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International Adoption: Lessons from Korea

Since the 1950s, South Korea has placed an estimated 150,000-200,000 children in North America, Europe and Australia. Adoptees, activists and experts weigh in with perspectives on In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, what we can learn from the largest international community of adoptees and the answers that they seek.

Dual Citizenship for International Adoptees

Dae-won WengerDae-won Wenger, former president of the Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link (G.O.A.’L) in Korea, grew up in Switzerland. He has been active in adoptee groups since 1994. He has lived in Korea since 2003. English is his third language.


My name is Dae-won Wenger. At age 6 I was sent along with my older brother to Switzerland from Korea for adoption. As I was growing up, I was always interested in Korean culture and food. I joined the local Korean association and attended Korean classes.

In the early 1990s I met more and more Korean adoptees. After working in the United States for two years, I returned to Switzerland in 1993 and got involved with the local Korean adoptee community. In 1994 I became co-founder of Dongari Switzerland, a Swiss association for Korean adoptees that grew rapidly to almost 200 members within a few short years.

While I was involved with Dongari Switzerland I traveled to Korea several times, and spent half a year studying Korean language at Yonsei University in 1995. In 1999 I got involved in a nonprofit foundation in Zurich, and in 2003 I was working as its CEO when I decided to move to Korea, something I had been dreaming of since my previous trip in 1995. With only one suitcase, I made the trip with a stopover in the Netherlands, where I attended the famous Arierang Weekend one more time before leaving Europe.

In Korea I became involved with Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link (G.O.A.’L). I started as a volunteer working on IT infrastructure. In early 2004, the then secretary general of G.O.A.’L, John Hamrin, decided to resign. I applied for the position and got it, so from February 2004 until recently I served as secretary general of G.O.A.’L.

G.O.A.’L is the only adoptee-run non-governmental/nonprofit organization registered in Korea and is the oldest of all the Korean support organizations. Back in the 1990s, the living situation for Korean adoptees who returned to their motherland was very difficult. That was the main reason G.O.A.’L was founded. G.O.A.’L was created to lobby for improvement in the situation of Korean adoptees. It began as a purely volunteer-based organization but has since grown into a service organization with a staff of eight people. Many services are being offered. These include birth family search assistance, translation/interpretation and counseling on settling in Korea, obtaining F4 visas, finding accommodations, finding jobs, obtaining scholarships and arranging Korean language tutoring, as well as social networking and sports activities, discussion forums, conferences and other annual activities, birth family search campaigns, public outreach and much more. Adoptees can also get involved in providing services, since G.O.A.’L is an adoptee organization.

During my time as secretary general, there were several important projects. The most important one to me personally was the dual citizenship campaign. Already back in 1998, former secretary general Ami Nafzger was lobbying for the inclusion of Korean adoptees in the Overseas Koreans Act, which was passed in 1999 by the Korean National Assembly. This act allowed Korean adoptees to receive F4 visas, residency visas similar to green cards in the United States. In spite of this improvement, living in Korea still presents problems. That’s why obtaining dual citizenship (having Korean citizenship restored without having to renounce an adoptive country’s citizenship) seemed to be a natural follow-up to the Overseas Koreans Act.

Launched in 2007, the dual citizenship campaign took only three years to reach fruition. In May 2010, the Korean government promulgated the revised nationality law, which allows all Korean adoptees to regain their Korean citizenship while keeping citizenship in their adoptive countries. This law revision is important not only to Korean adoptees but to the entire adoptee community worldwide. It sets a precedent for all international adoptees and is a triumph of the adoptee rights movement. The interest in it within the Korean adoptee community is huge.

Since April 2010 I have been on the board of directors of G.O.A.’L. Currently I am working on some other projects, but I will definitely stay in Korea, at least for the near future.

 

Dae-won WengerDae-won Wenger was the secretary general of Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link (G.O.A.’L) from 2004 until March 2010. He has actively worked with Korean adoptees since 1994, when he co-founded the adoptee organization Dongari Switzerland. He relocated to Seoul in 2003. He served on the board of the Euro-Korean Network and the Gathering 2007. In 2008, Wenger was appointed an honorary committee member of the Republic of Korea’s 60th anniversary celebrations by President Lee, and in 2009 he received the Prime Minister Award for his contributions to the Korean adoptee community and the Korean society.





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