About Jae

I am a member of the Class of 2018 at the University of Puget Sound, that is...if I can finish my double major, double minor on schedule with no delays. I am a Korean-American adoptee and it turns out a lot of my research revolves around that. I consider myself an activist, writer, poet, and inquiring mind.

Research? Or Closure?

한국에가고싶어요…. 한국에돌아오고싶어요. 나의엄마보고싶어요. 

Translation: I want to go to Korea….I want to come back to Korea. I want to see my mom.

These three sentences are probably the most complicated sentences I can manage to string together in Korean. I can say this much as well as some basic restaurant and travel phrases. The thing is… I’m not a tourist, I’m not a Korea-enthusiast (e.g. Koreaboo), I’m not a KPOP fan, and I’m not majoring in international studies with an interest in Korea. I am Korean. I’m Korean-American; more specifically a Korean Adoptee. For my 2nd Summer Research grant, I will be living and researching in Seoul, South Korea for 30 days. I’ve returned to South Korea on 2 separate occasions but this will be the longest and most in-depth experience yet.

On March 9th, when I marched up the steps of Jones Hall to pass my application on to the powers that be, I paused for just a moment outside the building. March 9th also happened to be my 21st birthday. I paused for a moment to think about what it would mean to receive the Summer Research Grant in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences from the University. I paused to think about my mother and whether or not she was thinking of me on my birthday. I paused to think about all of my potential subjects and their stories. My summer research is an Oral History project of Korean Adoptees who have returned (indefinitely) to South Korea. I’m recording narratives of return and hoping to map the diverse journies from birthland to adopted land and back again. My goal is to record a community’s history and find out how the phenomenon began in 1998/1999-2007, when almost no Korean social worker ever believed adoptees would even come back to visit. I know that some of them will be stories of joy, found families, and amazing personal growth. However, I also know that many stories will be stories of pain, rejection, and failed adoption. So, I paused outside of Jones, and for just a second, I considered turning back and foregoing my application. I was worried I would find things about adoption that I wouldn’t be able to emotionally handle, I was worried that living alone in Korea for 30 days would be too taxing, and I was worried that my motivations for doing this research were far too personal and not academic in any way.

Here’s the question: Am I truly doing this research for the pursuit of knowledge and justice for the advancement of understanding human history? Or am I using University dollars to go on a 30-day personal journey to find more closure in my birthland where I had always dreamed of moving since my first visit in 2009? Am I doing this to scope out if returning would be a good option for me? I struggled with these questions while I wrote my application, when I handed it in, and when I received my notification of acceptance. When I received my notification of acceptance, I went to a friend and confidant of mine. I asked them, “Am I doing the right thing? Is this okay? Am I actually doing real research or am I just going on some sort of self-discovery?” They looked at me and simply replied “Why can’t it be both?” In that moment I remembered something really crucial about what it means to be a scholar of Art, Humanities, and Social Sciences. In fact, I had no idea how I could have forgotten because it is my favorite aspect of these disciplines. In the arts, humanities, and social sciences students often pursue scholarship that allows them to self-explore, feel their emotions, and share their experiences with those around them.

So again…

한국에가고싶어요…. 한국에돌아오고싶어요. 나의엄마보고싶어요. I want to go to Korea…I want to come back to Korea. I want to see my mom. While it is unlikely that I will ever find my mother (less than 10% of Korean Adoptees do), I hope that by living and learning in Korea with other adoptees for 30-days, I will come away with not only historical knowledge of the history of adoptees but also with a found-family of my own.

I hope you stay tuned.

-김 재우


Me, June 2016 at Eastern Social Welfare Services in Seoul