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Korea Sings to Me at Night

By: Cam Lee Small, LPCC


I recently heard a question, “Who does a picture belong to?”

The subject?

The viewer?

The one taking the photo?

My first trip back to Korea I asked, “Who belongs in the picture?”

When I return to this scene, walking and marveling my way through the neon streets of Seoul at night – a part of me wished I could belong there.

The language of a “birth search” or “homeland tour” acknowledges loss and perpetual foreignness. I didn’t “belong” in the picture.

I’m fine with the functionality of the adoption terms for now, but I’m also carving out space for individuals and communities to reclaim and celebrate those God-given layers of diversity that flow through their bodies moment to moment.

“Korea sings to me at night.” means I was there, my feet pressing into the land on which my mother walked and carried me for the first few years of my life. My eyes swollen with wonder and yearning as the lights and smells and sounds re-entered my body for the first time in decades.

Yes I was rejected in conversations, scorned at restaurants when I could only speak “broken” syllables, confused looks from others in the streets and throughout the markets.

But “Korea sings to me at night.” means my feelings of isolation from Korea were not enough to quench my feelings of empowerment in Korea. Korea welcomed me because I welcomed it.

It was a welcome because, in faith, I chose to make it a welcome. It no longer had power over me. I got to choose how to be in that moment. To love. Then, it was on my terms as I chose to hear what was once my home singing back to me, with its brilliant visuals, the intangible familiarity of my Korean siblings as we passed each other unaware, the deep breaths in through my nose and the affirmative exhales from my mouth as I re-connected with an old friend; my first caregiver.

Of course, this is my personal experience and I’m persuaded there’s none like it, that’s part of what makes the adoptee community so precious, so critical to the supporting of the adoptee community. Every story counts.

Many adoptees must travel long distances, emotionally and physically, to hear our “birth-culture” sing to us.

Shout out and thanks to caregivers who have acknowledged that with us, and for those who currently go out of their way to help make that pathway more accessible for us and for our communities.

To the songs of nations yet to be heard.

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