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As Korean adoptees return, a complex relationship follows




Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut, 37, was adopted from South Korea and grew up in the U.S. She now lives in Los Angeles and is a poet and teacher.
Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut, 37, was adopted from South Korea and grew up in the U.S. She now lives in Los Angeles and is a poet and teacher.
Dorian Merina / KPCC

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More than 200,000 Korean children were adopted to overseas families during the past six decades, mostly to the U.S.  As they've come of age, many have made the trip back to South Korea.

"I do feel like it's paradoxical," said Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut, a Korean adoptee who grew up near Boston and now lives in Los Angeles. "I have all these privileges growing up in my westernized family, all my education and degrees I would not be able to have if I had still been in Korea, so I feel fortunate in that sense."

But Schildkraut said there's another side, as well.

"I didn't choose that," said Schildkraut, whose exact age at adoption is still unknown. "The fact that I'll never be able to find my biological family and relatives. I feel like that kind of loss is interminable, it's just ongoing loss."

Schildkraut returned to South Korea twice to find more information about her biological family and explored her experience in a book of poetry, Magnetic Refrain. She's part of a wave of adult adoptees who have made that trip or relocated.

"It's a very complicated subject," said Maggie Jones, contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine. "Certainly lots of adopted children have very, very happy family lives in the United States, but they also often face racial discrimination growing up."

Her recent cover story for the magazine has sparked debate about the ethics of international adoption and what can be learned from the perspective of adult adoptees.

"What adoptees are saying to us as adoptive parents is we have a chance to make things better for our children," said Jones, who also writes about her own experience as an adoptive mother.

READ: Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea (New York Times Magazine)