Journey 2008 Essay

Beth Aarons,Boston,USA 방문기

July 17, 2008

Dear Lewis

I am writing you this letter to provide feedback on the 2008 Journey program.

Overall, I am glad I visited Korea and was able to see first-hand the country where I was born. I think the goals of the Journey program are admirable and provide a great opportunity for adoptees abroad who would not otherwise financially be able to visit Korea. I am also very happy that the Journey program was able to show us different regions of the country, and not just Seoul. Seeing the countryside and Jeju Island, and how the Korean people live outside of the capital city was important, as it offered insight into different aspects of Korea.

As I said, I truly believe that the goals of the Journey program are admirable. However, to some degree I felt that instead of gently introducing us to Korea, we were expected to welcome complete immersion into all aspects of the culture. To alleviate some of the culture shock, it would have been helpful if participants were given some information about the significantly different aspects of Korean culture that we should expect, and some leeway in instances that might be uncomfortable to participants. I will give some examples.

In general, it seemed that we were being treated as if we were culturally Korean. I understand that Korean adoptees will certainly have the physical appearance of being Korean. However, we have all been raised in other cultures and countries, and in that aspect we are certainly NOT Korean. In most Western cultures, people do not ask people’s ages or other personal questions upon introduction. This practice would be considered extremely rude and unnecessarily invasive. It would have been good preparation to let participants know that they should expect this type of questioning.

On a personal note, I felt very singled out for being older than the other participants. I understand that in Korean culture, this age difference would often signal a sign of respect or different status. However, I am culturally NOT Korean, and it was very uncomfortable to always be referred to as the “older sister” and be expected to have responsibilities within the group that I had neither anticipated nor expected. I do not think it was proper to ask me to make sure the others checked back in before curfew. This was not my job or responsibility. It would have been more appropriate if I were treated the same as all the other participants. I had the same lack of knowledge of the Korean language and culture as every other participant, and had also never before visited the country. I believe it is possible to expose us to Korean culture without beating us into submission with it.

For me, the home stay was an extremely valuable experience. This provided the type of information and window on normal Korean life that is unattainable by simply being a tourist.

However, it would have been helpful to have the information about the makeup of our home-stay families much earlier, perhaps a month or two prior to the trip. It seems that there would have been plenty of time for the Journey program to obtain the information earlier. I also did not understand why the program does not make earlier inquiries about smokers vs. non-smokers, as being a non-smoker in a smoking home can be extremely difficult socially and from a safe health perspective.

I think the program should make it clearer earlier in the application process that certain aspects of the Journey program will be mandatory. If not, then these aspects should not be imposed upon participants. One example is attending mass. The company may be Christian, but many participants are not, and it is very uncomfortable, even disrespectful, to be compelled to attend a Christian mass. It should be made clear to applicants that this will be expected of them. It would be fine to visit or tour a church, and if attending the actual mass were optional, this would have been acceptable. Another example is the TV station interview. While the initial release gives the Journey permission to use our photos and video taken during the tour, it says nothing about expecting participants to be interviewed for TV. It was not a pleasant surprise to be told just 20 minutes before the TV camera crew appeared that they would be filming and they expected to interview at least one of us. It felt like an ambush and was very uncomfortable

Introduction to Korean food is not easy for foreigners. While different Korean regions may prepare meals differently, from a Western perspective, they were nearly identical. It was good to be able to try different things, but the program should understand that this may be the first time participants experience Korean food, and therefore may not like it, and other things should be available. Many times there were options, but sometimes there were not. It felt like participants were penalized for not liking Korean food by not being able to select other options. Even in our home countries, we do not eat the same thing every day for weeks on end.

It was unquestionably insensitive, unprofessional, and unacceptable to throw me in the ocean against my will. The fact that I was fully clothed and that we were on our way to the airport made it doubly injurious. I hope this practice will not be repeated with any future Journey participants. I do not accept Andy’s feeble apology which I found completely insincere. He seemed amused that I was so upset which was disrespectful of my feelings. It further angered me that he would not even take responsibility for what he did. He then lied to me by saying he throws someone in the ocean every year, when Robyn indicated this was certainly not the case. For him to then find the way he treated me funny was only further insult. I do not believe he even knows why what he did was wrong. If I had not had the visit to Holt rescheduled for the following day, I would have sought alternate travel plans to leave Korea immediately. I only attended the closing ceremony because the other participants wanted me there, and my host family would be present and I wanted to say goodbye to them.

I do not think Andy grasped the purpose and meaning of the Journey tour as it applies to the participants. From his actions, it seemed that to him it was merely a field trip or vacation. He did not seem to understand that for adoptees visiting the country of their birth for the first time, it can be extremely stressful, emotional, and exciting all at the same time, and that each adoptee’s expectations and experience will be highly personalized and profound. We attended the program to learn more about Korea and its culture and people, but also to learn more about ourselves and what having a Korean heritage means to each of us individually. The experience is often sensitive, delicate, and private. Some people are more comfortable investigating their identity and personal history than others, and great care should be taken to respect participants’ differing feelings on the country, the culture and customs, the people, the food, etc. Some people might be comfortable sharing their experience with other participants, but both the program and adoptees should be mindful that some people will not want to talk about it, especially on camera.

It seems that in Korea respect is expected from people in certain positions. In other cultures, respect is not automatic, but must be earned. Andy did nothing to earn my respect. It seemed that he treated the tour as his own personal “spring break,” which is when college students typically travel together and drink and party to excess. It was unprofessional and thoughtless that he would be so hung over in the morning that he could not even attend breakfast.

I did not think the rolling papers at the closing ceremony were appropriate. To be forced to write something to or about everyone else on the trip does not consider that not everyone participating will become friends or even get along. Those who do connect will undoubtedly keep in touch afterwards. Those who do not connect should not be compelled to come up with something about the people they would not choose to be with under other circumstances. The program is only two weeks long and different amounts of time are spent with various participants. It is not really enough time to get to know everyone thoroughly.

Participants would greatly benefit from receiving a list of items (at least a month before the trip) that they should definitely consider bringing. The list might include: a compact umbrella and/or rain jacket, a sweater or sweatshirt, a bath towel, a bathing suit, flip-flops, and powder laundry detergent.

It would also be helpful to be told about some other things to expect, such as the ways the public and home bathrooms are different, or the prevalence of smoking and smokers in general at public places, the lack of opportunity for non-Korean food in group meals, the typical Korean hotel lodging (i.e. no beds or desk), the type of footwear that is expected for various days and events, and other general information about the lack of laundry access or dryers, the type of plug adapter to bring, internet accessibility, and other things that would be helpful when planning what to pack. However, this information is only useful if it comes with enough advance notice prior to the trip. Telling me only the day before I leave for Korea how many people are in my host family was poor planning. If we are expected to bring an appropriate gift to our home-stay family, we need more time to prepare.

The saving grace of the whole Journey trip was the people I met. I think I will see Annabel and Emily in the future since they are so close and Boston Korean Adoptees will undoubtedly have future joint events with AKA New York. It was fun traveling with you and Grace and Alex. My host family was wonderful and I hope to keep in touch with them.

It would be helpful for the Journey program to realize that inviting first-time visiting adoptees to Korea is a different kind of tour group, that we are not ordinary tourists, nor are we ordinary Koreans. We are not culturally Korean and many aspects of Korean culture will be terribly foreign. Participants may have different expectations than ordinary tourists about the culture, having been born there. Everyone is likely interested in learning more about Korea, but not everyone will enjoy what they learn, and that is alright because for each adoptee, visiting the country of our birth is a personal experience that is neither right nor wrong. The Journey program has a great opportunity to give the first visit experience of Korea to adoptees. With very few changes and a little more in-depth understanding of how the experience of adoptees visiting Korea differs from regular tourists, the program has the potential to be phenomenal. I wish you luck for the future.


Beth Aarons

Brent Fella,Philadelphia,USA 방문기

When I travel, I am always most excited when the plane is about to touch down. The bump of the wheels against the tarmac releases a sense of confusion as all of the preconceptions of an area you had become null with that one physical shock.

Korea has been an odd case as I still have memories of the area from my childhood, so heading into the country with an open slate has been a bit more difficult. I expected the factoids that people always usually spout off such as kimchee all the time as well as the cattle rush of pushing and shoving during business hours of the metro. The hardest thing to elicit from people traveling is what the people are like of their visitation. This is understandable though as the people of an area must be experienced rather than explained. From Seoul to Busan to Jeju Island, Journey 2008 has gone through a flashflood of culture and tradition.

Learning about said cultures, traditions and people have been slightly difficult due to language differences. Language is always a mere abstraction of what people want to say anyway, so other means worked fine. Usually in any area, the easiest way of connecting with the locals is to eat and drink along with them.

My first meal was with the Oh family who were gracious enough to open up their doors for a home stay. Bulgogi and Jab Chae were the intro meals. I ate a lot of Korean food back in the States so I was familiar with the meal but it did taste a difference. Perhaps it was from the love of the family that made all of the food taste so different. This love was the thing I noticed most during my time there. Whenever Mr. or Mrs. Oh would speak, the children would so attentively and respectfully listen. This interaction was limited though due to family health issues so I was usually out of the house with the children.

Tae Young, Eun Hye, and Yoon Ju would take Sara, Emily and I out to get an inkling of what the younger crowd does in Korea. This consisted of the Norebang and Jim Jil Bang which were a bit different than their respective counterparts in the States. We all laughed and had quite an enjoyable difference regardless of our communication problems. Smiles and the ocular dialect are few things that need no dictionary.

Moving out of the city, we hopped on a bus piloted by the ever friendly G-Man. The gold clad fellow was quite the jovial type after a couple drinks like everyone else in Korea. He would so adroitly maneuver the bus through such tight spaces. I’m still not sure how we made it through some areas unscathed.

Our itinerary consisted of many folk villages. At these villages, we would see the local houses and performances. Performances included drum playing, theaters with masks and a wedding ceremony.

During this time, my enjoyment really began to crescendo as this is when I had a time to talk in more depth with all of my Journey mates as well as Mr. Park, Hyun Jun and Mr. Lee. What always interests me most is just listening to everything around me as the most learning occurs here. How to interact properly with Korean age differences was learned during this time. One thing that always confused me was asking about the economic s of the country. Koreans are proud people and rightfully so. Their economy has sky rocketed in the past decade, but this sense of progression leaves a few questions that I never got answered and one of the few things that I wish was included in the trip. I would ask about the poor and I would always be answered by how good the economy was. I also could never get an answer about where the impoverished areas were in Seoul. Once, I received an answer that was merely, “there aren’t any.” I found this sense of social responsibility odd as we drove by the broken down villages in the mountains. This also made me felt selfish for going on the trip as there was humanitarian work I had to finish up in the Philippines when I returned home for work.

There were many things that worked well for the trip. Mr. Park speaking English fluently was a great aid to us all. The home stay visits was fantastic and I really lucked out by my family being somewhat close to my age and in close proximity to another home stay . Therefore, we could go out at night and get to know each other. The pacing of the trip was nice. Although there is a lot to see with a tight schedule, it is much better than simply sitting around in a period of stasis. One can do that at home for free. Some recommendations I can give are to open up the trip a little to show all of the social spectrums of Korea rather than big industry and polished areas. I think to appreciate and call someplace home, one must accept all of the challenges as well as the fruits. Something else that would have been helpful is a sheet with basic Korean sayings. I think I got scolded enough by locals that I don’t speak Hangul. Finally, some injection of modern culture would be appreciated instead of just the traditional such as a modern art museum or performance. There were just too many folk villages that became repetitive.

Overall though, we experienced many unique provincial foods, sites, and great people. I would recommend this trip to anyone and hope it continues. It opened up Korea to the uneducated such as myself and makes me want to revisit again.

Annabel Schlosberg,New York,USA 방문기

My entire life I have identified myself only as an American. I was the furthest from knowing about Korean culture, or even identifying as a Korean. It has always been something that I am, but that I never felt close to. When I received the opportunity to go to Korea on Journey 2008, I had no idea what to expect. I did not expect though, that this trip would change my life and the way in which I perceive myself.

Over the course of the two weeks, I learned a tremendous amount about the history, culture and customs of Korea. Before arriving, I thought that this trip was going to be like any other trip, and that I would feel like a tourist. Although I did feel like a tourist most of the time, there was some other connection that I felt, that I cannot quite describe. There was something about Koreans and their customs, which I saw in myself. I am not sure if it was a coincidence or if it was a “Korean thing”.

The part of the trip which I enjoyed the most was meeting the people, and observing everything from the protests (during free time) to eating. It was through the people I met and interacted with on a daily basis that I learned the most about the culture and customs of Korea. Staying with Pastor Choi and his family gave me a lot of insight into how a family lives in Korea. As I am not a practicing Christian, meeting the many members of Pastor Choi's church allowed me to see a part of life which I never experienced at home. Without the home-stay experience, the trip would have been completely different. Also, the time that we spent learning crafts, music and traditional ceremonies was informative and helpful in understanding why the customs are the way they are today.

The support system that I developed while in Korea by traveling with other adoptees was also extremely helpful. I knew that if there was something I was feeling confused about, I could talk to someone and they would understand. Going to the adoption agency and then to the place where I was found was emotional, but at the same time very rewarding. Seeing the neighborhood that my biological mother may have lived in allowed me to start to fill a part of me that was empty.

The experience that the JinHeung Company creates for overseas adoptees is a truly wonderful and unique one. I hope that I have the opportunity to visit again and learn more even more about where I come from. The JinHeung Co. should be proud of the contribution they make to the adoptee community, and I thank them for the wonderful opportunity they have afforded me.

Tatjana,Netherlands 방문기

Looking back to all my experience in South Korea been amazing. I really enjoyed myself with the group and excursions.
The schedule was tight and really full. It was good we saw everything and you couldn’t say “we should have done that”. Not that at the moment I enjoyed everything but I know that I wouldn’t had done it if I would have gone by myself. That’s why it was good that we went.
What I liked the most was staying with my homestay family. They were so nice and she made the best dinners ever. You really could see how life is and where it’s about. For the future never leave this experience out of the schedule. Closer to be around the Korean culture and people can’t be any better by living and staying with a Korean family.

I know that everybody almost choose for a western room with a bed. Even that I learned al lot of living and sleeping in a traditional room. At the moment I wasn’t a big fan of it but looking back I miss it. I’m happy to experience all the real Korean traditional things like the food and the way of living.

Coming to Korea I didn’t had any expectations but I knew it wouldn’t change on who I am and what I want. That did change. I think it made me more comfortable with who I am and more proud to be an Korean. I really thought it would be another vacation but now being back I can’t wait when I can go back. It felt more of my own then I ever thought it would be. This trip made me more connected with the Korean culture, my birth country. It been good that I could experience this with people in the same situation. They know where you’re going through with seeing, smelling and being around Korea. At the moment it just happen but being back at home it will start to have an effect on me.

What it’s nice that we went to visit our adoption agencies. That we some guidance going there was good. I didn’t needed it but I’ve noticed that some people from the group needed extra guidance from a social worker about hearing the information. All the information that we have had when we were little aren’t always the truth. Hearing the truth or meeting your birth family have a major impact on your life. I do think people need help with processing what they heard and saw there.
Next to that just being in Korea have more impact on our lives that we know and what all we expected. That’s why extra care is important so nobody go back and think it’s strange the way the feel. We talk to each other about our questions and thoughts but it’s sometimes nice to talk to somebody who is experience with it. Who been through the same thing only not going through it at the same time. They can answer questions and can let us know what’s normal and what you just need to give time.

After the first week there were comments about us not being a real group. You can’t force that. In the beginning we didn’t had the change to be a group. We didn’t spend al lot time together. The last couple of days we became a group. We were forced to go in groups that we normally didn’t chose but we all got along. Not every year will be the same that’s why you should let it go. We will form a group when everybody is ready. Maybe like with us at the end and for some it’s really early in the program.

You all been very (over)protected over us. I understand that the name of the company is at stake and you feel responsible. It’s also important that we learn sometimes the hard way. We all were adults maybe young adults but we all also learn from the hard way.

At the end we only had free time. We didn’t al lot of that. Sometimes you just need time for yourself. We didn’t really had the change for that. We needed to do everything with each other. If it’s was spread during the program it was nicer. Whey didn’t had to do everything in one day, like buying gift and giving our self time to take everything in.

I did enjoyed myself al lot seeing different places beside Seoul. It’s went fast by and maybe too fast but it was good to see more of the country. Two week seems long but maybe it’s too short to do everything in those two weeks. Giving a half week longer gives less stress and a haunted feeling.

It’s not possible for everybody to stay in touch but it’s always nice to see everybody again after an while. Like organizing for the hole group a reunion in Korea after a couple of years. We all have a reason to come back and to see everybody and to catch up on each other life’s. Also share memories about our first trip to Korea with the program.

In one sense how I look back on the journey 2008:
An amazing experience for everybody even when we all are different but being in Korea were all so the same at the same time.

Keep on the good work.

Emily Ahn,New York,USA 방문기

Journey 2008: Reflections of My Experience and Recommendations for Next Year

All-in-all my experience in Korea was very positive and I was really able to enjoy myself. As an overseas adoptee, I never once felt discarded nor rejected. In fact, I felt that everyone involved in the Journey was welcoming, caring and kind. Everyone made me feel comfortable, which I truly value, and I am thankful for this. And I hope that I will be able to provide such hospitality to others at a future time.

My experience of Seoul is that it felt a bit like New York City. The speed of the people, walking in a hurry along the major conduits of the city and the amazing and efficient public transportation. As a person who enjoys public transportation as the primary mode of getting around a metropolitan, I fell in love with Seoul's metro system. It was so clean and orderly. And I enjoyed how easy it was to navigate. Another similarity I found between Seoul and New York are the endless choices and opportunity one can make. I felt that Seoul was full of a vibrant pulse of youth and energy, which was get to experience as a young person

I felt most connected to the country while on the "Suburban Trip". The physical landscape was breathtaking, specifically the mountains which were so green and lush. Riding along the the peaks and valleys made a very contemplative environment which I always love while traveling. During this trip, I really enjoyed visiting Hahoe Village in Andong. It will always be a memorable experience due to the village's traditional architecture and the village's location within the mountains and along the river.

A few of us visited the Chim Chil Bang a few times while in Seoul. I really enjoyed this experience while in Seoul. I wrote about how Seoul felt similar to New York, but this particular activity is not so common in New York. I think that is why I could enjoy the Chim Chil Bang more than say, shopping and getting a haircut [though both I also enjoyed very much]. I could spend hours upon hours there just cleaning and relaxing.

And another memorable thing that I found in Korea is the food. I loved it. I've eaten a variety of Korean foods here in New York, but the food in Korea is so much more special. The dishes were outstanding in terms of their freshness and taste. One of my favorites was the Bulgogi dish served at the restaurant in Busan. It was soupy with noodles and mushrooms. It was such a delight. And the banchan, side dishes, were so fresh too. Another amazing dish was the Broiled Mackerel we were able to enjoy in Andong. And lastly, all those bean paste stews we were served were so authentic and hearty - they were perfect.

And on that note, I want to thank the JinHueng Company for their superior generosity in their efforts for us to have a good time during our first visit to Korea. Thank you for arranging all of the interesting things we did, and providing us with accomodations and sustenance. It really has put a very positive outlook on my memories of my first visit to my motherland.

Specifically, I would like to say that Mr. Andy Park was very generous and a great laid-back authoritative figure to have around. And Hyun Jun did a great job with keeping organized and at the same time maintaining his cool. He was able to build a rapport with each and every one of us, and he was flexible and laid back and open to suggestions - a sign of a great leader. And lastly, Robyn was an excellent resource to have previous to our visit. She was really helpful because she was able to field questions about the Journey because she had first hand experience. She also was great with responding in a timely fashion. It was also nice to have her as a correspondent because she has is a fellow adoptee and understands some of our innate questions and concerns.

I would recommend this opportunity to other Korean adoptees; the Journey 2008 was such a generous and great opportunity.

Some recommendations I have for next year's Journey: I felt that there was too much scheduled within the first week. All of the activities were fun and interesting but it was difficult to digest them, especially for us traveling from America who had to severely adjust to the time zone change. Seoul is 13 hours ahead of New York. Upon arrival, suddenly my day became night and my night became day. I would have also enjoyed some more outdoor activities though I know this may prove difficult because of the rainy season. I heard that the previous year involved more hiking and visiting temples atop mountains; personally I would have enjoyed this more than visiting all of the folk villages that were scheduled. And lastly it would have been nice to have more time to contemplate our experience while in the time frame of the Journey. I felt like there wasn’t too much time to digest and reflect upon things while during the trip.