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.
The podcast was started for Korean adoptees and at its core it will remain so. By surprise, I also started hearing from adoptive parents, mostly ones with school-age children who are trying to educate themselves on what lies ahead. But while there have been parents who I’m sure had fascinating stories, ultimately this is not a triad podcast. There are other podcasts out there that speak to agencies, social workers, parents, adoptees and even birth or biological mothers.
The Adapted Podcast is a space that prioritizes the adoptee voice and I’m committed to that.
I do sometimes wonder if the podcast has made a difference for adoptive parents or adoptee allies to better understand us; I am very gratified from the frequent messages I receive that these stories have helped many to start to explore their own identities more fully or lend validation and comfort for our similarities. And to be totally honest, this podcast has also been for me – it’s helped me process my own feelings about adoption, family, struggles and life arc. At times when I’ve been low, these stories have saved me too.
Listen to Season 4, Episode 1 of the Adapted Podcast featuring Shaun Seo
The Adapted Podcast was supposed to be a 10-month project and I just kicked off the fourth season! There are more than 60 interviews and I intend for these stories to continue to be available. I kind of thought I’d keep it going until it wasn’t meaningful anymore. But with each season, each new listener, the messages and letters that keep coming in tell me how special the podcast has been, and what it’s meant in people’s journeys. It’s really hard to imagine pulling the plug. In the last year, I decided to open up for support through Patreon, as a way to financially sustain the work.
At first, I was kind of afraid. What if no one supported it? What if people really didn’t care that it continued or not? But thankfully, the support was there. And the podcast is bigger than just me.
This month, I’m launching a kickstarter campaign to raise money to translate the current season into Korean. It’s a way for the podcast to reach new audiences. Too often, I think Korean people don’t have an accurate sense of who we are and what our experiences have been. Depictions in Korean media often portray us as pitiful orphans with troubled pasts, if they hear about us at all. It is common for Koreans to change the subject if you identify yourself as an adoptee. Hopefully, by getting one season translated into Korean, and by narrating our own stories, Koreans will begin to better understand us.
To find out more about the Adapted Podcast, visit adaptedpodcast.com or find us wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you are interested in being interviewed for Season Five of the podcast, please email Kaomi Goetz in late spring in 2021, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
KAOMI GOETZ is a Korean adoptee and an on-air TV journalist with Twin Cities PBS. In 2018, she was selected as a Policy Fellow for the 2018-19 academic year at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. In 2016-7 she was a Fulbright senior scholar on a journalism grant where she began Adapted Podcast in Seoul, South Korea. The podcast is now in its fourth season and has been downloaded nearly 70,000 times. She is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and Saint Olaf College. In her free time, she studies Korean and Japanese.