“We The Lees”

Lee was born in Busan, South Korea.

At four months old, an American family adopted him.

He spent majority of his life in Harrisburg, PA.

After graduating from college in 2007, he started his career working for the government.

At first, he had no interest in learning about the country he was born in or the Korean culture. His family attempted throughout his life to expose him to Korean culture.

However, everything changed when he attended a conference in 2010.

In 2010, Lee attended a Korean adoptees conference in Harrisburg, PA. It opened his eyes to adoption and a desire to learn more about his history.

In 2011, he returned to Korea for the first time since being adopted. Getting a chance to tour Busan, his birth city, along with the entire country was something that he will never forget. For the first time in a long time, he was able to fit in as he walked the streets. 

When he returned home, he developed an interest to learn as much as he could about Korea and desire to expose himself to as much Korean culture as possible.

He joined local adoptee groups and even served on the board of a local Korean organization. This newfound interest in Korean culture eventually led to meeting his wife, also a Korean adoptee, at a conference in New York.

Lee's adoption story is not a unique one. So many Korean adoptee stories fall along the same lines. 

He has never met his birth family or even initiated a search. He feels extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to watch how his wife, Whitney, interacts with her birth family. Seeing this firsthand gives him a desire to search for his own birth family.

He struggles with the fact that doing a search could lead to rejection, and never having what Whitney and her birth family have.

For Lee, just having the opportunity to control if and when he wants to search is enough in comparison to searching and being rejected if his birth family does not want to meet him. 

Whitney was adopted at six months old.

Whitney's adoptive parents have always encouraged her to learn about Korean food, culture, etc. They would often ask if she had any desire to go back to Korea to visit or try to find her birth family.

However, her answer was always, “No.”

After graduating from college in 2009, the US job market was horrendous and Whitney was unable to find any sort of decent employment.

On a whim, she replied to an advertisement and applied to be an English teacher. It just so happened that the position was in Korea, of all places. She flew to the motherland about six months later to start work.

While she was living and working in 천안 Cheonan, South Korea, Whitney’s parents in Ohio started harping on the adoption thing again, “You’re just a couple of hours from 서울 Seoul. Why not go up to the agency and just look at your file?”

By that time, she was sick of hearing about it, so she contacted Holt in order to locate her parents.

In 2010, Whitney’s parents decided to fly to Korea for a visit. She was determined that it would be a good time to get her Holt visit over with.

She scheduled an appointment with the case worker in Seoul.

Whitney and her parents visited Holt Korea PAS together. She learned about her birth family’s history including how mom and dad met, how she had an older brother, how she came to be given up for adoption, etc.

However, it was the last page that had the most shocking information.

Many adoptees’ family records have little to no family information. Whitney’s was basically a genealogy. Full names & government ID numbers for parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

Her social worker at the agency explained that this was a rare case and how it would make a search relatively easy. The word “search” had never come into her consciousness before that instance. She paw-wowed with her parents, who agreed that a search just seemed like the right thing given all of the information that had been handed to them. The door seemed too wide open. Before leaving the office that day, Whitney gave consent to initiate search for her birth family.

One week after that initial search, Whitney sent a recent picture to Ms. Lee at Holt, along with a letter to give to her birth family. The caseworker responded that evening to say that she had translated it and would begin the actual search soon. She said normally it would take about two-three weeks for her to locate the family.

Whitney’s jaw dropped when she considered that she could potentially be meeting them in only one month. Little did she know…

About 48 hours later, on September 30th, Whitney went to her office at work to check messages after lunch. She was surprised when she checked her phone and saw six missed calls and a few text messages from the same unknown number. She called the number and found it was from Holt.

Ms. Lee asked, “Do you have a minute to talk?,” followed immediately by, “I found them.” Whitney stopped breathing. Ms. Lee explained that she had spoken to both Whitney’s birth father and birth mother that morning. They were, not surprisingly, shocked out of their minds. Ms. Lee also told Whitney that she had a 2nd brother…a younger one. She said both brothers were attending a university – the older in Korea, the younger in China. Neither brother had a clue about Whitney’s existence. Her birth mother said that she wanted to meet immediately, but she needed time to explain it to the boys. Ms. Lee asked, “So when can you come?”

After an afternoon of back-and-forth including multiple phone calls, it was decided. We would meet on October 1st…the very next day!

Whitney met 엄마 Omma, 아빠 Appa, and 성배오빠 Seong-bae oppa for the first time in 23 years on Friday, October 1st, 2010.

A lot has happened since that first weekend, which is how our blog, We the Lees, became a reality.

Whitney returned to U.S., met another Holt KAD, and they got married. They keep in regular contact with her birth family and go to visit them in Korea about once every two years. It has been quite the ride.

We hope other KADs will find our journey encouraging and feel a kinship. Most importantly, we want to remind other adoptees that they are never alone in the complex struggles that we each face. If you would like to learn more or connect with us, please visit our website.