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Meeting Once More

Meeting Once More: The Korean Side of Transnational Adoption

Elise Prébin
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 231
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  • Book Info
    Meeting Once More
    Book Description:

    "Thoughtfully written, drawing on her own life experience as well as her anthropological training, Prebin provides us with a new window into the complex world of trans-national adoption. She weaves together kinship, media, and globalization as well as recent Korean history to offer us lessons about today's adoption practices." - Barbara Katz Rothman, author of Weaving A Family: Untangling Race and Adoption A great mobilization began in South Korea in the 1990s: adult transnational adoptees began to return to their birth country and meet for the first time with their birth parents - sometimes in televised encounters which garnered high ratings. What makes the case of South Korea remarkable is the sheer scale of the activity that has taken place around the adult adoptees' return, and by extension the national significance that has been accorded to these family meetings. Informed by the author's own experience as an adoptee and two years of ethnographic research in Seoul, Meeting Once More sheds light on an understudied aspect of transnational adoption: the impact of adoptees on their birth country, and especially on their birth families. The volume offers a complex and fascinating contribution to the study of new kinship models, migration, and the anthropology of media.Elise Prebinwas born in South Korea in 1978, was raised in France, and is now living in New York City with her husband and daughter. In 2006 she obtained her PhD at University of Paris X-Nanterre in social anthropology, was a postdoc and lecturer at Harvard University from 2007 to 2009 and served as Assistant Professor at Hanyang University (South Korea) from 2010 to 2011. She is now an independent scholar.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6496-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    In 1999, I returned to South Korea, my birth country, for the first time since my adoption by a French family at age four. I was then twenty-one and a participant in the Holt International Summer School, a three-week program for international adoptees held every summer since 1991 by the adoption agency Holt Children’s Services.¹ That summer, I discovered a television show calledAch’im madang: kŭ sarami pogosip’ta(Morning talk show: I want to see this person again). At the beginning of my visit, Korean social workers played a recorded tape ofAch’im madangin the living room of the...


    • 1 Shift in South Korean Policies toward Korean Adoptees (1954–Today)
      (pp. 21-34)

      Today, returning adult adoptees are considered a resource by the South Korean government in the context of globalization. Since the 1990s, the positive image of successful adult adoptees’ return to South Korea has tended to supplant the negative image of unfortunate babies being sent abroad for transnational adoption. This chapter is about the changing public opinion about transnational adoption in South Korea, a lens through which we can uncover the changing place of South Korea in the world. The phenomenon of return may have several conflicting interpretations, but adoptees’ personal quests primarily depend on their birth country’s will to establish...

    • 2 Everyday Encounters
      (pp. 35-51)

      One day of the spring of 2001, I went to a local flower shop to buy a bouquet for my paternal aunt’s birthday. My poor command of the language drew the attention of the female shopkeeper. The woman frowned, and her face darkened when I disclosed that I was adopted. Even though I told her with pride that the flowers were for my aunt who lived close by, she asked no further questions. Instead, she lowered her price, gave me the bouquet, and refused any extra money I tried to give her. Her husband came over and asked what the...

    • 3 Holt International Summer School or Three-Week Re-Koreanization (1999–2004)
      (pp. 52-67)

      Holt Children’s Services officially initiated the Holt International Summer School (HISS) in 1991, but it was launched informally in 1983 by David Kim for the first returnees (2001, 320–321). Today this three-week program includes different types of activities: a “heritage tour”; classes related to Korean culture; a social welfare tour that requires participants to visit orphanages and single mothers’ houses; and a family search, which is undertaken by social workers from the information they find in participants’ adoption files.¹ As a participant in 1999, I paid only $1,000 for a three-week course including airfare, stays in luxury hotels, and...

    • 4 Stratification and Homogeneity at the Korean Broadcasting System (2003)
      (pp. 68-86)

      Wednesday, June 4, 2003, 8:30 a.m.: a happy bird’s singing signaled the opening sequence ofAch’im madangon KBS. Shortly after, a trumpet played an optimistic major chord in arpeggios, and an energetic, happy melody began. The thirty-second animated film featured the host and the hostess as main characters: their caricatural big heads wore a frozen smile and hinged on top of small bodies. They arrived on a tandem bicycle from a green countryside planted with apple trees. Once they reached the foreground, the two characters bowed toward the viewers. They went by the window of a house. On the...

    • 5 National Reunification and Family Meetings
      (pp. 87-100)

      In 1999, my paternal grandmother expressed great joy at meeting again with me, the older of her favorite son’s two daughters who had been left by their father at the orphanage Star of the Sea (haesŏng) in Inchon. She cried in silence, compressed my hands for a long time, looked at my palms in the hopes of reading a promising future, asked me for forgiveness, and confided to my interpreter with a sigh: “To find Woo-Jung [my Korean name as it is spelled in my adoption documents] again is like meeting my North Korean relatives again. We watched television often...


    • 6 Stories behind History
      (pp. 103-117)

      The meeting programAch’im madangconstitutes rich material for the anthropologist: its content sheds light on the reasons and causes of fifty years of parent-child separations. We saw previously that there were historical causes for family separations and transnational adoption. But, as we will see now, there were and still are also other causes related to kinship, family strife, and individuals’ strategies and choices. Although there are several cases of siblings looking for each other onAch’im madangbroadcasts, we will mostly focus here on participants who look for their parents or who seek a lost sibling on behalf of...

    • 7 Meetings’ Aftermaths
      (pp. 118-132)

      In South Korean director Im’s filmKilsottŭm(1986), two ex-lovers meet randomly in the context of the 1983 telethon. After the meeting scene that takes place on the staircase of the Korean Broadcasting System headquarters, a short sequence shows the reaction of each of their respective spouses. Both legitimate families suffer in silence, troubled by these ghosts’ appearance in their ordinary lives. After their unexpected meeting, the former couple looks for the illegitimate son they abandoned after their families forced them to part. They find him living in sordid conditions with his wife and children. The mother cannot hide her...

    • 8 Evolving Relationship with my Birth Family
      (pp. 133-150)

      Almost two hours after I departed from Seoul with the fifty-something Korean women who were introduced to me as my mother and paternal aunt, we arrived in Inchon. We decided that I would first go to my paternal aunt’s house. My mother dropped my maternal aunt and me off in a narrow alley that could not fit two cars side by side. My mother’s car disappeared as soon as we slammed the door. I discovered my aunt’s house for the first time with much curiosity. Later, I would realize that this modest, tidy, and pious interior featuring posters of the...

    • 9 Management of Feelings
      (pp. 151-162)

      Created after the 1983 telethon and produced since 1997,Ach’im madang, with its emphasis on meetings between estranged relatives, may in a minority of cases lead to sustained relationships, but only under certain circumstances. The marital and financial situation of birth parents must be taken into account if one hopes to understand the future of the relationships the meetings seem to restore. Thus, the question is no longer Why did people separate after meeting? but Why do birth parents decide to meet their offspring even when they know they will not be able to sustain that relationship? One may surmise...

    • 10 Meeting the Lost and the Dead
      (pp. 163-176)

      When I returned to South Korea and found my birth relatives in 1999, I learned that my father had passed away in 1996 at the age of forty-five. Weeping, my paternal grandmother explained that this premature death of her second-oldest son had been followed shortly by the death of her third son in 1998. After these two deaths, my return was a real consolation; my relatives interpreted my renewed presence in their lives as a sign that bode well for the fate of my entire paternal family, as my paternal aunt expressed in a letter she sent to me in...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 177-182)

    Anthropologists of kinship and gender have framed the first half of the transnational adoption process—first-world, educated parents choosing to adopt a foreign child—within the category of global ideologies of reproduction (Ginsburg and Rapp 1995; Strathern 1992). This book has shed light on the second half of the transnational adoption process that only a few can experience and fewer have talked or written about: the moment of recognition and reaffirmation of ties between children and their birth families that international laws and regulations have in most cases denied. The type of relatedness created by the return of the adoptees...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 183-206)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 207-218)
  10. Index
    (pp. 219-222)
  11. About the Author
    (pp. 223-223)