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A Korean-American Tale of 2 Homelands

Posted July. 01, 2006 04:17,   


“I have two beloved motherlands: Korea in which I was born and the U.S. in which I grew up,” said Mike Stenson, a 33-year-old public affairs official at the U.S. Embassy in Korea. He was born to a Korean couple. His father divorced, emigrated to the U.S. with his fiancée and sent Mike, then seven years old, to a local adoption agency. After living with a temporary family for a year, he was adopted to Enumclaw, Washington.

He was adopted to a big family of 13, of whom nine were adopted. There were three Korean adoptees, including him, and three other children from India.

He said, “About 97 percent of the town population was white. Our siblings could overcome the ridicule by comforting each other whenever we were teased.”

Studying management information system in Washington State University, he made friends with students from Korea and was naturally attracted to Korea. He attended a Korean church and learned Korean. He found his birth mother thanks to a Korean student who enthusiastically helped him after listening to his story.

He came to Korea to meet his birth mother back in August 1997. He said, “I fell in love with my mother’s country right from the moment I set foot on the airport,” adding, “I can’t forget the taste of ddeokboki which I ate for the first time then.”

His birth mother who gave him a tearful hug gave him two requests when they were parting. She said that he should respect his adoptive parents as if they were his birth parents and graduate from university in the U.S.

Working by shuttling between the two countries after graduating from university, he was hired by the U.S. Embassy in Korea in January 2005. He spoke of his job, smiling, “I’m enjoying the honor of working for my two motherlands.”

He was invited as the keynote speaker for the second day dinner of the eighth International Adoption Conference which opened yesterday at Hotel Renaissance Seoul.

The even in which about 300 adoptive families gather together was held in the U.S. until last year but opened in Seoul to let adoptees learn about their motherland.

He said, “I prepared for the speech for a week in the hopes that my story could help other adoptees,” requesting, “I hope that Koreans further open their hearts to the adoptees as well.”

achim@donga.com peacechaos@donga.com