As I prepare to graduate from Millersville University in the final weeks of the semester, I always look back to one February morning a year ago I’ll never forget.
A morning that made me think of the life I could’ve had.
In February 2017, I found my Korean birthmother, which ended 20 years of speculation. That February morning began one of the most emotional days of my life. I’ve always knew that I am adopted and why my birth mother made that life-defining decision for me.
But I didn’t know who she was. Now I do as well as many other questions I had finally answered.
I began the process a month earlier in January. I first contacted Catholic Social Services who helped my parents adopt me. Then they directed me to the orphanage where I stayed for the first six months of my life.
I was about to leave my home in West Grove, Pennsylvania and go to back to college at 6:30 that morning. I got an email that I never expected to come that quickly, since I sent my letter of contact request a month earlier. I called my mother to come downstairs as I saw the email notification. It was truly a touching moment for my mother and I as we embraced as I opened the photo attachments, especially when we saw the photo of my birth mother.
At that moment, I finally knew where I came from genetically and know who my birth family is. I now can put names and faces to the descriptions I’ve read from my adoption paperwork. I now know where my chubby cheeks come from! I felt a sense of connection after noticing my resemblance to her.
Since that early February morning, I have been in correspondence with my half siblings. There is a language barrier between me and them which is resolved by a social worker who serves as the translator. I was surprised to find out that my siblings didn’t know English. I honestly thought with the heavy American influence in South Korea that English would be taught to the masses.
I have only seen Anglicized versions of their words, not spoken. I have never heard their voices on the telephone or seen moving images of their faces on Skype. I only hear the voices in her head as I read each letter.
Whenever I do go to Korean, I will have a translator with me. Most likely, I will never have the one-on-one moment with them conversing about our lives without the outside stranger who knows both languages.
The first letter I received was from my brother. He introduced himself, my mother and sister. To him, my existence was a great surprise. He didn’t know about my existence until last year. However, from my sister’s letter, it appeared to me that she knew about my existence. I asked my American mother about this and she told me that there are things that a mother will tell her daughter but would never tell her son. I’m guessing I was that thing that my mother told my sister.
I also learned about their socioeconomic status, the penultimate reason why I was given up for adoption. My mother was divorced while raising two teenagers in 1996. My mother was dating someone at the time I was born. My birth father is nowhere to be found and to them, it’s better that way.
My Korean name symbolizes all the things that could’ve happened in my life had I stayed in South Korea.
Each letter I’ve received, I am not addressed as “Brenden,” instead, “Hyo Sub Lee.” Apparently, my name means bright and warm. To those who closely know me, they can see why was given this name. I feel like it’s my alter ego, an identity that’s been dormant for 20 years.
It also symbolizes its placeholder. In South Korea, all males must serve in the military due to the constant threat of nuclear war from the Kim regime in North Korea. For work, I would have helped my brother run the family restaurant business.
Both of my siblings pointed out in their letters to me that higher education was not in our deck of cards. The fact that I am in college is a big deal to them. To me, my soon to be received bachelor of arts degree in digital journalism and photography is like a doctoral degree.
I was very excited to find out that my brother and sister are married and have children of their own. I felt a sense of validation of me being an uncle! A few months ago, I received a package of Korean items from my sister and hand drawn Christmas cards from my nephew.
As I opened the boxes, I felt the love they have for me, even though I have not met them. These items were so beautifully packaged that I did not want to touch them!
I do wish and hope to visit South Korea and finally meet them. However, the once in a lifetime trip to Korea will have to wait.
I am hoping that potential denuclearization is a sign that I will have the opportunity to finally meet my family. These recent developments give me hope, but not enough for me to jump to conclusions.
Now that I found my biological family, I feel more connected to South Korea. Hyo-Sub Lee, has now become more than my birth name.
My Korean heritage had always taken a backseat throughout my car ride through life. Now, it can sit in the front passenger seat on my quest to get to know my birth family.