Thanksgiving in Korea

This past week I would assume Kenan was quite quiet, with most of the students at home to celebrate Thanksgiving or away from academic buildings getting a slight respite before finals kick in. Most students like myself are probably catching the last flight possible that will extend their time off in their respective retreats.   I am just now returning from Seoul, Korea. After sprinting in both the Tokyo Airport and the Minneapolis Airport (the former my folly and the latter Immigration’s and Minneapolis’ ridiculously long terminals), I feel a huge sense of relief to be headed back to Durham.

My Thanksgiving was slightly less conventional than most. I was visiting my birth family in Korea; where they celebrate Thanksgiving but a few weeks prior and without stuffing, arguably the best part of the holiday. But as a coworker accurately pointed out, I still got to experience “all the family drama and guilt that comes with [Thanksgiving].”

Visiting with Birth Family in a trip to South Korea

The last time I was in Korea was the summer of 2013. I was there exploring the evolving ethics of adoption and meeting my extended birth family as a Kenan Summer Fellow.

My Thanksgiving excursion again presented me with questions I have grappled with before: What is my obligation, as an adopted individual with a loving family, to integrate my birth family into my present life now that I have contacted them? How should I balance this relationship I created with my birth family in a thoughtful way with my real family interactions and obligations?

Although these are not easily answerable questions, I recognize and am thankful for the opportunity to tackle these questions as a direct result of having contact with my birth family. Within my own family, my sister has not had the ability to contact her birth parents and I try not to treat my situation too nonchalantly. Due to cultural differences and unfamiliarity to one another’s quirks and tendencies, my birth family and I do not always see eye to eye on all issues. Their expectations for what it means to be a family are frequently different than mine, and this can cause friction that I find challenging to navigate. Nevertheless, with my parents’ support, I continue to try to meaningfully include my blood relatives in my life.

Sometimes I try to imagine what my life would be like if I had not contacted my birth family. However it is impossible, they are such an integral part of my life and development as a person.

Throughout the week as I Facetimed with my family back in Ohio, I was overcome with deep gratitude. I am grateful for their flexibility and understanding as I attempt to maintain my relationships with my various birth family members. It has been difficult negotiating this process. But, it is so reassuring to me how wonderful my friends and family have been both at home and at Kenan. At a time of year when it is traditional for Americans to sit across the table from loved ones and reflect on what we have—even in happy, traditional households, not always an easy thing—I continue to process my Summer Fellows experience and the doors it has opened in my own life. It’s amazing how full circle this whole experience has been for me.