In about 15 hours I’ll board a plane in Grand Rapids, Mich.—the start of a long journey to Seoul, South Korea. I haven’t really had time to process the path in front of me. I can’t imagine what it will be like to be surrounded by millions of people who look like me. . . .
Standing outside Holt Adoption Agency will seem like a dream, but I’m not sure I’m prepared for waking up to the reality it places in front of me. I’ve spent my whole life surrounded by my real family, and with their love and support I hope to find out my background. It would be amazing to look into someone’s face and know why I look like I do. It would be amazing to look into health records and know which parent is responsible for all my allergies! . . .
We arrived in Seoul late last night. I’ve never felt so out of place in my life. I guess my friends weren’t quite right about me looking American because right away people spoke Korean to me. I politely shook my head and smiled, and they got the picture pretty quickly. . . .
All the girls were saying that “Katie” is a hard name to say, so they introduce me as Tae Hee, the name my birth mother originally gave me. . . .
It’s so strange to not be a minority. I never really notice it in Michigan, but here I realize my identity as a Korean. I’m starting to feel less like a tourist and am beginning to enjoy the culture—though I miss not being completely surrounded by people. . . .
We went to Holt this afternoon. It was surreal. There were tons of pictures on the wall of all the children who were adopted into families, both domestic and international. The woman who took the papers I had said that according to the number I was assigned, she was responsible for my case 21 years ago!
She asked my friend and me to wait in an office marked “counseling room”—never a good sign. There were pictures up and information about Holt and boxes of Kleenex and such. I’m guessing people don’t always get the best news. After what seemed like an eternity, the woman walked in with a file labeled “Jong Tae Hee.” I felt nervous. . . .
When she opened the file, the first thing I saw was my baby picture and a picture of my family back home. Everything else in the file I already had with me. There were no full names and no health records. There was a physical description of both my birthparents, which was interesting. My birthfather was about 5'11,' and my birthmother was exactly my height. My birthmother’s family name is Lee, and my birthfather’s, of course, is Jong. The case worker said it’s likely that my birthfather to this day does not know about me. . . .
I felt like a door opened but also closed. At this point, I’m not curious anymore. My roots and my background are here, but this isn’t “home.” Seeing my family on the front of my adoption file seemed a reassuring and affirmative statement from God that I am where I am for a reason. God wanted me with Fred, Kathy, Emily, and David. If anything, today has made me all the more grateful for them. I find myself ready to come home but also so thankful for the experiences here. . . .
I’m truly blessed. If it took going all the way to Korea to see that, then it was well worth it. I feel like I’m sitting in the center of God’s will, and I know God is watching me and orchestrating this whole trip in a beautiful way.
About the Author
Katie Ritsema-Roelofs grew up in Denver, Colo., and graduated from Calvin College in 2006 with a degree in music and worship. Ordained last year as a ministry associate, she currently serves as Minister of Music and Worship for Washington, D.C., CRC. She’s also working on a master’s in religion and theological studies from Reformed Theological Seminary. She and her husband, Brian, are expecting their first child in October.