The Korean Adoptee History Project

By Leslie Greip and Dina Buck. Check out their new Korean Adoptee History Project website.

Adoption is deeply personal and unique experience for adoptees, adoptive families, and birth families/families of origin. It is also often an isolating experience. Many of us grew up as the only adopted Korean in our family, in our schools, and in our community. Many of us continue to be the only transracial adoptee in our workplaces, and in the organizations we join. And yet, there are an estimated 200,000 of us, making us one of the largest, if not the largest, group of transnational/transracial adoptees in the world.

Sometimes referred to as “KAD nation,” because there are enough of us to constitute a small nation, we find, in addition to our individual histories, a shared collective history. But many of us haven’t had the opportunity to learn about the history and context of adoption from South Korea, leaving us with limited facts, assumptions, and sometimes, misinformation that divides us from each other. Knowing about our history provides a wider context for our own experience, can connect us with each other, and both deepen and broaden our perspective, understanding and dare we say, even our compassion, when we know the actual causes and conditions that led us to be sent away from our birthplace.

Starting in April 2017, a group of four people, HyunJu Chappell, Molly Cho, Deann Borshay Liem, and YongChan Miller offered a seminar called A Brief Overview of Radical Korean History for Adopted Koreans. This was a 13 session multimedia curriculum covering Korean history through the lens of Korean overseas adoption from 1945 through the present. It was held from late April through mid October 2017. Then, in October 2017, three participants in the group did a presentation about the seminar at the AKA-SF 20th Anniversary and IKAA Annual Convention. After the seminar finished, the original group leaders periodically received inquiries about the curriculum and its availability to others who might want to form their own study groups.

Through readings, videos, guest speakers, and cultural activities, attendees learned about the Korean War, Korean economic, political, and social history, North Korea, racial relations in the United States, and about domestic and transracial/transnational adoption. The group of attendees ranged in age from their mid-20s to their late 50s. Typically, in addition to the four organizers, between 8-12 people attended each session.

Besides learning about Korean history and the history of adoption from South Korea, relationships between all who participated grew and strengthened throughout the course of the seminar. Due to the bonds that were formed, after the seminar formally ended, the group decided to continue meeting to socialize and determine if we wanted to continue as a group to pursue other projects related to Korean adoption.

After a little over a year of periodically meeting as a whole group, in early 2019, one of the original participants thought that making the curriculum available to others in a shorter format might be helpful in disseminating the material. She found four others from the group who were interested in taking the original 13 week curriculum and narrowing the focus to the history of adoption from South Korea. The original intent of the group was to go back through the seminar materials that focused on adoption and do additional research resulting in a body of content that could then be organized into presentations or workshops or varying lengths. For example, the content could be formatted into a two day workshop or a one day presentation or a three hour seminar.

This group of five started its research by dividing the content already studied into categories with each person focusing on a few topics. Late that winter, the opportunity arose to submit a workshop proposal to the International Korean Adoptee Association (IKAA) to present at its Gathering 2019 (G19) in Seoul. The proposal was accepted and so, after completing the research, two of the members, worked on editing the content so that it could be presented in an hour and 15 minutes.

With the presentation finalized, the two group members living in the San Francisco Bay Area headed to Seoul in late July 2019, to attend IKAA G19. At IKAA, the three of us (the third group member lives and goes to school in Seoul) presented the material to approximately 50 IKAA G19 attendees. The attendees were engaged, asked questions, and we were able to make some helpful connections to Korean adoptees from around the United States and in Europe who are interested in learning more about adoption from South Korea.

We encourage others to explore our shared history, and we created a website, with resources, to help other Korean Adoptees get started:

To get in contact with the project team, please reach out to

View the project