Life is not what you alone make it. Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it. We are all part of one another. — Yuri Kochiyama
Before talking to Nick, I heard his name from his podcast cohost, Jon Oaks. The way Jon described Nick and their friendship made me want to find out more about the other half of this dynamic, community-building duo.
Nick’s easygoing and compassionate personality stood out immediately. As we dove into his life and what drives his desire to support adoptees in their journey, I could see why people are drawn to him.
Like many adoptees, Nick’s exact history is hazy. He was told he was born in the Gyeongsang Province (he generally says Busan since that’s more well known). Immediately after birth, he was swept up into the system and adopted by a family in New York when he was a few months old. Growing up in a white family and predominantly white area, he didn’t have any Asian role models. He learned how to be a social chameleon to fit into the unspoken expectations.
In 2017, he wanted to find out more about his birth family. At that time, he wasn’t as connected to the adoptee community as he is now, so he had no idea how vast it is or what kind of support existed for his journey. “You could’ve told me there were five million of us or 1,500. I would’ve believed either.” Nick initiated his search through his adoption agency.
Unsurprisingly, the search didn’t yield much. The adoption agency said his birth father passed away a couple of months before Nick was born and that he had a few older siblings. None of the information is complete or verified: “It could all be right, it could all be wrong, or it could be somewhere in between.” He sat on the newly discovered information for about two years and decided that if that’s all he would be able to find out, he was ok with it.
Around that same time, he got the itch to explore his Asian/Korean/adoptee identity further. He expressed this to a few close confidants. That led him into the adoptee community, which eventually led him to meet his now close friend, Jon.
“What Jon told you about how we met in his interview was spot on,” Nick said. He went on to give a glowing review of Jon’s character and courage, stating that due to Jon’s influence, he mustered the courage to explore his own identity and take pride in his story and background.
“Jon never pressured me to tell my story. He deserves a lot of the credit. He’s so unashamed and proud of his story and background. Having an influence like that encouraged me to be open about my own story. You can positively impact those communities (Asian American and adopted) when you’re so comfortable with being a part of them. Jon really lives that. Seeing that helped me get over the precipice to be more public about my own story.”
Over time, Nick got more involved with the adoptee community. He’s made incredible progress with overcoming his fear of exploring his identity. “I was afraid, because it was something I subconsciously, sometimes consciously, avoided most of my life. I could look in a mirror and know I didn’t look like my family or most of my network. On the outside, I never showed I knew there was a difference. But how I interacted with the world was different from my adoptive siblings and others around, who were primarily not Asian. It was an emotional soft spot I didn’t want to reveal. There’s the expectation to be a man and not show emotional vulnerability, so I avoided that as much as possible. A few adoptee friends recommended I go on "The Janchi Show" to talk about my story. I was terrified to do the podcast and put it out there. You can’t hide things on the Internet, and I knew my family would eventually come across it. I wondered, ‘Can I do this? Should I do this? Do I want to do this?’ I finally came to grips that I’m ok with what I know about myself, so I needed others to be ok with it too.”
Revealing this part of himself to his family was one of the hardest parts of the journey so far. After his appearance on "The Janchi Show," Nick posted the podcast link on his social media, knowing his family would eventually find and listen to it. Terrified of their reaction, he avoided their messages for a week until he gathered the courage to open them all.
Thankfully, his fear was for naught. There were no negative reactions or misinterpretations. His family, especially his dad, surpassed the expectations he didn’t have.
An unexpected benefit was that "The Janchi Show" plugged him into the adoptee community on a whole new level. He started meeting adoptees from around the country. “Hearing other adoptees’ stories has so many positive impacts: it helps bring more awareness to issues and addresses misconceptions about adoption and what adoptees experience. It’s very rewarding.”
I asked him what he does when the journey becomes too overwhelming or if he starts judging his journey against someone else’s. He noted the importance of tapping into the adoptee community. “There’s always someone in a similar position in their process. Running the situation by them doesn’t necessarily give clarity or an answer, but it provides the reassurance that as long as I’m ok with where I’m at, it’s ok. It doesn’t have to match what anyone else is doing or has done.”
Nick takes pride in supporting others the way Jon supported him. “Any time I can help someone be more comfortable exploring their own story and past, I feel incredibly accomplished.”
Since he’s become invested in the adoptee community, he’s felt more pride in his Asian identity. “I didn’t used to pay much attention to the advancements of Asians in society, but now that matters to me. I enjoy watching Asians, Asian Americans, and adoptees get elevated for their accomplishments. What matters to me has evolved.”
Wrapping up our time together, Nick offered a little advice for adoptees: “It’s never too late to start your journey. I was over 30 when I started. There’s no line of when to begin or end. There are a lot of ‘I don’t knows’ throughout the search, so you’ve gotta go into it with a certain level of acceptance for uncertainty.”
He added: "Don’t feel as though you have to follow suit with whatever societal stereotypes there are of Asians. We’re good and bad at different things because of the environments we’ve been in and our efforts, not because of our race.”
I asked him what support looks like on his journey, and he shared, “Therapy gets slung around a lot. One thing I didn’t recognize for a long time is the misconception that therapy is only going to a therapist. It’s not. Therapy can be whatever is therapeutic for you as an individual. That can include hearing other adoptees’ stories, successes, struggles, and what they do to navigate them. Each person needs to figure out for themselves, ‘What help do I need and how do I get that?’ The form it can come in is about as varied as we are as individuals.”
During this interview, Nick demonstrated how community is built: through authentic, open conversations, where vulnerability is a strength and path forward.