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A magazine from California State University, Chico -- On-line Edition  
Fall 2005
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Adopting a Change

As an adopted Korean American raised in Danville and Chico, Yun Jin Carson says she “tried hard not to acknowledge that I’m not white.” As a student at CSU, Chico, she continued to struggle with issues about race and adoption.

Carson had been sure she was destined to be a professional musician. She majored in music, with an option in piano performance. “But as time progressed, I found that studying music didn’t make me happy,” says Carson. “It didn’t help me understand the things that I really wanted to know about.”

During her last semester at CSU, Chico, Carson enrolled in a multicultural and gender studies course taught by sociology professor Nandi Crosby. “The class helped me to understand the political nature of identity and inspired me to learn about the ‘adoptee collective’ that I had never imagined existed before,” says Carson. “I came to the conclusion that whatever angered me as an individual about racism, sexism, and classism was always in direct relationship to my identity as a Korean American adopted female.”

Four years ago, Carson changed her name from Susanna back to her birth name, Yun Jin. In 2003, she traveled to South Korea and met her birth mother. She has since met her father and her half sister. Carson, who now lives in Seoul—a city she enjoys exploring—is part of a small but growing movement of adult Korean adoptees who are challenging South Korea’s international adoption policies. She is a member of the organization Adoptee Solidarity Korea. “The idea isn’t to stop adoption where it acts as emergency relief, but to stop it where it has become parent centered more than child centered—where children have to unnecessarily leave their countries and cultures behind,” she says.

South Korea’s high rate of international adoptions (see below) is the result of many complex social issues. “One reason so many Korean children are sent abroad is because of the country’s treatment of single mothers, including an unwillingness to support them, ostracization from their families, and a lack of employment opportunities,” explains Carson. “There is an emphasis on marriage and women’s roles as wives, mothers, cooks, and housekeepers. These social expectations make it difficult to be a single, working mother.” The culture’s stigma against nonblood relations joining a family leads to fewer domestic adoptions. “I need to be well versed in social structures in order to change the hearts of people in Korea so that they are more willing to adopt domestically,” says Carson.

Carson earned a bachelor’s degree in music in 2004; she is also certified in piano pedagogy. In Seoul, she is taking Korean lessons, teaches English classes, and edits a newsletter that publishes Korean adoptees’ perspectives. In a year or two, she hopes to return to the United States to attend graduate school. She would like to study sociology with an emphasis on race and gender issues. “I would like to learn about organizing, so I can take that back to Korea and help improve the situations for children in need of being adopted,” she says.

Lisa Kirk, Public Affairs and Publications

South Korea and International Adoption

  • Since the 1950s, more than 150,000 South Korean children have been adopted outside their country. Americans have adopted about 110,000 of those children.
  • For decades, South Korea was behind only China and Russia in international adoptions. Recently, Guatemala moved ahead of South Korea in international adoptions.
  • In 1990, South Korea was the primary country from which U.S. citizens adopted, about 37 percent of U.S. international adoptions. In 2001, South Korean adoptions dropped to 10 percent of the total.
  • Americans adopted 1,630 South Korean children in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of State Web site.
  • Sources: www.adoptioninstitute.org and travel.state.gov