Lost In Translation

Elise Horspool attempts to come to terms with the cultural disorientation of being a Korean adoptee in Australia.

A mutual acquaintance of mine has a wonderful Tumblr blog, and the headlining quote is: “Saudade describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves.” This painfully defines the feeling that all adoptees feel constantly throughout life. It isn’t until it’s written down on paper that we can finally acknowledge it.

Most siblings growing up will have potentially screamed at each other, “I wish you were adopted!” Well sometimes there’s fact to that statement. In some domestic adoption cases, children won’t find out until they’re adults that they were adopted. But in international adoptions, it’s blindingly obvious when the parents are of different racial appearance to the child.

I’m a South Korean adoptee, born in Seoul and given up by my eighteen year old mother. In South Korea unmarried, pregnant women were practically forced to give up their children or dishonour their family. For her, she believed I would live a much better life.

There was a period of two days from when I was born to when I was handed to the Eastern Child Welfare centre. I sometimes wonder whether she held me in that time and debated what she was giving up. She never named me, the nurses at the hospital did.

For years I held a sense of resentment. I loved my adoptive family but I felt like a part of me was missing. Over the years this resentment has faded. I now embrace her sacrifice and honestly believe someday she will find me or I her. I would wander the streets of Sydney and wonder if a passerby could be her. Where was she? Was she alive? Does she have another family? Does she think about me everyday like I think about her?

Being adopted by Australians has essentially made me reborn Australian. Some people believe I’m not truly Australian because I wasn’t born here. While Koreans can’t understand why I don’t speak Korean or understand Korean culture. As a friend of mine has said, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. As well as dealing with being adoptedI feel my identity is not my own. It’s what other people dictate it to be.

For the past nineteen years, life has been simple because it was all under the surface. I never dwelled on it because I had a good life and didn’t regret for one moment what my life had become. But the moment I started thinking about it, it hit me like a train. Some days I struggle and think what my life could have been.

This winter break, I’m going back to where I was born. I’m studying Modern Korean history and Korean language. I love Girls Generation, bulgogi and a nice dosage of Korean dramas. I’m staying in a cheap hostel for twenty six days and I plan on experiencing Seoul, not as a tourist, but a homecoming. My original intent was to go there to search for my mother, but it isn’t essential. I need to know where I’m from; where she is from.

The process of searching for birth parents is incredibly draining and painful. The amount of paper work is frustrating and usually leads to dead ends. But it’s a path I know I have to take if I want closure. I know her name, birth place and blood type which make her seem so close. But the more I search, the further away she gets.

I was a happy child and I’m still a happy adult. I regret nothing, but the innate desire to find the woman who gave up so much will never leave me. I may never find her, or she may not want to know me; but I started this journey and I will finish it no matter how painful it gets.

If you are an adoptee, or would just like to discuss this article with Elise, please feel free to email her at monalisa_smile21@hotmail.com