Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We're back!!!

We've been absent for a year but we are making a new founded effort to blog again. What happened in the last year? We took in a 16 year old exchange student from Korea. If you have teenagers you understand the logistics of sharing a computer with one ... you get what you need to get done then surrender the PC to them for homework, facebook, surfing and tweeting. I'm going to try and post an article that was printed in the last newsletter issue for Chicago Area Families for Adoption. It summarizes our year and gives you insight about life with a teenager. Not that this gets us completely up to date but it's a great place to launch back in.

Do you have your summer planned out yet? Our summer is shaping up to be a bit crazy. I’m feeling the need for an event planner to sort out our vacation trips, swim lessons, sports and camps. Never mind how I’m going to fit in my grocery trips, work-outs and other errands!

Our absolute top priority of the summer is Culture Camp. This will be our third year of attending and something that the entire family looks forward to. We love a week of ethnic food from our son’s country, Korean arts and crafts, Korean drum and dance classes, language lessons and most importantly, getting reacquainted with friends we’ve made over past years. It truly is one of our favorite weeks of the year. Check out the CAFFA website for a listing of camps, both locally and nationally. It is a special way to celebrate your child’s ethnicity!

This issue’s advice question (see page x) asks about your child’s feelings towards ethnicity. Since our children were adopted transracially, this is an issue I often ponder over. Sure, we try expose them to their culture as much as we can but are we doing enough? Are we doing too much?

This year we opened our home to a 16 year old Korean foreign exchange student. Ah Ram landed in Chicago from Pusan, South Korea on August 8, 2009. I remember this exhausted, quiet girl meeting us in baggage claim. What did she think seeing this loud, sign-waving, overly enthusiastic American family with whom she’d be a member of for the next 10 months? It must of been ...well ... a bit scary, honestly! She certainly was a trooper during the first weeks before school started. Our boys, then ages 6 & 7, couldn’t get enough of her and I’m sure that she did not appreciate the early morning wake-up calls compliments of her new younger brothers. Early in her stay, we dragged her all over Chicago to shops, museums, landmarks and restaurants. I can’t imagine how overwhelmed and exhausted she must have been. No matter how many language classes a person may have taken, it is not automatic assimilation when you arrive in the actual country where the language is spoken. It took Ah Ram a solid four months to really become at ease with translating English. She compensated during the first months by answering questions with “Yes No”. She always followed up a few seconds later with an actual answer of “Yes” or “No”. She just needed time to translate and it must of been very uncomfortable to have us, with our American attitude of ‘we need it now’, looking directly at her, waiting for an answer. In Korea a child does not look directly at a parent or an adult’s eyes. Unfortunately, it was one of those “yes no” answers that landed her in a sailboat on choppy Lake Michigan waters as she struggled to find the words to tell us about her motion sickness. We finally got it when she was leaning over the side of the boat.

About the same time Ah Ram’s english improved, she went from being a guest to being our daughter. She reached ‘rock star’ sister status when she moved the boys to World Seven in the latest Mario Wii game. I remember realizing that she had become my daughter while shopping for her high school homecoming dress. Every dress I held up for her, every dress that I thought she would look smashing in, was met with a very distinct thumbs-down “No”. I’ve heard of this happening with other mothers and now I was experiencing this first hand! My taste was totally uncool! I had earned “uncool mom taste” status in her eyes ... and I was so very pleased to have it. Really, it meant that we were family.

Ah Ram opened our world to local Korean grocery stores. I learned new Korean dishes and how to cook them. Our silverware drawer now contains many chopstick sets, our refrigerator now has jars of Kimchi, and our cupboards contain rice, noodles, teas and kimchi soups. We learned about Ah Ram’s school life in Pusan. She goes to school 6 days a week starting at 9 am and arriving home after 10 pm at night. Since she takes two meals at school, her only family time, on school days, is at breakfast. Our 7 hour school days are like a dream for a Korean student. Korean students only get 1 day off for Christmas. Imagine the revolt we’d have on our hands if we told our spoiled children that they only get Christmas Day off!

Education is first priority in Korean culture. Your GPA and college determine your success. Ah Ram came here to perfect her english and learn our culture. She needs to be fluent in speaking, reading, listening and writing english to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. Korean medical schools are taught in English. During Ah Ram’s first month at her new US high school, the US History teacher assigned Ah Ram to present a powerpoint presentation on Chinese Immigration in the U.S. to the class. This was Ah Ram’s first ever presentation which was, by the way, to be given in a foreign country, in a foreign language, about a foreign history and presented to a class of foreigners! Talk about pressure! She received a grade of an A. We are proud of the hard work that Ah Ram has put in at school and with improving her english.

Since we have young children, Ah Ram also opened our world to life with a teenager. Korean teenagers, like U.S. teenagers, love their facebook, computer games, mp3 players, cell phones and texting. Like most U.S. parents, we learned very quickly that you need to know how to use these devices to keep up with your children. There is so much out there now that our kids are exposed to. The more you educate and monitor these things, the safer your children will be. Yes, we had a few ‘parent to teenager’ discussions with Ah Ram and yes, those discussions are tough to have, but we made a commitment to her father that we would treat her as if she were our own daughter. This commitment we took very seriously and these discussions were done out of love and concern for her. For all you parents reading this who currently have teenagers, Korean children are taught to hold upmost respect for parents and adults so there was no talking back or challenging our words. I did love this cultural difference and if I somehow find a way to instill this attribute in my occasionally sassy-mouthed seven year old then I’ll make sure I share it in a future newsletter.

Well, by the time this issue hits your mailbox, Ah Ram will be going home to her family, friends and life in Korea. I’m getting teary-eyed as I write this. I joked with Ah Ram about how I cried when I put her on a bus for a week-long journey to Florida with 120 exchange students and how it’s not going to be pretty on that early June morning at the airport. Our objective in hosting an exchange student was to expand our families knowledge about our sons’ birth country and culture. We also hoped to make a connection that would last for our visit to Korea in 5-7 years. What we didn’t realize was the joy that we’d get from seeing Ah Ram grow to into a confident, beautiful young woman over the last year. Now that was priceless!

Ah Ram and the boys on our first day at the airport.