On being a minority in the Northwoods of MN

Hanbok - traditional Korean dress

This week is one of my favorite of the entire year. I am attending Korean Culture Kamp in northern MN with my daughters and youngest son. We started the tradition 9 years ago when the girls were in pre-school and kindergarten, and now they are running with the high school crowd. What was at first a great way to get them to wear the traditional Korean dresses for the Kamp program has turned into a vital part of their identity and a way to connect with special friends who share some of their same angst and joys.

Minnesota is home to the largest international adoptive community in the nation as well as the largest Korean adoptive population. We have many Asian faces here with the name of Kim Nelson or Steve Johnson. At Kamp they are able to complain about and embrace many of the issues they cannot share with their friends at home. It does get bothersome to explain to new aquaintances why your name doesn’t match your face, why your parents aren’t the one Asian couple in the bleachers, that the mom who makes a chore list for you is your “real” mom. Kamp also provides the opportunity to have informal conversations with mentors – college and young adult Korean adoptees who have been there, done that and struggled as well as have been successful in navigating their lives.

This week there are 10 Korean college students from Seoul, Korea talking to the campers about what life is like in Korea for a teenager. Korea, like most Asian cultures, is much more a conformist mentality than individualistic. Appearances are very important, especially for girls. Because education is valued and expensive, most families only have 1-2 children and invest all of their resources (monetary and emotional) into their children’s lives. School starts at 7 am and lasts until late evening, with mandatory studying hours in the evening. Obeying and respecting your elders is ingrained into children from a young age. Their lives here in the US are very different from what they would have experienced if they had stayed in their native land.

We, as their adoptive parents, are enthralled that we are able to share in their culture and lives. Fortunatley for all of us, international adoption will soon be a dinosaur practice in Korea. Acceptance of domestic adoption is becoming much more common and 2/3 of children placed for adoption are adopted by Korean families in Korea. The same is true of China, as very few young, healthy children are being adopted internationally. As economic prosperity rises, a country is much better able to provide social services for its citizens. Which leads to my last question. Should we, as one of the wealthiest nations on earth, help to fund social services for poor countries to be able to provide for their own or do we spend our individual resources on raising children in our country. I know what the answer is when looking at the greater good, it just differs from the answer that has made our family what it is.

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