November is National Adoption Month! Exciting, right? We think so. An entire month devoted to raising awareness about the positive option of adoption, the thousands of children (104,000 to be exact) right here in the United States awaiting adoption, and the millions of orphans worldwide who dream of a loving, permanent family is music to our ears.
As part of National Adoption Month, we’re excited to highlight some incredible organizations and share with you their inspiring work with children, birthparents, and adoptive families. Throughout this month, we’re going to share heartwarming stories of how these unique programs have impacted the world of adoption.
To start off, we’re going to tell you about Holt International’s Adult Adoptee Outreach Program and the story of Mary Umsted who participated in a Motherland tour in Korea this past May.
The deliberate strategy of the Adult Adoptee Outreach has been to be inclusive and embrace adult adoptees without regard to agency affiliation. The program is intended to reach out to the adult adoptee community and provide meaningful opportunities for adult adoptees to connect with one another and re-connect with Holt. The adoptees feel a connection to Holt that is deeply profound. For them, the opportunity to be part of Holt, to extend their adoption experience into their adult life is meaningful and enriching. For Mary, she was provided with the experience of a lifetime and has formed a long-lasting relationship with Holt and other adoptees on her tour.
On May 15 Mary celebrated her “CTA.” “I have a Coming to America party or what my family, friends and I call my CTA. I treat it like a second birthday because it is truly that—the day that I was born to my family.” Mary continued her CTA celebration in Seoul on the 2012 Holt-Bethany Adult Adoptee Motherland Tour.
Like many adult adoptees who decide to travel back to their birth country, Mary was experiencing many emotions about her upcoming trip. Having already been to Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, and Mexico with her older brother, Mary considered herself a seasoned traveler. She had seen many different parts of the world and had immersed herself in many cultures. But this time it was different. There was something surreal about this trip. This time she would return to Seoul – the place of her birth – for the first time in 36 years.
Young Mary and relative playing together.
Adopted from Korea in 1976 by Richard and Nancy Umsted, Mary came home to her family when she was 8 months old. Apart from one other Holt adoptee, Mary was the only minority in her small, central Illinois town. “I was aware of my physical differences,” says Mary. “I knew early on that my eyes were different than my family’s eyes.” Growing up, Mary never felt the need to know more about Korea want to do things that set me apart,” she says.
Needless to say, traveling back to Korea was not at the top of Mary’s “to-do” list.
She always felt fortunate that she was raised in a family that was encouraging and supportive of her adoption and the experiences that came with it. The Umsted’s encouraged Mary to explore different parts of the country when she was looking in to colleges. Mary attributes her exposure to different cultures and people to an ever-growing appreciation for her own heritage.
In 2012 Mary decided that she’d like to travel back to Korea. She also wanted her mother Nancy to travel with her. It was important to Mary to have her mother with her; and Nancy, likewise, wanted to experience this journey with her daughter. This trip was Nancy’s first time traveling abroad.
Mary and her mom, Nancy, in Korea.
“The timing was perfect,” says Mary. After landing at Seoul Inchon International Airport, Mary was pleasantly surprised when she realized how much she could understand without being able to read or speak the native language. “Initially, I was almost cautious about seeing so many people with the same features as me,” says Mary. “I wasn’t sure how I would react to that but towards the end, I loved it. It was great being one of the majority rather than the minority.”
With a self-described “direct” personality, Mary felt Korea suited her well, as some Koreans are at times known for their fast-paced highly efficient lifestyle. “I’ve been told that I’m too impatient and need to slow down,” says Mary. “As soon as someone entered the elevator, he or she would push the ‘close’ button. I do that in the states.”
Mary in traditional Korean attire.
When adult adoptees travel on a Motherland tour they have the option to initiate a birth search. If a search is successful they may have the opportunity to meet their birth or foster family.
Mary’s family has always been supportive of her and her Korean heritage. While the decision was hers to make, she included her family in every step of the process. “It was important to me that they were involved because it would affect them as well,” says Mary.
“I did initiate a birth search even though I had reservations about wanting to find my birth mother. I searched because I did not want to have any regrets about the trip; however, I did not have a strong desire to know that information. I was raised by a wonderful family and never had much interested in finding out if my birth mother or family existed,” says Mary.
Unfortunately, Holt was not able to locate Mary’s birth family. “Some people have an emotional need to find their families and I completely understand and support that,” says Mary. “People had been telling me their own opinion of what I should do regarding the birth search and how I should feel…so part of me was relieved when they told me that my birth mother was not able to be found.”
Mary was able to meet her foster mother. “I was excited to meet my foster mother. I felt less of an emotional reaction meeting her, most likely due to the fact that our time together was so short,” says Mary. “My foster mother was incredibly gracious towards my mom. She continuously thanked my mom for taking such great care of me and providing me with a loving home. It was an awesome and touching experience; I couldn't be more pleased with how things turned out.”
Mary and Nancy touring Korea
One of the benefits and highlights of traveling on a Holt Adult Adoptee Motherland tour is the opportunity to travel with other adult adoptees. “I feel like I made life-long friends on this trip,” says Mary. Mary and Nancy bonded with other participants on the trip from all over the U.S., sharing in the commonality of their adoption experience. The adoptees were alike in their experiences and stories while becoming forever-friends over kimchi and rice. “We had a great group on the tour,” says Mary. “It was so incredible to be able to share our stories and bond over our lives as adoptees.”
Mary works as a business development manager for Haynes and Boone, LLP—the largest law firm in Dallas. She enjoys the daily challenges of working in a law firm as a non-lawyer. Mary’s made her mark as one of Dallas’ successful, driven young professionals and stays involved with Holt, attending the annual Holt Gala and Auction in the Dallas area.
The Holt-Bethany Adult Adoptee Motherland tour means something different for each adult adoptee and they all leave Korea with a their own personal story and prospective. “I loved every minute of this trip,” says Mary. “It gave me more of an appreciation for my family and the incredible opportunities I have had in my life. I’m very grateful for the gift my birth mother gave me by giving me up for adoption.”
Mary is hopeful that next year she can celebrate her CTA with her new friends from the tour.
The 2012 Adult Adoptee Tour Group