Participation in a Korean television show changed Cheryl`s life

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29. juli 2017 av Eline

Cheryl has translated this interview from Norwegian to English. Thank you so much!

 

Name: Cheryl Hagen

Residence: Åsmarka, Norway

Interests: Dance, arts & crafts, decorating cakes

Education: Music and mechanical engineering at Central Michigan University

Work: Music teacher

Calling in church: Music chairperson

______________________________________________________________________

Cheryl lives in Åsmarka with her husband and three children. She was born in South Korea and when she was 18 months old she was adopted to USA.  In 2008 she started her birth family search.

What made you decide to look for your birth family?

I didn’t really have any plans to find my birth family. It was never a real goal for me because I didn’t have any information regarding my adoption. It would have been like trying to find a needle in a haystack. However, throughout my lifetime I have wondered why they gave me away for adoption and how hard it must have been to make such a difficult decision. I’ve never held any resentment, but have always had these questions throughout my lifetime. After I became a mother myself my desire to want to find my roots became stronger and stronger.  But I didn’t know how exactly to begin such a task.  In 2008 something unexpected happened that changed everything.

I browsed the internet and stumbled upon a website.  They were looking for 40 Korean adoptees to travel to their “motherland”. They would focus on birth family search. I was speechless and thought to myself “Maybe this is my chance?” The only thing I had to do was to send in my application with a short story about my adoption and why I wanted to participate. Travel expenses and accommodation would be covered. This was too good to be true, what did I have to lose? After thinking it over, and many discussions with my husband and sincere prayers to God, I became certain about what to do. So I sent in my application and waited patiently for an answer.

After a few weeks, I finally received an answer. Out of several hundred applications from the whole world, I was one of the lucky 40 adoptees chosen to travel to South Korea! Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks, was I really going to begin searching for my birth family?

How did your adoptive family react when you told them that you were going to travel to South Korea to begin your birth family search?

My adoptive family was surprised when I first told them the news. A couple were also a little skeptical. They didn’t quite understand why I wished to find my birth family when I had lived a good life with them. I had to explain to them that it was just like doing your family history and how it is important for them, was also important to me. I had the desire to find my birth family and to find out my roots. I believe that all people might wish this. Who am I? My adoptive family understood that this was important to me and supported me throughout the entire process.

What did you do exactly to find your birth family in South Korea?

The first day we all took a DNA test. I was able to visit the orphanage where I lived before I was adopted. It was here they welcomed me with a birthday song and cake, since it was my birthday according to my adoption records.  But deep down I had a feeling that this date was not correct. At the same orphanage I was also able to read my adoption file they had on me. I found pictures of my foster mother, my vaccination and other medical records. Unfortunately, there was no information regarding my birth parents.

I had the opportunity to do some volunteer work at one of the orphanages. But the only thing I knew in Korean was “hello” and “I love you”. The children were eager to speak English with me. My heart melted just seeing their faces light up and seeing their big smiles. I sang a few songs to them. One of them was “I am a Child of God” that I learned as a little girl. Those children are indeed children of God.

We also participated in a couple TV programs to help get out stories out to the native Koreans. A TV team followed us around for the week we were in Seoul for a documentary. We told our stories and was interviewed.

The night before the live program was to be aired, I knelt down in humble prayer and asked Heavenly Father if this could lead to me finding my birth family. So that they would recognize me again. I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t one of the 6 that was to be highlighted in the live broadcast show. However, I did get to be a part of the audience and my story was aired for 20 seconds. These few seconds were critical. There was a man who contacted the KBS TV station and he said he knew me and that he was my birth father! The only problem was that his story didn’t not coincide with mine and I didn’t get to hear the good news until I was home and back in Norway. I wasn’t home for 24 hours and I received a phone call from KBS and they told me that my birth father called in. I did not expect this and suddenly all these different emotions flooded over me.

How was the waiting period from when the DNA test were taken until the results were in?

It took almost 4 weeks for the results to come in. It felt like an eternity. I had weeks of sleepless nights and became a little anxious and excited. But then the answer that I had been waiting for came, and he was a match! I found my birth father! For several weeks I still could not believe it was true. That someone in Korea was alive and was missing me!

How was it to meet your birth family for the first time?

I bought a plain ticket to South Korea right away but I couldn’t wait to meet them.  So the first meeting took place via webcamera from Norway to Seoul. My father cried and he repeatedly said how he regretted giving me away. I could only cry and wished that I could give him a comforting hug. I received answers to most of my questions but there were a few that were still not answered. Like where was my birth mother and why didn’t my father want to give me information on her whereabouts?

A few weeks later I flew to South Korea to meet my birth family alone. My birth father and our translator greeted me at the airport. He was in tears just as he was during our webcam meeting. He held my hand during the whole car ride. That evening we ate our first meal together and later got to meet my cousin. We all traveled together to my aunt’s home. It was wonderful to meet all of them!

Aunt, Cousin, Me and Father

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To my surprise my birth mother was found and I was able to meet her with a translator.  She showed me old pictures of herself and the family.  Later that evening I got to meet my maternal grandmother and another aunt, cousin and my half brother. My grandmother touched my face with her hands and we looked into each other’s eyes.  It was almost like looking at myself in the mirror but older. That night I slept with my mother in her warm Korean marble bed.  She held my hand until we both fell asleep.

It is hard to describe in words all the feelings I had that night. I only know that it was a night I never wanted to end. I was so happy.

Aunt-Grandmother-Me-Mother

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you find out the reason why you were adopted?

When I was about 6 months old my mother left my father and filed for a divorce because he had alcohol problems and a bad temper.  It wasn’t safe for her to be with him anymore. At this time the mothers did not have any custody rights because the father was usually the main provider of the household so it was my father that was automatically granted custody over me. So my mother was also leaving me behind.  My father lived with my paternal grandmother and it was she who took care of me since my father was not well enough to take care of a baby himself. When I was 11 months old my grandmother did what she thought was best for me. With a name and birthdate on a piece of paper she placed me at the top of the stairs of the orphanage and left me there. She later regretted this and tried to find me but without any luck. She had wished to meet me again but sadly she passed away a few years ago.

After my mother found a safe place to live she contacted my father again to hear how I was doing. He told her that I was dead. But my mother never believed this and always had hoped that I was still alive.

Did you feel instant love towards your birth family?

It was a little strange in the beginning. Even though they are my family, they were also strangers to me. But at the same time it felt like I had known them for a long time.

What is your most fond memory from your reunion?

It was the last night I had spent with my mother.

Do you still have contact with your birth family today?

I write letters to my father and mother.  I keep contact with my half brother via email.

Did you experience any kind of connection with the Korean people when you grew up in USA?  Did this change after you met your birth family?

No, I didn’t feel any connection the Korean people while I grew up in USA. I grew up American and will always be an American. I just feel that I will never be a “real” Korean because on the inside I am American.

Now that you have reunited with your birth family, has it made you complete?

I feel like a complete person now, I have found my roots and have been made whole. I received answers to why I was adopted, gotten to know my family and my motherland.  I thank God that I found my birth family. It is like a miracle. I am thankful to be a member of this church and honor his name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Cheryl’s submission, that she wrote about her adoption story, was published in the book “More Voices: A Collection of Works from Asian Adoptees.”.  The book was published in 2011 and edited by Susan Soon-Keum Cox.

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