The IKAA Gathering 2019 will take place in Seoul, Korea from July 30 – August 4, 2019 and will promote the connection of adult Korean adoptees to each other and their Korean heritage, as well as welcome future generations of adoptees and their families into the adoptee community. Taking place in Korea only once every three years since 2004, the Seoul Gathering is a one-of-a-kind experience for Korean adoptees and their family. #MyIKAAExperience captures these unique perspectives.
My first IKAA Gathering was Seoul 2013, after traveling to Korea alone for the first time in 2012. When I first found this community, I was in search of my own identity, eager to find faces and voices similar to mine. I was a bit disheartened as I found many new friends at the G13, but not the part of me that was missing. During the G16, I began to notice my overlooked feelings of insecurity and worked further to discover myself. Most recently, I participated in the Chicago Gathering (2018), where I was honored to attend as a guest music performer. My experience was drastically different as it was meaningful to share my musical journey, which is infinitely intertwined with my personal journey and growth. Additionally, I feel I’m becoming a resource for other adoptees in terms of healing, having found clarity after my own grieving through many phases of loss and feelings of displacement. What we draw from Gatherings reflects where we are when we attend – mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Whether it’s a deeper understanding of our past, a non-judgmental smile from someone who’s been there, or a shared bottle of soju (of a few), the IKAA Gatherings are a valuable platform for Korean adoptees worldwide.
Sarah – US, Korean Adoptee
My first gathering was in 2004 Seoul, the first gathering for adoptees around the world in our “home” country. We were about 15 adoptees from Sweden in 2004 and at the G16, the Swedish delegation had grown to over 70 adoptees (if I remember right).
I remember one of the sessions at the Gathering was about how it was to grow up as an adoptee. It was very interesting for me to listen and hear every experience and the differences between growing up in Europe and the US. I remember the G13 more than the others, firstly because I brought my friend Tova with me (not adopted) and more importantly, because we both volunteered. It was so much fun and it gave me the chance to give something back after all the other gatherings I have been to. I got to know people more closely and I also saw how much work is involved with planning each Gathering, so the rest of us can have a good time. I appreciate it all and I am so grateful to everyone for all of their work and the time that they took to do all of this. The Gatherings provide so much joy, and the opening ceremony and especially the gala dinner are so fantastic to attend.
I also like that there are Mini-Gatherings around the world. I have had the pleasure to attend those in Seattle, France, and Italy, but I love going back to Korea for the food, shopping, and that special “life” the city of Seoul has, day and night. I love traveling and I am so grateful to have gotten to known so many people from everywhere!
Malin – Sweden, Korean Adoptee
I was first introduced to IKAA in 2004 when I attended the first Korea Gathering, and reconnected in 2016 and even had the incredible opportunity to attend with my sister (who is also an adoptee). One important thing I’ve learned through attending IKAA Gatherings is the power of belonging. Whether to a family, a community, a culture, or a country, belonging plays a huge role in our experiences and relationships and I’m grateful to have had the chance to experience it, and to help create a space for others to find it. I am excited for what G19 holds!
Min – US, Korean Adoptee
I attended my first IKAA Seoul Gathering in the summer of 2010. It was also my first trip back to Korea. The week was filled with a variety of things to do, people to meet, and a city to explore. One of the events that stood out was an Amazing Race activity which had us running to famous Korean landmarks, karaoke rooms, and local markets. It was a really fun way to explore (get lost in) Seoul!
The IKAA Seoul Gathering was so much more than a conference for Korean adoptees. During that week, I felt a sense of connection and comfort sharing this experience with so many other adoptees. I could not think of a better first trip back. I may not have memories of leaving Korea as an infant, but I now have fond memories of when I returned.
Tommy – US, Korean Adoptee
My first IKAA Gathering was special in so many ways. I participated in as many activities as I could: attending the MT training, going on the military tour, participating in the Great Korean Cook-Off, and “playing” for US in the Adoptee World Cup. I can’t say I enjoyed one activity more than another, because I had a blast at all of them. Well, the soccer game was tough, but it was fun. My most cherished moments were spent meeting adoptees from all over the world. The friends I made on that first trip are some of my favorite people.
The feeling of belonging and being understood is different when I am with fellow adoptees and having a space to share our histories is important to me. At the same time, IKAA does a great job planning events that go beyond our shared experiences as adoptees.
The meeting this summer is no different. IKAA continues to plan events to make them relevant for everyone. I am hoping to make it this summer, but this year I will attend as a parent of two. When I returned home from the G13, I found out I was pregnant; hence the “playing” rather than playing in the Adoptee World Cup. The G13 was a life-changing experience, and I am so happy it wasn’t a once in a lifetime experience. I thank everyone involved for the opportunity to reconnect with friends and to make new friends this summer. I can’t wait!
Christine – US, Korean Adoptee
IKAA has greatly impacted my life. When I first joined the IKAA network during the 2010 Korea Gathering it was an introduction into a friendly Korean society which met my needs for a family within an Asian environment.
Meeting like-minded individuals from all over the globe who had similar experiences as me, broadened my horizons and filled an emptiness that I had been carrying since my abandonment. I immediately felt a close bond with my new friends that eventually made me feel as though we were family, they are now my Korean brothers and sisters.
One event in particular that stands out was the Membership Training at the G13. It introduced us to Korean drinking games and had us playing around like young kids.
IKAA’s determination to host a Seoul Gathering every three years has provided me with a platform to nourish the precious friendships I have made. It allowed me to meet people with whom I have made wonderful memories and have changed my perspectives on life. Through these experiences I have learned more about my heritage and roots, and has ultimately made me proud of who I am – a Norwegian and a Korean.
Rune – Norway, Korean Adoptee
To be honest I was a bit scared. Should I really fly across the world to attend a week long event where I don’t know anyone? In the end, I decided to take the risk and fly out to Korea in 2010 for my first IKAA Gathering. What was the worst thing that could happen? Fast-forward to today, I’ve been to more Gatherings and I’m a bit older than I was then. What is it that kept me coming back for the past several years? It’s definitely been the people and the unique experience. No matter where you’ve grown up or where you are in your adoptee journey, all of us have our own unique and personal story. To me the Gathering is a wonderful place for adoptees from all over the world to get together and share these stories, as well as listen to the experiences of other kindred spirits. Did I mention how much fun it is? Being touched by somebody’s personal story during a breakout session, touring around Seoul with other adoptees and listening to somebody sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” at a karaoke bar. These and more are some of the memorable experiences that I have had at the Gatherings. If you have never attended one or even if you have, I hope that you are able to create your own unique and memorable experiences in the future at one of the IKAA Gatherings.
Joe – US, Korean Adoptee
My first IKAA Korea Gathering in 2013 with other members of KAtCH: Korean Adoptees of Chicago was especially meaningful for me. Through the Gathering, I was able to strengthen bonds with friends from my local community and make some great new friendships with members of our global Korean adoptee community. I was able to travel and connect with my birth country and culture in a safe, supported way, with friends to help me process inevitable feelings of loss of separation that surfaced through the experience. Fellow adoptees laughed with me, cried with me, and readily accompanied me to my adoption agency to seek information from my birth file. A lot of hard work goes into raising support and planning the programming for Gatherings in Korea, and the result is an experience that is for many adoptees truly life-changing. I returned to Korea for the G16 and look forward to all that the G19 holds!
Taneka – US, Korean Adoptee
Is it meaningful to participate in an IKAA Gathering as a spouse to a Korean adoptee? My experience tells me – YES, absolutely! I attended the G16, which also was my first visit to Korea. My wife, who is adopted from Busan, participated in IKAA Gathering for her second time. There are parts of the official program that do not really relate to me and my background, but it is utterly fascinating and moving to take part and experience the emotions, engagement, and joy that characterizes the Gathering.
My take away from G16 is experiencing the country (Seoul and Busan), the emotional rush of being at my wife’s side when meeting her birth mother and half-sister with family in Busan, the food (I mean – wow!), the friendship with other participants at G16 and the never-ending party during the gathering. Since G16 I have had a longing to return to Korea and there is no other place in Asia I would rather go.
To experience a context as a non-adoptee where you are not the norm, where you “stand apart” a little and where focus is on questions and issues that you, at best, can try to understand by proxy, has for me been very useful. It has opened my eyes and increased my understanding of my wife’s emotional journey! And that I, through my wife, have been given the opportunity to make friends and take part in the activities of the Swedish Member Association AKF and IKAA during the Gathering and back home in Sweden, has truly enriched my life. Can’t wait to be back in Seoul for G19 and looking forward to seeing you all!
Olof – Sweden, Partner of Korean Adoptee
Growing up I never felt a pull towards my Korean heritage or birth story. I had not experienced feeling anything was missing from my life, or had any desire to seek answers. However, in 2016 when I found out about IKAA through the Netflix documentary, Twinsters, I experienced a curiosity unknown to me to find out more. On a whim, I registered to attend the upcoming G16 in Seoul, Korea that was less than 6 months away. With a moments decision, I was embarking on my first trip back to my homeland and planning to meet other Asian adoptees for the first time.
Attending the G16 ended up being nothing short of life-changing. Sitting at the Welcome Dinner, along with over 500+ Korean adoptees, truly made me understand the magnitude of how many others like me there were. It is challenging to explain how riding an elevator (in Korea) with Asians that start speaking Dutch, Australian English, or American English truly feels. It blew my mind. During the Gathering, tears were shed, life-long friendships were grown, and self-discovery was constant. Some mornings at breakfast people would start sharing stories about birth family searches and adoption challenges before your first sip of coffee. It surprised me how easy it was to share feelings and complexities with strangers that I had not yet done with my closest loved ones. Exploring this level of emotion and vulnerability with others was definitely overwhelming at times, but it always felt safe. People you were sharing with were experiencing, or had experienced the same. Attending the G16 and meeting other Korean adoptees introduced me to a supportive community I was a part of but never knew existed; and sparked an ongoing exploration of my other – adopted – self.
Myla – Canada, Korean Adoptee
I attended my first IKAA Gathering in 2004. It was on my first journey back since I left in 1976. I stayed in Korea for 4 weeks before the G04 started. During that time, I visited all the major attractions, walked miles through the Seoul streets in 100° heat, ate dishes I had never tasted before, traveled to Busan, and reunited with my birth mother. That whole time I felt alienated; I looked like a Korean but wasn’t. I was home, but I wasn’t. The lack of native language made me feel isolated and lonely. The discrepancy between the lonesome travel and my participation on the G04 was vastly different. The feeling of belonging was immediate. It felt like I was connected to all the participants. And for the first time in my life I felt that I was the norm.
It took me 12 years to attend my next Gathering. I was even more excited than for my first gathering. This time at the G16, I wasn’t alone. I brought my family of 6, and my sister and her family of 4. The strong bond of fellowship with the other KADs and the comfortable feeling of normalcy was still there. The Gatherings are first and foremost for us Korean adoptees. But everyone in my family of 10, none under 14 years old, really enjoyed the G16. We liked Lotte Hotel with all its facilities, its closeness to “everything”, the many different activities for KADs and their families, the breakfasts, the dinners, the gala event, the after party, but most of all meeting other Korean adoptees from all around the world.
This year, we will be six from our family who are going to attend the G19, and I hope to meet many more Korean adoptee with families, in our next community gathering.
Annika – Sweden, Korean Adoptee
Interested in Contributing to My IKAA Experience?
We are looking to showcase more experiences leading up to the 2019 Seoul Gathering! We’re asking you to share your own experience attending IKAA Gatherings in Korea. If you are interested in submitting an entry, please submit the following:
- Write an experience or reflection. It could be anything from a special moment to a broader reflection on the Seoul Gathering (MAX ~ 300 words).
Here are some ideas:
- What have you gained from attending?
- What made this a one-of-a kind experience?
- What was a special moment for you?
- Memories from your first IKAA Gathering?
- What do you enjoy most about the IKAA events?
- How have your experiences changed over the years?
- Include any meaningful pic(s) from the Gathering
Please email My IKAA Experience entries to [email protected].