Writing for the art exhibit at the National Assembly

“Booja dwayseyo!” means “Get rich!” And yes, that is a real Korean greeting.  Is there nothing more precious than money?

This is Jane Jeong Trenka writing on this blog, and I work in Seoul at Yonhap News Agency as a copyeditor. That means I fix grammar on news article for eight hours a day, 6-7 days a week. Well, I’ve been fixing grammar on news stories like this for over three years, most recently about the hosting of the G-20 in November in Seoul:

The Seoul summit will not only provide a chance for world leaders to prepare for the post-crisis era, but also give an opportunity for South Korea to enhance its national status and image in the international community.

An enhanced image and national credibility will help dispel the so-called “Korea discount” which has caused its stocks and assets to be underestimated due to geopolitical risks. Experts hope that it could be replaced with the “Korea premium” that could result in more investments down the road and enhance the brand power of its products in overseas markets.


South Korea’s hosting of the G20 summit next year will be a boon to its image as well as its economy, equivalent in prestige to the Seoul Olympics in 1988, a scholar said Friday.

“While this effect will be as profound as it was at the time of the 1988 Olympics, it is an opportunity for Korea to demonstrate its strengths to the rest of the world, and that can only have a positive impact on Korea’s economy in the long run,” said Marcus Noland, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

I gotta say I am sick to death of reading stories like that several times a day that are all about South Korean government chest-thumping, congratulating itself  for being rich, and trying to build its “national brand” image to the outside world — while simultaneously they are still in the world’s top 3-4 countries that send children for international adoption. I want my rich daddy to take responsibility for what is going on inside his own home!

Out of this disgust came a lot of writing.

Here is my writing for our art exhibit that Rep. Choi Young-hee’s office will edit and shape so it’s perfect. This writing is to pass out to South Korean lawmakers and their staff to support the adoption law revision bill proposed by the coalition made of ASK-KoRoot-Miss Mamma Mia-TRACK, whose text was written by the Gonggam Public Interest Lawyers.

South Korea’s “National Brand”

To the Western families of  internationally adopted children, South Korea is not known for Samsung TVs, Hyundai cars, or LG phones. It is known, rather, for the Korean adoptees who share homes with foreign families. South Korea is known either as an emasculated country incapable of taking care of its children, or a brutish country unwilling to take care of its own children. It is not known as an economically advanced country, but rather an impoverished country dependent upon the charity of more advanced nations. It is not known as a multi-cultural, global society, but rather a prejudiced and backward society that exiles children for the crimes of being born mixed-race, handicapped, poor, or to unwed mothers. For almost 60 years, this has been the perception of South Korea wherever international adoptees have lived in adoptive homes, attended schools and universities, attended church, or otherwise engaged in public life.

This image has stuck to Korea for many decades, and rightfully so. However, South Korea has a chance to decisively and permanently end the stigma of being an “orphan exporting country” in 2010. As South Korea hosts the G-20 this fall, the country has a chance to take on a new role on the global stage and raise not just its economic clout on the global stage, but also its moral clout. Taking full responsibility for the lives of all its citizens is one such way to do that at this historic juncture.

The Human Cost of Economic Development: 1 in 48

South Korea’s adoption program is the world’s largest, with an official 162,683 children having been sent away from international adoption from 1958-2009. However, because many adoptions were privately done or were not recorded by the government, it is estimated that up to 200,000 Korean citizens may have been sent abroad for adoption. The world’s longest continuously running adoption program sent away a total of 1,125 Korean child citizens to the U.S., Denmark, Norway, Sweden, France, Australia, Luxembourg, Canada, and Italy in 2009. An average of 89% of them came from unwed mothers.

If every overseas adoptee has two parents and four grandparents, that means that about 1 million or 1 in 48 Koreans have been separated from a child or grandchild through overseas adoption. These broken families have dearly paid the human cost of Korea’s economic development.

1 Child +1 Mother = 1 Family

Korea has not had war orphans for a very long time. All the children going for adoption today already belong to a family, even if that family only consists of a mother and a child.

In advanced European countries, there are almost no adoptions at all because mothers are supported by the government and encouraged to keep their children. Discrimination against mothers simply on the basis of marital status is unthinkable.

Although adoption can be a loving action, we must remember that every adoption first begins with the separation of a mother and her precious baby. And although domestic adoption is preferable to international adoption, the child is still separated from her mother. International institutions agree that the best solution is to keep children with their mothers in the first place.

Leaders all over the world, of all religions, have said that the measure of a society is how it treats its weakest members. Keeping children with their mothers is the best and most dignified solution for a modern country like ours.  Let’s work together to reform the special adoption law to reflect our highest hopes and aspirations.


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  1. Pingback: We need YOU to make art history inside S. Korea’s parliament | TRACK

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