Updated: Sep 9, 2020
by Kaomi Goetz
When I moved to Korea in 2016, I didn’t know anything about starting a podcast. I was trained as a radio reporter, so I could edit audio and had the right gear. But setting up a makeshift home audio recording studio in a foreign country was a painful process. Luckily, I had friends who had experience creating podcasts. I also spent many hours in user support boards asking things like why my audio sounded like I was underwater.
Then I had to find adoptees living in Korea willing to basically share one of the most private parts of themselves: their adoption and how they felt about Korea and the birth families who gave them up. One adoptee even cautioned me that few adoptees living in Korea would be willing to divulge such personal details. I am glad he was wrong. But there is something coined 'adoptee fatigue' that does have a kernel of truth to it. At any given time, there are upwards of 500-700 returned adopted Koreans living in Korea. They are frequently peppered with requests for interviews, to speak for all adoptees in Korea, to make political comments about adoption as a policy, and so on. A reluctance to open up can also stem from childhood experiences where adoptive parents can often overshare, telling complete strangers at the supermarket or writing blog entries how we were abandoned in a shoe box at a train station, or how our Korean mothers were so poor and had tried to keep us. These painful details of our own origin stories and our first days, months and years with our biological families are doled out as if it were our favorite color or what sports we played.
I posted a note about my podcast in an adoptee online board. I asked if anyone would like to participate. A reply came through my inbox from someone named Alicia Soon. We talked on the phone and then I found myself climbing the steps to her hilltop abode in Noksapyeong. She talked to me about being separated from her birth family and being raised by Mennonites who abused her on a farm in Pennsylvania. I was shocked by the story. She seemed almost compelled to tell it. I think that's when I realized then the true gift of the podcast – it was a place for her to work through and release the pain from her story. And over time I’ve realized that my role would almost be like an empath. There’s a lot of emotional labor to carry and to hold.
Listen to Season 1, Episode 1 of the Adapted Podcast featuring Alicia Soon
The podcast I started is called Adapted Podcast, and it primarily centers the stories and voices of Korean transnational adoptees. It’s a platform where adoptees can lay out their story in a way that isn’t filtered by soundbites or overpowered by a narrative that isn’t their own. As a journalist, I bring that curiosity to the conversation and I’ve learned how to listen and to pace discussions. As a fellow adoptee, there is often instant understanding and sense of kinship with these stories.
I’m very interested in providing a platform for our lived experiences to breathe and be heard. So often during our lives, I think adoptees have run up against misperceptions and inaccuracies about who we are and what we feel as defined by other non-adopted people.
No two stories are like and I approach each interview as a conversation between two people. There are no pre-written questions and I think that is what is lovely about what unfolds --- the story flows naturally and is shaped by how someone is feeling that day, particular details that are most important to them. Sometimes these conversations unearth deep trauma. And I feel a lot of responsibility for holding this space for others, especially when the pain is so great. When you listen to Adapted, you might be struck that there is a lot more abuse in adoptive families than we think. It’s not a surprise to me because I was also abused. And I think adoptees who come on the podcast can sense that their pain is seen, and they are safe to talk about it.