By: Dr. Devon Smith
Few things in my life have humbled me or honored me as much as being invited to join one of my oldest friends on her first trip back to her native land, South Korea. Adopted by a lovely American family, she moved to the United States as an infant, and until this trip she had never been back.
We met during our first semester of college and have been close friends ever since. Throughout the years, I watched her struggle with her adoption and as a result, her identity. As such, I knew how pivotal and groundbreaking her first trip home in 30 years would be to her life. Being invited to join her on what was bound to be an emotional journey was simply an honor.
We started our trip in Seoul, South Korea, where she spent a few months in a foster home until she was brought to America. Seoul was an incredible city, with water views and mountains surrounding the city. It also has the most marvelous subway system — something New York City could learn a thing or two from! In Seoul, we visited traditional Korean marketplaces where live octopus is a delicacy and blood sausage is a must try! We also spent a morning hiking around the old city, which dates back to 1396 AD.
After spending the first few days exploring, I accompanied her to the adoption agency. Here she saw, unexpectedly and for the first time, a photo of the woman who fostered her until her move to America. To say that the moment was powerful is an understatement and to have been there to support her is one memory that I will forever hold near to my heart.
The next hurdle of the journey was a visit to the city where she was born and ultimately relinquished by her birth mother and father. Daejeon is the 5th largest city in Korea and takes about an hour to reach from Seoul via The KTX (bullet train), another public transport system that makes the Acela look like a steam engine! I don’t think either of us knew what to expect in Daejeon, but we were both blown away and pleasantly surprised. Much smaller than Seoul, Daejeon is a beautiful city with river running through it. On the banks of the river, families stroll and men gather to watch friends play an Asian board game. Perhaps the best part about Daejeon is its famous bakery Sungsimdang from which we indulged after spending a few hours exploring her hometown. We left Daejeon with full bellies and with my friend clearly having a level of acceptance and connection to her home than ever before.
We started our trip off with the “hardest” (her words not mine) part first so that some of the emotional burden of returning home might be relieved for the rest of the trip. And so, today, after spending four days in Seoul, we are heading to Busan, a beachfront city in South Korea!