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Introduction

Homeland Visit South Korea
Think about group homeland visits organized by The Children’s Bridge, an adoption agency with over 14 years of experience working and traveling in Korea and other countries. 

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Why go on a homeland visit with your child?

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Traveling to your child’s country of birth to learn about their heritage is an irreplaceable experience. It can open the door for discussions about their culture and adoption. I know, from first-hand experience with my child that it instils a sense of pride built on direct contact. The trip makes the culture a lively rich reality far more tangible for a child than sporadic celebrations at occasional events. Visiting South Korea makes your child a participant in the culture of a dynamic and exciting country rather than being a distant observer of a far off “foreign” land. The trip sends a strong message that your family values South Korea and its place in your family history.

I encourage you to look at the following stories about families who have experienced a homeland tour:

Homeland Trip to SEOUL, South Korea – May 2017
By Rebecca, age 12 (CB September 2017 issue)

South Korea Homeland Visit – July 2016
By Richard, Shannon, Matthew and Gregory (CB September 2016 issue)

South Korea Homeland Visit – July 2015
By Amy Murphy (CB September 2015 issue)

South Korea Homeland Visit – July 2015
Max and Lily go to Korea! (CB September 2015 issue)

South Korea Homeland Visit – March 2015
Discovering the Land of the Morning Calm (CB June 2015 issue)

South Korea Homeland Visit – March 2015
“Mom, could our family go and live in Korea?” (CB June 2015 issue)

South Korea Homeland Visit – 2014
My Motherland Tour – By Tamlyn Joy Ah Jin Stewart (CB September 2014 issue)

South Korea Homeland Visit – 2013
By James Quinlan (CB September 2013 issue)

South Korea Homeland Visit – 2012
Our family’s trip to Kesha’s Homeland (CB December 2012 issue)

South Korea Homeland Visit – June 2012
By Shelley Marriner (CB September 2012 issue)

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How old should my child be?

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Children’s Bridge Homeland Visits are open to adoptees 6 years and older at the time of the trip. The adoptees who traveled on the first Children’s Bridge Homeland Visit to China in October 2005 were between six and 10 years old. The children that travelled on the Homeland Visit to Korea were 9 to 12 years of age. All did amazingly well with the challenges of international travel. They adapted to the food, language, toilets, crowds, volume and schedule with as much, if not more, ease than their parents!

What the kids thought….

The Children’s Bridge first South Korea Homeland Visit in June 2012 was a huge hit with all the kids. They enjoyed the range of activities – from seeing ancient sights to visiting The Social Welfare Society – or maybe it was the unique opportunity to be in a group where every family was just like theirs that made the trip special.

Seeing, smelling, touching and being part of a living, evolving, and exciting dynamic South Korea and sharing the adventure with kids just like them is a powerful experience.

Owen said: “I loved everything. I liked all the cool stuff and I liked being there with my friends. I liked learning about the history of Korea. The DMZ was awesome.”

Luka said: ”I loved the food so much. The flavors and spice are yummy! I also really enjoyed seeing the babies at the SWS Baby Reception Home. It made me think that I used to be one of them a long time ago. Also, Korea is a very cool place as they have neat things like Samsung, Lotte World and an acquarium in a shopping mall.”

Kesha said: “So many special memories from Korea that will last forever. Like learning how to eat with chopsticks, meeting my foster mom for the first time and hoping to stay in touch, and getting used to the food and time change because it’s so far away. To think that’s where I was born is just amazing! I will go back there again and maybe learn even more than what I already have learned.”

I encourage you to look at the CB Newsletters listed above to read the stories of families and young travellers who participated in these visits. 

Future Dates

March 2018 and July/Aug 2018

Testimonial:

Korea Homeland Journey
August 2018

“It was amazing and I would want to go back again and again!”
 —William, age 12

“It was amazing! It was beautiful and something I have never done before – a trip of a lifetime.”
 —Sydney, age 10

“I cannot thank Maria Fulford, Mr. Park and Mr. Lee enough for such a wonderful and well organized experience. Everything was so well done and gave us many opportunities to be part of the Korean culture and see the beauty of the country as a family.”
 —Joanne

“We really enjoyed our time in Korea. I was a little worried that William had built it up so much in his head prior to the trip that he might actually be disappointed with the experience. Clearly there was no need to worry.

On the first day we went to the amusement park. It was a great way to ease into things as both William and Sydney had a ton of fun. Our guide Jay was outstanding he had us to all the rides and attractions almost like we were on a special secret schedule. We walked to the front of the line enjoyed the attraction and then as we were exiting we would see that the line had grown substantially. His timing was perfect. As I mentioned it was a great way to transition into the more meaningful part of our trip. The next day and every day after that were so well organized and full of interesting experiences. We all enjoyed it very much.

I have never seen William quite as excited as he was when he met with his foster mom. He was desperate to share information with her, both through the woman from SWS and even using the translator on his phone which I think he felt was more of a direct connection with her.

The food was amazing and it was a big part of our trip as William is very interested in cooking. He was quick to try almost everything that was offered to him. He loved the fact that meal times were so interactive, some buffets, lots of food prep right at the table, sitting on the floor, etc.

Although we had some pretty long drives to get to the East Sea, the mountain retreat, the DMZ and Busan I would not have cut any of those from our itinerary. Even though I know we just scratched the surface we left feeling that we had seen so many different areas and different aspects of William’s birthplace.

Please accept my sincere thank you for your role in giving my family and specifically my son such an amazing experience.”
 —Kevin

Testimonial:

Homeland Trip to SEOUL, South Korea, May 13-18, 2017
By Rebecca, age 12

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Testimonial:

South Korea Homeland Visit – July 2016
By Richard, Shannon, Matthew and Gregory

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One afternoon in March, I searched for Children’s Bridge online and sent off a message, hoping to reconnect. Maria Fulford telephoned right away, and we talked at length and reminisced. It was so gratifying to hear her voice again, as she had been so kind, encouraging and knowledgeable as we went through the adoption process many years ago. Maria mentioned the Homeland tour coming up in July, and we knew right away this was a wonderful opportunity and took the plunge. 

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We were overjoyed to learn in just a few days, that our sons’ respective foster mothers were willing to meet with us in Seoul. I was looking forward to introducing the boys once again to their foster mothers, and wanted these special women to know that the boys are happy and healthy, and that Richard and I continue to do our best to raise them with the love and care that the foster mothers had so graciously provided during the boys’ early days. We were also keenly aware that we had not done enough to stay in contact. 

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To our surprise, our sons were more excited about the prospect of visiting Korea than I had expected. Although neither had ever commented on the fact that there are only a handful of Asian children in their schools, one of their first questions was whether people in Korea look like they do, and would Richard and I be the ones who looked “different”. Thus began our preparations for our journey. Our younger son and I spent hours at the computer, trying to learn a bit of Hangul, using an online service available through our public library. Apparently we weren’t too successful. I tried out some phrases with a Korean-American business owner in our neighbourhood, but was regularly advised that the Korean I was using was too “familiar” and that I needed to learn a more respectful tone.

We checked in at O’Hare early in the morning of June 28 for a flight which would change our lives once again. Soon after our arrival in Seoul, we were to meet the boys’ foster mothers at the pizza restaurant owned by our older son’s foster family. I was very nervous as we approached the restaurant, but I needn’t have been. We were greeted with great warmth, and our boys were immediately wrapped in big hugs. We were deeply moved by the love shown by the foster mothers to our boys. Their willingness to care so tenderly for the babies entrusted to them by the SWS, and the courage they show in sending these children out into the world, is humbling. Our reacquaintance felt like a beautiful family reunion, filled with stories, laughter and caring. It felt like no time had passed, even though eight years had gone by since our last visit to Seoul. We were struck by how aligned our boys were with the temperaments of their respective foster mothers- our older son is quiet, intuitive and thoughtful; our younger is an outgoing and energetic presence, who fills the room with laughter, just like his foster mother and kindergartenteacher “foster sister”. 

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The next day brought us to the SWS. We were introduced to one of the social workers, who presented us to the SWS President, and were shown an informative video concerning the work of the SWS. Having the opportunity to show our boys the baby receiving nursery was a special treat, and an important connection to their personal history. In essence, we felt we had come full circle in the adoption experience, being able to return to the place where it all began. Following the SWS visit came several days of touring, both within Seoul and outside of it. Our tour guide was incredible- not only did he speak even idiomatic English fluently, his knowledge of our destinations was exhaustive. It also didn’t hurt that he is an expert driver. He had a remarkable way of knowing when the boys needed a bit of a break from the walking or the heat, and it wasn’t unusual for him to momentarily disappear, only to return holding a couple of ice cream cones.

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Our visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and adjacent sites was very moving and the most sombre experience of our trip. The information panels outline the toll exacted on the country as a result of the Korean War and family separation, and express wishes for peace on the Korean peninsula. On the day of our visit, we were joined on the tour bus by several American veterans who had served in the Korean War. One of these gentlemen informed us that he had been captured during the second week of the conflict, and had spent three years as a prisoner of war very near the DMZ site. The visiting American veterans received a formal welcome from the South Korean soldiers patrolling at the DMZ in recognition of their service.

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One of the highlights of our homeland tour was the opportunity to see Mt.Seoraksan and to hike to the summit of this beautiful national park. By this time, the rain had subsided and we had a few clear days. The natural beauty of the park was breathtaking, and we thoroughly enjoyed the fresh air and expansive vistas. We also had the chance to visit Naksan Beach, a wide, sandy beach on the Eastern Sea. The water was refreshing. We had a fresh seafood lunch seated on the floor in a traditional Korean restaurant followed by tasty coffee and ice cream. Full disclosure- we skipped the National Folk Museum to build time in the itinerary for the beach, but it was exactly what we needed at that point. 

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One of the foster mothers and family rejoined us for the last day of our visit to Seoul, which included time spent in Insa-dong shopping for traditional artifacts. We provided our email address to one of the art galleries and are receiving regular messages showcasing the Korean artists featured in that gallery. Now if I could only read the Hangul characters…

We are very grateful to have participated in the homeland tour, a journey to reconnect to this vibrant and beautiful homeland, which has so much meaning for our family.

Testimonial:

South Korea Homeland Visit – Summer 2015
By Amy Murphy

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We have always had the intention of returning to Korea to allow our children to see their birth country, it was just a matter of when. Damen finally expressed a desire to go to Korea when he was 10 so we started planning. As the trip neared, Damen’s anxiety about going grew, with fears of being lost there among other concerns. Although hesitant Damen got onto the plane with Kyle and I and his younger brother, Griffin (we left our youngest son at home with his grandparents) . While on the plane, Damen was quite excited to be handed a pop that had Korean writing on it. And as we were landing and he saw Korea for the first time, it appeared as though he finally allowed himself to be excited about the trip.

We were joined by another family (The Forgets) the next morning and the kids (ages 11, 10, 9 and 7) instantly became friends. It was wonderful travelling with another family, but we were both happy that we were not part of a large group. Due to the recent MERS outbreak in Korea, our trip was affected slightly. When we attended Everland, the park was virtually empty which allowed us to get on all of the rides quickly and for the kids, over and over again. The kids had so much fun that we altered out itinerary to allow us to hit Lotte World amusement park later that week.

Unfortunately when we attended the SWS we were not able to interact with the babies as a result of the virus. Damen was unable to meet with his foster mother, so we had some down time which allowed us to chat with the director of the SWS at length. The SWS then took us for an amazing Korean BBQ Bulgogi meal. The one thing Damen never hesitated about was enjoying the Korean cuisine!

We attended the DMZ and although the tunnels were closed due to MERS, the kids were still able to appreciate the significance of the DMZ . The greater understanding of the devastation that South Korea endured, and the understanding of families being separated for such a length of time was a valuable experience for all of us.

We loved Mt. Seoraksan and the beauty of the National Park. Although the kids complained at moments about how long the hike was, the adults really enjoyed the sights. It was all so beautiful. The palaces, the museums, the markets, kimchi making; it was all spectacular. 

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After our week with the other family we both went our separate ways to continue to explore the country. We travelled down to Gwangju to visit the SWS baby reception home there, as this is where Damen spent his first days of life. This was the most amazing experience, the home houses 50 children from newborn to 4 years of age. We were able to stop at each room all of which house different aged children; we were permitted to interact and play with the babies and toddlers. I could have stayed all day and the boys were on the ground interacting with these adorable children as well. Although this experience was a little overwhelming to Damen at first, it is what he talks about the most when speaking of the trip. I can’t tell you how valuable the opportunity to spend a couple of hours here was.

From there we spent a night in Suncheon and the next night in Yeosu. We travelled a lot these three days, seeing tea plantations, a bird sanctuary, temples, traditional cities, bamboo forest, expo sites, Odongdo island etc. 

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Upon our return to Seoul we spent a couple of days on our own. Ventured onto the subway which was very easy to use, went to the aquarium and to the Korean War museum which we all really enjoyed. We went back to the market to further explore and buy some souvenirs and also returned to Insadong.

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Damen and Griffin at Mt. Sereoksan

Our trip to Korea was absolutely wonderful. We are so happy that Damen has experienced a bit of the country and culture. He says that it was not at all what he was imagining and now he can have a more accurate understanding of his motherland. Damen commented on numerous occasions how friendly everyone was; every time we looked confused, or had a map out, someone was sure to come and assist us. We all came home having learned and experienced so much. It was a trip that we will always remember; we would not have changed a thing about it! 

Testimonial:

South Korea Homeland Visit – Summer 2015
Max and Lily go to Korea! *

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Damen, Griffin, Maxim, Lily

Almost from the time that he began to speak, our son Maxim began asking profound questions about his birth mother, adoption, the birthing process, etc, and he consistently displayed an intense curiosity about Korea. Our daughter Lily Jade has a very different personality, mischievous and lighthearted, but at about 4 years old, she too began asking startling questions about adoption, life and death.

We had been discussing a potential trip to Korea for several years, and in March of 2015, when Maxim was 9 and Lily 6, I felt that we needed to go before they both lost their intense curiosity and desire to see their homeland, and I specifically wanted to go before the pre-teen/teenage angst years. I began to research the possibility of an autumn trip. We initially planned to go on our own as we saw it as an intensely personal experience for our family.

Since our Quebec agency had not yet organized homeland visits, they referred us to Maria at the Children’s Bridge for guidance and contacts in Korea. After an initial discussion with Maria, I realized that I was finally speaking with someone who shared my philosophy about the homeland visit not necessarily having to be THE VISIT, but simply a first visit in a series of visits to Korea, over a lifetime. She was also not at all fazed by the young age of my kids, but was instead completely supportive and enthusiastic.

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Mr. Kim and kids

Although we were initially completely against the idea of an organized group tour, somewhere between reading numerous articles and testimonials about homeland visits and a second conference call with Maria, my husband and I eventually began to see that the benefits of going with a group outweighed our desire for a private experience. The deciding “pro” was for our kids to be able to share a common experience with others in their exact same situation and for us, as parents, to be able to concentrate 100% of our attention on our kids without worrying about logistics.

My husband Patrice and I have zero regrets about our decision to do the group tour despite our initial hesitation. We ended up being only two families in the group: ourselves, and the Murphy family. The four kids were of similar ages (Damen 11 yrs, Griffin 9yrs, Maxim 9yrs and Lily 6yrs) and got along beautifully together starting from day one. The parents, Amy and Kyle, were so friendly and easy going that it was a pleasure traveling with them. By the middle of the week, we would leave our hotel room doors propped open in the evenings, and the kids would wander from room to room.

Our guide, Mr. Kim, was very friendly, attentive and informative and always tried his best to accommodate us. The tour itself was packed full of interesting visits and sites that we most likely would never have seen had we been on our own.

During the SWS visit, we were lucky to meet Maxim’s foster mother and foster sister, who translated for us. We met again for supper one evening, and as the “moment of goodbye” was approaching and the foster mom was clearly choking up, our very intuitive son suddenly said to me, “I have 3 moms: You, my birth mom, and my foster mom”. Perfect timing: the foster mom was so stunned and happy to hear those words.

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Maxim, foster sister, foster mother

Following our official homeland visit, we remained in Korea, on our own, for another 2 weeks, staying in Jeju-do, Daegu and Hahoe Village near Andong. In Daegu, we managed to visit both hospitals where Maxim and Lily were born. The hospital staff was incredibly kind and gave us private tours of both hospitals without any pre-arrangement. We even saw THE delivery room where Maxim was born. In Hahoe village, we stayed at a charming historic bukchon for 2 nights: a very interesting and once-in-a-lifetime stay, and very much in contrast to the more modern Korea which we saw the rest of the trip. 

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Although we initially worried that the kids were too young to remember anything, in the end it is not the places we visited that will leave a lasting impression…what really will remain in all of our minds is the camaraderie, the shared experiences with the Murphy family, and the friendliness and goodwill of the Korean people we met.

Anonghi geseyo!**

Kira, Patrice, Maxim and Lily Jade

* Only after I started volunteering at the kids’ school library did I discover that there is a whole series of Max et Lili ! books.

** Goodbye! 

Testimonial:

SOUTH KOREA – March 2015
“Mom, could our family go and live in Korea?”

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Mont Seoraksan

We have heard this question a few times since our return in March. It is now obvious that this trip will stay etched in our hearts forever. Precious memories have thus been created.

Éliot had been asking for three years “when will we travel to Korea” – but because we wanted the trip to have a lasting impression, because we wanted him to remember each moment, we decided to wait for him to reach the age of 8, going on 9 years old. Even better, this allowed us to share the experience with friends from our neighbourhood that had also adopted a little boy from Korea. Éliot was able to benefit from the company of Antoine Lapointe, a little older at 12 years of age.

Traveling to our son’s native country was amazing, eye opening, emotional and even overwhelming at times. We wanted the trip to be perfect for Éliot because who knows if we would get to return in the future? This experience was sure to provoke a range of emotions, behaviours and ruminations.

Here’s how it all unfolded:
After a 6-hour flight, we spent a night in Vancouver to rest for the next 11 hours of flying that awaited. Although understandably tired, a mix of adrenalin and emotion overrode the fatigue. We were very excited to finally arrive after months of waiting and years of reading, planning and preparing. We knew how Éliot was filled with anticipation to see his beautiful native country and meet its people, but it’s Éliot’s first words when we touched down on Korean soil that completely blew us away:

– “Mom I’m home” he said.
– “Yes son, you are home here, welcome to your beautiful country.”

It’s like he had lived here all along and we felt a wave of relief, satisfaction and joy wash over him. He was content and immediately connected to his roots. What more could a parent wish for?

– “Éliot, what are you most eager to see or do in Korea?”
– “Sun Yei Mom” he answered. “If I can’t see Sun Yei, the trip won’t be complete. I need to meet her and ask her questions.”

Sun Yei is the charming lady that took care of Éliot Jee Hoon in his first 6 months of life. We had always said that one day we would meet her again and had regularly made this a topic of discussion in our lives. Every year we would send her photos and a birthday gift. Éliot thought it would be the ultimate experience to meet her once again after all these years.

So here we were, Monday, March 16th … overrun with emotion. We returned 8 years later to the SWS center in the same room where we first met Éliot – but this time it was to meet the caretaker that had so reluctantly let our son go, having grown so attached to him. Some have asked me if language was a barrier. Absolutely not – that day, I learned that love, friendship, respect and gratitude are means of communication that trump any dialect. The language of the heart is truly the strongest language of all, universally understood. And still to this day, if one asks Éliot what was his favourite part of the trip, he will answer meeting Sun Yei. In the end, words can only fail to describe the immense joy that was experienced that day. These are what I call memories of the heart.

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At the SWS with Sun Yei the Foster Mom and her daughter, Éliot, myself & Charles

The following days were extremely exciting. We were lucky to have a fantastic guide. She taught us so much on a myriad of topics including culture, values, traditions, cuisine, fashion, history and geography, what and what not to do, etc. Without her, our trip would not have been the same and never would we have experienced so much in so little time. I feel like I could write a book on all these wonderful moments, these breathtaking places. The sceneries were awe-inspiring. From the peaks of Mount Seoraksan, where the view is simply splendid, to the villages where tradition and folklore abound, among small traditional houses, the modern Seoul skyline acted as a juxtaposed majestic backdrop. A short drive further, we discovered the Namdaemun market where one could easily spend the entire day perusing the variety of foods, silks, souvenirs and clothing on offer. And what can be said about Everland, an amazing amusement park that boasts the steepest rollercoaster in the world. Bravo to Antoine and his father for daring to ride it. On a more sober and distressful topic, we visited what is known as the 3rd infiltration tunnel, only 2 kilometers from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. We continued our trip with many more pleasant encounters and activities. We had a great time taking a class to learn how to make Kimchi. We had to first don the traditional apparel, the han bok. A few evening shows, such as Jump and Nante’s Kitchen, kept us well entertained. As for the food, we can only say that two months later, we really miss it. We especially enjoyed the Bibimbap, Bulgogi, algae, red bean galettes, Kimchi and more.

– “Did you eat your rice?” our guide would ask in the morning. 

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The Kimchi Acadamy where we learned to make kimchi (Éliot & Antoine Lapointe)

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The Korean Folk Village at lunch time we are eating Bibimbap with our guide Julie, Charles, Sylvain Lapointe, Antoine Chang Hoon Lapointe & Éliot Jee Hoon Clément

The 2nd favourite moment for Éliot was when we met Kyun, a young man that Antoine and his father met in Canada last year. Kyun returned to Korea to continue his studies and we got to meet him and his family. We were greeted like royalty. We were treated to a traditional lunch and diner and had the chance to visit great sites. We have made friends for life.

Ultimately, I feel like I could write on and on and on about the warm, gracious and respectful people of Korea. This country where we feel safe and life is good, even if we only got the chance to be there for a few days. We are so happy we chose South Korea when we started the adoption process because its people are simply amazing.

One thing is for certain, we will return, sooner than later.

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The 3rd Infiltration Tunnel (our family)

Éliot Jee Hoon, Nathalie & Charles Clément

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La Corée du Sud – Mars 2015
«Maman est-ce que nous pourrions aller vivre en Corée
toute la famille»?

Cette phrase notre fils nous la demandé quelques fois déjà depuis notre arrivée de la Corée en mars. Il est donc très évident que ce voyage restera gravé dans nos cœurs à jamais. Que de beaux souvenirs.

Il y a déjà 3 ans qu’Éliot nous demande quand nous ferons le voyage en Corée, mais comme nous voulions qu’il se souvienne le plus possible de ces beaux moments, nous avons décidé d’attendre à ce qu’il est 8 ans, presque 9. Merveilleux car en plus nous avons eu la chance d’y aller avec des amis de notre quartier qui eux aussi ont adopté de la Corée: Éliot a pu vivre plein de beaux avec Antoine Lapointe, grand garçon de 12 ans.

Retourner dans le pays natal de notre fils a été une expérience merveilleuse, très enrichissante mais avant aussi très touchante, très émotionnelle et parfois même bouleversante à un certain niveau. Nous voulions que ce voyage soit parfait pour Éliot, car qui sait si nous aurions la chance d’y retourner un jour? Évidemment, nous nous attendions à ce que ceci fasse jaillir certaines émotions, peut-être même certains comportements et questionnements.

Voici donc comment le tout s’est déroulé:
Après 6 heures de vol, nous passons une petite nuit à Vancouver, question de se reposer avant les autres 11 heures de vol qui nous attendent. Vous ne serez pas étonnés d’apprendre que nous étions très fatigués. Par contre, rendus à Séoul l’adrénaline et l’émotion ont pris en nous ont pris en charge et nous ont tenus réveillés. Nous étions tellement excités d’être enfin arrivés, après de longs mois d’attente, de lecture et de préparation. Nous savions comment Éliot avait hâte de voir son beau pays et de rencontrer son peuple, mais le sentiment que nous avons eu lorsqu’il a touché le sol coréen est indescriptible.

– «Maman je suis chez nous«m’a-t-il dit!
– «Oui mon fils tu es chez toi ici, bienvenue dans ton beau pays».

C’est comme s’il avait vécu toute sa vie en Corée, nous l’avons senti apaisé, épanoui et tellement heureux d’être là. Il était parmi les siens. Comme parents que demander de mieux?

– «Éliot qu’est-ce que tu as le plus hâte de faire ou voir en Corée»?
– «Sun Yeimaman» me répond-t-il. «Si je ne peux pas voir Sun Yei, le voyage ne sera vraiment pas pareil. Je veux absolument la rencontrer, je veux lui poser des questions».

Sun Yei est cette charmante dame qui a pris soin d’Éliot Jee Hoon pour les 6 premiers mois de sa vie. Nous avons toujours parlé d’elle à la maison, elle fait souvent partie de nos discussions et nous nous disions qu’un jour nous la reverrions. À tous les ans nous les envoyons des photos et un cadeau d’anniversaire. Donc, pour Éliot c’était inimaginable d’aller en Corée sans rencontrer sa maman d’accueil.

Nous y voilà donc, lundi le 16 mars. Ouf… que d’émotions. Premièrement retourner au centre SWS 8 ans plus tard dans la même salle de rencontre, mais cette fois pas pour recevoir notre fils, mais pour aller rencontrer celle qui a eu beaucoup de difficulté à le laisser aller car elle s’était attaché à lui. Certains me demandent si la langue était une barrière. Absolument pas. J’ai compris ce jour là que lorsque qu’il y a des liens aussi fort que l’amour, l’amitié, le respect et la reconnaissance entre des gens, peut importe le langage, c’est le langage du cœur le plus fort. C’est celui-là même qui peut se faire comprendre par tous! Encore aujourd’hui si vous demandez à Éliot quel à été son plus beau moment en Corée, il vous dira «la rencontre avec Sun Yei». Ce n’est tout simplement pas descriptible car aucun mot ne peut être assez grand et assez beau pour définir ce qui s’est passé ce jour là. Ce sont ce que j’appelle des souvenirs de cœur.

Les jours suivants nous les vivons avec tellement d’excitation. Nous sommes tellement chanceux car nous avons eu la chance d’avoir une guide exceptionnelle. Elle nous a tant apprit: culture, mœurs, traditions, cuisine, habillement, géographie, histoire, à faire, à ne pas faire, etc…. Notre voyage sans elle n’aurait pas été le même et jamais nous aurions pu voir et expérimenter autant de choses en quelques jours. Je pourrais facilement écrire un livre sur tous ces beaux moments, ces merveilleux endroits. Les paysages sont tout simplement à couper le souffle. Tantôt vous allez au sommet du Mont Seoraksan d’où la vue est tout simplement splendide, tantôt vous êtes à visiter un petit village traditionnel folklorique avec les petites maisons traditionnelles mais avec une vue à l’horizon de Séoul avec ses grands édifices modernes. Quelques minutes en auto et vous êtes rendu au marché Namdaemun où vous trouvez de tout (nourriture, soie, souvenirs, vêtements, etc….), et où vous pourriez facilement y passer une journée complète. Que dire de Everland, ce centre d’amusement gigantesque avec la montagne russe la plus abrupte au monde. Bravo à Antoine et son papa qui y sont allés. Sur une note plus sérieuse et plus triste, nous sommes allés visiter ce que l’on appelle le 3e tunnel d’infiltration; nous étions à seulement que 2 kilomètres de la zone démilitarisée entre les 2 Corées; tout un sentiment! Nous continuons notre voyage avec d’autres belles rencontres et activités. Nous avons eu un plaisir fou à notre cours de cuisine afin de pouvoir apprendre à faire du Kimchi. Mais tout d’abord nous avons dû enfiler le costume traditionnel, le han bok. Quelques spectacles en soirée, dont Jump et Nante’s Kitchen. Pour ce qui est de la nourriture, 2 mois plus tard nous pouvons dire que nous nous ennuyons de cette bouffe tout simplement succulente: Bibimbap, Bulgogi, algues, galettes de fèves rouges, Kimchi, etc…

– «Avez-vous bien mangé votre riz»? nous demandait notre guide le matin.

Le 2e moment préféré d’Éliot est celui où nous sommes allés rencontrer Kyun, un jeune homme que Sylvain et Antoine ont rencontré ici même au Canada l’année dernière. Celui-ci est retourné en Corée en février pour continuer ses études, et nous avons eu la chance de le rencontrer lui et sa famille. Nous avons été accueillis comme des rois chez ses parents, où nous avons dégusté une tonne de mets traditionnels pour le dîner et le souper. Ils nous ont fait visiter de beaux endroits et nous ont parlé de leur beau pays. Nous nous sommes fait des amis à vie.

Enfin, je pourrais écrire des pages sur ce peuple si chaleureux et accueillant, ce peuple sans jugement et si respectueux. Ce pays où l’on se sent en sécurité et où il fait bon vivre, ne serait-ce que pour quelques jours comme nous l’avons fait. Nous sommes tellement fiers d’avoir choisi la Corée du Sud lorsque nous avons débuté notre processus d’adoption. Notre fils vient d’un peuple tout simplement merveilleux.

– Une chose est certaine: «Nous retournerons dans ton beau pays natal Éliot Jee Hoon, plus tôt que plus tard»!

Éliot Jee Hoon, Nathalie & Charles Clément

Testimonial:

SOUTH KOREA – March 2015
Discovering the Land of the Morning Calm

By Sylvain Lapoine

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Antoine and Sylvain

Antoine came into our lives in June 2003. That is when Nathalie and I opened our hearts to a child while opening our minds to a new culture. Because Antoine was escorted to Canada, we had never had the opportunity to visit his native land, South Korea. Thus, on March 13, Antoine and I left to discover the “Land of the Morning Calm” for two weeks without Nathalie, who was struggling with health issues.

In fact, we were not exactly alone. As the trip was organized by Children’s Bridge, we were thrilled to undertake this journey with Éliot, Nathalie and Charles Clément. Travelling with another family was great for everyone, but especially for the children. As per the commercial says: “the airfares for South Korea: $3,000; the hotel: $1,500; restaurants: $500; returning to his country of origin with a person who shares a similar story, priceless!”

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The 3rd Infiltration Tunnel

South Korea and its people left us spellbound! As soon as we touched down on Korean soil, I understood that this trip would leave an indelible mark on our son. Was it because, for the first time in his life, Antoine was not part of a visible minority? As Éliot said so well, it was us, the parents, who would be the minority for the days to come. Antoine innocently commented that the air he was breathing seemed different, he could breathe better. The composition of the Korean atmosphere is, after all, not so different from ours. Rather, was it that, suddenly, a pressure had been removed and he could breathe better?

Our first full day, the day after our arrival, will forever be etched in our memory. The journey began with a visit to the adoption agency, Social Welfare Society, to tour the place where Antoine had spent the first weeks of his life. The warm hospitality of the Agency officials quickly put us at ease. We visited the nursery, where a dozen newborns were being cared for. It was fascinating to think that, 12 years earlier, Antoine was in the same place: it felt like a journey in space and time. Even if Antoine did not mention it explicitly, I felt that he could see himself in these infants. His gaze filled with wonder and his warm smiles were a sign of pride in his own journey, as if, all of a sudden, he became aware of his own experiences and resilience. At times, I had the feeling that he was telling them: “Trust life; it will be as good for you as it is for me!”

Immediately after this visit, we had the privilege of meeting two members of the foster family who had cared for Antoine during the first four months of his life. It was an encounter filled with emotions despite the language barrier and an interpretation service that somewhat hindered spontaneity. At this precise moment, Antoine and I horribly felt the absence of Nathalie. We so would have liked her to be with us right then and there. It was also one of the days where Nathalie felt quite lonely at home. The members of the foster family and Antoine exchanged some significant moments of their lives since he had left Korea. Antoine also shared his dreams and hopes with them. We are keeping in touch with them by e-mail and Facebook and we exchange photographs and videos of Antoine.

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Antoine with Foster mom and foster sister

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Antoine and foster mom

While in Korea, we had the chance to explore a number of major tourist attractions, accompanied by a French-speaking guide, the first week, and by ourselves, the following days. We also had the chance to discover and appreciate first-hand Korean history, culture and art, both past (the Korean Folk Village, the Icheon Ceramics Village; at Imjingak: the Third tunnel of Infiltration, the Dorasan Observatory and the Dorasan Station, the Bridge of Freedom as well as the Changdeokgung Palace) and present (the N Seoul Tower, Lotte World and Everland amusement parks and the Trick Eye Museum). We even took a peak at the future at the Samsung Museum. 

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The Trick Eye Museum

We also got to enjoy typical Korean architecture in the Bukchon Hanok district and marvel at picturesque landscapes during our travels, especially on the road leading to Sokcho, a town located on the Pacific Ocean. A few kilometres away from Sokcho, we had a magical stay in Mt. Seoraksan National Park.

Our Korean adventure was also a fabulous culinary experience, although you have to love spicy dishes. We believe that, at times, some servers were making bets behind the counters or in the kitchens, believing that we would not finish our plates. Our mouths were on fire, but those who bet against us lost! We do not know the name of all the dishes we tasted, but what a gourmet experience! We feasted on bulgogi, bibimbap and the famous Korean pancakes. Obviously, McDonald’s is a must when there are children. The McBulgogi is definitely worth trying!

One cannot talk about Korean cuisine without mentioning kimchi. Kimchi is to the Koreans what wine is to the French. Do not be fooled; each preparation of kimchi has its own personality! Given the importance of appreciating the complexity of this dish, we took a kimchi-making class at the Kimchi Academy House. Nothing less! We managed to clear Canadian Customs with our kimchi preparations and we are still enjoying them…

Of course, we visited many tourist attractions. But what we got the most out of this trip are the encounters with people. We were warmly welcomed everywhere we went: the adoption program managers, members of the foster family, our tourist guide. The same can also be said for the strangers who crossed our path.

Let me backtrack to a few months before our departure. Last fall, before deciding to make this trip, we became friends with Kyun, a young Korean cyclist that I had met by chance in our village. As a Korean flag was flying on his handlebars, I had stopped to introduce myself and make sure everything was okay. Since it was a very cold and rainy day, I had offered him to take him in, which he accepted. What a wonderful young man! We immediately got attached to Kyun and Antoine quickly identified with him! Kyun said later, in an almost solemn tone, that we had saved his life that day. His father, in a letter that he sent us a few weeks later, wrote that we were angels sent from heaven to take care of his son and that chance alone could not explain this encounter… In fact, this event turned out to be a catalyst in our decision to go to South Korea! A few days later, we had to give our answer to Children’s Bridge concerning our intention to participate or not in the trip organised by the agency.

Because we had kept in touch with Kyun and his family, it was unthinkable to go to Korea without seeing them. What a beautiful day we spent in their company! We were all treated like royalty. Really, I cannot find the words to express the exceptional way in which Éliot and Antoine were welcomed. They were made to feel that even if they are children of the world, they are and will always be part of the great Korean family. It was very moving! 

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Lapointe and Clement families with Kyun and his family

I would like to conclude this brief account of our trip with a rather symbolic story. During our stay in Korea, which was much too short, Antoine lost his last baby tooth. As a symbol of his belonging to this land from the East, he tossed his tooth in the beautiful Cheonggyecheon Stream, located a short walk from the hotel. Antoine left childhood behind in Korea to begin a new stage in his life… There was no better place in the world to make this transition…

Finally, we would like to thank Children’s Bridge and, more specifically, Maria Fulford for her guidance in the careful preparation of this trip. Thanks to her help, this trip far exceeded our expectations! Thank you, Maria!

—————–

La Corée du Sud – Mars 2015
À la découverte du Pays du matin frais

Par Sylvain Lapoine

Antoine est entré dans nos vies en juin 2003. Nathalie et moi ouvrions alors notre cœur à un enfant et, par la même occasion, nos esprits à une nouvelle culture. Étant donné qu’Antoine a été escorté au Canada, nous n’avions jamais eu la chance de visiter son pays d’origine, la Corée du Sud. Ainsi, le 13 mars dernier, comme Nathalie éprouvait certains problèmes de santé, Antoine et moi partions seuls à la découverte du «Pays du matin frais» pour deux semaines.

En réalité, nous n’étions pas tout à fait seuls: le voyage étant organisé par Children’s Bridge, nous avons eu la joie de l’entreprendre en compagnie d’Éliot, Nathalie et Charles Clément. Voyager en compagnie d’une autre famille fut bénéfique pour tous, mais surtout pour les enfants. Comme le dit si bien l’annonce publicitaire: «Les billets d’avion pour la Corée du Sud 3000$; l’hôtel, 1500$, les restaurants, 500$, retourner dans son pays d’origine avec une personne qui partage une histoire similaire, ça n’a pas de prix!»

Nous sommes littéralement tombés sous le charme de la Corée du Sud et de ses habitants! Dès notre arrivée en sol coréen, j’ai compris que ce voyage allait laisser une empreinte indélébile sur notre fils. Était-ce que, pour la première fois de sa vie, Antoine ne faisait plus partie d’une minorité visible? Comme Éliot l’a si bien dit, c’était nous, les parents, qui serions en minorité pour les jours à venir. De façon anodine, Antoine a émis le commentaire que l’air qu’il respirait semblait différent, qu’il respirait mieux. La composition de l’atmosphère coréenne n’est, somme toute, pas si différente de la nôtre. Était-ce plutôt que, soudainement, une pression lui avait été retirée et qu’il respirait mieux?

Notre première journée complète, le lendemain de notre arrivée, sera à jamais gravée dans notre mémoire. Le périple a débuté par une visite à l’agence d’adoption, Social Welfare Society, afin de faire le tour de l’endroit où Antoine a vécu les premières semaines de sa vie. L’accueil chaleureux des responsables de l’agence nous a rapidement mis à l’aise. Nous avons visité la pouponnière, qui assurait alors le bien-être d’une douzaine de nouveau-nés. Il était fascinant de penser qu’Antoine, 12 ans auparavant, était dans ces mêmes lieux: on avait l’impression d’un voyage dans l’espace-temps. Sans qu’Antoine l’ait expressément déclaré, je sentais qu’il se revoyait dans ces poupons. Son regard émerveillé et ses sourires attendrissants révélaient une fierté quant à son chemin parcouru, comme si, tout à coup, il prenait conscience de son propre vécu et de sa résilience. À certains moments, j’avais l’impression qu’il leur disait: «Faites confiance à la vie; elle sera bonne pour vous comme elle l’est pour moi!»

Immédiatement après cette visite, nous avons eu le privilège de rencontrer deux membres de la famille d’accueil qui a pris soin d’Antoine durant les quatre premiers mois de sa vie. Ce fut une réunion remplie d’émotions malgré la barrière de la langue et un service d’interprétation qui freinait quelque peu la spontanéité. À ce moment précis, Antoine et moi sentions horriblement l’absence de Nathalie. Nous aurions tant souhaité qu’elle soit avec nous pour vivre ce moment. C’est aussi une des journées où Nathalie s’est sentie bien seule à la maison. Les membres de la famille d’accueil et Antoine se sont raconté quelques moments marquants de leur vie depuis son départ de la Corée. De plus, Antoine leur a fait part de ses rêves et de ses espoirs. Nous avons gardé un lien avec eux par courrier électronique et Facebook et nous nous échangeons des photographies et des vidéos d’Antoine.

Nous avons profité de notre séjour en Corée pour explorer plusieurs hauts lieux touristiques en compagnie d’une guide francophone, la première semaine, et par nous-mêmes, les jours suivants. Nous avons ainsi pu découvrir et apprécié l’histoire, la culture et l’art de la Corée autant passés (Village folklorique coréen, le village d’Icheon reconnu pour ses céramiques; à Imjingak : le troisième tunnel d’agression, l’observatoire et la gare de Dorasan, le pont de la Liberté ainsi que le palais de Changdeokgung) que présents (la N Seoul Tower, les parcs d’amusement Lotte World et Everland et le musée Trick Eye). Nous avons même fait un petit bond dans le futur au musée Samsung.

Nous avons aussi pu admirer l’architecture typiquement coréenne du quartier Bukchon Hanok et contempler les paysages pittoresques lors de nos déplacements, particulièrement sur la route menant à Sokcho, ville située sur le bord de l’océan Pacifique. À quelques kilomètres de Sokcho, nous avons passé un séjour magique au Parc national du mont Seoraksan.

Notre aventure coréenne fut aussi une grande expérience culinaire. Toutefois, il faut aimer les plats épicés. Nous croyons que, à l’occasion, certains serveurs ont fait des paris derrière les comptoirs ou dans les cuisines en croyant que nous ne finirions pas nos assiettes. Nous avions la bouche en feu, mais ceux qui ont parié contre nous ont perdu! Nous ne connaissons pas le nom de tous les plats que nous avons dégustés, mais quelle expérience gastronomique! Nous nous sommes régalés de bulgogi, de bibimbap et des fameuses crêpes coréennes. Évidemment, avec des enfants, le McDonald est un incontournable. Le McBulgogi est certainement à essayer!

On ne peut pas parler de la gastronomie coréenne sans mentionner le kimchi. Le kimchi est aussi important pour les coréens que le vin pour les Français. Il ne faut pas s’y méprendre; chaque préparation de kimchi a sa propre personnalité! Il faut savoir apprécier toutes les subtilités de ce mets. Par conséquent, nous avons suivi un cours de préparation du kimchi à l’Académie du kimchi. Rien de moins! Nous avons réussi à passer à la douane canadienne nos préparations de kimchi et nous les dégustons encore…

Bien sûr, nous avons visité beaucoup de lieux touristiques. Mais ce qui reste le plus de ce voyage, ce sont les rencontres avec les gens. Nous avons été accueillis chaleureusement partout où nous sommes allés: les responsables du programme d’adoption, les membres de la famille d’accueil, notre guide touristique. On peut en dire tout autant des inconnus que nous avons croisés durant notre voyage.

Permettez-moi de revenir quelques mois avant notre départ. L’automne dernier, avant que ne se soit prise la décision de réaliser ce voyage, nous nous sommes liés d’amitié avec Kyun, jeune cycliste coréen, que j’avais croisé dans notre village. Comme un drapeau coréen flottait à son guidon, je m’étais arrêté pour me présenter et m’assurer que tout allait bien. Comme c’était une journée très froide et pluvieuse, je lui avais offert l’hospitalité, qu’il a acceptée. Quel jeune homme magnifique! Nous nous sommes immédiatement attachés à Kyun et Antoine s’est identifié rapidement à lui! Kyun dira par la suite, sur un ton presque solennel, que nous lui avons sauvé la vie cette journée-là. Son père, dans une lettre qu’il nous fera parvenir quelques semaines plus tard, écrira que nous avons été des anges descendus du ciel pour prendre soin de son fils et que le hasard ne pouvait simplement pas expliquer cette rencontre… En fait, cet évènement s’est révélé comme un élément déclencheur dans notre décision d’aller en Corée du Sud! Dans les jours suivant cette rencontre, nous devions donner notre réponse à Children’s Bridge quant à notre intention de participer ou non au voyage que l’organisme nous proposait.

Par conséquent, comme nous avions gardé un contact avec Kyun et sa famille, il était inconcevable d’aller en Corée sans les rencontrer. Quelle magnifique journée nous avons passée en leur compagnie! Nous avons tous été reçus comme des rois. Vraiment, je suis à court de mots pour exprimer la façon exceptionnelle dont Éliot et Antoine ont été accueillis. On leur a fait sentir que, même s’ils sont des enfants du monde, ils font et feront toujours partie de la grande famille coréenne. C’était très émouvant!

J’aimerais terminer le court récit de notre voyage sur une anecdote plutôt symbolique. Lors de notre trop court séjour en Corée, Antoine a perdu sa dernière dent de bébé. Afin de témoigner de son appartenance à cette terre d’Orient, il a offert sa dent au magnifique canal Cheonggyecheon, situé à quelques pas de l’hôtel. Antoine a quitté le monde de l’enfance en Corée afin d’entreprendre une nouvelle étape de sa vie… Il n’y avait pas de meilleurs endroits au monde pour débuter cette transition…

Pour terminer, nous aimerions remercier Children’s Bridge et, plus particulièrement, Maria Fulford de nous avoir guidés dans la préparation minutieuse de ce voyage. Grâce à son aide précieuse, nous avons réalisé un voyage qui a dépassé nos attentes! Merci, Maria!

Testimonial:

TAMLYN’S STORY – SOUTH KOREA HOMELAND VISIT 2014
– By Tamlyn Joy Ah Jin Stewart

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What do you think of when you hear the country, Korea?
Well, most people might think of Korean food or, maybe even anime.
Do you know what I think of ?

My motherland.

At the end of June my mom, dad, and I flew along with three other families to South Korea. Neither of the families had been back (or had never gone) to Korea since 2002, including our family.

On the first day (the day after we flew in), we went to SWS (the Social Welfare Society). Unfortunately we could not meet up with my foster mother but we did get to go into the nursery and play with the “older” babies! We went to the nursery with the Slot family and had the most amazing time! I was holding this ‘chubbier’ baby boy who was adorable. I called him Joey! After SWS we went to eat lunch, we ate bibimbap, it was delicious!

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The next day we went to Everland, it reminded me of the Korean version of Disney! My favourite ride was definitely the one that took you up in the air and flipped you every which way! (Including upside down.) We also went on this “jungle trek” boat where we saw a bear walking right beside the bus/boat! Everland was definitely my favourite place we went to while we were in Korea!

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My favourite meal we ate was chicken ginseng soup! It was so tasty! But, I think I put a little too much salt in it!

After we ate, we went to make kimchi. Before we made kimchi, we tried on hanboks, I hadn’t worn a hanbok in almost three years so I was excited to try one on!

When we made kimchi we had to put on gloves to mix the paste into the cabbage leaves, it was way too messy for me!

That was our last day with Lara, our tour guide and Jake, our bus driver. I don’t think any of the families wanted to say goodbye to them! Lara was so kind and nice, she was the first tour guide I’d ever met and would’ve definitely been the nicest if I had met any others, and Jake was the greatest bus driver I’d ever had! We had an amazing time on the tour and in and around Seoul!

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The next day, we flew with the Jeffery family to Jeju Island. Jeju Island was very beautiful and mountainous. We went to see the spirited garden and met the creator of the garden, Mr. Bum-young Sung. He invited us to have tea with him and he autographed his book for us! That night, we went to this “noodle house” and ate noodle soup; the noodles were absolutely enormous and so long, too!

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Two days after that, we had to fly back to Seoul. It was pouring outside because of Typhoon Neoguri, so we weren’t able to see any other attractions. The night before we left we did have a chance to try Jeju’s “best fried chicken”. I had to admit; it was the best-fried chicken I had ever eaten!

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While we were sitting in the airplane heading back to Canada, I was looking at my photos that I had taken on my iPad of Korea and realized how beautiful, mountainous, breath-taking, amazing, and pure my motherland really is. 

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Testimonial:

KOREA HOMELAND TOUR 2012
– By Shelley Marriner

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In 2002, when my husband, Todd and I first received our son, Owen (Korean birth name Ha Neul) we couldn’t believe how lucky we were. He was our beautiful son we had been waiting for, for 7 years, so sweet and so innocent. We promised to love him, care for him and never abandon him. I also remember in the letter we wrote to SWS, that we promised to introduce him to his Korean culture. I never really knew what that fully meant until we went on our Homeland trip to Korea this summer.

Over the years, we have attended the Korean culture classes, the Christmas parties with the Ottawa families who have also adopted from Korea, the events that feature Korean entertainers, gone to Korean restaurants, made play dates with other Korean adoptees, and cooked Korean food. Owen has always felt a connection to his Korean culture and appreciated what we have given him. But nothing can compare to actually being in Korea and actually LIVING the Korean culture.

We had always heard that the age between 10-12 years old, was a good age to go on a Homeland tour. So when Owen was turning 10 years old, we made the commitment to go to Korea. Leading up to this trip, Owen was a little nervous about what to expect, how he would answer someone who spoke Korean, what his foster mother would say to him………… I explained what I thought would happen and what others had told me. As his mother, I was trying to fill the gaps to rest his worried head.

As soon as we entered the airplane from Vancouver to Seoul, Owen’s eyes got a little bigger and he walked a little taller down the aisle, seeing all of the Korean students in the plane. He was looking at all the students clutching their Korean passport. This to Owen meant, he was one of them and they were one of him! This little smile on his face was the first of many many smiles my son had on our trip.

One of these Korean students on the plane was a nice young man named Terry, who was traveling back to Seoul, after studying in Ontario. He helped us navigate the Vancouver and Seoul airport, stayed with us through to the luggage carousel and gave us his phone number in Seoul, in case we needed help. It was a wonderful start to our holiday. We experienced beautiful, kind and helpful people everywhere in Korea. This was so nice for Owen to see firsthand. I was so proud of the Korean people for showing my son what it meant to be Korean.

When all the other families arrived, we had a fabulous time. There were 5 girls and 2 boys who were adopted from Korea. My son had his buddy, Sabin and Sabin’s brother, Tiago. My birth daughter, Jenna, had 5 girls to hang out with. They were both so happy to have friends 24-7 on this trip. All the kids hung out on the back of the bus together, ate together and hung out in their hotel rooms together……. And then Todd and I had the adults to hang out with which was also a lot of fun.

It was so special for my kids to have their peers to share this common experience with. There were 7 Korean born children all experiencing the same feelings going back to their homeland and seeing where they had come from. I’m sure all the children had the same questions as Owen.

Our visit to the SWS nursery was very emotional. To see Owen’s face, in the nursery full of babies, was priceless. Todd and I could barely see through our own tears. Owen went from baby to baby to take photos and I could tell he was thinking the same thing as us…..’I was one of these babies’. It was one of many questions answered for him during this trip.

On this day we also got to meet Owen’s foster mother. We were all anxious going up the elevator to the room where we were going to meet Owen’s foster mother, Mrs. Moon. After some initial hugs and gift exchanges with her, we all sat down and had a lovely time. Thank goodness for the social worker in the room who translated everything for us. I was so happy that I had brought a photo album of new and old photos, as Mrs. Moon had fostered many children over the 15 years. She took one look at the photos and right away, remembered Owen as a baby. It was so nice for Owen to hear about how he was as a baby in her home. She described him as “a very calm baby who didn’t cry very much”. Owen, now very active, thought that was pretty funny to hear. What a beautiful moment for Owen- to get some more answers to those questions that he had in his head. Our biggest surprise was when Owen’s foster father, Mr. Moon, joined us for lunch. He kept his eye on Owen the whole lunch and he asked many questions about Owen’s life in Canada. He watched intently as Owen dove into his Korean food with his chopsticks. He looked at Owen with pride. The sweetest moment came when Mr. Moon sat right behind Owen on the floor (remember we were in Korea eating on the floor!) and gave him a huge hug. Owen smiled some more and it was captured in a photo. Owen was so happy. The Moons invited him to visit them when he is older and to stay at their house….another priceless moment for Owen. My husband and I were so happy for Owen to have this piece of his story. The rest of the day, I could tell Owen was more at ease and maybe even relieved to have that portion of the journey completed. He had more questions answered. 

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The next day was a fun event with the SWS. We had an all day picnic with Korean families who had adopted domestically. The day was wonderfully fun filled with team building games, mini-Olympics and wonderful food. It was so nice to see the children work together as a team and laugh through all of the challenges. It was also very funny to see the adults try to manoeuver through all the games.

The rest of our trip was filled with amazing tours like the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), palaces, temples, mountains, fish markets, delicious food and many many laughs. The children and adults got along amazingly well and we all commented on what a great group we had.

hlt_SKtestDMZ
hlt_SKtestkimchipots

On the night before we left, as Owen and I were walking down the street in Seoul holding hands, Owen turned to me and asked “can we come back in 10 years?”, and I said “yes, of course, but maybe you can come with your peers on the Adult Adoptee Homeland Tour.” And then he asked “can we come back in 20 years?” and I said “Yes, of course, maybe by then, you will want to bring your own family here.” Then he said “Will you come with us, too?” and I said, smiling, “Of course, I would love to”. 

That night, lying in bed, Owen was very sad – sad to be leaving Korea and sad to be leaving a wonderful group of people. The friendships we all built with this tour are very special and unique. We all shared something very intimate with each other—a common journey.

Now, after all is said and done, I see a huge sense of PEACE over Owen’s face. He understands where he came from, what his birth country looks like, what the air smells like, what his foster family looks and sounds like, what the nursery looks like where he laid as a baby.

His questions were answered, for now anyway, and what a wonderful journey we all had in getting those answers.

Thanks to Maria Fulford for organizing this trip of a lifetime.

Questions and Answers with Owen Marriner
about Korea Homeland tour 2012

Mom: How did you like your trip to Korea?

Owen: It was awesome!

Mom: What did you enjoy the most about your trip?

Owen: I loved everything. I liked all the cool stuff and I liked being there with my friends. I liked learning about the history of Korea. The DMZ was awesome.

Mom: What were you nervous about before you went to Korea?

Owen: I was nervous about meeting my foster mother. I was also worried about the language and how I would answer if people talked to me in Korean.

Mom: What was it like when you met your foster mother?

Owen: It was so cool. Mrs. Moon looked the same as the photos of her and I, when I was a baby. It was really cool that she talked about me as a baby. I also really liked meeting Mr. Moon. That was unexpected! It was really neat that they invited me to visit them when I’m older. I will probably do that.

Mom: How did you feel going back to SWS ?

Owen: I felt happy. It was weird to think that I was laying in those cribs when I was a baby. I saw a baby who had the same hair as me when I was a baby. He looked like me.

Mom: What didn’t you like about Korea?

Owen: I liked everything but sometimes it was overwhelming with all the people. Sometimes it was crowded.

Mom: Would you recommend other kids to go to Korea on a Homeland tour or just as a family?

Owen: I really liked being with my friends. It would have been nice as a family too but we were together as a family with other families so that was fun. Then when I am 20 years old, I can go with my friend, Luka!

Mom: If you could describe how you felt being in Korea, what would it be?

Owen: It just felt natural. I loved it!

Testimonial:

OUR FAMILY’S TRIP TO KESHA’S HOMELAND, KOREA
– By The McInnes Family

We picked up our “special delivery” package at Terminal 2, Toronto Airport on January 9th, 2002. She was a bundle of pure joy and round cheeks. Not able to make the trek to Korea at the time, we always planned to visit our adopted daughter’s homeland when she was old enough to remember, but young enough to want to travel with us. Fast-forward to this past summer and our journey of a lifetime.

At almost 11 years old, Kesha, was the perfect age for this trip. As luck would have it, our two older (biological) children (Griffin, 22 and Kerry, 20) were able to free their schedules to join us. After the initial disappointment of learning that the traditional homeland tour that other Children’s Bridge families had been on was now only for older adoptees, we were so thankful that CB was able to scramble and put together a similar trip. Our family chose to do the 8-day tour package and then to add on a visit to Japan. 

As the date of departure approached, the reality of long-distance travel, family and group dynamics and the pure emotion of what it meant to do a homeland tour began sinking in. Would all the kids on the trip get along? Would our two older children enjoy 24/7 with their parents and a bunch of strangers and younger children? How would Kesha feel about seeing her birth country, the SWS and her foster mother? 

Our travel from Ottawa through Vancouver and on to Seoul was thankfully uneventful. We arrived in Seoul mid-afternoon and were met by our über travel guide “Lara” and most of the other members of our group and escorted by bus to our hotel in the Itaewon district of Seoul. We managed to walk around the neighbourhood, grab a quick bite to eat and then to bed for a much-needed lengthy slumber before our scheduled activities were to begin.

The next 8 days flew by and gave me a different perspective on group tours. While I didn’t have low expectations, I was fully prepared to “go with the flow” and thought there would be a lot of compromise and time spent doing things we might not otherwise choose to do. Thanks to a meticulously planned schedule of activities, a wonderful group of fellow travelers, a great tour guide, and some luck thrown in, we all had so much fun and truly enjoyed every minute (even while having to perform “en famille” a traditional Korean dance in front of our energetic instructor). Our time spent at the Social Welfare Society (SWS) and with Kesha’s foster mother was definitely an emotion-packed highlight of the trip. To see the babies in the SWS nursery firsthand being so well-cared for and to have an opportunity to meet the woman who so obviously poured her heart and soul into looking after our daughter for the first 5 months of her life was an experience that will stay with us forever. Our visit to the Demilitarized Zone was eye-opening and unforgettable. Pouring rain did not dampen our enjoyment of the magnificent Seoraksan Mountain area. The culture of Korea came alive with our varied and stimulating sightseeing trips to the Bukchon Hanok Village, Insadong Alley, the North Seoul Tower Observatory, a Korean Folk Village, Changdeokgung Palace and more. And we were not mere spectators in all of this. We cooked, we danced and performed martial arts, some of us more skilled (no names) than others. We even managed to attend a fast-paced “Jump” theatre performance for a bit of comic relief after the serious stuff. 

To sum it up, the beauty of our trip to Korea was being totally immersed in this amazing culture for 8 days straight without worry of speaking the language, wondering about accommodation, transportation, money and logistics; having EVERYTHING taken care of and allowing each moment to envelop us, our everyday worries and responsibilities left behind. Our trusty bus driver navigated the city while the amazing Lara made the history and culture of this beautiful country come alive with personal stories and a breadth of knowledge that truly amazed us all. Here’s what the rest of the clan had to say:

“Amazing. Incredible. Eye-opening. I’m sure it will forever inform how my sister and I talk about where she came from. And the food… for weeks after we returned to Canada I craved rice and dumplings for breakfast!” 

“When I think back to our trip, there isn’t one moment that stands out. Instead, every moment — from meeting Kesha’s foster mother, to befriending 7 families on a tour bus — contributes to my fantastic memory of Korea.” 

“We were welcomed with open arms by our Korean hosts; every day the Koreans we met wanted us to fully enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of their culture and we immersed ourselves in it all because the trip was so worry-free. It was a front-row seat to an amazing experience. “

hlt_SKtestKesha

And the last words belong to Kesha:

“So many special memories from Korea that will last forever. Like learning how to eat with chopsticks, meeting my foster mom for the first time and hoping to stay in touch, and getting used to the food and time change because it’s so far away. To think that’s where I was born is just amazing! I will go back there again and maybe learn even more than what I already have learned.”

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