Dual Citizenship for Internationally Adopted Koreans

There is a dual citizenship campaign going on via GOAL for interationally adopted Koreans. I have brought up my viewpoint on this numerous times with GOAL so I don’t think it’s any big secret if I post it again on my own blog.

Basically I think dual citizenship is good for one thing and one thing only: to help make the international  adoption agencies accountable for keeping their records straight. (Although, as you know by now, I’m personally in favor of shutting the whole thing down once and for all — now.)

So here’s where I’m coming from:

I live in Korea, and I have lived here for about 4 years. I pay Korean taxes. I cannot vote in Korea. I vote in U.S. elections. I don’t pay U.S. taxes because if you live overseas, you are legally not taxed on the first $60K of your income, and I don’t make that much money. I have legal residence in Korea and I am an ethnic Korean and I look like a Korean until I open my mouth, at which point I apparently look Japanese. I speak about Sogang level 3 in Korean language. I work as an English editor in a Korean company. I drive a car with a Korean license and rent a house in an all-Korean neighborhood. I have Korean national health insurance.  My visa is an F-4. Sometimes I run into problems with that I wouldn’t have when doing things on the internet because the machine won’t take a foreigner ID number, but that is rare (yet annoying, for sure).

I have U.S. citizenship and I also have Korean citizenship. So basically, I already have dual citizenship. The only thing that makes it different from what GOAL is proposing is that I can’t prove that I am Jeong Kyong-Ah who was born on January 24, 1972, because my U.S. passport says that I am Jane Jeong Trenka who was born on March 8, 1972.

Here’s what I think dual citizenship cannot do for me:

Dual citizenship will not: make me more comfortable in Korea, make Koreans stop conflating the ability to speak the Korean language with being Korean, bring me back my dead Korean mother, improve my relationship with my birthfamily, make me speak Korean better, make me happier or more satisfied with life as I know it, or improve my work opportunities. Dual citizenship will not make my legal name any less incomprehensible to Koreans.

In my everyday life, having Korean citizenship does not matter at all and pretty much nobody knows that I have it and there is no reason to bring it up because nobody would believe me anyway.

But here’s what I think dual citizenship CAN do for EVERYONE:

It can help destroy the so-called “clean break.” The clean break is the idea that when you get adopted, you get to start all over as if you were born in the airport. That means your life in your birth country, your parents, your identity, gets pretty much erased and somehow that’s supposed to help (against all internationally recognized notions of human rights).

I think that if dual citizenship is implemented in a way that keeps original records open and forces agencies to keep more identifying and accurate records in the first place, that could be a good thing. (However, we know that in Korea, people can just cook up fake documents and certainly that doesn’t help at all either.) But if there HAD TO BE A CONTINUOUS AND ACCURATE PAPER TRAIL IN ORDER TO GET/RETAIN DUAL CITIZENSHIP, then I think that could help make a continuous identity, at least legally, throughout a peron’s life. The adoptee — let’s say we were doing this for someone who gets adopted tomorrow — would have to at least have the same birthdate on all papers. (I don’t.) The adoptee would probably also  to have papers and photo ID showing the same name on all papers from both countries, or at least birth name and adopted name together on the same papers. (I don’t.) Later on, this can be a more accurate clue for the birth family search and a more integrated legal identity. To me, that seems to be the biggest utility that dual nationality would have in a practical sense over living with just the F-4 visa.

On another note, I wonder, does if it seems fair to other immigrants that adoptees would get this special privilege of dual nationality just because we had the (mis)fortune of being adopted? I wonder, if it were widely publicized that adoptees could get dual nationality on a mass scale, how that would be perceived by Koreans living in Korea and Koreans living overseas? Would it build bridges between us or cause resentment by groups who may already think that we are too privileged because of our immigration into white families who know how to do everything in Western countries? (No, I don’t think that privileges us, but I think some people might think that way because their parents worked at a dry cleaner or a liquor store for 18 hours a day in the U.S. and couldn’t speak English, forgetting that the reason why the adoptees were kicked out of Korea in the first place is because we were the lowest of the lowest of the low and couldn’t afford a voluntary immigration. ) Also, adoptees went to 15 main countries and not all the countries will accept dual citizenship anyway. How will dual citizenship help or hurt as we try to build solidarity with other immigrant communities in our adoptive countries and in Korea?

On the military issue, I think that for those who plan to live in Korea, having a social network is very important and one way that you can build that is to serve in the Korean military. Throughout history the South Korean military has exempted various people from military service, and we can understand that in a Korean context in some cases as a discrimination. If you can’t join the military, then you have that many fewer people who will be your friend throughout life and help you get a job. If all the other guys are serving, then you are missing out on a big portion of Korean society if you can’t serve just like everybody else. As I’m sure you know, Koreans often make friends in their youth whom they keep for their whole lives. That is why it is often hard for older adoptees who actually live here to enter into people’s circles of close friends, males especially, it seems.

OK, I think my speech on dual nationality is over so I’ll move on to the next topic.

A guy driving a silver Mercedes hit me today in my little Atoz. It was 100% without a doubt ALL HIS FAULT. He tried to just get away with giving me his name card and he didn’t want to call his insurance. I gave him bilingual hell and I will be getting my car fixed for FREE thanks to his insurance company who finally did get called after I ran to the nearest police station, which luckily was very, very close. Luckily the damage on the car was very clear and irrefutable, because he was lying out of his ass to the police and the insurance representative. What a king-sized jerk. Weikgook this, my friend. Would dual citizenship cause that man to be any less of a jerk or try to take advantage of weigook weigook me any less? I don’t think so.

Anyway, on to the next topic, like I said before.

My American sister just sent me an email the other day and it got me thinking. And you know, I think she is right. Much as I loved my Korean mother fiercely and I would no doubt take a bullet for her to this day, she did indeed, as my sister said, make all her children pay for her bad choices. Yes, we ALL paid for her choices, not just me and my American sis, but ALL FIVE of us. (Two in the U.S. and three in Korea).

It occurs to me: here I am thinking about the pros and cons of dual citizenship — thinking about CONSEQUENCES HERE — for me and everybody else, and honestly it seems that there are some (not all) women in the world who ended up giving away their kids to complete strangers because they did not think about the consequences of their actions.   And once the consequences hit, they made their CHILDREN pay for THEIR actions because THEY WANTED TO LIVE IN THE LAND OF NO CONSEQUENCES.



Babies are not embarrassments to be gotten rid of. Babies are people. The adults who make them have to take responsibility to raise them even if it’s hard and expensive and the neighbors look at you funny. That is a consequence.

Sure, a lot of women have limited choices and I really don’t think that anybody (or almost anybody) gives away their own flesh and blood unless they are completely desperate. But the buck has to stop somewhere, and it’s getting tiring to see that in my personal circle of friends, the buck stopped at the adoptee. The buck stopped at a child. The child had to pay for an adult’s irresponsibility. The adoptee has to pay for everybody else’s shame and guilt.

I am tired of this.

Within the past few months of living in Korea I’ve felt a lot of rage toward Korean society. I feel a lot of rage because I see Koreans as people, not some stuffed dolls in Confucius land who can’t change. I see Koreans as my family and I see where my Korean parents could have made different choices and where society could have stepped in to help. I feel rage because I see the buck stopping with a BABY to be completley  WRONG and I am tired of watching history repeat itself. I am tired of people not caring in a place where it people are very very COMMUNAL when its CONVENIENT. And in a place where people pride themselves on “we” — when it’s CONVENIENT. (BTW my private/community garden is completley out of control at this point.)

Case in point of people not caring when it’s mildly inconvenient:

Yesterday I saw a Buddhist monk get hit on the head by a rolling steel door coming down at the bank. The sound of him getting his bald head nearly cracked open was so loud that everybody at the bank stopped and looked. And you know what the horrifying part was? It was that there were two employees standing right there and it took an agonizingly long time — like maybe half a minute — for them to even go there and ask this monk in grey robes if he was OK!! Obviously it was the fault of the guy who wasn’t watching to see that he was closing the door on the head of a monk. A MONK.

Another incident: During the recent protest there was this old guy lying down in the packed subway station on the floor. He was awake but not moving. So I beeped out of the subway gate, went all the way up to the escalator while watching everybody else watch him, then came back down and asked him if he was OK. Why didn’t ANYONE ELSE just ask him if he was OK? Obviously everybody was looking at him — and finally it’s the adoptee who goes over to ask him if he’s OK. What’s wrong with that picture?

Did you hear about the kid who recently died in a Korean swimming pool? He was lying there for like 30 minutes before anyone called a medic. Apparently floating face-down for that long looks like a prank.

Anyway I have had enough of people minding their own business. It’s everybody’s business to help the monk, save the drowing kid, see if the old guy in the subway is protesting or having a heart attack. It’s everybody’s business to give women the support they need to take responsiblity for their own children. It’s everybody’s business to think about consequences so children aren’t the ones who have to suck up the consequences for adults.

And it’s everybody’s business to stop for oncoming traffic that has the right of way, even if car #1 is a Mercedes and the oncoming traffic is an Atoz! Grrrr!


11 responses to “Dual Citizenship for Internationally Adopted Koreans

  1. i'd like to point something out

    It seems to me that you have had a bad day and maybe that is why your post clearly expresses frustration and anger about being Korean and just living in Korea. I can appreciate how you feel about peoples’ manners (as I have gotten pushed or doors closed in my face) while living in Korea, but I do not think that this is a matter of being Korean.
    Growing up as a child of a diplomat and therefore living in many different countries, there have always be positive and negative experiences and there have been times when I have made conclusions to be based on because a certain culture. However, as many years pass by, at the end of it, its really all human behavior.
    I experience the same indifference living in NYC, where people will try to grab cabs right under your nose even though you have been waiting longer than them…on the other hand I have experienced very nice cab drivers who will clearly ignore those selfish people and come right up to me..
    It is very easy as an outsider to come to quick conclusions- I have made that living in China (ie. a couple bad experiences made me conclude something about the Chinese), Europe (although Spanish people are quite the nicest). But you must remember that these very same things that you saw, though unpleasant, are what is happening or happened in other countries, even the USA. Perhaps it is not a problem of Korean culture that you are experiencing, but rather the meanness and indifference of people, in general, living in a metropolitan city?

  2. But because Jane is Korean and as I, we, the collective we, feel that our birth country, Korea, has a lot of room for improvement in many areas especially in the social welfare arena. Before Korea can honestly feel pride and boast of their 10th largest GNP, it needs to take a good hard look at how we deal with basic social issues to the large social welfare programs that were put in place to help the helpless, the marginalized, the hopeless persons in our society. I care more about what my birth country can do and achieve rather than what the rude citizens in other developed/developing countries are doing to give visiting residents a perspective of rudeness and indifference.

  3. On another note, I wonder, does if it seems fair to other immigrants that adoptees would get this special privilege of dual nationality just because we had the (mis)fortune of being adopted? …
    As an immigrant and a-parent my personal opinion is that (dual) nationality is a birthright in the context of adoption. A child cannot choose whether to be adopted domestically or internationally. Domestic adoptees don’t lose their citizenship of origin, why should international adoptees? Parents who place their child for adoption give up their parental rights. The family connection is severed. My question is whether countries should be allowed to strip their most vulnerable citizens of the fundamental right to nationality. It amounts to a second abandonment. If a state has to appeal to another for aid on behalf of a person it cannot protect (the essence of sovereignty), why take away the person’s original citizenship? Receiving and sending countries both should allow dual citizenship for all adoptees.
    All immigrants understand that less-than-ideal conditions where they came from brought them to where they are. All immigrants also understand/hope that circumstances change. Many do manage to return home after years abroad. Many want their Westernized children to be able to return home. Why would they not want adoptees to be able to return just like them or their children?

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on dual citizenship! It’s great to hear your perspective.

  5. i'd like to point something out

    I agree, I think everyone should be able to have the opp to get access to dual citizenship and will definitely benefit those that need that citizenship to gain certain benefits. At the same time, (excluding the tangible advantages and esp for adoptees), what is significant about having dual citizenship as an adoptee? Does having a stamp of certification guarenteeing Korean citizenship automatically make someone more Korean than he/she was before having that citizenship? I mention this because Jane writes about the possibility of building solidarity in a community if adoptees were able to have citizenship..
    Perhaps thats true but a passport isnt going to make you “more Korean”, what matters is the inside and what you think. I gave up my Korean citizenship many years ago when we had to choose so I could keep my US citizenship (much harder to get than Korean). Yet I feel very much that I am Korean and I’m sure most people would see me as more of a “korean” than an american.

    I get the sense of feeling that there is this year for ethnically Koreans that grew up abroad with minimal exposure to Korean culture, to try to be as close as one possible can get to being a “real Korean”. Understandable as it is- its human to want to belong somewhere…and I remember returning back to Korea as a child and wanting to walk home from school and ride the bus like other typical children then have a driver take me home…the point is, after the initial stage of doing all things possible to feel native but at the end of it all, koreans are just normal citizens like anyone else and we eat hamburgers and sip wine, not soju, and we may wear more juicy couture and banana republic than you think we do..
    People may think in some ways that I’m a foreigner because of my citizenship and my past experiences abroad, but the way I carry myself and how I view myself changes that and they realize that I AM KOREAN…so at the end of it all, it is really only you, yourself, that can change the perspective.

  6. Interesting points Jane, you are always a critical thinker!

    Dual citizenship sounds good to me, but I have to trust GOA’L since I’m not over there right now. To me it is a symbol above all else – a reminder to Korea that I am neither trash to throw away nor a gift to give to someone else. I am a human being with, as you said, a continuous life which consists of a past, present and future. It also is a reminder to America that it has a responsibility to honor these parts of me.

  7. your examples of people not caring are familiar to me. i experienced similar situations where i watch something tragic happen in front of me and myself, a foreigner, is unsure how to deal with it, but simply wait impatiently and concerned for someone else to run to aid. this happened in japan. i dont understand!

  8. The western society tends to prefer ‘modesty’ in its display of emotion, quite often discrediting speakers if they seem to be influenced by emotions that don’t quite already resonate in the audience. This is an attitude that, like any other normalized actions and commonsensical beliefs, stands accountable to critique.

    So leaving that aside for another discussion, I do believe you, Jane, bring up some valid points. I especially like ‘personal convenience as principle’ that people evaluate their experiences and make decisions based upon. It is not a principle that originated commonly from collectivist societies like Korea, though personal gain is definitely something that has been valued and explored by many all around the world.

    When did the value of gain start trumping over other values? That’s certainly one of the questions worth including in my self-reflection.

    When did ‘preference’ start to dominate our conversations, disguised as ‘rights,’ ‘choice,’ or even ‘logic’ and ‘wisdom’?

    There are always points worth consideration when people tell their stories. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I know this is off-topic…a bit. However, I stumbled on to your page here and wanted to know if you had any information regarding Korean adoption in Korea (e.g., we live in Korea and would like to adopt while we are here in Korea). Please e-mail me with any information you may have or any comments/opinions as well. We have one child, but this time, we’d like to adopt for the goodwill and sake of adoption and raising another child. Thanks, in advance. John Kim

  10. Korean War Baby

    Certainly many of the frustrations that Korean Adoptees living in Korea (KADLinK) have is that REAL Koreans DO indeed think in circles of “WE-ness”. Thank Confucian teachings for that cultural ‘blessing’. The basic “Circles” of family (OUR Family, Our Husband, Our Wife, Mother of …..,); school, class, friends, alumni, etc etc. etc..WORK group, company, neighborhood, GU (major district), Dong (not poop but a sub-section of a Gu), ALL THESE ARE METICULOUSLY RECOGNIZED.

    When I tried to invite students from one Language class to meet with the others, WOW, it worked only for a short time. Each class wanted their OWN Lunch Club time. Because they are NOT PART OF THAT CIRCLE.

    “Going Native” is simply im-fucking-possible in this country, maybe in two more generations!!! I gave up trying to learn Korean because as a Half-Breed who doesn’t even Look Korean it was HOPELESS. I have not heard one KAD who can speak Korean language well enough for REAL KOREANS to accept. When I ask about how well the German CITIZEN of Korea who is now the head of Tourism CAN SPEAK the language, I get snickers and smiles. They admit that he sounds very good but it is overshadowed by the SHOCK and AWE that they lose sight of his abilities. The popular show with Foreign ladies SEEMINGLY speaking so well….”They sound like children! hahaha” OR “They speak like prostitutes”. Hey, this is the general consensus of quite a few of Seoul’s Ahjumma crowd from a Cultural Center at a major Department store.

    These are just the sad, mad, sorry facts of life for KADLinK’s. Do as much as you can do, but don’t expect full acceptance from most. It is enough if SOME Korean can welcome you, without a overt sense of shame, embarrassment, confused “sorry about that” look on their faces.

    Gradually, though we CAN CHANGE Some of the people, some of the time. Each one of us who comes here even for a visit, re-enforce the stories of others, GET IN THEIR FACES. Perhaps even encourage the locally SECRETLY ADOPTED IN THIS COUNTRY to come out of hiding.

    One of my students just told me that a member of their family also was SECRETLY ADOPTED and discovered what she suspected most of her life. Every older member of the family KNEW the dirty secret, the woman is now in college, with NO resources.

    Will some of you KADLinKs be able to open your arms to them? This old guy adoptee is unable to do so. It is up to you younger ones, study hard in Korean language, even though some will laugh at you, OTHERS WILL BE READY TO HEAR YOU.

    @Jane, Saw many come, some who did not…Congratulations to you both!!!

Thank you for visiting my blog. I no longer have time to update this blog regularly, but I appreciate your comments, even though I cannot respond to all of them. All comments (except spam) have been allowed to go through unmoderated since June 16, 2014. Any comments you see prior to that date have been read and approved by me. Thanks again, and wishing you peace and blessings.

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