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From adoptee to French minister

Posted May. 19, 2012 07:58,   


To Korea`s shame, the country is the top exporter of orphans among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In annual adoptions, China and India overtook Korea in the category several years ago. Yet the proportion of overseas adoptees out of the general Korean population is the world`s largest. Since the Korean War, Korea has sent more than 200,000 orphans to be adopted by overseas families officially and unofficially. Most adoptees in the 1950s were war orphans, but since then, children born to single mothers in Korea have been adopted.

According to statistics, most Korean orphans have been adopted by families in the U.S., followed by European countries. France the biggest adopter of Korean orphans in Europe. Fleur Pellerin is the first Korean adoptee to be named French digital economy minister. Born Kim Jong-sook, Pellerin was adopted by a French family at the age of 6 months. She graduated from Ecole Nationale d`Administration (ENA) and worked at the French audit agency Cour des Comptes. Pellerin overcame a sense of inferiority and defeat coming from being an abandoned child with the enlightened view that "something important happens by accident." As the parents of the late Apple founder Steve Jobs said, what is important is the recognition that an adoptee is not an abandoned child but a chosen one.

Europe is a more exclusive place than the U.S. Because of this, adoptees lacking relationships with their motherlands turn out more successful than second- or third-generation Korean Europeans. In 2009, Vietnamese adoptee Philipp Rösler became Germany`s health minister and the first non-Caucasian Cabinet member in Germany. In 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, named Rachida Dati as the country`s first North African justice minister. Pellerin is the first Korean-born minister in Europe, however.

More Korean adoptees have failed than succeeded, however. In the movie "Susanne Brink`s Arirang" based on the life of Susanne Brink, an ethnic Korean adopted by a Swedish family, Susanne hears from her younger brother, "I cannot live with this Chinese child." Pellerin, however, has a strong personality, saying, "I`m slit-eyed but have ability." French media call her a "rose with thorns." Pellerin could have succeeded because she has worked hard by clenching her teeth. Quite a few Korean adoptees in Europe fail in life due to failure to adapt to their adoptive countries. Some of them kill themselves. Koreans will be grateful if Korean adoptees live normal lives in a strange land even if they do not become successful like Pellerin.

Editorial Writer Song Pyeong-in (pisong@donga.com)