Niki L.


Niki L.







Own Words

I used to be shy. My mother laughs every time she shares stories of my 3-year-old self clasping the bottom of her jeans and hiding behind her legs. In the presence of strangers I closed up like an air-tight sealed jar of jelly. Eventually that jar popped. Today I am more open, but nonetheless still reserved in some ways. If it weren’t for a friend’s suggestion and gentle prodding, I would not be writing this today.
I was born to a mother and father living on the streets of Daejeon, South Korea. Hours after my birth, my family reluctantly gave up their first daughter, the child they so dearly awaited. Their situation did not lend itself to bills or raising a child to its full potential. As a result, I was adopted into a white middle class American family that lived in a small town in the central valley of California. This marked the beginning of more than two decades of no connection to the Korean community. I grew up in a white, Latino, and Portuguese community as one of eight children before moving to Maine for part of high school where the entire community was predominantly white or French Canadian. What a culture shock in itself for my family. We make up different colors, races, and histories. My life growing up was interesting to say the least.

Not until entering college in Oregon did I make my first international Korean friends. They taught me Korean manners, cooking skills and spoon fed me survival Korean. One phrase translates “I’m a lonely person” aka I’m single and need a friend. I have yet to pull this line. These friends challenged me to learn everything about my heritage and culture. With their encouragement, I made my first trip to Korea in 2008. I spent three short weeks in Korea dividing my time between travel with an adoptee organization making new friends and meeting Korean college friends. I was shocked at how different the culture, like night and day, was compared to American culture. Despite the terrible weather and the culture shock, I immediately fell in love with Korea and knew I would return.

Exactly one year after my first trip, I boarded another plane to Korea-this time to teach English to elementary students in the countryside. While in Korea, I shared the Korean culture learning experience with fellow teachers from other English speaking countries. I reconnected with many good Korean friends from college and was introduced to many new friends. I reunited with my Korean family (they are no longer homeless) and immersed myself in the culture through celebrating holidays such as Chuseok and New Year. I proceeded to learn more about North Korean refugees and refugee related issues. My world view expanded and I began to develop my identity as a Korean adoptee. My experience taught me to give and take as I developed more respect for both Korean and American culture.

After some time in Korea, I came back to the small town in California where my family lives. I began reflecting on my experiences in Korea and started some volunteer blogging for the Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS). I landed a few guest posts on the Korea blog ( I recently moved to San Diego for a year of AmeriCorps service with an international NGO in hopes of furthering my passion to serve refugee/immigrant populations and finding a Korean community. The Korean community is fairly new to me, but something I want to be a part of as I continue to develop cultural knowledge and maybe even blog a little more. Balancing two cultures and loving two families is very rewarding challenge!

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