No Place Like Home: Conceptualizing Korean Adoptee Evolving Spaces as Places Symbolizing Ethnic Identity
Napier, Deborah S.
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This research explores the process by which Korean adoptees describe their formative years' place experiences (their adopting country), experience place (their birth country Korea), and the extent to which they begin to reconstruct place (their home residence) upon return to their adoptive country. In conceptualizing place as an organization of evolving spaces, as these spaces become emotional places to adoptees, these places symbolize an ethnic identity, and contribute to psychological wellbeing.By 2010 more than one million adoptees will have been involved in international adoption (Selman, 2007, p. 55). Within these numbers are approximately 200,000 Korean adoptees. Adoptees' first return visits to Korea often provide them with new cultural and ethnic place experiences that contribute to their reclaiming an identification with their past - a past not realized due to adoption. In a previous study, Napier (2009) discovered that there was a relationship between Korean adoptees' place experiences during first return visits to Korea and ethnic identity development. In validating and extending these findings, this study positions adoptees' place and identity experiences within a conceptual framework in which Ethnic identity progression represents a process from in-between place, transitioning to finding place, and finally to constructing place. Of the 451 survey participants, 152 participants returned to Korea. Among adult Korean adoptees that completed their first return trip to Korea, correlation analysis indicates a positive and statistically significant relationship between place attachment (place identity and dependence, p < 0.01) and ethnic identity (pride, heritage, p < 0.01). In addition, the majority of participants identified authentic Korean traditional locations and characteristics as among their most memorable place experiences. Upon return to their current residences, adoptees' emerging ethnic identity was manifest in their living environments following their first return visit, with the introduction of traditional Korean objects into their personal living spaces. By populating their domestic spaces with memorable objects and using personal narratives to document their experiences it is argued that Korean adoptees have begun rebuilding an ethnic identity.