Coming to Terms with Who I Am

… Reflections of a Korean-Born Adoptee

Kimberlea Amerling

I was adopted as an infant from Korea. I went back to Korea last year, and even though it was beautiful, I’m glad to be in the United States. I am interested in corresponding with adoptees near my age (22) and/or prospective adoptive parents who may want information from an adoptee’s perspective… After submitting the above People to People to Adoptive Families, I received an overwhelming number of letters from adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents inquiring about my life as a Korean adoptee. In response, I decided to share experiences. Of course, they are unique and maybe e very different from those of any other adoptee, but I hope they provide some insight into what growing up as an international adoptee is like.

A Family’s Influence

I was born Kim Yung Soon, but when I was 6 months old, I became the daughter of Larry and Sherry Amerling. They named me Kimberlea Lucille, but I prefer just Kim. This recently confused an international Korean student I met at college. he didn’t understand why Kim was my first name and not my last, because Kim is a common Korean last name.

I am 22 years old and recently graduated with a BA in psychology. I have two brothers: Scott, 21, who is also a Korean adoptee but not my biological brother, and Brad, 16, who is my parents’ biological son. I attribute a lot of who I am today to my family. I’m strong-willed like my Grandmas, a pack rat like my Grandpa. I like things clean and neat like my Mom, and I want to be successful like my Dad. When I mentioned my family at work recently, a co-worker said, “I love how you talk about your adoptive family–you speak of them as if they are your real family.” “That’s because they are my real family.” I replied with a smile.

My parents are the most influential people in my life. Another couple may have created me, but it was Larry and Sherry Amerling who took me in as their own. How can blood be thicker than water when the people who gave me water for my thirst were not my blood relatives?

My parents call me “our daughter,” not “our adopted daughter.” Their choice of words tells me they love me unconditionally. The emphasis is on the fact that I am their daughter, not that I was adopted. I know a 9-year old boy whose grandfather referred to him as “my adopted grandson from Korea.” The boy quickly replied, “No, I’m just your grandson.”

My parents have always loved and treated all of their children equally. I know some families in which this is not the case. I once met a Korean adoptee who hated his parents because they favored his siblings, who were birth children. I also met two adopted girls whose mother told them “stay away from my sons. (Her sons by birth!) They are not your brothers and never will be.” In other families I know, the adopted children are favored. Either case is devastating. I love my parents for believing in all three of us.

Inaccurate Stereotypes

I have always been a good student, not because I’m Asian, but because I worked hard. It annoys me when people assume I do well because I’m Asian. I graduated with a 3.91 GPA and hope someday to earn a doctorate degree in the research and treatment of abnormal psychology. My motivation is based on wanting to make my parents proud and to show the people who have put me down that I can do something positive with my life. I don’t believe that being Asian has given me any special edge or drive.

Adopting an Asian child does not guarantee a high-achieving dream child. Many Asians I know who do well were raised in Asia. It’s not that Asians raised in America can’t do well, but consider the cultural differences: In Asia, children have family, friends and society that emphasize achievement in school. In America, children are exposed to many different values. I know some Korean adoptees who don’t care about school and would rather party. This doesn’t mean they are bad people or have bad parents, it just means they are like any other American adolescent, struggling to fit into a country with no universal values. What is important to one person will not be to another. Some people value a high GPA, others want to have a good time.

In addition, a smart student in the United States often socially shunned. I was considered a “Brain” in school, and the most popular kids talked to me only if they needed an answer to their homework. Instead of listening to how to do the problem, they usually whined, “Just tell me the answer.” Frustrated, I finally started giving them the wrong answers. This may sound unethical, but after they saw hat they were doing the same or worse, they stopped hounding me and I was left in peace.

My brothers’ school careers started out differently. Scott had a rocky start, but my parents were proud of his hard-earned C’s. He was diagnosed with a speech problem as a child, but I suspect he didn’t have a problem at all. The sounds he had trouble with, “L” and “R” do not exist in the Korean language. It is said that a baby is born able to pronounce any sound in the world, but if that ability is not exercised, it is lost over time. Scott was adopted when he was two years old, so I believe he was learning the Korean language and lost the ability to say “L” and “R” the “correct” way. But with my parents love and support, he came into his own. Today, Scott excels in school and is working toward a computer science degree. Brad, too had a shaky start but now has a 4.0

Adoption Issues

Some parents never discuss or even tell their child he or she is adopted. This seems to say, “I can love you only if I deny your past and believe my own fabricated story about you.” My parents never pretended I was their birth child or ignored my past. It works differently for everyone, and some children may have pasts that are better left untold, but for me, the truth was best. I started asking about my adoption as a child, and it was spoken of as a blessing, not a secret to be ashamed of.

Family reunions always hurt because relatives argued over whom Brad looked and acted like. To Scott and me they said, “my how you’ve grown.” I started to wonder whose nose I had, if I had my birthmother’s hands, if my parents loved to read. Did I have a twin? What health problems might I be genetically predisposed to? How long did my birthmother labor with me? Did my birthfather know about me? Am I full Korean or Amerasian, as some people suspect? Adoption gave me a permanent family but not answers to unique question of genetics.

Mom and Dad were always understanding. They never forbid me to think about my past, and knew my feelings were not a sign of disrespect or desire to replace them. There are no records, so I will probably never find my birthparents.

Although I would love to meet them, no one could replace the family I call my own. I used to have bitter thoughts about my birthmother. How could she leave me in a box on the street when I was only three days old? Was I unlovable or bad?

My friend Phil got me to see my relinquishment differently. He said, “Kim, if you are biracial, Korean society would have rejected you. I think your birthmother wanted to give you a chance at having acceptance and a better life.” When I was back to Korea in 1994, I was convinced he was right: a mother with an illegitimate child faces social ostracism and no future for her baby. Biracial babies are even more of a disgrace. My tour guide told us about the mothers he had seen over the years who begged agency workers to find good families for their babies, then ran away crying. no doubt I was purposely placed in a box in front of a theater. Perhaps my mother watching to make sure I was found. My bitterness toward her is gone. I will always wonder about her, but my need to know more has waned because I am pretty sure that she loved me.

Reprinted with permission from Adoptive Families, January 2000

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