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Research is Me-search (by Joy Hoffman)



I was asked to summarize my research on the ethnic identity development of Korean transracial adoptees, which was recently published in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice (JSARP). It was a grounded theory study that resulted in a developmental model. My blog entry started off as what I would describe as sterile, academic, and in many ways, redundant. Not that academic writing is a bad thing, but when I think of my research, it is more than scholarly writing. It is a personal journey that I took with 12 other adoptees and continue to take with thousands of others. In the spirit of storytelling and personal connection, I decided not to summarize my research article for this blog entry. The article is already a condensed version (or summary) of my dissertation, which might be why I felt it was redundant. I have seen, read, analyzed, edited, and revised my writing several times over the last 3 years. Maybe I’m just sick of reading it. I also know that if you are reading this blog, you are fully capable of reading the article. I do encourage you to do so – transracial Korean adoptees are somewhat invisible in the API community, and within the APIKC. Assumptions about culture, family background, and life experiences often make it difficult for adoptees to connect with other Asians. You’ll see why when you read the article.


I am instead going to share my journey with you so you understand why this study is so important to me and other adoptees. While my research could have focused on Asian adoptees or transracial adoptees in general, I focused on Korean transracial adoptees (KTRA). Justification for focusing on KTRA is explained in my article on a more scholarly level, but on a personal note, this research was absolutely Me-search. For those of you who do not know me, I am a KTRA. I identified my dissertation topic long before I applied for my doctoral program, and the APIKC played a pivotal role in my decision process.


As context, I attended my first APIKC social at the Western Regional Conference in Coronado, CA in 2003. I just remember a certain Greg Toya inviting me to dinner at Marie Callenders, which was a scheduled Region VI APIKC event. I remember thinking, “They’re going to figure me out and realize I know nothing about Asian or Korean culture. I have nothing to contribute to this group.” Greg welcomed me to the KC and introduced me to some people. We talked about non-inhibiting things such as work, family, hobbies, etc.  – things I could relate to. I felt welcomed, connected, and safe to be me.


Flash forward to the NASPA National conference (I think 2005) and I found myself at a brainstorm session led by Christine Quemuel and Julie Wong, to gather ideas about future program submissions. I noticed a man standing next to a wall Post-it that read: “Asian Adoptee Identity” and just about fell over. I soon discovered that Shane Carlin (man by Post-it) was a KTRA. We agreed that none of the current ethnic identity development models/theories resonated with our life experiences. We decided to tell the world that our stories matter (okay, maybe just the student affairs world, but you get the picture). Shane and I started presenting on Asian Adoptee Identity at the national conferences. Although we received positive feedback each time, everything was anecdotal – we didn’t have any data to back us up, only our life stories and the perspectives of other adopted colleagues. After two presentations at national conferences, I decided the next one needed to be grounded in research. Hence, my dissertation topic, now a published research article:


After my article was published, I shared the news on a KTRA Facebook (FB) group. I joined this particular FB group at the beginning of my study in an effort to identify potential interview candidates. What I have now is a family of individuals who share my story, know my pain, understand my triumphs, and celebrate together. Through FB, I have connected with KTRAs all over the country/world. We have gatherings – in the U.S. and in Korea. We have socials. We share makeup tips, adoptive family stories, recipes, political views, birth family search information, experiences related to identity, and so much more. I actually attended a KTRA social on the east coast when I was in Baltimore for a NASPA meeting because of my FB connections. I will attend another social in Koreatown (Los Angeles) this month. Our community is larger than I could have ever imagined – I am connected because of this study and my personal journey related to identity and finding my place in this world. KTRAs who have read my study are bombarding me with emails and notes of appreciation. When I shared my findings with the KTRAs in my study I received thank-you messages from them as well – for conducting this research and making their stories matter. This whole Me-search process made me realize that what I thought was just my story is now our story.

Many of us have similar experiences – we meet others who share our story and as a result, we do not feel so alone. APIKC is such a group, and although there are only a handful of KTRAs within our KC, we still share many experiences related to racial and ethnic identity. As a member of the APIKC and someone who proudly identifies with being Asian, Korean, an adoptee, and a scholar/practitioner, I encourage you to read and then share my research. For one, it gives voice to a subpopulation of students on our campuses who need to have a seat at the table. It speaks to the experiences of individuals often left out of the conversation, simply because they do not represent a critical mass. What can we do as practitioners to include KTRAs or transracial adoptees (TRA) in general when discussing identity and inclusion or planning programs and educational events? Second, if and when you do meet KTRAs or TRAs, please share the research and model with them so they know their stories matter and they are not alone. Like any model, it is not perfect, nor should it be used to define someone or dictate their developmental process. But I believe it can inform our work and practice as we seek to understand adoptee identity and all its complexities. As we all know, identity development is part of the human experience. I hope my study motivates you to ask more (or reframe) your questions, dig deeper, and continue learning. If you are willing to do this, you become part of our journey. Please walk with me. Walk with us.

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