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How #KAAN2016 Meets the Needs of … Adoptive Parents of Teen & Young Adult Adoptees

This post is one in a series highlighting the ways our #KAAN2016 Conference, scheduled for June 24-26 in Pittsburgh, PA,  provides a wonderful place for education, dialogue, and support for various members of the adoption community.


TODAY’S WRITER: Jen Hilzinger

I’m Jen Hilzinger. My husband and I have three children: Emily (age 20), Ethan (age 18), and Elliot (age 9). We adopted Emily and Ethan from China and Korea respectively. Elliot was born to us.

KAAN 2016 will be our 13th KAAN. I found KAAN in 2003 when our two oldest (now almost-grown adults) were young and I was in search of a community that I hoped existed. The first KAAN we attended, we left the kids with Grandma and went as a couple. That weekend, we barely said anything except to one other all weekend, we just absorbed.

Since then, I have seen folks new to KAAN with the same looks on their faces and it brings me right back to that first feeling of “WOW, it really exists. There is a place where EVERYONE is attached in some way to Korean adoption.” Rarified space.

As we are all growing up as a family, I have begun to realize that my childrens’ desire to have these spaces for their own are entirely theirs. As a parent, it is not my intent to tell them what to be interested in or with whom to find community.

But it is my job to sort these things out for myself, in order to be a “soft place to fall” for my kids if and whenever they need me.

The learning we have gained through KAAN has allowed us to set healthy boundaries for our family around who owns what information in regards to adoption. We have not looked back and are exceptionally grateful.



KAAN is a place for lots of different folks who are somehow connected to adoption. Most often these folks are connected to adoption from Korea, but not all. Whether adoptees themselves, ranging in age from babies to mature adults, or adoptive parents or siblings or spouses of adoptees, we all share in the desire to connect and create safe spaces for growth.

“It’s not what you walked in here knowing, it’s what you are leaving with that is important.”

It also happens to be a great place for busy parents to set aside time just to learn, reflect, discuss, and better plan the raising of their transracially adopted kids. I’ve heard transracial parenting described as “parenting plus.” That certainly resonates with me. We needed, and still do, time to do all of these things thoughtfully. We do not have other family members who either are or have adopted; we needed to create that network. In KAAN, we have worked at creating that network and have enjoyed it greatly, not just to inform our parenting, but in the friendships created.


MY SHORT LIST OF RECOMMENDED SESSIONS Click here for full schedule and details. There are over thirty sessions and support forums, with general sessions open to all adults and adult-adoptee-only sessions in every block. We also offer youth and childcare programming for younger adoptees as well as siblings and children of adoptees.

I recommend specifically these sessions for parents with growing children to engage with these issues in deeper ways. These happen to be just a few of the sessions that I am particularly interested in attending this year and where you will likely find me:

  1. Adoptees in College: Transformation and Inclusivity – (All Attendees) Aeriel A. Ashlee

  2. Of course, the Newcomer Orientation (happening at the same time on Friday) will certainly allow folks new to KAAN to get a shortcut to the vibe of the weekend, as well as learn about ALL of the many resources for the weekend as KAAN is a different kind of conference.

  3. I’m also curious about Artfully Creating Personal Histories in Adoption – (All Attendees) led by Maureen McCauley Evans. As I mentioned above, KAAN is a different kind of conference. Every year the conference sessions offer new ideas and insights to this journey we are all on to growth. This session—with its hands-on approach to creating a piece that might “…normalize[ing] a difficult past, and honoring (maybe even celebrating) a complex history, by using art”—is quite interesting.

  4. ADOPTEE SHOWCASE: Author Matthew Salesses/ Reading and Discussion of The Hundred-Year Flood; Director/Animator Alex Myung Wager/ Private Screening and Discussion of Arrival(Adults and Teens). Friday evening’s Showcase is a must see. The caliber of talent in the room is breathtaking. These two gentlemen are the best of the best. Their work simply must be seen by everyone, but certainly everyone touched by adoption. You will NOT be disappointed.

Saturday is busy. Not a bad idea to spend some time with the conference brochure BEFORE you come and plan your day. I’ve just highlighted a few of the sessions that likely I will be checking out, of course there are many, many more. Look for yourself and make sure to read the intended audience (Adoptee Only) (All Attendees), etc. If there are two of you, you may wish to attend the same session or split and promise to share your learning later. It’s the only down-side to KAAN, it’s only a weekend. You will get enough information to chew on for the entire year.

From the youth/childcare programming, to the multimedia presentations, to the time and space for deep reflections, it’s all here. Make time to process and learn. And then later reach out and connect with us. That is what it is all about.


I’ll be looking for you at #KAAN2016!


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