My pastor and good friend (who also happens to be an adoptive sibling) recently gave a sermon where she referred to ecotones. It was a new term for me. Ecotones are those in-between places where distinctly different parts of the environment encounter one another. Think of forest meeting meadow or ocean greeting shore. Think of the reed bank where a river and estuary connect. The term itself is a fusion of two ideas: eco referring to ecology and tone to the Greek tonos or tension. Ecotones are places of vibrant interaction, conflict, change, and beginnings.
As I sat in the pew, I could not help but be grabbed by this idea as a metaphor for KAAN. I frequently hear people say, “You cannot describe KAAN. You just have to experience it!” Nonetheless, it is necessary to be able to explain our mission and programs to potential attendees, donors, and volunteers. It is also important to state and claim our role within the array of different organizations that exist for adoptees and their families today.
KAAN is a meeting place—an ecotone—for adoptees, family members (be it through birth, adoption, or marriage), and others who are involved personally or professionally with adoption. Our ecotone reverberates way beyond the three days we assemble each year through KAAN’s social media offerings and the many personal connections made at each conference.
Our conferences are intense, not-always-comfortable places to be. Viewpoints collide. Assumptions are challenged. Eyes are opened to new ways of thinking.
They are also sustaining highlights of many people’s calendars. Ideas are sparked. Friendships are formed. New directions are forged.
Ecotones are places where many different things are happening. They are not places of singular focus or specialty. This is also true of KAAN … for reasons beyond the restrictions of our nonprofit status, we do not lead political movements or endorse particular positions. To do so would be to leave the ecotone and our role as a meeting place. Instead, we offer a space for different voices to share their wisdom and experiences, for people to gather who want to listen and, perhaps, to change as a result of what they have heard.
It can be a challenge to hold to this idea, this chosen tension. It means that every time we gather, some may be offended or frustrated. It means we need to constantly encourage speaking and listening with respect. It takes frequent reminding of personal boundaries.
But it is worth it. Ecotones contribute growth and newness that cannot come from anywhere else. They are vital as the genesis of many exciting, undreamed-of things. Working for KAAN definitely feels that way to me. Year to year, as we move to different locations and engage more people, we provide the primordial soup and the spark that leads to personal changes as well as new organizations, relationships, and programs. The credit goes to the individuals whose work creates each new change but KAAN’s role is integral to this growth process.
Together we also experience what is called the edge effect. We influence one another, introduce new concepts, interact. We expand our minds, our relationships, our communities. We create a particular diversity that does not exist anywhere else.
The foundation and heart of KAAN are Korean-born adoptees who were adopted by parents in the United States. However, as our organization responds and adapts to today’s environment, we are discovering that more and more adoptees and families of other backgrounds find relevance in our meeting place. Participation has always been there but right now is in the act of rising up. We are pleased that greater numbers of siblings, partners, and children of adoptees are getting involved and that parents of adult adoptees (not just those with children still living at home) are remaining at or seeking out KAAN as well. We embrace these changes and voices. They help our ecotone to thrive and, ultimately, to do a better job of serving and being allies to all adoptees.
At the risk of interrupting the flow of this post, I want to say that, due to our U.S. location, it is harder to have an active population of Korean first family members, but we desire and include these perspectives as much as possible. We also welcome the countless other groups present in our ecotone who wish to partner with and learn from adoptees but who have not yet been mentioned, including Korean-Americans with no direct connection to adoption, organizational leaders, adoption and agency professionals, authors, researchers, filmmakers, and others. We have a dynamic community with many contributors.
The same day I learned of ecotones, I read an NPR piece by Matthew Salesses called The Overwhelming Nature of Code-Switching. Matthew, a Korean adoptee, writes that he adapts his (cultural) behavior depending upon the company in which he finds himself. Matthew married a woman he met in Korea and says, “My wife and I live in a constant state of in-between, mixing Korean with English, eating Korean and American food, watching k-dramas with subtitles for me. But this in-between feels comfortable, maybe because I never feel obliged, or disbelieved. It is the freedom to put forward whatever part of you, and be seen as the same.” I have heard adoptees and others speak of feeling at home this way at KAAN as well. Ecotones are important not only as agents of change and growth but as unique spaces of welcome and support. There should be more places in the world where adoptees feel this kind of comfort.
This blog is entitled Common Ground. It is another way to nourish and enliven the ecotone that is KAAN. The name does not mean we have to agree about everything. Rather, it addresses the fact that we have many mutual concerns and experiences. We are a community and will benefit from the times and places we can support one another. I hope that, through the many voices we will share on this blog, we can continue to respectfully learn from and challenge one another.
Together, let’s create many, many more of those spark moments and welcoming, in-between places.