Guest blog: The confusing emotions of an adopted Korean during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics

From time-to-time, we invite adoptees, adoptive parents, cultural experts, and social workers to share their thoughts on our blog. These guest entries will help share the voices of the adoption community.

Our first guest blog is a journal entry written by a Korean American adoptee, Nam Holtz. Nam explains the various feelings and emotions as an adopted Korean , as she watches the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and the overall theme of loss that is a common thread amongst adoptees. 

Journal Entry 2/14/18:

The confusing emotions of an adopted Korean during the
2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics

By Nam Holtz


After “hooing” and “hawing” about this for three days, I finally allowed myself to free-write about my feelings surrounding the Olympics being held in Korea.  I lost sleep.  I felt like I would be misunderstood.  I worried that people I love would be mad at me… but that’s all been worked through (sort of).  And now, here I am, typing away.  Where will this end up? It doesn’t even matter.  It’s here.  Thanks for reading…

My heart.  It flip-flops. There is a Korean American adoptee (KAD) competing in this Winter Olympics.  In Korea.  And… aahhh!  Why is this so emotional?

Why do I want to cheer for the Koreans?  And for the Americans?  Why is my country of origin hosting the world when it gave me away?

Oh how I want to be there.  To cheer and sing and drink with joy as the Koreans and Americans and the world win and participate and compete.  But I would be singing a language that is not Korean.  And I would be cheering in a loud American way – because it is now, all that I know.  Even if you sat me amongst a crowd of Koreans, I would still not quite fit in.  And all of these emotions are raised as I read about fellow KADs attending the games, purchasing team Korea jackets and swag… we want to be Korean.  It is painful though, because we are – and we are not.

The Olympics are about human strength, abilities, dedication, and focus.  Adopted people have had to call on all of these qualities, some of us as tiny pre-verbal humans, in order to survive.  Perhaps this is why I get choked up and can find no words to describe the barrage of feelings I feel surrounding the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Adopted people are unrecognized superheroes who fight a battle as big as the Olympics every day of our lives.  We have compassion for the athletes, but we still do not know how to channel all of these feelings for ourselves.  So we cheer.  We cheers.  We cry with joy and in defeat.  We ride the Olympic waves as if we were the competitors themselves.  -We could be them, we know it.  If circumstances were different we might have been the ones adopted by ski instructors and on the slopes at age three. 

Another confusing loss.  I love my life, but what if I am supposed to be doing something else that brought out my full potential?  What am I doing now?!

Why is the KAD Olympian like a blazing torch in my stomach?  She represents the good, the potential, and displays to the world what a positive and supportive environment can yield.  Is it shameful that her resilience is showcased?  Do the Koreans feel anything akin to: “look what you let go of – look what I can do?”  A “Hey mom, look at me NOW” situation?  Would this athlete be in the Olympics had she had remained in Korea as an orphan? I would guess: NO. So comes the flood of crazy emotions.

I would like to look at both the glory and the pain.  Let’s not let the media take the story and bring on tears of only joy – let’s be real here and look at the loss; the incredible loss, at the beginning of life, of family, culture and security.   Take some moments and investigate how it might feel to be asked back to your native country after being sent away from it.  Let us ponder how Korea can host a lavish Olympics twice, yet it is still sending the majority of its orphans away to other countries.  Let us wonder at how and why these athletes channeled loss to be the best.

Non-verbal emotions channeled into physical activity is a form of speaking, a kind of movement therapy.  Here, a huge lesson can be learned.  Get our kids into other forms of expression so the emotions have a place to come out.  I may be digressing here, but it is still an important lesson to be acknowledged.

I am a Korean American.  Born Korean.  Raised American.  Blood Korean.  Living in America.  I speak English.  And Italian (sort of!)  Koreans still view adoption as taboo, and so I do not know how they feel about KADs joining in their country’s cheer. They might hate it. They might feel sorry for us.  They might scooch over and teach us a cheer in Korean.  All of this makes me see how wonderful and unifying the Olympics are, and also how much we still have to see and accomplish as humans.  All of this makes me feel.  A lot. 

Adoptees Participating in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics

The Opening Ceremonies for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics are here!

Two Korean adoptees have made the spotlight as they participate for their birth country, South Korea, during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Thanks to legislation that was passed, which allow Korean adoptees to acquire dual citizenship, Marissa Brandt (Park, Yoon-jung 박윤정) and Jackie Kling  (Lee, Mee-hyun 이미현). Marissa will participate in ice hockey and Jackie will participate in free style skiing. Marissa's story has been a bit more widely publicized, due to the unique nature that her sister, Hannah, will also participate in the Olympics, playing hockey for the United States. 

Lee, Mee-hyun / Jackie Kling

Lee, Mee-hyun / Jackie Kling

Jackie is 23-years old and was born in Chinju. After high school, she moved to South Korea to work at a freestyle skiing school. She obtained dual citizenship with South Korea in December 2015. Jackie is quoted as saying, "I hope to meet my South Korean birth parents through the Olympics. My goal is to put my best effort forward and produce a result, which I can take a pride of being Korean in."
Read more about Jackie's story here and here

Park, Yoon-jung / Marissa Brandt and her sister, Hannah

Park, Yoon-jung / Marissa Brandt and her sister, Hannah

Marissa is 25-years old and attended Gustavus Aldolphus College, where she played Division III hockey. In 2015, she received an offer to try out for the Korean national hockey team as she was identified as being an eligible player, located in North America, to play for South Korea during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Marissa obtained her dual citizenship with South Korea in 2016. Marissa's story has been covered by local, national, and international news outlets, including: the Star Tribune, CNN, and Yonhap

Mialitiana Clerc.jpg
Michael Poettoz.jpg

There are other adoptees also participating in the 2018 Olympics, including:

--Mialitiana Clerc, a 16-year-old adoptee from Madagascar. She was adopted by a French family at the age of one. She will represent Madagascar in alpine skiing. She is the first woman to compete for Madagascar in the Winter Olympics. During the Opening Ceremonies, Mialitiana was the flag bearer for Madagascar. 



--Michael Poettoz, a 19-year-old adoptee from Colombia. He was adopted by a French family at the age of 21 months. He is also an alpine skiier and will represent Colombia in this event. Michael was the first Colombian ever to participate at the Winter Youth Olympics in 2016. He decided to compete for Colombia at the age of 15. Michael is quoted as saying, "I could represent France but I prefer to do it for Colombia. I am Colombian, I like my country's food, music, and the charm of the people."


Do you know of other adoptees participating (or who have participated) in the Olympics? Comment below!

2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games

The 2018 PyeongChang Olympics will bring a global audience to Korea. As some athletes participating, such as Marissa Brandt, are adoptees, the global media is bound to bring a spotlight on Korea's history of international adoption.

For some Korean adoptees, it will spark an interest to return to Korea for the first time. And for others, during the Olympic Games, they will return for a second, third, or fourth time.

“I think I really wanted to go back. It feels like it’s home but at the same time, when I get there, I’m not home. I don’t really know where I belong,” Olson said.

The longing to return to one's birthland is often seen in adoptees. But the struggle to belong in one's birthland is also commonly seen when adoptee's return--even when it is their second, third, or fourth trip. There are struggles relating to cultural differences, lack of understanding of Korean--an adoptee's native birth language, etc. Thus, it is important to have a good support system--whether it be family, friends, fellow adoptees, professional support services, or all of the above.

Read an article at the following link that explains how some adoptees are connecting with a group traveling together during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.