Hello and welcome! My name is Jane Jeong Trenka and I’m an overseas Korean adoptee (Korea Social Service / Lutheran Social Service). I was born in the Yongsan district in Seoul, which is the American military district. My 4/12 year old sister and I, six months old at the time, were sent to the U.S. in September 1972. Our Korean mother searched for us and found us by Christmas that year. So this happened before we were legally adopted or naturalized as American citizens. However, we did not have an “open” adoption.
We were raised in rural Minnesota on the outskirts of a small farming town with a population of about 1,000 by white American parents. My dad was a sheetmetal worker and my mom worked at a dentist’s office as a secretary. She also did childcare and worked in a potato chip factory for awhile. My grandparents were all farmers. We were raised very conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran — basically Christian fundamentalist. I always felt strange about that because I figured that my Korean family must be Buddhist and I did not want them to burn in hell.
One day in 1988 I got home before anybody else and I found a letter in the mailbox from my Korean mother. So I have had contact with my Korean family by phone or letter since 1988 — there was no internet back then. The important point is that our mother found us.
I had a deep desire to come back to Korea, but I didn’t have any money and I couldn’t figure out even how to buy an airplane ticket. Finally in 1995, after I graduated from college, I found a way. I went on the second Motherland Tour of Children’s Home Society with my brand new credit card that I had gotten as a recent college grad. I spent one week on the tour and one week with my mother. After that, from 1995-2004, I would go back and forth from Korea, ring up my credit card, spend a couple of years paying it off, and then return to Korea and repeat the cycle.
My adopted sister and I are biological sisters, also adopted to the same family. We have two other “whole” sisters, one half brother, and two half sisters, and of course a whole extended family in Korea. They are normal people with jobs and family lives, and no, none of them died from poverty or became prostitutes or beggars or any of that nonsense. I would say we have as a good a relationship as possible under the circumstances.
I learned the Korean alphabet in the hospital. We got a phone call one day from our older Korean sister saying that our mother was dying of brain cancer and that we should come quickly. My sister and I went to Korea, and our mom died after we came back to the U.S. It was 2000. I did not have enough money or vacation time at work to go to Korea again for her funeral. So that’s when I started to write The Language of Blood.
The Language of Blood: A Memoir was first released in Fall 2003. It came out in both an English paperback edition and a Korean edition in 2005. The Language of Blood was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection and a Minnesota Book Award winner. The Korean edition was a Fall 2005 selection in literature by the Korean Publication Ethics Commission.
Co-edited with Sun Yung Shin and Julia Chinyere Oparah, Outsiders Within: Writings on Transracial Adoption was published by South End Press in November 2006. It will be published in Korean in 2012.
Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee’s Return to Korea was released by Graywolf Press in 2009. It will also be published in Korean in 2012.
I’ve lived in Korea since 2004/2005, and I enjoy it a lot. I worked at Yonhap News Agency for over three years, and I am now a master’s degree student in public policy at Seoul National University. But mostly I volunteer for TRACK. Life in Korea has been challenging and rewarding, and I recommend that adoptees try living here for a year. Whatever happens, I think it will change your life in some way. Certainly you will walk away with a much deeper understanding of Korea, if nothing else.
Best wishes to you from Seoul.