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Reflecting on 2020 KAAN Connect

KAAN is committed to providing connecting and serving the adoption community. Due to COVID-19, this year's annual KAAN conference was cancelled. But as we saw, even a global pandemic cannot stop the adoptee community from supporting one another and reflecting on their shared experiences. In late June, adoptees from around the world came together for a completely virtual gathering, called KAAN Connect. The week featured a diverse offering of ASL accessible programs, including a film screening and discussions of the Side by Side documentary, a K-Pop dance party, and a community conversation about allyship.

Given that KAAN Connect was new and different, we invited a few participants to share their reflections about the experience.

Megan Leschley is an adoptee and a first-time KAAN attendee.

Hollee McGinnis is an adoptee and a returner, who helped facilitate several conversations during KAAN Connect.

Finally, Jen Neis and Erik Kvalseth are adoptive parents who attended several sessions during KAAN Connect.

What is your history with KAAN? (e.g. past conference attendees, adoptee, adoptive parent, new comer)

Megan: I am a newcomer - I learned about the KAAN through word of mouth on Facebook Group. Someone is currently in a working capacity with KAAN, and this is how I learned about them.

Hollee: I have known about KAAN since its inception and participated as an adoptee at different conferences at different times throughout its history.

Jen & Erik: We are adoptive parents, and have attended the last two KAAN conferences that took place in Minneapolis and then KAAN Connect this year.

What was your main take-away from your KAAN Connect 2020 experience? Were there any particular topics or points brought up that have still stuck with you?

Megan: I was sooo grateful to have the opportunity to attend from home. As a mother of two children, I really did not have the time or funds to travel and attend conference. The themes explored during the conference, especially the “Side x Side” filming has resonated with me.

Hollee: As one of the facilitators I observed that Zoom technology can really work in ways that we never anticipated. I really appreciated how KAAN was aware and set up the experience so that it was accessible, such as having translators for those with hearing impairments. It’s that kind of inclusivity and attending to the needs of our entire community that had this KAAN event stand apart from even other adoptee-led events I have attended or participated in.

Jen & Erik: This year’s main take-away for us was that in spite of the diverse experiences of adoptees, they all share the trauma of adoption. The Side x Side films were a rare opportunity for us as adoptive parents to get a more personal glimpse into adult adoptees’ still-present pain related to the loss they feel around their adoption.

Why was it important to you to participate in events like this?

Megan: To know that I am not alone in this life journey as an adoptee. Even though I have found and connected with my birth family, I still need some reassurance that it is okay to be an adoptee.

Hollee: I am always encouraged to share spaces where adoptees can come together and explore their experiences, reflect and refract through the experiences of others, and feel connected.

Jen & Erik: As parents of Korean adoptees, we want to make sure that we are doing the best that we can to prepare our children for the adoption- and race-related challenges they face. But it’s not just for our kids. We love being able to learn from, and meet, so many amazing people ourselves, too. It truly is a wonderful community and it’s one we feel very lucky to have found.

Are there any other topics you wish that went into further discussion or detail?

Jen & Erik: For us, we like that we don’t have any involvement choosing the topics. This helps us discover and learn about things that are important to Korean Adoptees, but might not be on our radar.

How did it feel to participate virtually? If you have attended a KAAN Conference previously, how was this similar/different?

Megan: I love it! The pandemic has allowed me to explore more online. I don’t usually spend this much exploring online.

Hollee: As a facilitator I thought participation was easy to do. Yes, you had to learn and understand the technology, but I think the technology delivered an intimate space that was comparable to face-to-face. Of course one of the advantages of a live in-person conference is the chance to continue conversations outside of sessions and so that cannot be replicated as well virtually.

Jen & Erik: We were excited to learn that KAAN would happen virtually this year as we were disappointed when it was cancelled. Obviously, attending in person can’t be beat, but the virtual experience was still very good and did a great job of mimicking the breakout sessions we’d normally attend at KAAN. The part we didn’t get was the opportunity to talk and interact with other attendees over meals and have additional discussions after the sessions were over. The positive side is that KAAN was accessible to all.

How did this experience add to your understanding of and experience as an adoptee, or adoptive parent?

Hollee: It just reaffirmed how important it is to create stimulating spaces for adoptees to think and mull and make meaning of their own experiences.

Jen & Erik: KAAN has been a completely invaluable experience for us in understanding the complexities of Korean adoption. Each and every year we are amazed at how much of their personal adoption experience people are willing to share and we walk away with a deeper connection to our children and as better prepared parents because of it.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Jen & Erik: Thank you to everyone who works so hard to make this incredible, life changing organization available to us all.

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