An #importedAsians POV: Hana and Ryan from the 'Adopted Feels' podcast
Can you please introduce yourselves and how you both started the podcast “Adopted Feels”?
Hana (she/her): Hi, I’m Hana. I was adopted from Korea to Australia, but I’m now living and working in Seoul. I actually met Ryan a few years ago in Melbourne, and it was their idea to create this podcast. We discuss issues related to adoption, race, and identity, and aim to create a safe adoptee-centric online space. We’ve been doing it for over a year now, and it’s also been a really nice way for us to keep in touch.
Ryan (they/them): I’m Ryan; and I was adopted to Melbourne when I was around four months old. However, I actually spent most of my childhood in Taipei. Due to my father’s work, the family relocated to Seoul and lived there for roughly four years. In hindsight, it was quite a unique experience as an adopted Korean to be able to spend quite a number of years in Korea. After high school, we moved back to Melbourne, and I’ve been living there ever since. The podcast with Hana has been a really wonderful and rewarding project. I have also been doing academic research on Korean adoption for the past couple of years.
What was your experience like growing up as an adoptee?
Hana: I was adopted into a white Australian family within a predominantly white community. I felt very self-conscious growing up and I just wanted to fit in. I basically wanted to be white. I have a good relationship with my adoptive family, but when I was growing up, they couldn’t really help me develop a clear sense of being Asian, or an adopted identity, or how to deal with racism. Living in Australia as a transracial adoptee, I experienced various microaggressions regularly and struggled to integrate my various identities. It’s through connecting with the broader Korean adoptee community that I’ve found guidance and support for dealing with these kinds of things.
Ryan: I have a different background to Hana because my family was already multiracial before I joined them. My mom grew up in Singapore and immigrated to Australia, and my father is Swedish. So, in a way, they were already kind of foreigners in Australia. Although my mom and I don’t look alike, I think some people would assume that I was from my mom’s first marriage. So, I suppose you can say there were a few different ways in which our family “configuration” was perceived, and my being adopted wasn’t always so clear to people.
I spent most of my childhood and adolescence in Asia. However, as I went to international schools, I can only really speak English, and most of my teachers were white. Even though I didn’t grow up in a Western country, whiteness still structured a lot of my experience, and I did internalize a lot of racial discourses.
At what point in your life did you feel like connecting with your own heritage?
Hana: For me, the real turning point was when I came back to Korea for the first time since my adoption. That was 10 years ago now. It was really significant for me to visit Asia for the first time and to physically blend in and feel this real sense of safety and freedom in my own body. After that trip, I started to explore what being Korean meant to me, and I started to slowly identify as an Asian person. This also started a process of feeling more comfortable in my own skin and beginning to appreciate my Asian physical features. I also started to learn about Korean culture, language, and history—including the history and context of transnational Korean adoption.
Ryan: For me, that happened a lot later, probably only within the last five years or so, despite having lived in Korea during high school. I don’t think I was prepared to move to Korea, and I don’t recall my parents having a conversation with me about my feelings around moving to the country of my birth. All I remembered was that when I first moved to Korea, I felt pretty different. I didn’t know Korean cultural norms and expectations – for instance, using specific terms and bowing to kids older than you. I thought it was a bit bizarre, and I felt pressure around not knowing what was expected of me. I felt that I was pushed into this space where I was supposed to know how to behave, but I had no pointers! I think I probably rebelled against it. So, at the time, all I could see were my differences from, and not commonalities with, Korean people and society.
It was only later in life that I started to become more interested in learning about Korean culture. I’m not sure if there was a particular turning point, but rather a gradual and growing acceptance and interest. I guess I realised that if I don’t start asking these questions on behalf of my future self, for instance, about my birth mother, one day when I’m older and if I do want to look for her, it will be too late.
What is the best thing about doing the podcast “Adopted Feels” together? Was there a specific episode that you particularly enjoyed doing?
Hana: One of the cool things about hosting a podcast is that it gives you a reason to contact anyone and ask them to have a conversation with you. We’ve been able to talk to amazing artists, activists, therapists, and just really inspiring people. I’ve also been so struck by our guests’ openness and vulnerability when they were talking to us. I think partly because we’re both adoptees, adoptee guests are more inclined to open up with us. It’s been a real privilege to bear witness to their stories.
The tone of our episodes varies a lot. Some are more frivolous and some are a bit heavier, such as adoptee mental health, which is a really important topic for me. We did a series on adoptee suicide that was partly motivated by some recent suicides within our Korean adoptee community, including one Australian-Korean adoptee who was a friend of ours. I’m actually really proud of that series because it was something that we still need to openly acknowledge and talk about more within our community.
Ryan: I totally agree with Hana, but just to add—the episodes we have on adult adoptee therapists and/or adoptee mental health, have tended to be the most downloaded. I think that’s kind of indicative of what information or support people are seeking. That said, I love all the episodes we’ve done, especially the ones which feature multiple guests. It just adds that extra dimension, when you can hear and feel the connections and rapport guests have with each other.
What are your plans for the future? Do you plan to expand your podcast into something more?
Hana: Recently, we have been asked to create some educational resources for a wider audience, e.g. counselors and social workers who are working with adoptees. Honestly, we’ve just been taking it one step at a time, and we haven’t necessarily been planning anything too far into the future.
Ryan: I think when we first started the podcast, we were thinking as to whether we should do seasons or just let the podcast roll. We decided to just let it roll and it’s been a surprisingly enriching experience. I’m really glad we made that decision.
I think my dream is to just keep doing what we have been doing. Hopefully we will be able to find more people to come on and chat with us. I love receiving feedback from people that are listening in, especially those who take the time to send us direct messages to let us know that they enjoy it. It’s so meaningful to us. In general, I’ve just really enjoyed the process.
Hana: Yea! We often get these messages from Korean adoptees who live in tiny white towns in the middle of nowhere to let us know that our podcast played a small role in helping connect them, no matter where they are. It gave them access to conversations around race and adoption that they might not have where they’re located.
I think one of the upsides of COVID-19 is that Zoom meetings are now so normalized. So, it’s made us more brazen in who we approach, and we just figure out the time zone difference. Sometimes, we also invite guests who aren’t adoptees, but perhaps have a similar experience around race, identity, or family separation, and are able to provide a useful perspective.
You can listen to Hana and Ryan’s podcast “Adopted Feels” on all platforms via: https://adopted-feels.simplecast.com/episodes.