Kate Zdon describes the challenges she faces from being internationally adopted from Korea, as well as being raised in a Caucasian family.
By Elise Nikolic
Two percent of the world’s population is made up adopted children, according to The AFCARS Report. PSEO student from Blaine high school, Kate Zdon, is among that two percent. Zdon was internationally adopted when she was six months old from Pyeongtaek, South Korea.
Unlike many parents in the adoption program, Zdon’s parents wanted to visit South Korea and discover the culture, rather than meeting her at the airport for the first time.
“Part of it was they wanted to experience the culture, so they’d have an idea of what to tell me when I grow up. I have friends where their parents went to the airport to get them,” said Zdon.
Zdon still participates in a Korean culture, despite her parents being Caucasian. She danced at a Korean dance studio in Brooklyn Center up until two years ago called Mu Gung Hwa Korean Dance Academy. She still stays in contact with all her dance partners. Three of the six dancers in the group were adopted from South Korea.
Along with Korean dancing, Zdon also participates in Korean camps, where a lot of campers are also adoptees like her.
“During the summer there is a Korean Teen Camp that I attended from ninth grade to eleventh grade. I also do a camp in August that is a Korean Culture Camp that goes from Nursery to sixth grade, after sixth grade you become a teen helper. Most of the Korean campers are adoptees as well,” said Zdon.
Her parents were supportive and encouraged Zdon to embrace the Korean culture throughout her life.
“My parents put me into dance at a very young age. Also, when I was younger I joined a Kim school on the weekends that taught us language, self-esteem, Korean dance and Tao Kwon Dao. Quite a few adoptees were involved in that program,” said Zdon.
Zdon has many friends that hold resentment towards their birth parents, however, she does not feel this way.
“Many adoptees don’t understand why they were given up and I never really felt that,” said Zdon.
Although she does not resent her parents, she does feel a sense of jealousy towards her brother. She has an older brother that was adopted domestically from a local Caucasian family, whom he maintains a close relationship with. She states that he looks like he is her parent’s child.
“He knows his birth mom and his half-sister and brother. Growing up that was hard for me to have a brother that knew his adopted family and his birth family versus me who didn’t get that same experience,” said Zdon.
Her brother’s positive relationship with his birth family is just one of the obstacles Zdon faces.
“In terms of racism I have this different racial identity development because since I was adopted and I was raised by white parents, I have this identity conflict. I feel white but I appear as if I am Asian American. That I struggled with and still kind of struggle with this whole identity concept,” said Zdon.
Zdon describes a time she experienced racism in school. She has had other students tease her for her intelligence and say that it is because of her race. Many of the bullies would assume her parents were of Asian descent. She battles how to deal with racism through bullying.
“During math class I answered a math question and they were like ‘Oh, Asian’s get the equations’ when actually my dad helped me and then they just assumed I had an Asian father. I then replied that my dad is white. They felt that that doesn’t make me 100 percent Asian,” said Zdon. Zdon encounters many people that don’t understand that she is adopted. They assume that she has Asian parents because she is 100 percent Asian.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only experience she had with racism. Her family would receive looks from people at public events because the rest of her family is Caucasian.
“When my family would go out to dinner my parents noticed that I would get looks because I was an Asian child in a completely white family. And what they didn’t understand was that my brother and me were both adopted,” said Zdon.
These challenges have taught Zdon how important diversity is in her everyday life, and this was an important factor when picking a college. She will be attending Winona State University next fall, and said she felt that the diversity of the school felt more like home.
“(At college visits) I would take a nonchalant look around and look and see what the diversity is like. I still do it now because I think whatever school I go to now for college, diversity really matters to me, promoting cultural awareness,” said Zdon.
According to Zdon, the international adoption program has changed within the last two to three years, and is more like the American adoption program. Today, in Korea, children are put into foster care for at least two years. Zdon believes the adoption program is beneficial overall.
“There are so many people in this world that can’t have children. There is this concept called the White Savior where parents will adopt a child and feel they are saving this child from a poor environment,” said Zdon.
Adoptive parents may be able to give children a better life but lack of family history can potentially affect their health. She does face a medical challenge at the doctor’s office when they ask about her family’s history.
“I have no medical information of my family history. I have this sheet of paper with not more than a paragraph of limited facts on my birth parents but you don’t know if it is true,” adds Zdon.
The small paragraph states the height, weight and physical features of her parents. It also shows the ages of her parents being around 16 and 17 years old. She feels like it might have been frowned upon in that culture for an unmarried couple to have a child, especially at the age.
There are a few similarities that Zdon found between her mother and herself. In the paragraph it is stated that her mom is an introvert, and Zdon considers herself an introvert. It also states that her birth mom enjoyed painting, and Zdon also enjoys that.
Overall, Zdon holds no shame towards her birth mom for her decision.
“In her emotional and financial state she could not take care of a baby,” said Zdon.
Although she does not suffer from any mental disorders, she knows of many adoptees that do suffer from mental illnesses such as Depression. Adoptees do only make up two percent of the total population, but of that percentage, “25-35 percent of people suffer from Depression,” according to Adoption Voices Magazine.
“If you are having some issues, find an adult that you trust and tell them. I know some people that have a therapist.” Zdon believes there is an importance to having friends that are also adopted and believes it helps mental disorders.
“I think it is good to have some adopted connections to bounce off of,” concludes Zdon.