University international adoptee students share experiences and stories

More than 250,000 children have been adopted abroad over the past 30 years.

Amber Wentzel moved to the United States when she was 13 months old.

She doesn’t know much about India, her home country. If she were to visit, she said she’d look around wondering, “Is that my mom? Is that my dad?”

Kamini is her Indian name. As an adoptee, the family social science junior has never gone through major ethnicity or identity issues growing up in a Caucasian family.

But she hated when people asked if she knew her real parents.

“The parents I have aren’t my fake parents,” she said. “They are just as real.”

Wentzel said her parents told her it took them about a year to bring her to the United States. Because of the long adoption process, Wentzel hasn’t tried looking for her biological parents.

“I was going to write a letter to the adoption place,” she said. “I figured I wouldn’t get results.”

In the past three decades, more than 250,000 children have been internationally adopted to the United States, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

Among them is Judy Eckerle Kang, an attendee of the University International Adoption Clinic.

Kang is a Korean adoptee who grew up in Minneapolis and went to college in Illinois. For a graduation present, her parents gave her a trip to Korea, where she “felt for the first time that I was a part of something and that I belonged somewhere.”

It wasn’t until she visited Korea again that she decided to start the search for her biological parents.

“It took two or three years to really be ready to do a birth-parents search,” she said.

She went on a talk show, an hour-long cable television program, and was featured in 12 newspaper articles in Korea.

“I put everything I had into it,” she said.

She had questions she couldn’t find the answers to – the main one being “what are the circumstances” behind being given up for adoption, she said.

About six years have gone by since Kang began her search, and she still hasn’t found the answer. One family has come forward, but it wasn’t the right one.

As an adoptee, she provides personal perspective and relates her experience with patients at the clinic. As an attending, she also provides the medical perspective, she said.

According to the Department of State, as of 2007, the top five countries for adoptees were China, Guatemala, Russia, Ethiopia and South Korea.

Dr. Dana Johnson is a professor of pediatrics at the clinic. Most adoptees grow up in white families and some don’t start facing racial issues in a bigger way until moving on to college, he said.

He advises using the enculturation method, where parents teach their children about the culture they came from.

For Kang, her parents lived in Korea before they adopted her so she was always exposed to that culture.

Although she’s visited Korea annually since 1998, sometimes twice a year, Kang said she still doesn’t know everything about the culture.

“I don’t think I’ll have as much understanding of the Korean culture as someone who obviously grew up in the culture,” she said.

For Wentzel, who hasn’t had the chance to go to India, a visit would help her find out where her parents were 20 years ago, she said.

“It will help know about where I came from,” Wentzel said. “It’s kind of weird to think that I wasn’t born here.”