsaq, different demographic groups within Narsaq, South Greenland, Greenland, and the world be impacted by Kvanefjeld?
A basic difficulty in determining whether or not the mine is ethical—besides the more complex analysis of weighing different impacts among different scales and players—is that no one actually knows what will happen if the mine begins excavation. We can only think in terms of hypotheticals, using the little knowledge that we have from environmental and health assessments of the mine, examples from other similar mining projects around the world, and general knowledge about Narsaq and Greenland. This information can only give us an idea of what potential gains and losses might come if Kvanefjeld mine is opened.
So what might happen? Let’s recap.
The two primary arguments in favor of mining are easy to identify.
Almost everyone in favor of the mine that I interviewed pointed to two potential benefits that they think are needed: more jobs in a town with high unemployment, and taking a large step towards financial independence from Denmark (nationalism here runs wide and deep, as pictured here from June 21’s National Day). The scales of the benefiters are Narsaq and Greenland, respectively. The mining company, GME, added two other benefits on a global scale: opening up the global rare earths market (now approximately 90% owned by Chinese companies), and using rare earths to manufacture green energy products like solar panels.
Those against the mine cite a wide array of potential negative impacts on different scales. Although local employment will be used, many foreign workers will also come, particularly high-level education jobs. The social and cultural impacts of these workers on the small town of Narsaq are likely to be huge, as they were in the 1970s when Kvanefjeld was explored by a Danish team of miners, and could be both good and bad. Environmentally, the mine is located 8 km away from Narsaq in a wind tunnel of sorts; many Narsaq residents fear the health effects of unhealthy debris, such as uranium, being blown into the town during strong storms. On a global scale, some Greenlanders worry that the uranium that will be exported with the rare earths will be used for weapons.
The discussion about whether or not the mine should be opened looks like a pros and cons list. Like in any public forum about a potential change with large community-wide impacts, those in favor present the pros, those against present the cons, and because no one can really know what will happen, often the side who can best present their argument, perhaps armed with the greater amount of information and resources, can gain favor with community members.
But this is perhaps the greatest problem with Kvanefjeld and other mining projects in Greenland. Where are people whose lives are most directly going to be affect by the mine (for better or for worse) getting their information about the mine?
Narsaq’s inhabitants are primarily informed by none other than the mining company, Greenland Minerals and Energy, which has taken it upon itself to set up public forums and elaborate presentations about the mine’s future impacts to inform the Narsaq community. GME is also the only institution who has polled the community in an informal referendum to see what percentage of Narsaq supports the mine (60%, according to their 2011 poll).
GME’s active role in informing Narsaq about the potential impacts of the mine is not in itself bad. In fact, the company’s inclusion of members of the local community in the conversation about the mine is respectable, even though ultimately the community’s backing is in their financial favor, of course. The problem with the flow of information about the mine is that there is no organized opposition to the mine. The single-issue political parties that formed in Narsaq in favor and against the mine appear to have little active duty in actually leading public debate to inform Narsaq’s inhabitants about the potential impacts of the mine. At a national level, there are no NGOs or think-tanks in Greenland dedicated to providing any reports about the mine, biased or unbiased (in fact, there are no NGOs or think-tanks in Greenland at all). The only truly organized source of information about the mine and its potential impacts comes from the mining company itself.
Even the Greenlandic government, which would be responsible for monitoring the mine for health and safety standards if it is approved to begin operations, relies on GME heavily for information about the mine. Reports are published by GME and sent to Nuuk—not to mention that the same department within Greenland’s national government is responsible for both protecting mining interests and monitoring environmental regulations.
I cannot say whether the impacts of mining Kvanefjeld would be good or bad. In all likelihood, there will be some of both. But I am not convinced that Greenland is ready for this kind of mining project—large scale, close to a town, involving uranium—particularly considering the lack of information circulating about the mine before it has even been approved to be operational.
On a slightly different note, I want to end my trip and Letter Home series with a brief reflection on a quote from a bright young woman I met in Narsaq who wisely said, “Why does no one, like the government, give us any other options beside the mine? The mine is talked about like it is our only option or this town will die. But there has to be other options. We need to be more creative and more proactive.”
When we are faced with difficult decisions or potential change, it is far too easy to either accept or reject the options that we are given rather than inspire different solutions. If an issue is really concerning—in Greenland, the US, North Carolina, Duke—and could affect our lifestyle, wellbeing, homeland, community—perhaps even being well-informed about both sides of the issue is not enough. We shouldn’t let our ability to direct and innovate change be stifled by such limiting dichotomies.
CeCe at Korean adoptees Conference – 1
This week by far has been one of the busiest all summer for me. I have been attending the largest conference for Korean adoptees, IKAA 2013 Gathering (International Korean Adoptees Association) in Seoul, South Korea. The opening ceremony Monday night was attended by over four hundred participants! To kick start the week, the Minister of Health and Welfare (the department that has oversight on adoption issues) and the president of Korea, President Kim, spoke and extended a warm welcome to the children returning to their country og origin. For me, it was overwhelming that the Korean government gave so much attention to adoptees. The conference was also the first time I was exposed to such a large, active Korean adoptee community.
A unifying component of being in Seoul with hundreds of other Korean adoptees is exploring Korean culture together. Korean culture includes a lot of social drinking. One of the first activities of the conference was “membership training,” which was modeled on a retreat hosted by Korean companies to bond new and old employees by putting them on a level playing field. This occurs as they play drinking games together. Thus, we bonded over learning traditional Korean drinking games from the native Koreans.
Although many of the adoptees were raised in different cultures, conversation was quite easy. Whether sharing a pitcher of Cass, a Korean beer, or chatting during breaks in the conference, a typical introduction would start off with “Hi, I’m Cece from the States. Where are you from? Is this your first time to Korea? Is this your first Gathering Conference? What’s your adoption story? Are you in contact with your birth family?” I was surprised at how readily attendees shared their adoption story. An older adoptee explained that these stories are unifying experiences. After these intimate stories have been shared, it is incredible how quickly and tightly a bond can form between strangers.
This conference has not been all bonding and interviews though; I have learned a lot about Korean adoption. As the first large group of international adoptees, Korean adoptees are paving the way in researching the impact of international adoption. On Tuesday, the Third International Symposium on Korean Adoption Studies took place with presentations ranging from “Issues of Belonging, Alienation, and Community among Adoptees” to “New Engagements with Birth Country: Korean Adoptees as Citizens, Researchers and Advocates in Contemporary South Korea.” One panelist’s research was focused on the language and cultural differences between adoptees and their birth families, and how the adoptee approaches and navigates forging this new relationship. The panelist highlighted themes she identified from her qualitative research study: 1) the desire to conform to Korean standards of beauty to fit within a Korean family; 2) the secrecy birth parents’ families maintain with regards to the adoption and the existence of the adoptee; and 3) the frustration birth parents and the adoptee face due to an inability to communicate in the same language, and the need for interpreters. She concluded that adoptees that had low expectations going into the birth family relationship are more satisfied with its outcome as the relationship matures over time.
Another panelist compared personal traits with external experiences faced by adoptees to explore the impact they have on forming a sense of belonging or exclusion. The preliminary findings of the study revealed that personal traits do not have a strong correlation with sense of belonging or exclusion. Rather, external experiences such as discrimination, especially at the school age level, have a much higher impact on the sense of belonging.
For me it was fascinating to listen to the research, because as I listened and thought about my experiences growing up, I could easily identify with a lot of the findings. Also, all of the presenters were adoptees. They demonstrated the personal importance of the topic and their motivations to do research on the topic of international adoption.
The first half of the conference has been fantastic, meeting new friends and learning about our shared biological background. I am so excited for the second half of the conference.
CeCe at Korean adoptees Conference – 2
The second half of the IKAA (International Korean Adoptee Association) Gathering Conference has continued to be a whirlwind of activity, meeting adoptees of all ages and from many countries. Older adoptees have shared their wisdom on living in Korea, forming one’s identity, searching for birth parents, and navigating relationships with birth parents once ties have been formed. As an adoptee considers whether to search for his or her birth parent, the standard advice is to prioritize the adoptee’s mental readiness for this task and his or her wellbeing.
An adoptee World Cup was held on Thursday. It was a welcome break from the traditional lectures, discussions, and busy schedule of the conference. Five different teams were created with adoptees from Denmark, Sweden/Norway, the remainder of Europe, Korea, and the US. I played on Team USA. Unfortunately, we did not make it to the finals. But it was fun to see all the adoptees riled up and rooting for their adoptive countries’ teams. We further bonded over the friendly rivalry.
On Saturday, the conference showed a series of films that were either directed by Korean adoptees or related to Korean culture. Memory of Forgotten War by Deann Borshay Liem kicked off the marathon. This documentary contained interviews with Koreans that had lived through the Korean War and interwove those with historical background on the conflict. From this film I learned about the politics that brought about the prevalence of international Korean adoption. Other films screened included a documentary that followed single mothers who lived in a single mothers’ home before and after the birth of their children. There was also a story about a single mother who gave her child up for adoption but regretted her decision. For me, these two films were quite painful to watch. It was heart wrenching to see the angst and inner turmoil these single mothers experienced when societal pressures gave them little choice. These films drove home the point that although the international adoptive couple may be overjoyed to have a new baby, it is at the expense of the birth parent who has given up her child.
The conference concluded with a phenomenal performance by a Korean pop group, a traditional Korean dance with drums, and a banquet.
Reflecting on the attendees that I met at the conference and over the summer, I have decided that, simplistically, there are two types of adoptees—angry adoptees and happy adoptees. The organizer of the IKAA conference concurs. She has been working on adoption issues and with adoptees for the past 20+ years. She explained to me that “angry adoptees” come back to Korea because they have failed to fit into the culture of their adoptive parents’ nationality. They complain that Korea has monetarily benefited from what they see as an adoption mill that forces birth mothers to relinquish their children to foreign parents. These angry adoptees now expect restitution—that the Korean government should support their repatriation. They expect the Korean government to give them handouts and have a sense of entitlement for having been sent away as a child.
Another interesting point that she raised was that, as a general rule of thumb, those individuals that are dissatisfied with their adoption experiences and their lives are more likely to raise awareness of and point out flaws in the adoption system. And it appears that the Korean government has listened to the complaints of these “angry adoptees” as it has assisted Korean adoptees by creating special work permits, developing a dual citizenship option, and providing financial support.
The IKAA organizer suggests that, in contrast, the “happy adoptee” is content and has no desire to actively change the adoption system, because they have had a positive adoptive experience. It may come as a surprise to them when they hear the “angry adoptee” story.
While prior to this fellowship, I would have put myself in the “happy adoptee” camp, I believe I now can see both sides of the issue. The “angry adoptees” validly point out that adoption should not be a baby selling business and Korean culture should change to support a single birth mother’s right to parent. On the other hand, adoption is an opportunity for a new life for both the adoptee and adoptive parent.
I leave the conference with a deepened awareness of blending two cultures.
Till next week!